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  • From Field to Plate: The Colonial Livestock Trade and the Development of an American Economic Culture

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.

CATTLE and swine were universal commodities in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world. Plundering the abundant natural resources of their new world and bringing its expansive lands under commercial cultivation, colonists had quickly noticed that there was money to be made from a commerce in beasts. In 1770 almost 67,000 barrels of preserved meat left the thirteen mainland colonies that became the United States, the vast majority going to the West Indies. Some regions, such as the lower South, exported thousands of barrels every year, leading South Carolina’s governor James Glen to note in 1761 that his colony sent meat to “Jamaica, Barbadoes, the British Leeward Islands, the Island of St Thomas . . ., and Curaso,” as well as Madeira.1 Large quantities of livestock and animal by-products were also part of this commerce, and in 1770 alone some 57,000 pounds of tallow were loaded aboard colonial ships, along with 20,000 live animals and [End Page 107] 3,000 pairs of American-made shoes. In mid-eighteenth-century Boston roughly a quarter of voyages were motivated by the Caribbean provisions trade, while the proportion was almost a third in Philadelphia, New York, and Charleston. Nowhere in the mainland colonies was livestock or meat the primary export, but everywhere the Caribbean trade flourished the shipment of livestock, preserved meat, leather, and tallow did also.2

Unaccounted for in these export statistics, rising domestic demand in mainland North America also stimulated the animal trade’s expansion. In the Chesapeake, as Lorena S. Walsh has estimated, the towns of Annapolis and Williamsburg each consumed from 300,000 to 450,000 pounds of beef a year, a level of demand that prompted the evolution of local markets to supply hungry town dwellers.3 In the middle colonies and the lower South, more populous towns prompted even higher demand. According to Governor Glen, the constant requirement for animals meant that South Carolina “abounds with black Cattle, to a Degree much beyond any other English Colony. . . . These Creatures have mightily increased since the first settling of the Colony, about Forty Years ago: It was then reckoned a great Matter for a Planter to have Three or Four Cows: but now, some People have a Thousand Head of Cattle, and for one Man to have Two Hundred is very common.—They likewise have Hogs in abundance.” Glen then went on to explain how it had become unnecessary for South Carolinians to import meat as domestic production more than fulfilled demand, thanks to the skills and labor of those Africans who had been the backbone of the industry from the 1680s onward.4 [End Page 108]

In establishing a trade in animals, European settlers were contributing to a dramatic expansion in livestock commerce that spanned British America and Britain itself. In both its local and its long-distance iterations, which often overlapped, the metropolitan commerce increased exponentially following the Act of Union in 1707. Drovers and dealers moved ever larger quantities of cattle across hundreds of miles, the most common route joining the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands to London’s Smithfield market, which by the 1760s was already too small to cope with the roughly fifty thousand cows that were herded annually through the capital’s streets to be sold within its confines. In southern Ireland, Cork’s markets and fairs struggled to accommodate the huge numbers of beasts passing through on their way to slaughter for the Atlantic market, which at its eighteenth-century apogee absorbed up to one hundred thousand barrels of beef a year.5

The ubiquity of the British animal trade also manifested itself on a much smaller scale. The records of farmers, tradespeople, and dealers in agricultural produce contain abundant documentation of their livestock bargaining. Consider, for example, Joseph Oxley, manager of the [End Page 109] Seaton Delaval estate in Northumberland, north of Newcastle upon Tyne. Updating his employer, Sir John Delaval, on his holdings, Oxley explained that he had visited the local Morpeth livestock market to sell a number of cows. Unfortunately, the twelve beasts on offer failed to find a buyer, and the manager confessed that the question of “how to obtain a market for them has given me great concern.”6 Oxley decided that the best course of action would be to fatten the cows up for another twelve weeks before taking them to Stagshaw Bank fair in the hope that he might recoup his extra investment with a sale at a good price. John Hamilton of Barns, a gentleman farmer resident on the outskirts of Glasgow, also recorded his visits to fairs, which supplied him with two-thirds of the cows that he purchased for his farm in 1741. Once fatted, the majority of Hamilton’s cattle were sold on contract to members of the Glasgow Incorporation of Fleshers, the city butchers’ guild, who slaughtered them to feed urban consumers buying at its public flesh market.7 Among these traders in metropolitan Britain, the market and the fair remained key sites of commerce until the very end of the eighteenth century.

Early Americans similarly left traces of their livestock-dealing habits. Immediately noticeable, however, is the relative absence of fairs and markets in the American records. If British subjects in the home isles and the colonies were taking part in the same Atlantic networks for the buying and selling of livestock, they were doing so in different ways. Americans’ relative unfamiliarity with Britain’s customary trading locations meant that the day in 1768 on which Philadelphia livestock dealer Jacob Hiltzheimer visited the city’s market was momentous enough for him to note it in his diary: “Wednesday 12th October—Clear this Morning went to Market, which is the first time this two years.” Hiltzheimer’s records show that rather than going to fairs or marketplaces, he bought and sold cattle and horses mostly in face-to-face deals with owners or at local auctions.8 This was similar to the manner in which mid-eighteenth-century South Carolina butcher and cattle dealer William Harris conducted his business. Harris owned a piece of land in the Charleston suburbs on which he pastured both his own and others’ livestock, which he accommodated for twenty shillings a month “each Head.”9 Harris had [End Page 110] an indentured servant, a butcher from Newcastle, and seven enslaved Africans working for him. With the labor of these individuals, he likely transported cattle directly from local plantations, processed the meat, and then sold it to buyers. He appears to have held accounts with ships’ captains and may even have owned his own boat, which he possibly used to ship salt beef from Charleston, twenty-one barrels of which are listed in his inventory. Following Harris’s death, his wife advertised the sale of this beef, along with some “tann’d sole leather.”10 Like his Pennsylvania contemporary, Harris appears to have made fairs and markets peripheral to his trading habits, which were formed around bargains negotiated between individuals at their houses, farms, and plantations.

It is on-the-ground snapshots such as these that take us to the spaces and customs of everyday trade and that, more critically, help us to appreciate better the varying habits of livestock dealing around Britain’s Atlantic world. The choices made by Oxley, Hamilton, Hiltzheimer, and Harris suggest that eighteenth-century Americans did not deal at fairs and urban marketplaces as much as did their British counterparts, for whom these locations were still important.11 Instead, colonists relied [End Page 111] more on face-to-face bargains and auctions to obtain the animals needed to supply the market. Investigating these contrasts and exploring the implications of such differences reveals valuable details about a sector of colonial commerce of which we still know remarkably little.

More importantly, though, grasping the significance of such particularities allows historians to tell a much bigger story—the story of how certain elements of capitalism became embedded in Americans’ marketing habits and how, slowly, those elements reacted together in the crucible of the colonization process itself to create an identifiably American economic culture. Tracing the particular ways in which private property, its owners, and their governments interacted uncovers the differences between the marketing cultures of Americans such as Hiltzheimer and Harris and their British counterparts. These differences, in turn, open up the possibility of better tracing the incremental emergence of an American capitalism within the larger field of British Atlantic interaction. By grounding the animal trade in physical marketing spaces, we can more effectively explore the connections between commercial practices and commercial mentalities, enabling us to plot more precisely the slow and winding path toward a capitalist mindset taken by American livestock traders. Situating colonial economic development in its particular spaces thus provides fresh insights on the prerevolutionary economy and in so doing reminds us that it remains fundamental to the larger project of writing the history of American capitalism.

