VII. Industry, Technology, and Services
1. Introduction. In this section, I am interested in better understanding industry sectors, technology levels, and service activities found in the Norther Neck during the 1600s and 1700s and how they compared with today. I pursue this understanding by exploring such topics as: agriculture; manufacturing, services, and technologies. One objective is to connect my ancestors (listed in the Section I, Introduction tables) with topics in this section that they might have been involved in.
2. Agriculture. During the 1600s and into the middle 1700s, the tobacco industry was the largest income producer in the Northern Neck. During this time, agricultural practices evolved in terms of: standard procedures; regulator needs; practitioner knowledge and successes; and other factors that make a major industry successful. The primary market during this time was overseas, so good export practices were crucial.
Also contributing to the success of the industry were: the growing English and European demand for tobacco products; the land that the English immigrants had available to them and could convert successfully into growing tobacco; the knowledge and contacts that the English immigrants had of and in England that greatly assisted them in sales in England; the ready access to waterways that easily led to the Atlantic Ocean; the capability to conduct trans-Atlantic crossings in sufficient time to deliver the product successfully; governmental practices that allowed farmers to prosper by growing tobacco; and the ability to import necessary tools, animals, and other materials by farmers. This set of characteristics to a successful export enterprise seems to me to have not much changed over time. A conclusion is that these characteristics of the 1600s and 1700s Northern Neck tobacco industry indicate how successful that industry was.
Estimates are that between 1750 and 1755, the Northern Neck region produced approximately 85,000 hogsheads of tobacco. This period is considered to be close to, if not the most, successful period for the Northern Neck tobacco industry. A hogshead was a large, wooden barrel designed to store and transport tobacco. Hogsheads needed to be standardized for used in the industry, so that each one had about 1,000 pounds of tobacco. So, 85,000 hogsheads of tobacco would be about 85 million pounds (85,000 hogherds times 1,000 pounds per hogshead) or about 39,000 metric tons (85 million pounds divided by 2,205 pounds per metric ton). By comparison, the United States exported in 1978, its peak year in tobacco leaf exports, about 348,000 metric tons of tobacco leaf. My conclusion is that 39,000 metric tons exported by the Northern Neck tobacco industry is not an inconsiderable amount, and the tobacco industry in the Northern Neck, at its peak, was a major colony industry sector.
During this large tobacco industry period, the Northern Neck would look much different than it does today, with many tobacco barns scattered about, frequent hogsheads transgressing over specially-designed roads to river-side wharfs, and fields full of tree trunks not needed to be removed in land clearing, saving much labor. Also no powered mechanical devices would be seen in the fields doing labor work, only men, women, children, horses, and oxen. Fencing had very limited use, usually only for a garden suppling a family’s vegetables. Cattle would not be fenced in and could be seen roaming freely.
Getting tobacco to market was a 15-month process from planting the seeds in January to picking the leaf in September to drying the leaf for 6 months and shipping in April of the following year. It was a very labor-intensive process and accounts for the strong planters desire for African slaves.
But, unfortunately for the Northern Neck tobacco farmer, by the late 1700s, at least two occurrences met the end of the industry in the Northern Neck: first, the exhaustion of most, if not, all the Northern Neck land, due to overgrowing of tobacco on the land, a plant that extracts necessary land nutrients unmercifully; and, second, the decline of the market demand for the products that Northern Neck tobacco farmers could provide.
The following ancestors were tobacco farmers, based on land ownership:
Joseph Ball (1649-1711)
William Ball (1615-1680)
Walter Broadhurst (1618-1658)
Robert Carter (1663-1732)
James Claughton (1639-1698)
John Cralle (1660-1728)
Nathaniel Pope (1603-1660)
John Washington (1631-1677)
The agriculture industry in the Northern Neck today is relatively small compared to what it was in the 1700s with tobacco farming. The Northern Neck agriculture industry represents a small part of the Virginia agriculture output in terms of total sales – approximately 3%. This was likely not the case in the 1700s, where Northern Neck agriculture represented a much higher percentage of the Virginia Colony agriculture sales. The following table provides some data on the Northern Neck agriculture in 2017 (from US census data):
3. Wheat, Corn, and Flour Production. As the Northern Neck tobacco industry was declining in the latter parts of the 1700s, farmers were increasing their production of wheat and corn. This led to the development of flour-producing mills (sometimes called grist mills), some of which became significant commercially. An example of this was Robert Carter III (1728-1804), a grandson of Robert Carter (1663-1732), who operated very successful flour mills in Westmoreland County. In the 1790s, one Westmoreland County area had 23 grist mills.
