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Chapter Forty-Two. The home front during the War for Independence: the effect of labor shortages on commercial production in the Mid-Atlantic

Michael V. Kennedy

Subject History

Place Northern America » United States of America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics American War of Independence, commerce, labor supply

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405116749.2003.00045.x


During the Revolution, the colonies confronted the problem of producing supplies needed for the war as well as filling the normal labor needs of colonial households. A labor shortage unusual even in colonial experience developed, however, and made the improbable task of conducting a revolution against the world's most powerful empire that much more difficult. Labor shortages have been a recurring theme in the historiography of colonial British America, and they became an acute problem during the War for American Independence. Historians have blamed a lack of available labor for the retardation of commercial and industrial development in the British colonies, and have posited that a dearth of skilled labor precluded the need for guild systems, but nonetheless ensured satisfactory incomes to master craftsmen who owned shops and tools. They have also argued that, especially in rural and frontier areas, many farmers taught themselves to build and repair as needed. Easy access to land also resulted in a lack of sufficient unskilled labor willing to work for wages, goods, or food, and an independent spirit made British colonists, whether newly arrived from Europe or native-born Creoles, unwilling to work for others. Those who did commanded wages higher than could be had in Europe, and made it difficult for most potential employers to afford workers they needed. The generally accepted ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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