The debate over the processes by which early Americans transitioned to capitalism was one of the longest-running discussions in early American historiography. For a time it framed much of the work by economic historians on the period of European settlement before 1800. In general, scholars were not so interested in the interaction of historical actors with the landscapes they inhabited or with the institutions that sought to order those settings. Instead, the encroachment of an abstract market, along with social questions surrounding the shift to wage labor, stood at the heart of the conversation. Also critical was the identity of the human agents of change in this transition. Historians argued over whether farmers willingly embraced capitalist behaviors or if merchants had forced them to engage with the market against their will. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, these conversations had reached a stalemate. As Daniel Vickers and Naomi R. Lamoreaux convincingly demonstrated, the polarized nature of a discussion that pinned responsibility for an advancing capitalism on farmers or merchants, [End Page 112] local communities or long-distance markets, was not conducive to an improved understanding of the early American economy.12

This consensus released early Americanists and Atlanticists to roam in pastures new. Abandoning the colonial farmer to his fate, they moved to a grander scale of discussion. As a result, we have a plethora of studies tracing the Atlantic economies of exotic goods such as madeira, silk, coffee, and mahogany. Historians have also developed a fascination with illegal trade, privateering, and the murky waters and permeable boundaries of the mercantile Atlantic.13 Once bound by the semantics of capitalism, scholars now revel in uncovering the messy and contingent nature of the Atlantic economy in all its registers. In so doing, however, historians of the eighteenth century appear to have left questions regarding the character of the early American domestic economy to their early Republic successors. Those scholars have been only too willing to take on the challenge, their enthusiasm stemming from a desire to understand the roots of an American capitalism that many have viewed as being behind the global economic crisis of 2008. Their quest has resulted in a wide-ranging approach that crosses previous disciplinary borders to insert the early Republic’s economy into a larger History of American Capitalism project that puts “culture, ideology, and policy . . . into conversation with the material conditions of production, distribution, and finance in order to understand the full dynamics of American society.”14 [End Page 113]

However, the trajectory of this debate over the last decade or so leaves important unresolved issues in early American economic history. Perhaps the most troubling is that the focus on a postrevolutionary American capitalism, along with the abandonment of farmers and local traders amid a greater focus on the Atlantic mercantile world, disconnects the economic culture of the early United States from its immediate precursor.15 As early Republic and Jacksonian historians elaborate the multiple layers of a domestic American capitalist culture, colonial historians increasingly portray an economy defined by its connections to an Atlantic world. Because neither group seems willing to take on the thorny problem of how one became the other, we are left without a good anatomy of the process. In short, how did a local economic culture that took shape in a British Atlantic field of interaction become this distinctive American capitalism? To answer this question, we need to return to a consideration of the colonial domestic economy, fortified by the innovative example set for us by our counterparts who focus on the nineteenth century. Like them, we need to be omnivorous and adventurous, always on the lookout for approaches to economic culture that lie outside the well-worn channels through which the transition-to-capitalism debate previously flowed.

Those historians who previously tackled the question of capitalism and the colonial economy did not pay much attention to either the physical qualities of the market or the political economy of those spaces. Yet these are two extremely promising areas of inquiry. These topics have already been taken up by scholars working in other times and places, providing a broader context in which we might situate the prerevolutionary domestic economy. Discussion of political economy has formed a major preoccupation of scholars working on the postrevolutionary era. William J. Novak and Robin L. Einhorn, for example, have revealed the state to be an important actor in shaping economic culture after independence. Novak notes how, in the marketplace, the hand of local government was [End Page 114] essential to the creation of “well-ordered” spaces that ensured traders worked for “the good of the whole.” Einhorn, for her part, reminds us that Americans’ particular property-owning regimes—principally slave-holding—had a major impact on the economic decisions made by state and federal governments.16 Likewise, spatially grounded work on the antebellum slave economy has drawn our attention to the importance of capitalist landscapes to that economy’s evolution. With their scholarship on the internal slave trade and slaves economies, Walter Johnson and Anthony E. Kaye have demonstrated that it is only by grasping the markets’ settings that we can truly comprehend their character and the degree to which they embedded white power in the antebellum South.17

Telling the story of the cattle trade with close attention to its spaces, actors, and political economy thus enables us to situate the early American economy within the larger history of American capitalism. Such a narrative focuses on two features of the nineteenth-century economy that historians have marked out as being especially distinctive—the multifaceted importance of private property and the role of the state in protecting its owners and upholding its value as a commodity. Closely concentrating on the interplay between private property and government-sponsored institutions in the early evolution of the cattle trade thus allows us to integrate its colonial history into the longer process of making an American economic culture. Importantly, this means we can unite the pre- and postrevolutionary eras without becoming trapped in the mire of competing definitions of capitalism or attempts to precisely date its emergence that so often paralyzed earlier scholarship.18 [End Page 115]

Equally important, however, is that by concentrating on the landscapes, institutions, and people who constituted the early American marketplace we can set the story of its development in a spatial context, not simply a temporal one. As the cases of Joseph Oxley, John Hamilton, Jacob Hiltzheimer, and William Harris suggest, exploring in detail the marketing practices of colonial dealers in relation to their contemporaries elsewhere in Britain’s Atlantic world allows us to appreciate how their circumstances influenced their commercial practices. In particular, such an exploration highlights how fairs and marketplaces remained important to English, Scottish, and Irish traders but did not figure so largely for American colonists, who were less likely to conduct business in such locations.

Significantly, British historians have recognized the continued importance of customary market spaces and the economic values associated with them, suggesting a more contingent commercialization process in early modern Britain than recent narratives of consumer society have indicated. Such spaces were deeply embedded in the metropolitan marketplace, where they played an important function as the spatial embodiment of the “common good,” an idea that had governed local trade since the medieval era.19 In light of this, Andy Wood has emphasized how, at the most local level, people inhabited a landscape that was understood in terms of customary patterns of ownership, rights, and usage. These understandings were not static; indeed, they were often subtly reorganized according to the challenges presented by social and economic change.20 Times of [End Page 116] scarcity in the eighteenth-century grain supply, for example, prompted a process whereby the “building blocks of . . . marketing and trade” were reassessed and rearranged as traditional spaces and practices ran up against commercialization and population growth.21 Critically, though, these spaces and behaviors remained deeply embedded in economic culture and continued to play a central role in market practice, as well as in political economic discussions about marketing. Individuals such as Oxley, Hamilton, and the Glasgow fleshers (butchers) thus understood the fairs, marketplaces, and slaughterhouses in which they conducted their trade as the legitimate spaces and places where core commercial values were acted out according to long-standing custom. They sometimes moved away from these spaces and practices as commercialization came to the cattle trade. Nevertheless, these institutional structures and the norms that governed them remained the reference point in local economic conflict.

In the American setting, however, there were few existing focal points for commerce when cattle trading began in the late seventeenth century. These were landscapes new to their European inhabitants and devoid of the marketing spaces, institutions, and overlapping property claims that had shaped the trade for centuries in the Old World. However, settlers had not completely forgotten the deeply embedded structures and practices of the marketplaces that they left behind.22 The [End Page 117] story of how Hiltzheimer, Harris, and their contemporaries came to trade in different ways, then, is the story of how colonial circumstances affected the ability of cow traders to re-create the settings and institutions of commerce long rooted in the European landscape. Colonists did not consciously abandon these customs in the face of the profit motive or the allure of the laissez-faire market. Rather, time-honored marketing habits were reshaped by the American abundance of private property, the initial weakness of colonial institutions, and finally (but not definitively) the turmoil of revolution. This century-long process created a distinctive economic culture that had already begun to look different from its Old World counterpart before independence was won in 1783.

