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Atlantic History Atlantic Trade and the British Economy
by
Kenneth Morgan

Introduction

The relationship between overseas trade and British economic growth in the 17th and 18th centuries has long attracted historical attention. The two opposite spectra on this topic are either that foreign trade and overseas demand for British manufactured exports significantly boosted British economic growth, or that domestic demand, stimulated by population growth and agricultural productivity, was more important for the British economy. There is no definitive resolution to these different lines of interpretation; scholarly articles still appear regularly, supporting one end of the spectrum or the other. Between these two poles are many variations, though extreme positions are not usually expressed. In recent years, some historians have sought to bridge the gap between positing either home demand or foreign demand as triggers for British economic growth by exploring the ways in which aggregate demand was raised through a combination of internal and external economic stimuli. Transatlantic commerce is an important part of this debate because the 18th century witnessed the “Americanization” of British overseas trade; in others words, in geographical direction and in the proportion of exports taken from Britain and the imports supplied in return, the thirteen British North American colonies (later states) and the West Indies played a dominant role in British foreign trade. The primary sources and studies on this subject listed in this entry explore these issues in depth.

General Overviews

Davis 1954 and Davis 1962 are the starting point on quantitative trends in English foreign trade before the American Revolution. Davis’s book on British overseas trade (Davis 1979) performs a similar service for the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Price 1998 summarizes the main features of British imperial trade before 1776. Richardson 1998 offers a parallel survey of the chief characteristics of the British slave trade. Material on West India trade is found throughout Sheridan 1973, while Hamilton 2005 examines the role of the Scots in Anglo-Caribbean commerce. McCusker and Morgan 2000 gathers together a set of essays with detailed analysis of the transatlantic economy.

  • Davis, Ralph. “English Foreign Trade, 1660–1700.” Economic History Review 2d ser. 7.2 (1954): 150–166.

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    Classic overview of the main contours of English overseas trade in the late 17th century. Emphasizes the growth of transatlantic commerce, analyzes the structure of trade, and estimates its overall changes.

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  • Davis, Ralph. “English Foreign Trade, 1700–1774.” Economic History Review 2d ser. 15.2 (1962): 285–303.

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    A companion piece to Davis 1954. Examines the continuing growth of the colonial market for English manufactured goods and as a source of foodstuffs and beverages.

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  • Davis, Ralph. The Industrial Revolution and British Overseas Trade. Leicester, UK: Leicester University Press, 1979.

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    A careful reconstruction of the quantitative dimensions of British overseas trade in the early period of industrialization (covering 1784–1856). Extends Davis 1954 and Davis 1962. Shows how trade was an important influence on the balance of current payments.

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  • Hamilton, Douglas J. Scotland, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic World, 1750–1820. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2005.

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    A wide-ranging study of Scots’ activities in the West Indies, including their mercantile connections, especially in Jamaica and the Windward Islands.

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  • McCusker, John J., and Kenneth Morgan, eds. The Early Modern Atlantic Economy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    A set of essays arranged under four themes: the role of merchants and their connections, the development of trades, imperial economies, and colonial working societies.

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  • Price, Jacob M. “The Imperial Economy, 1700–1776.” In The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. 2, The Eighteenth Century. Edited by P. J. Marshall, 78–104. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Clear overview of the main features of British overseas commercial connections and of their interdependent parts. Covers imports, exports, the financing and organization of trade, and economic implications for the mother country.

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  • Richardson, David. “The British Empire and the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1660–1807.” In The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. 2, The Eighteenth Century. Edited by P. J. Marshall, 440–464. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Brief survey of the ebb and flow of transatlantic slaving in the British Empire up to the British abolition of that trade. Pays attention to the regional dimension of slaving activity in West Africa, North America, and the Caribbean.

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  • Sheridan, Richard B. Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies, 1623–1775. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

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    The standard economic history of the British Caribbean before the American War of Independence. Needs to be updated with more recent research but remains the best background work on its subject.

