“Economics of Independence…

…Over a Period of Years And At What Cost” is the extended title of this discussion.

In line with Independence Day in Maryland history, there was the goal of ridding Britain of its control over their colonies. The Revolutionary War was a culmination of more than a century of trial and error; growing children trying to cut loose their mother’s apron strings. What we celebrate every July 4th is the tradition of physical combat with mother and a victorious flag waving attributed to parting of some of the ways between the colonies and Britain.   After all, we are allies with them, again — no longer necessarily a dysfunctional family with England.

Further, particularly since the Civil War, July 4th has traditionalized American nationalism –pride in country, time off from work, family picnics, and the thrill of firework displays representing “bombs exploding in mid-air.”   When you consider the image, people have morphed into one big nationalistic flag when sitting under fireworks — like the big flag at Ft. McHenry long ago. We too are now the flag that the fireworks (bombs) miss hitting. It’s almost prideful to not have to “duck and cover” like other people do in countries at war now.

What am I missing America? Or should I ask white America: where is the rest of our population? Today, on independent global news Democracy Now! an interesting article featuring orator Frederick Douglass, speaking to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in 1852, on: “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” said, among other things:

The Fourth of July is yours, not mine. The blessings in which you rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by [between] you, not [with] me.”

It behooves us to remember that provisions and prosperity taken by self-determination, a self-serving mind-set, and forced subjugation was instrumental in the war to win freedom not only from political dependencies, but for shorter roads leading to lasting economic independence, albeit enduring bends and potholes along the way.   Suffice it to say that the colonial apple didn’t fall far from the motherland tree; yet for some today, independence and representation still means recognition in the union — for instance — not under a flag of confederate states and all that it represents.

The Maryland Back-Story:

Becoming a state in 1776, “the Free State,” was not commercially provisional, political, or religiously free to just everyone. At Elk Ridge Landing, as in other historical places, the hub of activity had been particularly opportune for the planter and merchant. It became a microcosm for industry and exchange for international export.   It’s actual role in the fight for independence served best for its location for transient troops. As part of a larger picture, Howard First District was self-absorbed in its daily commerce, which major concerns did not include the right of self-control for everybody brought to its Maryland shores nor to its Patapsco wharves.

Economics of Servitude and Slavery:

Negro slaves were introduced into the colony in 1619, and 22 of them were living there in 1624. During the period of the royal government, about 600 to 700 white servants were annually imported, bound to service for terms of six or seven years to furnish the principal labor supply on plantations. In the latter part of the 17th century, Maryland received large numbers of convict laborers. In 1699, the colony laid a heavy duty upon the importation of Irish Catholics “to prevent too great a number of Irish Papists in the colony.”

As plantations increased in size and number, they constantly demanded larger supplies of cheap labor. The economy of Maryland became increasingly dependent upon the labor of Negro slaves. Ask Charles Carroll of Carrollton with 350 slaves by 1783.   Among the passengers on the Ark and the Dove, who established the first settlement in Lord Baltimore’s colony in 1634, was a mulatto, probably brought from Barbados. Eight years later, Gov. Leonard Calvert bargained for delivery of 13 slaves at St. Mary’s.

The institution of slavery was recognized and regulated by law in the colony and after 1692, any person coming as a resident into Maryland from any part of the king’s dominions was allowed to bring his slaves free. As early as 1664, the Maryland Assembly passed an act obliging Negro slaves to serve for life, thus preventing them from suing for their freedom after they accepted Christianity. In 1671, the Assembly declared in “An Act for the Encouraging and Importation of Negroes and Slaves into this Province,” that neither slaves nor their progeny should be entitled to their freedom by reason of the conversion and baptism to Christianity. In 1729, the British Crown Attorney and Solicitor General ruled that baptism did not change a slave’s legal status. Slavery was therefore justified not as a penalty for heathenism, but as a means for promoting the material prosperity of the colonies.

