Black Townsmen: Urban Slavery and Freedom in the by Mariana L. R. Dantas (auth.)

By Mariana L. R. Dantas (auth.)

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Commerce in Baltimore and Sabará was not restricted, however, to the importing and exporting businesses of European and local commercial agents. Both towns housed and regularly accommodated various persons who earned their living by selling local products in small stores or stalls, or who peddled different commodities through the streets, neighborhoods, and in the environs of these towns. In fact, to a large extent, daily urban life relied heavily on this petty commerce, which supplied urban households with various products essential to their subsistence.

An explanation for the town’s slow development resides, in part, in the predominance of tobacco production and trade in the region. During the second half of the seventeenth century, tobacco, found to be an ideal crop for the Chesapeake, and a popular commodity in Europe, became the local cash crop, absorbing most of the cleared land and much of the labor of its inhabitants. Intensive dedication to the production of tobacco discouraged the type of economic diversification and individual specialization royal officials and colonial legislators hoped would emerge, and, thereby, promote town formation.

Cruz also regretted not having more wigs, writing that had he brought more he would have quickly sold them all. 43 Cruz’s letters also commented on the local economy and its potential for larger profits. 44 Encouraged by these favorable prospects, Francisco da Cruz decided to open a store in Sabará. In that same year, he purchased a house in town and worked on the necessary renovations. Because he was still tied to his obligations as a public notary, he also hired an assistant capable of writing and counting to help him keep the business ledgers.

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