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Primary Sources

Foreign commerce was required to observe customs procedures and could therefore be followed more precisely by the British government than, say, the level of internal trade in the economy. The Customs, the Exchequer, the Treasury, the Admiralty, and the Board of Trade gathered statistical and other information on overseas commerce and shipping. From 1696 English statistics on the volume and value of trade were systematically recorded by the Customs. Similar Scottish statistics are available from 1755 onward. Several studies listed in this section have republished time series of trade using these records. Business evidence on the conduct of trade is also abundant in many archives throughout the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Caribbean. Though mercantile records survive more randomly than records generated by central government, there is no shortage of merchant letter books, invoice books, accounts, ledgers, bills of exchange, bills of lading, and memoranda dealing with the conduct and organization of trade. Examples of some major collections of documents generated by merchants are cited here.

Statistics

Voluminous statistics are available on British transatlantic trade, originally collected by various government departments. Schumpeter 1960 is an essential compendium of English trade statistics compiled from customs records, but it offers virtually no commentary on those materials. Carter, et al. 2006 includes detailed statistics on the flow of goods between Britain and the thirteen colonies that became the United States, with learned introductions to the data, their significance, and their context by John J. McCusker. Price 1975 produces annual data on 18th-century Scottish trade with North America. Morgan 2008 presents a contemporary compilation of shipping and trade statistics concerning Anglo-American trade, including estimates of illicit trade, but the data only cover select years in the 1740s. Rates of commercial exchange for the bills of exchange used for payments in British transatlantic trade are tabulated in McCusker 1992.

  • Carter, Susan B., Scott Sigmund Gartner, Michael R. Haines, Alan L. Olmstead, Richard Sutch, and Gavin Wright, eds. Historical Statistics of the United States: Earliest Times to the Present. Vol. 5, Part E. Governance and International Relations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    Includes a detailed section on economic data before 1790, including statistics on vessels clearing British North American ports; the wholesale prices of selected commodities at those ports; the annual value of imports into the thirteen North American colonies and states; the annual value of exports dispatched from thence to England and Scotland; and the quantities of select commodities imported into, and exported from, the thirteen colonies and states.

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  • McCusker, John J. Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600–1775: A Handbook. 2d ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

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    An essential sourcebook on the rates of exchange for bill payments concerning trade in different parts of the early modern North Atlantic trading world.

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  • Morgan, Kenneth. “Robert Dinwiddie’s Reports on the British American Colonies.” William and Mary Quarterly 65 (2008): 305–346.

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    Contemporary reports for 1740, 1742, and 1748 on the population, trade, and shipping of the British North American and Caribbean colonies by a well-informed observer. Many statistical estimates are included. Particularly useful on trade and shipping across imperial boundaries.

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  • Price, Jacob M. “New Time Series for Scotland’s and Britain’s Trade with the Thirteen Colonies and States, 1740 to 1791.” William and Mary Quarterly 32 (1975): 307–325.

    DOI: 10.2307/1921566Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Prints annual official sterling values of Scottish and British imports from, and exports to, the thirteen North American colonies and states.

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  • Schumpeter, Elizabeth B. English Overseas Trade Statistics, 1697–1808. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960.

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    Important compilation of statistics on trade and shipping from manuscript material at the National Archives in Kew, England. There is no equivalent publication for Scottish foreign trade statistics.

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Business Evidence

Merchant correspondence is the most common form of business material on the conduct of British transatlantic trade and its relation to the British economy. Devine 1984 transcribes the letters of an important Glasgow firm active in the tobacco trade with the Chesapeakethe main line of commerce between Scotland and the Americas before the American Revolution. Price 1979 complements this by presenting the letters of an American partner based in London for a firm also active in the Anglo-Chesapeake tobacco trade. Morgan 2007 selects correspondence and other documents on 18th-century Anglo–West Indian trade based on the largest manuscript collection on that subject found in Australian archives. Bruchey 1966 includes examples of business documents from merchants, factors, and planters in the British North American mainland colonies. Morgan 1992 includes assessments made by a young member of a Philadelphia firm on the manufactured goods available from British suppliers.