For many decades after Europeans first arrived in the territories they came to call Pennsylvania and South Carolina, their governing institutions remained fragile and immigrants required great tenacity if they were to survive in the unfamiliar landscape. Colonists discovered that by raising and trading livestock they could achieve both sustenance and a steady, if small, income. White South Carolinians were at a particular advantage, as from the colony’s inception onward they had knowledgeable Africans among them with extensive experience in the open-grazing techniques so suited to the Lowcountry’s landscape.23 Wrestling with the problem of ordering new and fluid societies, however, colonial governments paid little attention to such mundane farming and trading activities. Early commercial legislation in both Pennsylvania and South Carolina concentrated on those regulations most essential to the civilization project: controlling the sale of alcohol, ensuring the basic quality of bread, preventing abuses in the Indian trade, and promoting the growth and export of valuable staple crops.24

At the dawn of the eighteenth century, the livestock trade thus took shape around those marketing locations and practices that were most convenient to its participants. As such, the commerce was characterized both by supply chains that moved beasts from field to consumer through face-to-face transactions between individuals and by more public locations that focused sales on spaces open to the participation of a number of buyers and sellers. Through individual contracts, planters, butchers, tanners, and tallow chandlers created integrated supply chains that incorporated grazing, slaughtering, and delivering to market. Such networks allowed those in the cattle trade to fulfill the growing demand of both local and West Indian consumers. Essential to free colonists were the enslaved and [End Page 118] indentured people who were so numerous in Britain’s Atlantic colonies. Those Pennsylvania graziers who supplied the Philadelphia market by the eighteenth century employed white and mulatto servants to watch over their herds and move them to city customers when required. Chester County’s graziers, who became some of its richest yeomen, drew up contracts with individual Philadelphia butchers and victuallers to whom they delivered mature cattle for slaughter. By the Revolution, Philadelphia was encircled with farms that were specifically designed to raise enough beasts to supply the urban population and the Caribbean-bound ships in its bustling port. As the steady supplies of animals were driven into town, butchers killed them in their city pens and in Philadelphia’s main market, selling the by-products to nearby tanners and tallow chandlers on Dock Creek who processed them into leather and candles.25

In South Carolina the Africans who had initially been so important as herders and drovers also found themselves employed in the skilled jobs of butchery, tanning, and tallow chandling. In Charleston enslaved men were essential to the processing and sale of meat. By the time of the United States census of 1790, free white men in the livestock trades owned more enslaved workers than those employed in other skilled trades; almost a quarter, in fact, owned eleven or more enslaved workers.26 Ownership of enslaved workers meant that some free white South Carolinians were able to maintain long supply chains that extended all the way from field to plate. John Robinson ran his mid-eighteenth-century business with the labor of “Five Negro Men Butchers by Trade” and one or two indentured servants. These workers were dispatched to local plantations to purchase livestock and drive them to Robinson’s suburban pen, where the animals were slaughtered and sold in the local market. Indeed, in 1768, Robinson advertised his “London Porter, and A La Mode Beef House,” which was situated behind the beef market and equipped to supply “families . . . with beef in small quantities every evening.” By the late 1740s, butcher James Thomson had acquired three plantations, two of which were stocked with cattle. Thomson used [End Page 119] his enslaved herders to move cattle to his suburban pasture, where he would slaughter beasts to supply the Charleston market.27 Indeed, the Charleston Neck area was the site of a number of pastures where butchers grazed livestock before killing them and supplying urban inns, markets, and households. Some of these butchers also salted and packed meat on these premises before selling it to merchants and captains for export or consumption by mariners on board ships. Often, these butchers combined meat processing with tanning and tallow rendering.28

As Jacob Hiltzheimer’s commercial practices suggest, those who dealt in cattle but were not involved in processing it also favored extensive supply chains. In his diary Hiltzheimer recorded that, for example, he bought two cows at “Jacob Meyers place” and purchased a pair of oxen and a cow “of Philip Dieterich.” These deals were struck face-to-face at the property of the owner. Archaeological evidence suggests that in the South Carolina Lowcountry planters who had both city and country properties supplied their urban households and the urban market by simply moving livestock directly from countryside to town and slaughtering them in their own backyards. In these cases, it is especially notable how private contracts and deals struck at the farm gate eliminated the majority of marketing in a shared market space.29 However, such transactions did not completely dominate the livestock trade. Indeed, the other location that frequently appears in Hiltzheimer’s notes about his livestock purchases is the vendue—or auction, as it was called in Britain. The vendues that Hiltzheimer visited were held in coffeehouses, at the properties [End Page 120] of deceased individuals, and in nearby towns such as Frankford and Kingsess (Kingsessing). Judging from the evidence in both Hiltzheimer’s diary and the advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette announcing upcoming sales, vendues were held frequently.30

Indeed, it is clear that by the third quarter of the eighteenth century, vendues had grown to be almost as important to the early American livestock market as face-to-face bargains. Selling livestock at auction had a long history in colonial North America. In seventeenth-century Delaware, shortly after Pennsylvania’s founding in the 1680s, settlers sold cattle “att the vandue.” Likewise, Charleston already had a public vendue master in 1710, in possession of a license to dispose of the cattle that were part of deceased and bankrupt estates in the colony.31 Vendues then went from strength to strength when the appearance of newspapers provided the perfect medium for their wide advertisement. Thousands of vendue notices were published in the South-Carolina Gazette, for example, and almost 40 percent included livestock; even in the wheat-oriented economy of Pennsylvania, 12 percent of advertised vendues mentioned cattle, horses, or hogs. With so many sale notices appearing in these American newspapers, it is clear that much larger quantities of cattle were changing hands via vendue than they were in Britain, where such trade was comparatively incidental. With the plantation itself a well-established sale location by the middle of the eighteenth century, South Carolina bidders could acquire a complete herd of native black cattle in one auction, often amounting to sixty, one hundred, or even six hundred head in size. American vendues also increased in number over the era; the South-Carolina Gazette advertised around 0.4 sales a week in 1738, but this had increased to 1.75 by 1750. What is more, where English sources rarely refer to purchasing livestock at auction before the late nineteenth century when this method of sale became widely embraced, colonists [End Page 121] were already veteran bidders for animals by the 1760s.32 These vendues did not take place in any single location but rather were held in an array of common and convenient places, spanning the extensive landscape. With many sales prompted by the death or bankruptcy of an individual, that person’s home was often the vendue’s location—described as “on the spot” in the newspaper notice. As Hiltzheimer’s diary entries indicated, taverns, ferries, wharves, and urban marketplaces were also popular sites for sales.33

Charleston butcher William Harris and Philadelphia dealer Hiltzheimer were thus part of a much larger pattern of colonial cattle trading that saw beasts moved from field to plate through a sequence of face-to-face deals and auctions. Importantly, both modes of sale were driven by the abundance of private property available to the free white traders involved. This property mostly took the form of real estate. Because they could enjoy the freehold of rural, suburban, and urban property, butchers and dealers could easily establish suburban pastures in which to raise and slaughter cattle. Some, such as Thomson, also bought their own plantations on which they kept their herds. At the same time, this abundance of freehold real estate was partially responsible for the large number of auctions, many of which [End Page 122] were also used to dispose of cattle and hogs. Indeed, freehold real estate was on offer at 59 percent of sales in South Carolina and 81 percent in Pennsylvania.34 The other form of property at the disposal of colonial cattle traders was, of course, chattel laborers. The ubiquity of enslaved people and indentured servants similarly supplied auctioneers with ready goods for sale; thus, 44 percent of all vendues advertised in the South-Carolina Gazette in the middle of the eighteenth century offered chattel laborers for sale.35 Likewise, the labor of these individuals allowed white colonists, and South Carolinians especially, to staff their enterprises with skilled men who made it possible to supervise and move cattle from field to consumer without the involvement of any hired laborers.

Already by the first half of the eighteenth century the strong demand for meat, the lack of public marketing spaces, and the accessibility of private property to free whites had prompted the emergence of particular patterns of cattle commerce in the colonies. Significantly, these were modes of marketing that did not rely primarily on the customary spaces of livestock trading still prominent in Britain. There, dealers continued to frequent fairs and urban markets, not only because there were social and economic benefits to doing so but also because the real estate market did not facilitate either large numbers of auctions or the easy purchase of urban, suburban, and rural land.

