From Field to Plate: The Colonial Livestock Trade and the Development of an American Economic Culture
- The William and Mary Quarterly
- Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
- Volume 73, Number 1, January 2016, 3rd series
- pp. 107-140
- Additional Information
Throughout the early modern British Atlantic world, cows were a valuable commodity. Investigating how and where individuals bought and sold cows, hides, and tallow reveals critical differences between the spaces and practices of the British provincial animal trade and its counterpart in early British America. Rather than buying and selling beasts in customary spaces that claimed to uphold the common good, such as fairs and marketplaces, colonists favored auctions and face-to-face bargains. Relying on these market mechanisms meant that colonists’ commercial culture developed to privilege economic spaces undergirded by the widespread ownership of private property. However, belief in the merits of the common good as a guiding commercial principle continued, meaning that revolutionary-era food shortages prompted a debate between supporters of a cattle trade that operated in public spaces such as fairs and markets and those who believed in the rights of private property owners to buy and sell cows and their by-products how and where they wished. The outcome of this debate was a compromise that redefined the common good in America to incorporate the state’s protection of the right of free white livestock owners to trade and use their private property as they wished.