  • Bruchey, Stuart, ed. The Colonial Merchant: Sources and Readings. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1966.

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    Excerpts from mercantile correspondence and other sources on trade from the British North American colonies to other parts of the British Empire before 1776. Includes examples of major commercial documents.

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  • Devine, T. M., ed. A Scottish Firm in Virginia: William Cuninghame and Co., 1767–1777. Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society, 1984.

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    Correspondence of a merchant house involved in the “store” system in the Chesapeake when the Scottish tobacco trade was at its peak.

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  • Morgan, Kenneth, ed. An American Quaker in the British Isles: The Travel Journals of Jabez Maud Fisher, 1775–1779. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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    The travel journals of a young Philadelphia Quaker merchant who toured Britain and Ireland during the American War of Independence. Includes business commentary on manufactured goods for export to North America, the credit offered, and mercantile connections.

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  • Morgan, Kenneth, ed. The Bright-Meyler Papers: A Bristol–West India Connection, 1732–1837. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    A selection of the correspondence and related documents of two Bristol merchant families connected through marriage that specialized in trade with the West Indies, especially Jamaica. Includes a long introduction that places the material in context through consideration of the elements of risk, trust, morals, and reputation in mercantile practice.

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  • Price, Jacob M. Joshua Johnson’s Letterbook, 1771–1774: Letters from a Merchant in London to His Partners in Maryland. London: London Record Society, 1979.

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    Correspondence of a partner of a merchant firm trading between London and Maryland on the eve of the American Revolution. Informative on exports sent to the colonies, credit arrangements, and the Anglo-Chesapeake tobacco trade.

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Journals

No single journal caters for this sub-field of Atlantic history, but several international journals regularly publish relevant articles. Business History and Business History Review include articles on the financing and organization of trade. The William and Mary Quarterly regularly publishes articles on trade in the Atlantic world before c. 1820. The Economic History Review has essays on trade in relation to national and comparative economic performance. The Journal of Economic History offers articles on transatlantic trade that are usually framed in terms of economic theories. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History specializes in articles dealing with quantitative aspects of trade. Explorations in Economic History is the main journal for studies of trade using econometric techniques. From time to time important articles on trade and the British economy appear in the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society.

Merchants and Atlantic Trade

Price 1989 summarizes the author’s own research and that of other historians into the business role of British merchants in early modern transatlantic trade. Most detailed studies of merchants and Atlantic trade, however, concentrate either on individual merchant firms or on particular lines of transatlantic trade. Richardson, et al. 2007 has several chapters that investigate Liverpool merchants’ participation in the slave trade. Insights into the London merchant community active in the Atlantic trading world are found in Hancock 1995 and Price 1992. The activities of British West India merchants and their overseas representatives are considered by Morgan 1993 and Smith 2006. Scottish merchants involved in the Chesapeake tobacco trade have attracted detailed research by Price 1973 and Devine 1975.

  • Devine, T. M. The Tobacco Lords: A Study of the Tobacco Merchants of Glasgow and their Trading Activities c.1740–1790. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1975.

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    Detailed study of the Glasgow tobacco merchants and their commercial penetration of the Chesapeake.

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  • Hancock, David. Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735–1785. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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    Follows the careers of Scottish expatriate merchants in London and their varied partnerships and overseas trading connections. Includes an interesting chapter on their involvement in slave trading at Bance Island off the coast of Sierra Leone.

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  • Morgan, Kenneth. “Bristol West India Merchants in the Eighteenth Century.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th ser. 3 (1993): 185–208.

    DOI: 10.2307/3679141Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A prosopographical study of the leading fifty sugar merchants in Georgian Bristol, with material on their social and geographical origins, their career patterns, and their increased concentration in numbers.

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  • Price, Jacob M. France and the Chesapeake: A History of the French Tobacco Monopoly, 1674–1791, and of its relationship to the British and American Tobacco Trades. 2 vols. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1973.