Customary landscapes such as fairs and markets remained deeply embedded in the hierarchies and practices of British society and economy.36 Thus, though farmers, butchers, or tanners might turn away from these places in favor of striking a bargain that eliminated inherent transaction costs such as tolls and taxes, doing so put them at serious risk of damaging their reputation as honest dealers. Selling livestock at a fair was often used as a means of legitimating a deal, to the extent that traders who came to court under suspicion of animal theft often tried to clear their names by claiming that they had bought the animals in their possession at a fair. At the same time, the continued relevance of British urban corporations during the eighteenth century ensured that the institutions regulating where and how cattle were sold within the city limits also retained importance. So, though it became possible for middlemen to insert themselves in the sequence of transactions that linked the farmer to the urban market, those who dealt with them risked the censure of urban authorities who were still powerful enough to dictate the terms of trade.37 [End Page 123]

Landownership patterns also shaped British trading practices. With the enclosure of so much common land in the period before 1800, one might expect that British cattle dealers would have the opportunity to acquire real estate in a similar way to their colonial counterparts, but this reallocation of agricultural land could only have a limited impact in such a confined, densely populated, and long-settled landscape. The inter-locking layers of customary interests that converged on ancient urban and rural landscapes prevented the consolidation of the private property needed to create colonial-style supply chains. In the city of London, for example, freemen butchers already dominated the rental of suburban pasture by the late seventeenth century, preventing those who did not hold guild membership from accessing the metropolitan market on a large scale.38 Even though enclosure enabled some yeoman tenant farmers to increase farm size, especially in southeast England, aristocratic estates remained the norm in northern England and Scotland—the very regions where many cattle were raised.39 These estates were run by men such as Joseph Oxley, who, though possessing the authority to manage the farm, was not able to purchase additional land, either for suburban grazing or urban butchering purposes. Indeed, even if Oxley had been authorized to make such decisions, obtaining property would have been very difficult in light of the corporate interests that governed these spaces. Newcastle’s corporation, for example, did not allow butchers to carry out their trades anywhere they chose, instead dictating which properties freemen in that trade might rent from the city government.40 [End Page 124]

With these entangled interests ensconced in the British landscape, any shift in the character of the marketplace for livestock usually took place in and around fairs, guilds, and gentry-owned farms. So, when gentleman farmer John Hamilton of Barns used his family’s existing property to set up a cattle farm near Glasgow, the city’s fleshers’ guild moved in to reexert their authority over the trade. By the 1730s Hamilton had agreements with five Glasgow fleshers to supply them with beef, the contracts allowing the tradesmen to transport live cattle from his farm to their slaughterhouses as demand required. The deals were underwritten by the cashier of the fleshers, and the sale of the meat within the city marketplace remained subject to the regulations agreed to by Glasgow’s burgesses. Corporations continued to forge these relationships for decades. In fact, forty years later the deacon of Glasgow’s Incorporation of Fleshers, Newman McGliss, traveled to the fair with established merchant and landowner John Brown to help him pick out lean stock so that he might get into the business already pursued by other local gentleman farmers such as Hamilton.41 Until the end of the eighteenth century, corporate and landed interests in Britain continued to influence the character of the livestock trade. Thus, any commercialization of the trade occurred without either the rise in widespread private property ownership or the creation of the supply chains and auctions that it had sponsored in America.

Given the enduring role of customary spaces in the practice and culture of the British cattle economy, it is not surprising that from the first quarter of the eighteenth century, settlers endeavored to reestablish them in their colonial setting. From the 1720s onward, colonists attempted to reintroduce the fair and the marketplace as commercial hubs. With substantial quantities of cattle now being traded and with governments now in a position to attend to the order of the economy beyond the mere question of survival, the creation of public commercial space came to the fore on the legislative agenda in both Pennsylvania and South Carolina. At both the town and the provincial level, efforts to set up fairs and markets in which livestock might be sold proliferated. In 1759 the town burgesses of Bristol, Pennsylvania, advertised their investment in these traditional commercial instruments when they announced that they would “introduce the Custom of selling and buying live Cattle at Fairs, in Imitation of the Mother Country, the Advantages of which in bringing the Buyer and Seller together, promoting the Circulation of Money, and enabling People more easily and certainly to pay Debts, are [End Page 125] so obvious and apparent.”42 Other fairs selling cattle at Lancaster were advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette. South Carolinians also introduced fairs. At Childsbury the fair and market were created in 1723 by an act of assembly that showed an impressive loyalty to English legislative practice. Laid out as a charter that followed the exact format of its metropolitan forebears, the document provided for a master of the fair who was charged with collecting the tolls due from traders and enforcing correct trading practice. Those fairgoers who found themselves in dispute with a fellow trader could have the issue resolved before the court of pie powder, a special form of mobile commercial justice characteristic of English fairs since medieval times.43

The eighteenth century also saw many provincial and town governments creating official marketplaces. Although Bostonians notoriously blocked the construction of a central provisioning market until 1742, Philadelphia, Charleston, and New York all had such markets up and running by the first quarter of the eighteenth century. With a clerk of the market in charge of collecting stall rents and maintaining a set of weights and measures, these places incorporated many of the institutional trappings of their British counterparts. A 1709 South Carolina statute that created the Charleston market carefully replicated British practice. Then, in 1739, the South-Carolina Gazette highlighted the market regulation demanding that sellers offer “good and wholesome Flesh and other Provisions” to the town’s inhabitants. At about the same time, Philadelphia’s Common Council was hard at work improving their city’s marketplace with new stalls. In the course of the eighteenth century these spaces became central to the local trade in provisions.44 In Charleston the [End Page 126] beef market stood at the main intersection of Broad and King Streets, forming one of the “four corners of the law.”45 In Philadelphia the market was sited on the city’s main commercial thoroughfare—Market Street. Descriptions of these places suggest lively, bustling locations that were popular among buyers and sellers alike. Solomon Drowne, a visitor to Philadelphia from Rhode Island, marveled at the city’s Wednesday and Saturday markets, describing how “on these Days the People swarm to the Market House thicker than Flies to a Hogshead from which Sugar has been started. There is scarce anything a Person can mention but can be got here.”46

However, these fairs and markets had not been established in a vacuum. The existing modes of dealing cattle meant that colonists already had convenient ways of selling beasts that, moreover, were well suited to their property-owning patterns and the expansive character of the colonial landscape. It is in the fine detail of the efforts by both individuals and authorities to reintroduce customary spaces and practices in both South Carolina and Pennsylvania that we can see how novelty and custom confronted each other in colonial commercial activities across the middle of the eighteenth century.

