In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Liverpool in the Atlantic World 1500-1833

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Antiquarian Works
  • General Atlantic Trade
  • The Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans—General
  • The Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans—Profits
  • War
  • Privateering
  • Links with Africa
  • The Cotton Trade
  • Fisheries
  • Networks
  • Finance and Insurance
  • Abolition
  • Memorialization

Atlantic History Liverpool in the Atlantic World 1500-1833
Sheryllynne Haggerty
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0383


Liverpool’s Atlantic history has been both marked and marred by its role as Britain’s leading slave trade port at the height of the British transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans between 1750 and 1807. For many years the slave trade was written out of Liverpool’s history in some form of purposeful forgetting. In the late 20th century, however, and especially with the rise of quantitative economic history, the trade in enslaved Africans has been written back into port city’s past. In the 21st century, the memorialization of the slave trade, including Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum has taken center stage. This element of Liverpool’s inconvenient past has meant that in popular history at least, Liverpool’s important role as a leading outport, especially in Atlantic trade, has often been obscured. During the 18th century alone Liverpool’s imports grew from 14,600 tons in 1709 to 450,000 tons in 1800. It population increased concomitantly over the same period, from 6,500 to 77,653. Liverpool’s trade with Ireland had long been significant, and it was an important jumping off point for the military expeditions to Ireland, but it also traded with the Mediterranean, all along the West African coast, Canada, the American colonies/states, and the British Caribbean islands. It also traded both legally and illegally with foreign powers in the Atlantic, including the French and Spanish colonies. Just about every type of commodity from all around Great Britain was exported through Liverpool around the Atlantic: manufactured and other goods, textiles, earthenware, barrels of flour and oats, Lancashire cheeses, candles, shoes, butter, fish, beef, and ironware, as well as coal and salt. In terms of imports, fish, flour, timber, tobacco, sugar, pimento, coffee, cocoa, dyewood, rum, pimento, and of course cotton among other items came through Liverpool’s docks – (in fact Liverpool was the first international cotton market). The city was also a significant financial center with good links to London and had several important banks (Arthur Heywood and Sons was later subsumed into Barclays and Leyland & Bullins eventually became part of HSBC). Liverpool also had a thriving finance and insurance market. Moreover, Liverpool was an important hub of privateering in wartime, a leader in the trade to South America in the early 19th century, retained important trade links with Western Africa after the abolition of the trade in enslaved Africans, and eventually became a leading port for emigration to the United States. Therefore while Liverpool was important for the slave trade, that slave trade was only one part of Liverpool’s important commercial activity in the Atlantic world.


Despite Liverpool’s important role as the second city of empire, by the late 18th century there are surprisingly few modern overviews of Liverpool’s role in the Atlantic world. Ascott, et al. 2006 and Belchem 2006 were both published ahead of the city’s 800th birthday in 2007, but they are quite different in nature. The former, a co-authored work, not an edited collection, looks in detail at the early modern period, and while not about the Atlantic per se, covers it by default; the latter, an edited collection, has essays which cover the earlymodern period up to the present day with a few relevant chapters. Haggerty, et al. 2008, which looks at Liverpool from an imperial perspective, covers from the mid-18th century, but only Haggerty’s chapter covers the Atlantic specifically.

  • Ascott, Diana E., Fiona Lewis, and Michael Power. Liverpool 1660–1750: People Prosperity and Power. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2006.

    Really useful on the emergence of Liverpool as a port, its politics, institutions and main trading families.

  • Belchem, John, ed. Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2006.

    More about Liverpool itself than Liverpool in the Atlantic, but two chapters, one by Jenny Kermode, Janet Hollinshead, and Malcolm Gratton, and another by Jane Longmore give useful context.

  • Haggerty, Sheryllynne, Anthony Webster, and Nicholas White, eds. The Empire in One City? Liverpool’s Inconvenient Imperial Past. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2008.

    Looks at the various ways in which Liverpool’s links with empire have often been difficult or forgotten. Includes chapters on trade with Jamaica and Irish immigration through the city.

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