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    Magisterial study of the economic and institutional dimensions of the connections between British merchants, Chesapeake agents and planters, and the French farmers-general who oversaw the importation of tobacco into ancien régime France.

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  • Price, Jacob M. “What Did Merchants Do? Reflections on British Overseas Trade, 1660–1790.” Journal of Economic History 49 (1989): 267–284.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0022050700007920Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the growth of English and Scottish foreign trade in this period in relation to merchant organization, the demand for American and Asian products in Britain, the American demand for British manufactured exports, and the growth of re-exports.

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  • Price, Jacob M. Perry of London: A Family and a Firm on the Seaborne Frontier, 1615–1753. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

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    Combines family, social, and business history in a study of a leading London family in the Chesapeake tobacco trade over several generations. Indicates the extent to which imaginative and rigorous in-depth research can overcome the lack of surviving business records for merchant firms.

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  • Richardson, David, Suzanne Schwarz, and Anthony Tibbles, eds. Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2007.

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    Diverse essays dealing with different aspects of Liverpool’s important role in the transatlantic slave trade. Several chapters deal with mercantile strategies in this trade.

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  • Smith, S. D. Slavery, Family, and Gentry Capitalism in the British Atlantic: The World of the Lascelles, 1648–1834. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    Studies the Caribbean mercantile and plantation interests of a family associated with ownership of Harewood House, Yorkshire. Includes an expert reconstruction of the financial affairs of the Lascelles.

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Ports and Atlantic Trade

Most academic studies of port cities related to British transatlantic trade have focused on individual ports. Zahedieh 2010 is the first monograph to examine London’s colonial commerce in the late 17th century. French 1992 provides a helpful short overview of the capital’s role in 18th-century overseas trade. Two leading English outports are studied by Hyde 1971 and Morgan 1993. The only monograph that compares two ports on different continents with transatlantic trading interests is Haggerty 2006, a comparative study of Liverpool and Philadelphia. Ports and harbors in West Africa and the British Caribbean are understudied. Law and Strickrodt 1999 includes some preliminary discussion of harbors in the Bights of Benin and Biafra. Price 1974 offers a fine synoptic overview of the economic function of North American ports. Burnard 2002 adopts a similar approach for the British Caribbean’s largest port city.

  • Burnard, Trevor. “‘The Grand Mart of the Island’: The Economic Function of Kingston, Jamaica in the Mid-Eighteenth Century.” In Jamaica in Slavery and Freedom: History, Heritage, and Culture. Edited by Kathleen E. A. Monteith and Glen Richards, 225–241. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2002.

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    Shows how Kingston’s economic function in the mid-18th century was inextricably bound up with slavery through the slave trade, commerce with Spanish America, and the supply of credit to planters.

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  • French, Christopher J. “‘Crowded with Traders and a Great Commerce’: London’s Domination of English Overseas Trade, 1700–1775.” London Journal 17 (1992): 27–35.

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    A solid study of London’s domination of British overseas trade that explains London’s relative decline in trade levels compared with the outports from the 1740s onward.

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  • Haggerty, Sheryllynne. The British-Atlantic Trading Community, 1760–1810: Men, Women, and the Distribution of Goods. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2006.

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    A comparative study of the commercial communities of Liverpool and Philadelphia that emphasizes transatlantic links. Includes interesting material on the distribution of goods to all levels in society. One of the few books to consider female as well as male traders.

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  • Hyde, F. E. Liverpool and the Mersey: An Economic History of a Port, 1700–1970. Newton Abbot, UK: David and Charles, 1971.

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    A broad survey of the shipping, trade, and port development of Liverpool. The best economic history of any British port city.

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  • Law, Robin, and Silke Strickrodt, eds. Ports of the Slave Trade (Bights of Benin and Biafra): Papers from a Conference of the Centre of Commonwealth Studies, University of Stirling, June 1998. Stirling, UK: Centre of Commonwealth Studies, 1999.

