A series of navigation acts were enforced and certain products could only be sent to England.
Colonial trade was shaped by many factors, not the least of which were the rules and regulations placed upon it by England. The colonies were expected to create great profits for the motherland, and rules were put in place to ensure that this continued to happen. These mercantilist policies were tolerated by the colonists for a long time as just a part of doing business, but eventually became more and more strict, and even could be cited as reasons for the American Revolution. Because of these rules and restrictions, the New England colonies relied heavily on trade with the other English colonies, with whom they were allowed to trade freely.
Trading missions from New England would start out by sending cargoes to the West Indies.
These cargoes consisted of “barrel staves and hoops, shingles and boards, dried or pickled fish, flour, etc.” Captains of training vessels would travel to all the islands of the Indies, selling their cargo in the ports where they could get the best prices, and also where they could pick up profitable cargoes for their return trips to New England. Most of the time, these return cargoes consisted of rum, sugar, and molasses, which were in heavy demand in New England. New Englanders were also allowed to trade with the French, Dutch, and Spanish colonists in the Indies and elsewhere, as long as England was not currently at war with them.
On return trips, the trading vessels would make stops at the middle colonies and make further trades for wheat, flour, and other produce which was also taken back to New England and used for local production. Finally, these ships would return to New England with their cargoes. They would take their profits in lumber, which they could bring back to the West Indies and trade again. It kept the cycle of trade going perpetually.
Inter-colonial trade seemed to be the most important and profitable trade for the New England colonies
As opposed to trade with England itself. This is not to say that such trade did not happen. Merchants in England looked at the colonies as a new and exciting marketplace for their products, and shipped them there in great quantities, even when they weren’t receiving much of a profit. Many importers in New England went into debt with the England merchants, and remained so until the Revolutionary War, which effectively wiped out these debts. Many items were also shipped from the colonies to England, especially so-called “enumerated items,” such as tobacco, rice, indigo, and sugar, which England had ruled could only be shipped to England.
These enumerated items were part of the navigation acts that England had passed during this time period. The acts stated that only ships of English registry were able to trade with England or the colonies. This is why there was virtually no transoceanic trade with other non-English countries during this time period.
Despite the restrictions placed upon them by England, the colonists carved out a profitable and productive trade pattern. Essentially a barter system on a large scale, these patterns kept needed items in ports up and down the east coast of the new world, and also in the ports of the West Indies.