It is clear that already-established channels of trade, combined with the continued proliferation of private property, often prevented the public interest of the fair and marketplace from triumphing in early America. Such was the case of the Childsbury fair. Its 1723 charter was the result of a collaboration between the South Carolina assembly and the Child family. Isaac Child and his son James were wealthy planters and Indian traders who had emigrated from Amersham in Buckinghamshire and found success on the frontier during the chaotic years before royal government [End Page 127] was established in the 1720s. Dealing in deerskins, illegally trading in Indian slaves, and dabbling in the production of naval stores, the Childs then seized the possibilities of the emerging rice culture. In the early eighteenth century, they laid out a town (Childsbury) with a fair and market and built a wharf (Strawberry Ferry) on the adjacent Cooper River. Such initiatives were no doubt designed to attract commerce to their land in this increasingly successful colonial economy.47

Importantly, Isaac Child decided to execute his project by deploying a long-standing customary practice whereby new towns, markets, and fairs were granted as a privilege to local nobility by royal assent. This was a practice alive and well in contemporary Britain, and by drawing on this method Child and the assembly that supported him were aligning themselves with an understanding of the market space as a place that should function under the aegis of corporate authority for the common good.48 Of course, the common good was a concept open to dispute, which is why many clashes over corn supply in eighteenth-century England erupted over this very issue. What was irrefutable about this outlook, however, was that trade should be conducted in a space that was observed by a corporate authority that claimed to have the public interest at heart. Yet the Childsbury fair neither developed into such a place nor flourished. The irregular notices advertising the biannual fair in the South-Carolina Gazette commented on the “pretty diversions,” such as horse racing and millinery stalls, at the event but neglected to mention any more substantial marketing opportunities. Accounts from the “Strawberry ferry,” which was adjacent to the fair site, show no increase in traffic at the times of year when the fair was held while also noting the tiny quantity of livestock loaded onto it. What is more, according to the South-Carolina Gazette there were only four vendues held at either Strawberry Ferry or Childsbury.49 While some settlers were invested in [End Page 128] the perceived benefits of the fair for trading cattle, enslaved people, and agricultural products as listed in its charter, many others clearly failed to identify any advantages over their existing network of auctions and supply chains. At the same time, the proliferation of private property that drove the popularity of these methods of livestock trading only increased over the course of the eighteenth century.

Without doubt, the presence of abundant private property in the form of enslaved people and land enhanced its impact on marketing in South Carolina. In this expansive, rural, privately owned landscape, the principles of the common good that stood behind the establishment of fairs crumbled in the face of established property interests and marketing patterns. Yet this process was not confined to South Carolina or to rural areas. We can find a similar dynamic at work in the urban environment of Philadelphia, where property ownership levels were lower but still far in excess of those in the Old World. Here again, customary spaces and their associated practices were circumvented by private property and an interest in protecting (or enlarging) it. In Philadelphia conflict converged on the spaces and practices that structured the slaughter of cows and the sale of animal by-products. In many British towns, the processing and sale of the by-products of slaughter—hides and tallow—were carefully regulated and frequently contested. In Glasgow, for example, the minutes of the local courts and guild records are filled with intricate arguments concerning the sanitary and skilled skinning of cattle, the extraction of offal, and the inspection thereof. The rise of merchant-owned candle-making factories and the appearance of middlemen buying up skins in bulk and reselling them to individual tradesmen in the 1770s intensified the discussion. Throughout the deliberations, powerful urban corporate interests held up the cattle market as the location where all deals should be made and all by-products processed under the close observation of expert officers. Debates were heavily imbued with the idea that this was for the common good. Indeed, it was not until 1844 that the butchers withdrew their support for such regulations on [End Page 129] the grounds that “as a remnant of now obsolete doctrines as to regulating markets inconsistent with the more enlightened commercial opinions of the present day” they were outdated and unnecessary.50

While customary spaces and associated practices enjoyed a privileged position in metropolitan debates about commercialization well into the nineteenth century, high levels of private property ownership among tanners, tallow chandlers, and butchers had shifted the discussion in Philadelphia as early as 1739. With abundant land available around Dock Creek in the young city, unincorporated butchers and tanners had purchased properties along this channel, which provided them with both a convenient water supply and a place to dump the waste products from their messy trades. Gathering together in the same urban quarter, the mutually dependent trades decided where and how they would slaughter beasts and what rules would govern their purchase from the graziers with whom they had contracts. These agreements appear not to have taken into account many of the customary imperatives that governed the trade in contemporary Glasgow, meaning that the skinning of cattle and the removal of offal received no oversight from public authorities. When the trades had grown to the extent that pollution was deemed a public nuisance, the city corporation attempted to solve the problem by ejecting the tanners from the city.

As the many arguments that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, the American Weekly Mercury, and the minutes of the Pennsylvania General Assembly show, the crux of the dispute lay in the delineation of private and public interests. Because tanners and butchers had been able to purchase land on which they could pursue their trades in a way that was most convenient and profitable for them, their opponents’ arguments for the customary role of urban government as a mediator and for publicly surveyed spaces as the locations where such activities should occur ran up against the interests of private property.51 The tanners won [End Page 130] the argument by offering a set of regulations of their own making to the assembly, which agreed to them. Unsurprisingly, these regulations did not demand that the tanners sacrifice their right to do what they wanted on their private property. The idea that the slaughtering and processing of animals should take place in spaces that could be observed and regulated by public oversight received a major blow, and it was the shared experience of owning extensive private property that dealt it.

Because existing marketing practices and the widespread ownership of private property challenged the idea of the marketplace as a public location in which the common good came first, the values associated with trade in these corporate spaces also suffered an assault. Indeed, there are numerous instances in which colonial livestock traders openly refused to conform to marketing regulations that would likely have been assented to by their British compatriots. In 1739 Lowcountry butchers had to be reminded with a notice in the South-Carolina Gazette that it was illegal to sell meat in the marketplace before the bell had been rung to signal the start of trading. Butchers who prepared meat for sale appeared equally blasé about the official regulations, and in 1765 lax slaughtering practices came to the attention of the South Carolina Grand Jury, who complained about “the bad custom of butchers shooting cattle in or near Charles-Town, whereby many, who are near their pens, are in danger of their lives; and also, their bringing meat to market in very filthy carts, either uncovered, or so exposed to the sun and dust, or covered with very dirty blankets or cloths, to the endangering the healths of the people of this town.”52 What is more, there was no guarantee that this butchered meat was actually destined for sale in the marketplace, as complaints lodged in the 1760s and 1770s about the activities of forestallers on the town’s wharves and in its suburbs reveal. In his letter to the South-Carolina Gazette, “Veridicus” singled out those individuals [End Page 131] “who watch the wharves before day, to engross the whole; so that, when a house keeper comes, in hopes to buy somewhat for the subsistence of his family, he is told every thing is sold; and whatever he wants, must then be bought from the forestaller, at his own advanced price.” Other correspondents singled out the clerk of the market for criticism, insinuating that he was letting out stalls to butchers in advance at elevated prices, pocketing the extra cash, and at the same time preventing country people arriving in town at dawn from being able to sell their cattle and hogs in the officially sanctioned location.53 The same frustrations plagued the smooth running of Philadelphia’s provisions markets. Stallholders were regularly in arrears for rents; butchers “Smoak Tobacco” and killed beasts inside the marketplace, creating a heady and unwholesome atmosphere; and hucksters intercepted goods before they reached the official point of sale.54

Thus, the colonial phase of the American livestock trade was important as an era in which a long-standing relationship between institutions and people in space was tested. When increased property ownership and the ability to organize it to profit from the livestock trade ran up against the replication of familiar trading spaces, customary markets struggled to become fixtures in the commercial landscape. Butchers and tanners who still strongly defended such markets and fairs as bulwarks of the trade in Britain failed to rally around these commercial instruments in the face of the advantages private property bestowed on some of them in the colonial marketplace. Equally, governments and elites who tried to uphold customary relationships to their advantage often lost out to the strong interest of private property holders, who, while not always elite, were almost exclusively free and white. American cattle traders, of course, had not forgotten about customary practices, and some settlers were willing to argue for their reintroduction. Yet ,it is clear that the circumstances of settlement—especially before 1720—had a lasting impact on their ability to accomplish their ambitions. The colonial cattle market of the late 1760s incorporated elements of capitalism still comparatively marginal [End Page 132] to its Old World counterpart. Specifically, traders drew on their abundant private property to raise livestock and to answer the call of local and Caribbean markets. This dynamic weakened (but did not eliminate) the importance of long-standing market spaces that claimed to protect trade for the common good by keeping those spaces under public ownership and oversight. At this time, neither American nor British cattle traders operated in a fully capitalist market economy. Arguably, though, the process of colonization had visibly weakened the institutions that in Britain represented more communal understandings of market space and practice.