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    Exploratory studies of the ports and harbors of West Africa in the transatlantic slave trade.

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  • Morgan, Kenneth. Bristol and the Atlantic Trade in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    Charts the changing fortunes of Bristol’s transatlantic trades in exports, slaves, sugar, and tobacco, and the main features of shipping provision in those trades. Includes numerous tables with data on the leading British ports in 18th-century Atlantic trade.

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  • Price, Jacob M. “Economic Function and the Growth of American Port Towns in the Eighteenth Century.” Perspectives in American History 8 (1974): 123–186.

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    Wide-ranging survey of the trade, shipping, and occupational distribution of the population in the leading North American ports involved in Anglo-American commerce.

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  • Zahedieh, Nuala. The Capital and the Colonies: London and the Atlantic Economy, 1660–1700. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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    Detailed account of merchants, shipping, imports, and exports for London at a time when it accounted for three-quarters of England’s overseas trade.

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Commercial and Financial Organization

The complex procedures through which British merchants financed and organized their Atlantic voyages has attracted numerous studies dealing with particular trading sectors. Nash 2001 provides a good overview of the changing nature of those procedures over time. Price 1991 studies the use of credit in slavery and the slave trade. Sheridan 1958 examines the financing of the British slave trade via bills of exchange. Morgan 2005 explains payment mechanisms adopted in the British slave trade, notably long credit periods and the use of merchant “guarantees” to secure remittance. Davies 1952, a pioneering study of the English West India trade, accounts for the rise of a commission system in that important branch of foreign commerce. Price 1980 is the most perceptive and detailed monograph on the financing of early modern British trade, with chapters on Anglo-American tobacco merchants, their borrowing procedures on bond and from banks, and their use of commercial credit.

  • Davies, K. G. “The Origins of the Commission System in the West India Trade.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th ser. 2 (1952): 89–107.

    DOI: 10.2307/3678785Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A classic discussion of marketing arrangements in the English sugar trade in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Shows how London merchants acting on commission for Caribbean planters came to dominate sugar shipments to the metropolis.

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  • Morgan, Kenneth. “Remittance Procedures in the Eighteenth-Century British Slave Trade.” Business History Review 79 (2005): 715–749.

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    Analyzes the complex, changing payment patterns in the British slave trade, with emphasis on extending terms of credit for slave sales after c. 1750 and the use of large British merchant houses to guarantee remittances.

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  • Nash, R. C. “The Organization of Trade and Finance in the Atlantic Economy: Britain and South Carolina, 1670–1775.” In Money, Trade, and Power: The Evolution of South Carolina’s Plantation Society. Edited by Jack P. Greene, Rosemary Brana-Shute, and Randy J. Sparks, 74–107. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

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    Clear overview of the financing and commercial organization of early modern British overseas trade, ranging widely but with specific examples taken from Charleston, South Carolina.

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  • Price, Jacob M. Capital and Credit in British Overseas Trade: The View from the Chesapeake, 1770–1776. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

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    Essential on the finance of British overseas trade in the 18th century. Shows the ways in which capital and credit were mobilized in Britain to underpin the expansion of the Anglo-Chesapeake tobacco trade, the most important branch of British commerce with North America before the American Revolution.

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  • Price, Jacob M. “Credit in the Slave Trade and Plantation Economies.” In Slavery and the Plantation System. Edited by Barbara L. Solow, 293–339. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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    Discusses the economic and legal framework of credit extension in the slave trade and to the sugar plantations through consideration of the British and French West Indian connection.

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  • Sheridan, Richard B. “The Commercial and Financial Organization of the British Slave Trade, 1750–1807.” Economic History Review 2d ser. 11 (1958): 249–263.

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    Pioneering discussion of the organization of the British slave trade during its final half century, with special attention to the British-Caribbean connection.