A development helping the Northern Neck farmer to increase wheat and wheat production was improved plows and harrows (e.g., better designs and materials). Also the land in the 1700s was freer of roots and tree stomps, that interfere with plow and harrow use. The tobacco farmers did not find use for plows and harrows, but wheat and corn farmers did.
The Northern Neck being surrounded by water, with excellent access to that water, also greatly assisted the export of wheat and corn. Baltimore was becoming the site of large production of flour, and the Northern Neck had excellent, quick access by water to Baltimore, which provided a competitive advantage to Northern Neck farmers (until the development of canals and railroads). Baltimore competitive access to wheat and corn from the Northern Neck helped Baltimore become a major flour producer.
It was during this period when increased immigration were occurring to lands west of the Virginia falls line and other areas. This increased immigrant population created new markets for products, such as the flour produced by the mills, which developed areas, such as the Northern Neck, could produce more efficiently and effectively. These new markets helped to sustain the Northern Neck agriculture sector. The lessons learned from the tobacco industry likely assisted in helping Northern Neck farmers create successful product-exporting capacities, leading to successful exporting to areas west of the Northern Neck.
4. Forestry. When English immigrants first settled in the Northern Neck in the 1640s, greater than 90 percent of the land was likely covered by thick forests of oak, pine, and American chestnut, and perhaps other species. Harvesting these trees for use in various industries, such as house and ship building, became a Northern Neck industry sector, a sector that no longer exists in the Northern Neck in any substantive way. Tar, pitch, and other materials were also produced by the forestry industry.
5. Shipbuilding. Ship-use in the Northern Neck by tobacco farmers to export their products was extensive. Also, because of the extensive waterways around the Northern Neck, the use of boats and ships to travel about was extensive. This, and the forests that existed, led to the creation of a 1600s and 1700s shipbuilding industry in the Northern Neck. Besides the availability of trees for shipbuilding, iron ore, tar, pitch, rosin, and flax for rope making were locally available. A specialty of the Northern Neck shipbuilding industry was ships that were suitable for the shallow waters surrounding the Northern Neck. Estimates are that 10 to 15% of the ships used by the English were built in the Virginia and Maryland Colonies.
Shipbuilders (or in some cases ship repairers) had the name of shipwrights or ship carpenters in the 1600s and 1700s. Often shipwrights would own land along the rivers of the Northern Neck, where ships under construction could be easily spotted. Kinsale, in Westmoreland County on the Yeocomico River that flows into the Potomac, was an active area of shipbuilding in the 1700s. Shipbuilding in the Northern Neck, as well as ship and boat use, has continued, but likely nowhere near the frequency level that was present in the 1700s.
6. Earthenware (Pottery). Bowls, plates, and other earthenware were produced as early as the late 1600s in Westmoreland County. Earthenware was also extensively imported from England. The production of earthenware was being perfected in England and the acceptance and demand of the English products growing. Certain areas of England, such as Barnstaple and Bideford, in North Devon, became well-known for their output. An important factor was the characteristics of the local clays used to produce the earthenware. Production included ovens and pipes. Archaeology has found evidence of much pipe use in the Northern Neck in the 1600s and 1700s.
7. Spinner Halls. Buildings, known as spinner halls, existing in the late 1600s in Lancaster County, were used for spinning linen and cloth. Looms, flax wheels, and hackles could be found in these buildings.