With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the logistics of the American livestock trade would receive closer scrutiny than ever before. This intense examination of livestock markets was part of a larger resurgence in support for customary market practices and spaces, or the moral economy, as many have labeled it. This apparent turn toward a more regulated marketplace has been the subject of previous scholarly debate. Barbara Clark Smith argued that radical patriots enacted food riots and protests in favor of greater market regulation to maintain social and economic equality as a revolutionary goal. In doing so, these nonelites looked to reject the elite- and merchant-led “growth of a liberal bureaucratic state and . . . increased engagement within the Atlantic market.”55 In this class-driven interpretation of events that leads us to a laissez-faire early Republic, those who argued for communitarian values lost out to the liberals, whose Constitution would eventually pull society back from the radical democratic precipice. The Revolution thus becomes (among other things) the last stand of the moral economy against an American capitalism characterized by a laissez-faire marketplace.

However, what we have learned here about attempts to reintroduce customary market spaces in the colonial American livestock trade, coupled with the evidence offered by early Republic scholars that market regulation and state intervention were resurgent in the postrevolutionary economy, suggests that this wartime dispute was less straightforward. It is not possible to plot a simple narrative in which customary market spaces [End Page 133] were ineluctably crushed by the clarity of a laissez-faire vision pedaled by the private property owners who made sure that the common good was unable to entrench itself in the colonial cattle trade. Some property owners did resist this idea of a common good, yet some supported it. Indeed, its advocates managed to reinstate some public market spaces in a commercial landscape that had almost completely lacked them for a number of decades. Thus, though Old World notions of the public market operating for the common good underwent a challenge in both South Carolina and Pennsylvania and were no longer as central to the colonial commercial mentality as they were to its Old World counterpart, these ideas were still part of the discourse.

This state of affairs must be the starting point for our understanding of the role of revolutionary crisis in shaping American market culture. The crisis brought a new urgency to an unresolved situation in which elements of capitalism, such as private property and individual entrepreneurship, confronted efforts to reinstate more familiar marketing spaces that relied on notions of a publicly owned place in which deals were struck according to shared notions of the common good. In the chaos of war, it was relatively easy for those who wished to take advantage of scarcity to commit the cardinal sins of forestalling, engrossing, or regrating goods so that the price had already been inflated by an intermediary before the product reached the public market, if indeed it made it there at all.56

Facing food shortages and a substantial breakdown in market order for the first time, many Americans’ initial reaction was to seize with both hands the customary instruments of marketing with which they were fully familiar yet which they had not hitherto fully embraced. During the 1770s, Americans replicated British practices in the livestock and associated trades more closely than they had ever done before. For example, in 1773 an act “to prevent frauds and abuses” saw Pennsylvanians attempting to re-create the corporate quality-control measures in leather production that still dictated the relationship between Glasgow’s skinners and fleshers. This statute appointed government officials to enter tradesmen’s premises to inspect the quality of leather and the state of uncured skins. It also sought to regulate how hides were stored on [End Page 134] tanners’ premises and allowed searchers to board vessels exporting leather from the colony. With these measures, the statute granted a degree of public authority over urban space that was analogous to what was still the custom in contemporary Glasgow. Furthermore, South Carolinians and Pennsylvanians who traded livestock at auction faced closer supervision and elevated transaction costs. By 1779 a tax of 2.5 percent had been applied to all vendues in South Carolina, and residents of both South Carolina and Pennsylvania were prohibited from holding sales unless they had been licensed to do so in the official capacity of sheriff or public venduemaster.57

Written into many of these laws, however, was the clear recognition that the enhanced institutional role in the marketplace was equivocal and should be viewed as a temporary consequence of wartime shortages. Thus, Pennsylvania’s 1779 “Act for the effectual suppression of Public Auctions and Vendues” explained that “although a monopoly of the sale of goods by public auction or vendue, in times of peace and order . . . might be an unjustifiable limitation of private right, and productive of inconvenience,” it was nevertheless necessary during wartime.58 And in South Carolina, a September 1777 act banning all vendues except those conducted by the licensed venduemaster was repealed before it had even expired in favor of a less repressive set of measures.59 Similarly, Pennsylvania’s hotly contested act aimed at ending forestalling in the city marketplace still exempted both “any butcher, acting in his proper mystery and craft” and anyone “within the compass of four miles . . . who shall buy any oxen, bulls, cows, heifers, calves, swine, sheep, lambs, goats or kids living, and shall sell the same again, alive or dead, after having fed them for five weeks on his own land, or in his own possession.”60

So, while Americans valued the notion that market space was a public location to be used and organized for the common good, they [End Page 135] simultaneously acknowledged that regulations nevertheless had to respect private rights. The revolutionary crisis had thus forced a more intense examination of the mechanisms of the cattle trade (and of trade more generally) than ever before, but the result was a victory neither for moral economists nor for laissez-faire capitalists.61 Instead, the product of the conflict was a compromise recognizing that governing authorities should play a greater role in organizing domestic trade for a common good but that this role must respect the sanctity of a free white man’s private property and his right to do what he wished with and on this property.

Significantly, this was a distinctly American understanding of the role of government in regulating marketing space and practice. Contemporary British cattle traders also confronted challenges from entrepreneurs operating away from customary marketing spaces. On a broader level, the nation’s political economists were wrestling with the impact of both land enclosure and the Smithian free market on the idea of the common good. However, the deeply entrenched nature of British marketing and property-owning customs (and the discourses surrounding them) meant that there was little opportunity for a speedy, American-style redefinition of the relationship between individual property owners and corporate authority in the British marketplace.62 In the metropole tradesmen remained entrenched in centuries-long patterns of conflict that pitted guild members and city corporations claiming they were working for the common good against entrepreneurs and free traders whom they portrayed as selfish profiteers intent on their own aggrandizement at the expense of the honest consumer and dealer. To a significant degree, it was the polarized nature of such debates in London that prevented the Smithfield livestock market from being removed [End Page 136] to a more spacious site outside the city until 1855, even though severe overcrowding had been an issue as early as 1760.63

In America, however, the collusion of state regulators with private property owners (who were frequently one and the same) was already visible in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution. When the recently formed Charleston council drew up a new ordinance governing the city’s market in 1786, it included a number of clauses that clearly protected the authority and commercial privileges of important propertied interests in this slave society. Planters enjoyed the right to six stalls in the main Tradd Street market where they could send enslaved people to sell provisions raised on their plantations. The relationship between the Market Commissioners and the traders was also shaped by the status of enslaved traders as private property. The commissioners were permitted to whip enslaved people and put them in the stocks if they used “opprobious language.” Although many Britons still invested much in the idea that the “common good” should be at the heart of the marketplace, Charlestonians had already thoroughly redefined this notion to favor those free white property-owning men deemed instrumental to the order of this slaveholding republic.64

Outside the urban marketplace, the centrality of the novel trading spaces that had emerged in the colonial livestock trade was sealed with a number of local government statutes. Especially notable is the way in which the vendue sale became ensconced in state law. In both Pennsylvania and South Carolina, laws regulating auctions were rare before the revolutionary era. Pennsylvania passed only one, in 1730, and South Carolina two, both during the 1750s. However, no fewer than thirteen laws were added to the books in Pennsylvania from 1774 [End Page 137] to 1802—including a 1799 statute creating a recurring cattle auction in Philadelphia.65 With these laws, Americans not only codified and endorsed a marketplace that had been a novel innovation in the sale of livestock (as well as land and people) but also institutionalized a commercial instrument whose foundation lay in the profusion of private property in the marketplace. What is more, by legitimizing the auction, Americans concluded the process whereby the state became an accomplice in the protection of private property. Pennsylvania’s postrevolutionary vendue statutes specifically guarded the right of sheriffs to sell off the property of debtors or the deceased and also of individuals to sell “horses, cattle and live stock being the bona fide property of resident housekeepers actually removing from any township.” Thus, those who were owed money, and those who wanted to raise it, were still allowed to obtain funds through auctions while debtors faced a seizure of their goods, a seizure now defined as being in the public interest.66 [End Page 138]