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Slave Trade Profits

The slave trade is the one branch of British transatlantic trade for which detailed studies of profit levels have been made. Williams 1944 is the first major historical argument in favor of relatively high slave-trading profits and to link those gains to British economic growth in the period of early industrialization. Williams has found some support in more recent studies from historians, such as Blackburn 1997. The consensus today, however, is that Williams exaggerated slave-trade profits and their contribution to British national income. Engerman 1972, Richardson 1976, and Anstey 1975 all follow this line of analysis. Morgan 2000 summarizes the debates and evidence offered by historians on this topic.

  • Anstey, Roger. “The Volume and Profitability of the British Slave Trade, 1761–1807.” In Race and Slavery in the Western Hemisphere. Edited by Stanley L. Engerman and Eugene D. Genovese, 3–31. Quantitative Studies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975.

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    Presents evidence to argue that the aggregate rate of profit in the British slave trade was 9.5 percent for the years from 1761 to 1807.

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  • Blackburn, Robin. The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492–1800. London: Verso, 1997.

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    Suggests that slave-trade profits comprised a greater share of British national income in 1800 than in 1770. Broadly supports the view that the slave trade was significant for British economic growth.

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  • Engerman, Stanley L. “The Slave Trade and British Capital Formation in the Eighteenth Century: A Comment on the Williams Thesis.” Business History Review 46 (1972): 430–443.

    DOI: 10.2307/3113341Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents data to show that British slave-trade profits were a tiny proportionmuch less than 1 percentof British national income in 1770.

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  • Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery, Atlantic Trade, and the British Economy, 1660–1800. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Short overview of the complex and extensive historiography on the relationship between slavery, transatlantic trade, and British economic development in the period of early industrialization. Chapter 3 deals with slave-trade profits.

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  • Richardson, David. “Profits in the Liverpool Slave Trade: The Accounts of William Davenport, 1757–1784.” In Liverpool, the African Slave Trade, and Abolition: Essays to Illustrate Current Knowledge and Research. Edited by Roger Anstey and P. E. H. Hair, 60–90. Liverpool, UK: Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 1976.

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    The most detailed empirical study of British slave-trade profits using the surviving accounts of a merchant firm. Shows that William Davenport, a prominent Liverpool slave merchant, accrued 8.1 percent annually from the trade.

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  • Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944.

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    A seminal and still much-cited study. Accepted some contemporary estimates of the 30 percent profit rate in the Liverpool slave trade in the decade after 1783 and argued that those gains were vital in Britain’s economic growth in the early Industrial Revolution. Its findings have been challenged repeatedly by more recent research.

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British Exports and American Consumption

The “Americanization” of British foreign trade in the 18th century has induced historians to account for the rapid and extensive growth in the supply of manufactures to North America at a time when products stemming from American domestic industry usually could not compete in terms of quality and price. Egnal 1998 links the export trade to cycles of economic growth in Britain and North America. Breen 1986 and Breen 1988 connect the growth of North American consumption to economic behavior in the era of the American Revolution. Shammas 1990 provides the only comparative monograph on English and North American consumption of manufactured goods. Doerflinger 1988 offers an interesting case study of the rural demand for British manufactures in the Philadelphia region. Smail 1999 examines the interconnections between production, marketing, and overseas consumption of English textiles.

  • Breen, T. H. “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690–1776.” Journal of British Studies 25 (1986): 467–499.

    DOI: 10.1086/385874Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows how the growth of the British export trade gave colonial North American consumers more choice in their consumption of British manufactured wares. Emphasizes the complexity and variety of the goods sold.

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  • Breen, T. H. “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century.” Past and Present 119 (1988): 73–104.

    DOI: 10.1093/past/119.1.73Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the impact of the “consumer revolution” on 18th-century British North America and the early United States. Shows that the availability of similar products in most of the thirteen colonies and states helped to standardize American consumer behavior.

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  • Doerflinger, Thomas M. “Farmers and Dry Goods in the Philadelphia Market Area, 1750–1800.” In The Economy of Early America: The Revolutionary Period, 1763–1790. Edited by Ronald Hoffman, John J. McCusker, Russell R. Menard, and Peter J. Albert, 166–195. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988.