8. Mining. An iron ore mine existed in King George County in the 1720s. Whether the mining operations included the capacity to convert the mined iron ore to iron (a chemical process) is not known. England was a market for iron. Pig iron was being shipped to England in the 1700s from the Northern Neck. Finding iron ore and producing and using iron was emphasized from the 1600s beginnings of the English Colony. Iron ore workers and iron/blacksmith workers were included in the initial hundreds of immigrants to the James River settlements.
The large amount of oysters shells, accumulated along the river banks in large piles over the years by the Indians, would be used in improving road surfaces and construction materials.
9. Trade Services. As the population and economy in the Northern Neck grew, the need for trade professionals in several areas grew. Craftsmen such as: container makers (coopers); metal workers (smiths); carpenters (joiners); mill workers (millers); and stone workers (masons) became increasingly needed, and their skills and practices developed accordingly. The development of other sectors help to create a demand for specialist craftsmen and trade services.
10. Merchant Services. In the 1600s and early 1700s, services (e.g., the sale of merchandize) provided by merchants were provided extensively by merchants in England, shipping items ordered by farmers to the Northern Neck. Later in the 1700s, merchants began appearing in the Northern Neck, and elsewhere in the Virginia Colony, providing items for sale directly to buyers. Many of these merchants were from Scotland. For more about Scottish merchants and their relationship to the Northern Neck economy see Section VIII, Economics, Subsection 6, Supply Chain.
11. Legal Services. Being an attorney in the 1600s and 1700s was much different than being one today. Licenses were not required; legal schools and legal degrees did not exist. The county court system was where the important legal decisions were made; appeals beyond the county court were unlikely. And many decisions at the county court was based on common sense; little legal precedent, which would serve as guidance, existed.
12. Communication Services. Prior to 1780, only one newspaper existed in Virginia – the Virginia Gazette. This publication provided a critical communication function. Many depended on it for posting announcements. See Section IV, Culture, Subsection 6 (Language and Communications) for more about the Virginia Gazette.
A mail service operated in the 1700s, managed by the British Government. Certain roads were designated as “post roads”, on which mail was transported. These roads ran along the east coast. Post service between the colonies and England also operated. After the establishment of the American government and the State of Virginia, following the War of Independence, post offices were established. The first Virginia State post offices apparently were affiliated with county court houses. The following Northern Neck county courthouses had post offices by the year shown: King George – 1800; Lancaster – 1792; Northumberland – 1792; Richmond – 1794; and Westmoreland – 1792. James Claughton, an ancestral last name, was the postmaster in Northumberland in 1799.
Almanacs were published during the 1700s and were a popular source of information. The first almanac was printed in the 1740s at the Williamsburg Printing Office, a private business started in the 1730s to print Virginia Colony government documents. The Williamsburg Printing Office became a very successful business, serving as an important source of printed materials for the Virginia Colony. See the Section IV, Culture, Subsection 6, Language and Communication, for more on almanacs.
13. Science and Technology. Medical service providers were not particularly successful in the 1660s and early 1700s in providing effective treatments, due to a lack of sufficient understanding of what causes diseases and their treatment. This began to improve towards the end of the 1700s. For example, small pox inoculations began at the end of the 1700s. No medical schools existed in the colonies; one had to go to Europe for schooling. The numbers of medical practitioners were insufficient for most residents to see a medical specialist, even if that specialist had limited ability to provide a treatment. Child delivery practices resulted in extremely high infant and mother mortality rates. Dental care was terrible. The quality of medical care then, in the 1600s and the 1700s, was simply incomparable to what is available today. The care was often useless. Medical problems then were a real drag on the society.
The following technology improvements would become available during the 1700s and possibly experienced by many in the Northern Neck:
An early flush toilet;
Kitchen stoves, e.g., the Franklin Stove;
A lighting rod;
A steam engine (by the end of the 1700s);
A revolving bookstand, assisting in multi-tasking;
Advanced fiber spinning processes, increasing yarn production;
Carbonated water (for upset stomachs);
Improved farming technology, including better designed tools;
Better surveying tools, such as a better compass (surveying was a critical service as the Northern Neck was being settled).
Northern Neck 2017 agri data table
acreage in farming
% of total county acres in farming
average size of a farm
% of state agricultural sales
number of farms