In the latter part of the 18th century, shipments of slaves from the Guinea coast of Africa and the West Indies were not often advertised in the newspapers; most of the slaves offered for sale were born in Maryland and had acquired skills in a trade or a craft. Negro slavery supplied the major labor force of the colony and sustained its plantation economy of agriculture for commerce and revenue.

What are we celebrating here America?

Economics of Exchange:

As long as Maryland made tobacco the basis of its currency, its economy operated on a barter system essentially and served the needs of a primitive economy. But Maryland’s foreign commerce expanded and needed a medium of exchange that would have international acceptance – like paper money of their own issue, to stimulate their trade both internal and external, giving them stronger basis for credit transactions abroad and as a gesture of independence. Despite the salaried class and the Anglican clergy, agitation for paper money was reinforced by the humorous poem published in Annapolis in 1730 entitled “Sotweed Redivivus: Or the Planters Looking Glass” by author E[benezer] C[ook], Gent (made Poet Laureate of Maryland).   The people were

 “Reduc’d to Penury indeed,

  By feeding on this Indian Weed.”

 good god

In 1732, the Assembly passed a bill to print ₤36,000 of paper money provided the Proprietor approved [not], until eventually he did for ₤90,000 to circulate for 31 years. In 1733, Maryland legislature incorporated into the paper money act, three courses of action to reverse the low price of tobacco:   1) reduction of each annual crop, 2) destruction of all poor tobacco (burned by appointed tobacco burners), and 3) abstention from planting every 4th or 5th year. But after the enactment of the paper currency, hardly a year passed when persons were not prosecuted for refusing to destroy trash tobacco. The currency rapidly deteriorated, going as low as half its par value. Without the willingness of the planters to submit to improving the quality of the crop, they still exported trash, giving Maryland tobacco a bad name abroad.

Besides occurring customs frauds and low tobacco quality, fixed by law were the officer’s fees and Anglican clergy incomes, difficult for colony planters to afford and to maintain with the tobacco trade and all the livelihood and growth associated with it.   The tobacco inspection act of 1747 solved these problems, forbidding tobacco to be exported from Maryland at any other place than from public warehouses after due inspection by appointed inspectors chosen by vestrymen and church wardens of each locality.

It would be interesting to know if and what church in Elk Ridge Landing chose Nicholas Maccubin the tobacco inspector in 1750.

Economics of Manufacturing:

Maryland, like England’s other colonies in America, was encouraged to develop local industries. As the Navigation Acts (designed to give the mother country a monopoly of the products of the colonies) were enforced, the colonists gave increased attention to home industries. But Maryland’s preoccupation with tobacco agriculture, and by the lack of means for trading in a free world market, and by local impediments (the absence of towns, lack of commercial information, and difficulty of getting goods to market), limited the development of centralized industries. Plantation operations run by slave labor provided sufficiently large local markets for clothing, shoes, bedding, hardware, tools, etc. as to constitute nascent manufacturing centers. However, most Marylanders preferred imported products for themselves and their slaves to the exclusion of home manufacturers.

On the other hand, the British government encouraged the production of not only tobacco, but also raw materials needed by the royal navy. For this purpose in 1664, the Lords of Trade removed duties upon the importation of hemp, pitch and tar. After the wars with France, the London authorities endeavored to stimulate the production of hemp, flax, tar, rosin, pitch and naval timbers in Maryland. But the Brits were not willing to develop this industry at the expense of tobacco, allowing the economy of the Province to revolve almost entirely around the weed so that there would be no loss of royal revenue.

With the British enactments, particularly the revenue laws, colonial industries derived some amounts of protection for the purpose of discouraging its imports from abroad. Such was the Maryland law of 1671 which granted a bounty of a pound of tobacco for every pound of hemp raised in the Province and 2 pounds of tobacco for every found of flax in an attempt to restrict the importation of linen cloth. In order to encourage the iron industry, Maryland exempted mechanics and other laborers employed in iron works from militia duty and the road tax. I would think that would include exemptions for the Dorsey forges near Elk Ridge Landing. During the War for American Independence, Maryland extended the same privilege to employees of salt works and paper mills. Among others, that would include the mill workers for the Ellicott brothers.