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    Investigates the consumption of British exports in the Delaware Valley. A good case study of the interconnections between British manufactures and North American demand for those consumer items.

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  • Egnal, Marc. New World Economies: The Growth of the Thirteen Colonies and Early Canada. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Includes several chapters on growth cycles in Britain and her thirteen North American colonies, including the contribution of British exports to those cycles.

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  • Shammas, Carole. The Pre-Industrial Consumer in England and America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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    A pioneering comparative study of the consumption of goods in England and America in the period from c. 1660 to c. 1760. Helpful on the retailing of consumer wares.

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  • Smail, John. Merchants, Markets, and Manufacture: The English Wool Textile Industry in the Eighteenth Century. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1999.

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    Examines the rapid growth of product innovation in the wool export trade in relation to overseas (including American) market demand.

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Overseas Trade and Industrialization

The extent to which overseas trade stimulated early industrialization in late 18th-century Britain has produced numerous studies. Historians have examined this subject from different perspectives with different data. Trends in exports, levels of exports in relation to domestic production in different industries, and the role of imported foreign capital have all been considered. O’Brien and Engerman 1991 tussles with conflicting views on the role of exports in British economic growth. Devine 1976 argues that foreign trade profits were not crucial for the Scottish domestic economy. Brezis 1995 provides calculations purporting to underscore the significance of foreign capital flows for British industrialization, but Nash 1997 convincingly rebuts Brezis’s arguments. Esteban 1997 argues that exports were important for boosting British industrial production. No historian, however, has synthesized these different perspectives to show, beyond dispute, whether overseas trade and capital were crucial for early British industrialization, though Inikori 2002 finds many connections between the Atlantic slave economy and British economic growth.

  • Brezis, E. S. “Foreign Capital Flows in the Century of Britain’s Industrial Revolution: New Estimates, Controlled Conjectures.” Economic History Review 2d ser. 48 (1995): 46–67.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.1995.tb01408.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that foreign capital flows were important for Britain’s industrialization and that they amounted to £103 million by the 1780s.

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  • Devine, T. M. “The Colonial Trades and Industrial Investment in Scotland, c. 1700–1815.” Economic History Review 2d ser. 29 (1976): 1–13.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.1976.tb00237.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Despite substantial Scottish merchant involvement in industry, this study argues that there was no straightforward flow of trading profits into the Scottish domestic economy.

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  • Esteban, J. Cuenca. “The Rising Share of British Industrial Exports in Industrial Output, 1700–1851.” Journal of Economic History 57 (1997): 879–906.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0022050700019574Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Produces data to show that the share of British industrial exports in industrial output rose almost continuously from 1723 to 1851, and that between 50 percent and 79 percent of additional industrial production could have been exported in the period from 1780 to 1801.

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  • Inikori, Joseph E. Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Economic Development. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Argues that the Atlantic slave economy made a critical contribution to the process of Britain’s industrialization. Includes chapters on transatlantic trade and English shipping, financial institutions, and Atlantic markets in relation to major manufacturing sectors in England.

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  • Nash, R. C. “The Balance of Payments and Foreign Capital Flows in Eighteenth-Century England: A Comment.” Economic History Review 2d ser. 50 (1997): 110–128.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-0289.00048Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Estimates that England’s foreign debts in the 1770s and 1780s were £18 million and £31 million, respectively, and therefore concludes that foreign capital did not play a major part in England’s industrialization.

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  • O’Brien, Patrick, and Stanley L. Engerman. “Exports and the Growth of the British Economy from the Glorious Revolution to the Peace of Amiens.” In Slavery and the Rise of the Atlantic System. Edited by Barbara L. Solow, 177–209. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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    Assesses the significance of exports for the growth of the British economy within the context of much academic literature that, on the contrary, views domestic demand as a more important trigger for growth.

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LAST MODIFIED: 05/10/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199730414-0035

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