- The Atlantic Economy during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Organization, Operation, Practice, and Personnel
In "The Dutch Atlantic Economies," the opening essay of this fine collection, Jan de Vries shows that by the 1770s the Dutch imported [End Page 237] more from the West Indies than from Asia, a "point [that] will surprise even specialists in the economic history of the early modern period" (p. xiii), notes Peter Coclanis, the editor. European trade with Asia had been expanding at about 1 percent per annum, and at 2 percent in the Atlantic basin, which the Dutch shift reflects. In Asia, the Dutch entered a centuries-old economic world, while in the Atlantic they participated in creating one. Yet the "organization, operation, practice, and personnel" of that economy, as distinct from the internal economies of societies around the Atlantic, is understudied. This collection of essays helps fill that gap, and in its entirety makes two striking and complementary contributions. First, commercial networks crisscrossed the Atlantic like a "spider's web" (p. 31), rather than in a linear fashion as envisaged by mercantilist conceits or scholarly models of triangular trades. Second, these complex and "self-organizing" (p. 31) networks were integral to the rapid and often chaotic growth of the Atlantic economy.
Attention to networks allows scholars to study the permeability of empires, which were not self-contained units. Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert's analysis of Iberian commercial controversies shows the tension between conservative Spaniards connected to the royal court and Portuguese merchants and bankers who operated in Spain's empire after the union of the crowns in 1580 and espoused more liberal trade policies. In essays on seventeenth-century Anglo-Dutch relations, Claudia Schnurmann and April Lee Hatfield document the extensive integration of the Dutch into English America. Hatfield shows that inVirginia they muted their national identities by anglicizing their names, speaking English, and associating with coreligionists. Schnurmann reconstructs Anglo-Dutch networks to question the nature of religious, regional, and national identities in the Atlantic world. "Supranational trade" (p. 196) networks, she suggests, often reflected regional identities, for example ties between Massachusetts and Dutch Surinam, which conflicted with national objectives.
Breaching the commercial boundaries established by imperial policies became commonplace in the French Antilles as Kenneth Banks shows in his work on the smuggling of slaves into eighteenth-century Martinique. French mercantilist policies, as elaborated by Jean-Baptiste Colbert in the 1660s, were designed to curb trade with foreigners, but economic and diplomatic objectives could work in opposition. After France acquired St. Domingue in 1697, the demand for slaves rose beyond what French merchants could supply. A scarcity of slaves encouraged foreign smugglers, whom some colonial officials ignored, some courted, and few challenged. Licit trade was also complex. David [End Page 238] Hancock's analysis of the transformation of Madeira wine "from common plonk into the highest status, most expensive wine in America" (p. 60), tracks the personal networks between Madeira producers and British colonial consumers that allowed them to craft highly localized varieties. His work shows how colonial demand shaped innovations in the production of an Atlantic commodity. Robert S. DuPlessis compares changing patterns of local demand of cloth consumption in Montreal, Philadelphia, Charleston, and New Orleans, ca. 1680–1770. His data show a general decline in woolen consumption and an increase in cotton consumption, consistent with the work of others on the "standardization of colonial consumer goods" (p. 81), but with quite particular ethnic and regional patterns. Amerindians continued to prefer woolens, but gradually increased their purchases of cottons. Wearing cotton tended to be gendered; women wore it more than men. Slaves also wore more cottons and of lower grades than did others. Colonial consumers of cloth, as with consumers of Madeira wine, influenced local markets, notwithstanding transatlantic trends toward more standardized demand.
Regional commodity production, the Atlantic economy, and colonial image are explored in essays by S. Max Edelson and Laura Náter. Colonial commodities gained "reputations" in the Atlantic world that affected their valuation...