In return, all in all, Maryland did little exportation to meet the British need for naval stores. The colony exported hemp or flax to England and prepared no large timber for the British navy. Maryland’s principal but mostly negligible contribution was staves for barrels and casks and the Brits enacted a bounty law of 1705, which increased production only slightly. Manufacturing was still comparatively negligible in Maryland and the colonists were obliged to depend on England for their manufactured goods as well as British imports from Europe and the Orient.   The colonists complained that they could not meet their requirements for manufacturing by importing from England and could not induce English merchants to send them adequate supplies of goods in a year of poor harvest.

The little manufacturing that developed in Maryland before the Revolution was of the domestic sort, and during the period of royal government from 1690 to 1715, an authoritative study shows “there is not a single record of the export from Maryland of articles of native manufacture.”

After the Revolution, with shipbuilding and flour production, Maryland exports and trading out of Baltimore picked up speed, particularly with Latin America.

Economics of Politics, the Crown and the Constitution:

Under the royal government, as previously under the proprietary government, Maryland tobacco also furnished a principal source of revenue for the support of the Anglican Church, but the English officials in the colony.   These officials were paid from the revenues collected from the duty of two shillings on each hogshead of tobacco exported from the colony. During the proprietary period, one-half of this duty had been used for the support of the government and the other half was paid to the Proprietor. When the Proprietor’s claims to Maryland were forfeited to the crown, three quarters of the government’s share of the export duty on tobacco was paid to the royal governor and the other fourth was spent for the defense of the Province. A law of 1692 gave the governor an additional 3 pence per hogshead for his own use. It gets worse. With all the other duties and levies, Maryland’s governor drew an income only second to the governor of Jamaica, and was rendered independent to the legislature for his salary.

After the American Revolution and the War of 1812, the need for constitutional reform in Maryland became acute with the panic of 1837, because the ensuing bankruptcy of Maryland demonstrated that the legislature had played fast and loose with the finances and credit of the state. Opposition to these proposed constitutional changes and to the summoning of a new constitutional convention centered principally in the southern and eastern counties of the state, which were interested in the preservation of slavery and foresaw that a new constitution might alter the relationship between masters and slaves. Whereas the northern and western counties had a diminishing slave population, the southern counties had increases. Their opposition to constitutional change was supported by the Whig party, which in general deplored any agitation of the slavery question and opposed any alteration in the existing system of representation.

colonial politics

The Whigs were thoroughly committed to the institution of slavery and largely controlled the public treasury through their disproportionately large representation. So great was the interest of southern Maryland in slavery, that the question of secession was actually discussed there during the contest for seats in the convention of 1850.   But the new constitution, as finally drafted, recognized and protected slavery and forbade the legislature to pass “any law abolishing the relation of master or slave as it now exists in the state” thus allaying the apprehensions of the southern and eastern counties regarding the institution of slavery.

Also, unless it is researched, it is not obvious public knowledge that Francis Scott Key, who wrote our national anthem, and John Latrobe were (among others) partners in the Maryland Chapter of the American Colonization Society whose mission was to raise money to remove slaves and ex-slaves back to Africa (Liberia of Maryland). These even had to buy their own ticket. By that time, most had been born in the state and didn’t want to start over in survival mode in a foreign country, even if it was of their ancestors. 

Independence Day is a fitting time to reflect on the role that grass-roots organizing for social change has played in building this nation. Among other things, the horrific massacres at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, S.C. also compels us to question just how far we have progressed toward the ideals enshrined in that document signed on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence.

It’s no longer a matter of “them” versus “us.” Ideals won’t be realized until all are welcome.


Dozer, Donald M. “Portrait of a Free State,” Tidewater Publ., 1976.

Goodman, Amy and Moynihan, Dennis   www.democracynow.org/ blog/2015/7/2

Additional reading:

Barth, John  “The Sotweed Factor,” The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.


Acknowledgement:  This post represents the research and beliefs of the author, and does not necessarily represent the beliefs and traditions of the Elkridge Heritage Society as a whole.

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