As William J. Novak has argued, antebellum Americans were organizing their market spaces according to the principle that trade should be regulated “for the good of the whole.” Yet this “good of the whole” was not the same common good that had customarily anchored both practice and discourse in the English-speaking marketplace.67 Indeed, it was frequently not for the good of anyone who was not a free white property owner. Instead, this American “good of the whole” embraced and incorporated the notion that individual acquisition by free white men needed to be protected if the market was to flourish. Tracing this shift through the cattle trade’s colonial origins, we can see how it occurred. Trading livestock in an extensive landscape in which private property was abundant and corporate surveillance limited, European colonists bought and sold cows in spaces that were most convenient to them. Though settlers had in mind the necessity of introducing customary commercial instruments such as the fair and the market, these spaces and associated practices never completely defined either economic practice or culture. These were the spaces in which a more customary British notion of the corporate common good reigned, but though they played a role in the American livestock trade they were not at its heart. Facing economic dislocation during the Revolution, many Americans sought to more thoroughly reinstate this older notion of the common good—the moral economy—within their marketplaces. To a degree, they were successful, as evidenced by the renewed vigor with which these places were ordered and sanctioned by state legislation in the early Republic. New statutes organized the sale of beef in the marketplace, confined slaughtering of animals to designated locations, and protected consumers against bad meat. Yet the idea of the “good of the whole” that was integral to this legislation had been permanently changed by the colonial trajectory of market development. With fairs and marketplaces now competing with auctions and private contracts, the right of individual butchers, graziers, planters, and tanners to protect and increase their profits through a trade that relied on their right to use their private property as they wished had become written into the market regulations that were now rapidly issuing forth from city corporations and state governments.

Paying closer attention to colonial domestic trade and the spaces in which it took place thus allows us to better make sense of the means by which a capitalizing colonial economic culture became a capitalizing American economic culture. Although we can easily trace the emergence [End Page 139] of Western capitalism in general through the rise of an Atlantic merchant economy, that perspective overlooks what was happening daily, on the ground, as first colonists, then revolutionaries, and finally Americans went to market. Across the Atlantic world, transitioning to capitalism was a local experience. It gradually also became a distinctively American one. This shift incorporated a change in mentality about what constituted the role of the body politic in organizing the marketplace. In early America the state’s role came to encompass defending the private interest because marketing habits had been fundamentally shaped by private property and the belief that protecting its entrepreneurial owners was beneficial to everyone. Whether it really was, of course, is another matter altogether. [End Page 140]

Emma Hart

Emma Hart is a senior lecturer in Modern History at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. Research for this article was assisted by a grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland.

She would like to thank the many colleagues who were prepared to read about, or listen to, her fascination with cows. Daniel Hinze, Rab Houston, Nuala Zahedieh, and the anonymous readers at the William and Mary Quarterly all offered excellent critiques of complete drafts. Interrogations by Simon Middleton and Simon Newman were rigorous but indispensable. Finally, audiences at the Early Modern History Research Seminar, Trinity College, Dublin; the Program in Early American Economy and Society (PEAES), Library Company of Philadelphia, 2013 Annual Conference; the inaugural Cornell Conference on the Histories of Capitalism; and the 2014 British Group in Early American History Annual Conference at the University of Edinburgh all posed valuble questions that helped her along the way.


1. [James Glen], “A Description of South Carolina. . . .” (London, 1761), 74, repr. in Chapman J. Milling, ed., Colonial South Carolina: Two Contemporary Descriptions (Columbia, S.C., 1951), 82.

2. “Value and Quantity of Articles Exported from British Continental Colonies, by Destination, 1770,” Series Z 294, Chapter Z, Colonial and Pre-Federal Statistics, United States Census Bureau,; Thomas M. Doerflinger, “Commercial Specialization in Philadelphia’s Merchant Community, 1750–1791,” Business History Review 57, no. 1 (Spring 1983): 20–49; Michelle L. Craig, “Grounds for Debate? The Place of the Caribbean Provisions Trade in Philadelphia’s Prerevolutionary Economy,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 128, no. 2 (April 2004): 149–77, esp. 157 (table 2); Converse D. Clowse, Measuring Charleston’s Overseas Commerce, 1717–1767: Statistics from the Port’s Naval Lists (Washington, D.C., 1981); Paul M. Pressly, On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia in the British Atlantic World (Athens, Ga., 2013), 50–58.

3. Lorena S. Walsh, “Feeding the Eighteenth-Century Town Folk, or, Whence the Beef?” Agricultural History 73, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 267–80, esp. 273

4. [Glen], “A Description of South Carolina,” 68, repr. in Milling, Colonial South Carolina, 76. Evidence from contemporary inventories corroborates Glen’s claims. Thomas Elliott Sr.’s four cowpens at “Butler’s Island,” “King Creek,” “Coosawatchie,” and “Pallechololar,” for example, held an impressive 5,000 beasts when his estate was inventoried on July 25, 1761. See Inventory of Thomas Elliott Sr., planter of St. Paul’s Parish, South Carolina, Inventories of Estates, 1738–1774, Inventories T (1758–61), 566–68, South Carolina Department of Archives and History (SCDAH), Columbia. There have been a number of accounts of cattle farming in early America, especially in South Carolina where enslaved people were essential to successful open-grazing techniques. See Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (New York, 1996), 28–34; Gary S. Dunbar, “Colonial Carolina Cowpens,” Agricultural History 35, no. 3 (July 1961): 125–31; Grady McWhiney and Forrest McDonald, “Celtic Origins of Southern Herding Practices,” Journal of Southern History 51, no. 2 (May 1985): 165–82; John Solomon Otto, “Livestock-Raising in Early South Carolina, 1670–1700: Prelude to the Rice Plantation Economy,” Agricultural History 61, no. 4 (Autumn 1987): 13–24; Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America (New York, 2004). For a comparison of cattle-herding techniques in Barbuda and South Carolina and the role of Africans therein, see Andrew Sluyter, Black Ranching Frontiers: African Cattle Herders of the Atlantic World, 1500–1900 (New Haven, Conn., 2012), 136–39. The vast majority of this work focuses on the cultural aspects of raising cattle and breeding livestock and as a result does not encompass the economic issues of interest here.

5. On the commercialization of British agriculture in general, see J. A. Chartres, “Marketing at Fairs,” in Chapters from the Agrarian History of England and Wales, 1500–1750, ed. Joan Thirsk (Cambridge, 1990), 171–92; Roger Scola, Feeding the Victorian City: The Food Supply of Manchester, 1770–1870, ed. W. A. Armstrong and Pauline Scola (Manchester, 1992); Dennis Baker, “The Marketing of Corn in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century: North-East Kent,” Agricultural History Review 18, no. 2 (1970): 126–50. For the pre-1800 era, see Scola, Feeding the Victorian City, 150–83; Mark Overton, Agricultural Revolution in England: The Transformation of the Agrarian Economy, 1500–1850 (Cambridge, 1996), 133–92. For Scottish trade and the number of cattle moving across the border, see T. C. Smout, Scottish Trade on the Eve of the Union, 1660–1707 (Edinburgh, 1963), 214; Philipp Robinson Rössner, Scottish Trade in the Wake of Union (1700–1760): The Rise of a Warehouse Economy (Stuttgart, Ger., 2008); Matthew Richard Greenhall, “The Evolution of the British Economy: Anglo-Scottish Trade and Political Union, an Inter-Regional Perspective, 1580–1750” (Ph.D. diss., Durham University, 2011); A. R. B. Haldane, The Drove Roads of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1997); David Dickson, Old World Colony: Cork and South Munster, 1630–1830 (Cork, Ire., 2005), 135–47, esp. app. table 11.1, 657, app. table 12, 659.

