Agriculture has almost always been a part of the Chesapeake Bay region and was and still is extremely important. It left impacts on society early on by driving slave labor in the region and by driving the economy with profitable money crops. Money crops brought many settlers to the Chesapeake Bay region in hopes of making it big which in turn boosted the economy. The boost in agriculture called for the development of new technologies that are the basis of what we use today. Today, the Bay is seeing lasting negative effects from agriculture then and today. Slavery and technology were jump started by agriculture in colonial Virginia which was critical to developing the Chesapeake Bay region and making it what it is today.
The first agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay region was the Native Americans and then followed by some of the early settlers. However, the first large scale agriculture in the area was the tobacco boom in the colonial time period. Tobacco became a huge money crop in the region and opened the way for more crops to start. Ed Shultz, a farmer in colonial Williamsburg said, “more land, more labor, more tobacco”. The people wanted more land so they had more room to grow crops. They wanted more labor, which in this case was slavery, so they could grow and sell more tobacco. Because of tobacco’s high profit, many English settlers moved to the Chesapeake Bay region for the chance to get rich growing and selling tobacco. These settlers and the use of slaves and other laborers created different social classes with strict ‘rules’ in society. The rich, wealthy, and gentry mostly lived in the towns and usually had something to do with government and politics. The middle class weren’t wealthy or poor but were still white. The lowest class was the slaves, the indentured servants, and the dirt poor, none of which had much other than the clothes on their back. Agriculture had a great impact on this because it separated out land owners, farmers, planters, slaves, indentured servants, and others from each other and each was looked at in different ways. Large scale agriculture was just as important then as it is today.
In the colonial time period slavery was as important to agriculture, as agriculture is to feeding society. Slavery is obviously unethical and is a shameful part of our history, but it was “critical” to the development of the region in Ed Shultz’s words. Tobacco was the money crop that brought hopeful farmers and planters to the area, but slavery was the gateway that let it all happen. These farmers, planters, and rich landowners needed someone to take care of their crop, and the more slaves they had the more they could grow. Socially, slaves were looked at as a sign of wealth because they were so valuable. Slavery, even though it did and still does have tremendous negative effects on society, it was vital to agriculture in the colonial period and the development of the Chesapeake Bay region as a whole.
When the tobacco boom slowed down in the Chesapeake Bay region, the rise of more crops started like wheat and cotton which also brought new technologies a long with their growth. Wheat was less labor intensive than tobacco so less labor (less slaves) was needed to grow the crop. Because of this, many slaves were sold to the southern states or freed. Cotton on the other hand was very labor intensive and needed the seeds to be picked from it. This lead to the invention of the cotton gin and many new kinds of farm equipment like the combine. These inventions have developed into the large scale farm equipment that we have today that is crucial to our society today. Large scale agriculture and the technologies it helped to develop are what feeds most of the billions of people on earth today.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is filled with farmland today and the focus of much of the area is agriculture. This still today plays a big part in the society around the Bay with that being people’s way of life. It also plays a large role in the environment because agriculture is in the spotlight for the Bay’s poor health. Plowing land and cutting down trees to have more farmland causes erosion and sediment to end up in the waterways. Also, nutrient runoff from fertilizers used in agriculture are ending up in the Bay. Both of these have negatively left an impact on the Chesapeake Bay’s health by increasing eutrophication in the water ways of the Bay. Even though the farmland surrounding the Bay is part of the aesthetic of the region, the negative health of the Bay goes against this.
Agriculture in colonial Virginia was crucial to developing the Chesapeake Bay region then and it is still developing it today. Slavery was a major part of agriculture then and we wouldn’t be where we are today without it, even though it goes against all of our ethics today. Agriculture was the driving force behind many inventions that were ground breaking then and are still important to us today. Even though agriculture is so critical to our society today, it is blamed partly for decreases in the health of the Bay. All in all, agriculture is immensely important to the Chesapeake Bay watershed and has made society what it is from day one.