New England, the southernmost grounds of the Atlantic cod, had an inshore winter fishing season and an offshore summer season. It also had good farmland. While Newfoundland remained a frontier with summer fishing rooms [shore spaces for drying the catch], Massachusetts had residents who needed coopers, blacksmiths, bakers, and shipbuilders—tradesmen with families that built communities. It also became an agricultural society, settlers moving ever farther toward western Massachusetts looking for fertile land to produce goods for the prosperous coastal market. As the most flourishing American community north of Virginia, New England was perfectly positioned for trade. In cod it had a product that Europe and European colonies wanted, and because of cod it had a population with spending power that was hungry for European products. This was what built Boston.
On Mar. 20, Spring 2007 Harman Writer-in-Residence Mark Kurlansky offered a talk and reading. His presentation walked the 175-plus in attendance through his many books, with a discussion of how he found his subjects—or how his subjects found him. The event was co-sponsored by the Journalism Program and Poets & Writers.
Photo by Glenda Hydler
. . . . New Englanders were becoming a commercial people, independent and prosperous and resentful of monopolies. While the West Indies sugar planters were thriving on protected markets, New Englanders were growing rich on free-trade capitalism. Theirs was a cult of the individual, with commerce becoming almost the New England religion. Even the fishermen were independent entrepreneurs, working not on salary but, as they still do in most of the world, for a share of the catch. Adam Smith, the eighteenth-century economist, singled out the New England fishery for praise in his seminal work on capitalism, The Wealth of Nations. To Smith, the fishery was an exciting example of how an economy could flourish if individuals were given an unrestricted commercial environment.
The British Crown had never intended to grant such freedom, and now it had a colony that no longer needed it—a dangerous precedent in the midst of the empire.