What Was Colonial Delaware’s Economy Like?

Colonial Delaware’s economy was based on farming, manufacturing and trade. What started as local trade with Native Americans in the 1600s quickly grew into a large manufacturing economy in the 1700s. The iron, grain milling, shipbuilding and lumber industries accounted for a large portion of Colonial Delaware’s economy.

When the first permanent settlement was established in 1638, settlers traded kettles, rifles and cloth with the Native Americans in exchange for beaver, deer and mink. The economy soon expanded into manufacturing and trading with nearby states.

One of the most profitable sectors of Delaware’s colonial economy was shipbuilding. Dutch and Swedish immigrants built vessels for trade, as well as canoes and barges for personal use. The growth of the ship industry led to growth in other industries, particularly the milling industry. There were numerous flour mills, saw mills and paper mills.

Although Delaware was home to many craftsmen, merchants and shopkeepers, agriculture was still a significant industry. Many settlers were semi-subsistence farmers who lived on the food they grew on their land and traded the rest for goods. The most commonly grown foods were corn, flax, peas, beans and beets. Grain was exported to nearby cities and states by way of Delaware’s rivers.