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Even in the 1700s, many people were cognizant of the need to place their money into programs and items that would see the best possible return. Sometimes this focused on items to make work and home life easier. At others, it was placing capital to build their nest egg. For some, there were a variety of alternative options for investment aside from traditional agriculture and property. Many of the imperatives and incentives to invest today are similar to those in the 18th century. But there has certainly been an evolution. 

Let’s dive into a few of the main ways in which the practice has developed or indeed stayed the same during the course of the last few centuries.

Primary Investments

Investment had a role in shaping the U.S. as we know it today. Colonization of the country in the 1700s was considered by the English to be a form of investment. Charter companies were set up by the wealthy to fund ventures in the colonies. Run on a day-to-day basis by regular settlers, the charter companies hoped these largely agricultural projects would generate profit for investors back in England. This didn’t happen quickly enough, however, and many of the land assets were given over by the charter companies to the settlers themselves. In turn, this gave U.S. settlers a certain amount of autonomy and they grew economically and functionally independent communities. In essence, it produced the landscape ripe for revolution. 

Aside from the acquisition of assets from charter companies, the primary focus for investment for most families in the 18th century was property. This wasn’t attainable by the large majority of working-class families, though. The value of property was such that there was still a rental expectation for many families or working the land for other owners. Though in the latter part of the 18th century there was some potential for farmers to invest in land to help build those early townships.

Now, there is a familiar lending system in place to empower people to invest in homeownership. Indeed, there are common aspects to make certain contemporary purchasers get the most out of their properties. Current investors know not to rush into buying a house but to review elements that may suggest whether a property represents a good return on their capital or might have expensive issues further down the line. This could include the state of structural integrity and pest control issues. The level of knowledge sophistication, funding accessibility, and even choice available to home investors today has progressed significantly.

Essential Items

Colonial Americans in general had a relatively good income. In fact, they had a higher rate of financial assets than their counterparts in other areas of the western world. This doesn’t mean to say they had a huge amount of money to make investments for their future. You certainly didn’t find your average 18th-century citizen investing in a well-stocked wine cellar unless they were already of significant means. Rather, the investments of your average citizen were those essentials to make sure they could maintain a certain standard of living.

During this period, the core investment would have been horses. As a strong and relatively reliable animal, horses were an asset for everything from agricultural duties to transport. They certainly weren’t cheap, though. Until the early part of the 18th century, horses were a symbol of wealth as they had to be imported from Europe. But as breeding expanded it became the case most households were able to invest in at least one horse by the mid-1700s.  

Of course, the need for investment didn’t end there. Colonial settlers had to pay for tack, health, and general upkeep of this valuable resource. This is a remarkable similarity to our way of life today. As opposed to a horse, a car is still one of the most accessible but valuable investments U.S. citizens engage in today. Again, it’s not just the cost of the vehicle itself. Car owners can improve the longevity of their investment by committing to regular routine maintenance. Much of this can be handled personally with even some car repairs well within the skills of many owners. This can include brake pad updates, oil changes, and swapping out spark plugs. There is a divergence here from the 18th-century approach. You’d be unlikely to see most owners shoeing their horses or engaging in much DIY veterinary care.  

Market Approach

While there wasn’t quite the same access to information on the markets in the 1700s we have today, there was knowledge of how elements were rising and falling. This was particularly evident as the 18th century was a turbulent time at which those investing in stocks across various shipping and agricultural sectors saw fluctuations. These were largely a result of the multiple periods of war, revolution, and political machinations. As such protocols to reduce risk were in place when utilizing the markets to achieve gains.  

One approach was diversifying investment strategies. This had its roots in an even earlier time when merchants began swapping different types of cargo across multiple vessels. This was to mitigate the potential for goods to be lost at sea; in effect one of the earliest forms of insurance.

Over the next couple of centuries, this diverse approach to the markets has become more sophisticated but shares goals. Investors now have the resources to build a stronger and more secure portfolio that includes a range of markets. Focuses here can include stocks, bonds, and index funds among others. However, having access to the markets in a way that would have been unheard of in the 18th century still has challenges. Without consideration for effectively managing their portfolios, today’s investors can suffer the effects of over-diversification.

Conclusion

The 18th-century approach to investing was certainly less accessible and sophisticated. That said, despite evolution over a few centuries, there are still aspects we’d be familiar with today. Property is still a priority and all classes are still investing in the purchase and maintenance of essential transport. This shows that while the markets may change there is a persistent sense of how investing our capital wisely pays off in the long run.

 

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho, and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.