As the name suggests, cash crops bring in money. (Producers plant and harvest other kinds of crops to feed their families or their livestock.) In the early seventeenth century, European settlers caught wind of how well tobacco would sell, so plantations became a growing interest among wealthy colonists. For more than 175 years, tobacco cultivation formed the basis of Southern economy. Eager English buyers back home welcomed imports from this new country; in turn, English ships brought over tea, sugar, and slaves.
What kind of cash crops did they grow in the South in early America?
After the 1790s, cotton led the bestseller list among cash crops. Invention of the cotton gin, a labor-saving device for removing seeds from the soft fiber, bumped up cotton production. Settlers in the South also cashed in on crops of rice and indigo, both of which they exported to Europe.
By the way, next time you look at the nice blue color in your jeans, pause for thanks to Eliza Lucas. Around 1740, 17-year-old Eliza began experimenting with indigo plant seeds from the West Indies. Before long, she was raising crops and handing out advice and seeds to neighbors, a venture that blossomed into a major cash crop for colonists. Eliza's indigo adventure still helps color some of the 2 billion pair of jeans around the world today!