farmingThe farming activities without which the British Empire would not have survived

Sugar, Tobacco, Cotton and Wool 

Crops which kick started the “white mans” colonies.

Settlers in a new land needed to have a reason to emigrate into the unknown and an immediate method of generating currency (or trade) to enable them to purchase vital goods from back home like guns! Sugar and Tobacco where the two main products eventually chosen by the immigrants to America to fulfil this purpose. It was not possible to grow either crop in England where it is too cold. Tobacco was unheard of in Europe prior to the early explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh who observed the satisfaction smoking tobacco gave to the native Red Indians. On the other hand the demand for sugar in England was already satisfied as we will discover below.

Other products like potatoes and tomatoes and turkeys which were discovered in America did not travel but could be grown in the colder English climate. Cotton was grown in America by the native Indians and soon by the English settlers in Georgia and South Carolina to make clothes. In England after 1700 Cotton clothes were more in demand than woollens as the English appetite for more comfortable clothes had been whetted by beautifully designed and printed cottons from India. North American “black slave”producers were soon supplying the raw cotton material to feed the rapidly growing Lancashire cotton mills which eventually undercut and killed off the manufacture in India. In the US cotton production moved west, firstly to Alabama and Louisiana and by 1830 to Texas and California. At this time the US were the largest producers of cotton in the world and cotton accounted for 2/3 of US exports nearly all of which went to England who re-exported to the rest of the world.

A short history of sugar

The Human Race has had a sweet tooth for many millennia, initially satisfied by pinching honey from wild bees. In Saxon England honey was still the sole sweetener but by Elizabethan times so much imported sugar was consumed that tooth decay was a major problem. The human consumption of sugar goes back to before 500 BC and was first reported by the Persian Darius 3rd when his troops, in desperation, ate sugar cane found growing wild in the Indus river valley. It was however left to Alexander the Great in 327 BC to bring news of this exciting crop back to Europe and much later to the Islamic Arabs in about AD 900 to bring the knowledge of how to extract sugar from the cane to make sugar as we know in now. At this time the Arabs had conquered Sicily and set up sugar plantations and factories there to export the product over the whole of Europe. The taste for the sugar sweetener was further spread by the Normans (who conquered Sicily) and later the Crusaders as they fought but still traded with the Muslim Arabs and sampled their domestically produced sugar in Palestine. By about 1400 the Spanish (to be hated by the English) were producing the best sugar in Sicily (taken from the Arabs) and in the Canaries. Hence there was a huge incentive to stop importing from the Spanish and for the English to develop sugar production in their colonies where the climate was warm and wet enough.


Wool was England’s main export from about 1400 to 1650. English sheep in an English damp climate produced the best wool in the world. Wool was never seen as a commodity to provide a living for the early settlers in America but sheep were the saving grace for the early settlers in both Australia and New Zealand. Both countries shipping their (actually superior) wool back to English mills.