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Colonies in America: Commerce, Business, and the Economy

Trade & Mercantilism

Franz Xaver Habermann. Vuë de Boston. Prospect von Boston gegen der Bucht am Hasen Vuë de Boston vers le Cale du Port / gravé par Francois Xav. Habermann. [177-] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

While this is a business oriented guide, given the nature of the topic and the time period covered, it was thought that including books written by noted historians covering the history of the European empires, was essential. We have tried to choose newer items with more of a modern perspective, but a number of older items were included because they are considered seminal. All of the items were chosen to provide background on the larger forces at play during the period covered in this guide, particularly as the topic of trade involves relations between the colony and the home country as well as between other European powers and their colonial possessions. While some of these items may not be specifically about trade, this section does include books that are more explicitly about trade with the exception of sources that are purely data and those that are focused on a particular place which can be found in other parts of this guide.

When looking at trade involving between Britain and its colonies, it may be helpful to look at material related the port of Liverpool. This city had long been a port, but once it but the enclosed commercial dock in 1715 trade grew. Beyond trade good the port was also long associated with the slave trade. Additional citations can be found by searching in the Oxford Bibliographies database using Atlantic world. This includes "Money and Banking in the Atlantic Economy," "Western Europe and the Atlantic World," "Networks for Migrations and Mobility," "Economy and Consumption in the Atlantic World," "British Atlantic World," "Sugar in the Atlantic World," "Domestic Production and Consumption in the Atlantic World," etc.

This guides doesn't cover all of the laws the British government passed that affected trade, but knowing those will be important for understanding trade as well as the impact those might have had on particular industries. This includes, but isn't limited to, these three well-known examples:

  • Molasses Act 1733 imposed a tax per gallon on imports of molasses from non-English colonies.
  • Sugar Act 1764 (also known as the American Revenue Act 1764 or the American Duties Act) was a revenue-raising act that halved the previous tax on molasses but promised stricter enforcement.
  • Stamp Act of 1765 (short title: Duties in American Colonies Act 1765) imposed a direct tax on the British colonies in America and required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp.
  • Townshend Acts, refers to a series of British acts of Parliament passed during 1767 and 1768. They include the New York Restraining Act 1767 , the Revenue Act 1767, the Indemnity Act 1767, the Commissioners of Customs Act 1767, and the Vice Admiralty Court Act 1768. The intent of these were to raise revenues, create more effective means of enforcing compliance with trade regulations, and establish that the British Parliament had the right to tax the colonies.

Lastly, if you are looking for particular types of business or business in a particular town or city, utilizing advertisements in newspapers may be a good way to really understand what was going on in a very specific way.

General Resources

There are many books and sources on this topic but what is included here is broad in nature and it is intended to be just a starting point. For more particular discussions – about particular colonies, commodities, situations, etc., other books and articles are going to be necessary to supplement and expand on what is found below. The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.