6. “Mr. Oxley to Sir John Delaval,” Apr. 24, 1780, Delaval Family of Seaton Delaval and Ford, 2DE.4/12/1-28, Northumberland Archives.

7. “Mr. Oxley to Sir John Delaval,” Apr. 13, 20, 24, 1780, May 1, 9, 1780, Delaval Family, 2DE.4/12/1-28, Northumberland Archives; Hamilton of Barns Papers, TD589/813–880, Mitchell Library (ML), Glasgow.

8. Diary entries for Oct. 12, 1768 (quotation), May 17, Dec. 29, 1765, Mar. 27, May 6, 1766, Dec. 5, 1769, Jacob Hiltzheimer Diaries, 1765–1798, Mss.B.H56d, American Philosophical Society (APS), Philadelphia.

9. William Harris, “The Subscriber pastures Horses,” [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette, July 4–11, 1754, [3].

10. “The Subscriber gives this public Notice,” Supplement To, the South-Carolina Gazette, Sept. 9, 1756, [3] (quotation); William Harris and Richard Wainwright v. William Harvey, 1751, vol. 29A, no. 45A, South Carolina Judgment Rolls (SCJR), 1703–90, SCDAH; William Harris, butcher, v. Samuel Woodsides, 1754, vol. 37A, no. 89A, ibid.; David Brown, shipwright, v. Executors of William Harris, 1757, vol. 43B, no. 30A, ibid.; Stephen Hartley, planter, v. Estate of William Harris, butcher deceased, 1758, vol. 45B, no. 98A, ibid.; Thomas Linthwaite of Charleston v. Estate of William Harris, butcher, 1758, vol. 45B, no. 120A, ibid.; “Run away, on the 18th of October,” South-Carolina Gazette, Nov. 12–19, 1750, [4]; Inventory of William Harris, vol. 82A, pp. 491–92, Works Progress Administration (WPA) Transcriptions, SCDAH. There is evidence that fairs and marketplaces also played less of a role in the New England cattle trade. See J. Ritchie Garrison, “Farm Dynamics and Regional Exchange: The Connecticut Valley Beef Trade, 1670–1850,” Agricultural History 61, no. 3 (Summer 1987): 1–17.

11. In order to make a broadly comparative discussion of the early American livestock trade manageable, I focus on the four British Atlantic provinces centered on Philadelphia, Charleston, Glasgow, and Newcastle upon Tyne. These expanding English-speaking regions shared similar trajectories of growth and development across the long eighteenth century. Within Britain, the western Scottish Lowlands and northern England were among the five regions with the fastest annual average urban growth during the eighteenth century. The cities mentioned above started the Restoration era as relatively small places yet ended the eighteenth century as major powerhouses of commercial agriculture, trade, and manufacturing. With a tripling in population, Newcastle experienced the slowest growth, yet even this rate of expansion was in stark contrast to English towns such as Ipswich, Canterbury, and Exeter, which started off the era roughly the same size but failed to add more than a few hundred inhabitants to their population by 1801. Glasgow was one of a number of towns that grew rapidly in Scotland, and its population almost equaled Edinburgh’s by 1801; in 1700, by contrast, it was less than half the capital’s size. In Britain’s American colonies, Philadelphia and Charleston began the era as colonial villages, but by 1800 they were the second- and fifth-largest cities in the United States. What is more, all four of these places grew because they were in a position to service Britain’s rising industrial and imperial economy. In the course of the eighteenth century, such dramatic urban growth drew rural hinterlands into capitalizing economies that provided the foodstuffs, finance, and fuel to power the expanding British Atlantic world.

12. Key interventions in this debate include Winifred Barr Rothenberg, From Market-Places to a Market Economy: The Transformation of Rural Massachusetts, 1750–1850 (Chicago, 1992); Christopher Clark, The Roots of Rural Capitalism: Western Massachusetts, 1780–1860 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1990); Allan Kulikoff, “The Transition to Capitalism in Rural America,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 46, no. 1 (January 1989): 120–44; James T. Lemon, The Best Poor Man’s Country: A Geographical Study of Early Southeastern Pennsylvania (New York, 1976); James A. Henretta, “Families and Farms: Mentalité in Pre-Industrial America,” WMQ 35, no. 1 (January 1978): 3–32; Daniel Vickers, Farmers and Fishermen: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630–1850 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1994). As Naomi R. Lamoreaux eloquently stated, “economic actors never make decisions solely on the basis of prices and quantities in the market; their choices are always shaped by their preferences and their perceptions of available options, which in turn are largely structured by the cultural systems in which they operate.” Lamoreaux, “Rethinking the Transition to Capitalism in the Early American Northeast,” Journal of American History 90, no. 2 (September 2003): 437–61 (quotation, 440).

13. Michelle Craig McDonald, “The Chance of the Moment: Coffee and the New West Indies Commodities Trade,” WMQ 62, no. 3 (July 2005): 441–72; David Hancock, Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste (New Haven, Conn., 2009); Jennifer L. Anderson, Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America (Cambridge, Mass., 2012); Victor Enthoven, “‘That Abominable Nest of Pirates’: St. Eustatius and the North Americans, 1680–1780,” Early American Studies 10, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 239–301; Ben Marsh, “Silk Hopes in Colonial South Carolina,” Journal of Southern History 78, no. 4 (November 2012): 807–54.

14. “History of Capitalism Initiative,” ILR School of Cornell University,, accessed Feb. 25, 2015.

15. The more general disconnect between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American historians’ discussions has been noted by scholars. See Jack P. Greene, “Colonial History and National History: Reflections on a Continuing Problem,” WMQ 64, no. 2 (April 2007): 235–40; Trevor Burnard, “Ending with a Whimper, Not a Bang: The Relationship between Atlantic History and the Study of the Nineteenth-Century South,” in The American South and the Atlantic World, ed. Brian Ward, Martyn Bone, and William A. Link (Gainesville, Fla., 2013), 129–48. Seth Rockman has likewise highlighted how, in discussions of American capitalism’s past, “newer scholarship suggests that the chronological frame needs to be extended earlier than the American Revolution.” See Rockman, “What Makes the History of Capitalism Newsworthy?” Journal of the Early Republic 34, no. 3 (Fall 2014): 439–66 (quotation, 466). See also Louis Hyman and Edward E. Baptist, American Capitalism: A Reader (New York, 2014), which suggests a direct shift from a mercantile world of staples and planters to a capitalist constitution.

16. William J. Novak, The People’s Welfare: Law and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1996), 35 (quotations). Novak has argued that “close investigations of such pervasive and everyday governmental practices are essential to a complete picture of the American legal-political tradition and the elusive meanings of American democracy, liberalism, and republicanism.” Ibid. See also Robin L. Einhorn, Property Rules: Political Economy in Chicago, 1833–1872 (Chicago, 1991); Einhorn, American Taxation, American Slavery (Chicago, 2006); Seth Rockman, Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore (Baltimore, 2009).

17. Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (Cambridge, Mass., 1999); Anthony E. Kaye, Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2009). Kaye explicitly draws on the work of sociologist Anthony Giddens, whose theory of structuration proposes a “duality of structure” in which individuals and institutions are constantly in dialogue with each other and with the locations of their relationship, which are essential as generative “settings of interaction.” Giddens, The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration (Berkeley, Calif., 1984), 25 (“duality”), xxii (“settings”). Kaye articulates how “as repetition gives a pattern to our actions’ unintended consequences, rules and institutions are replicated across space and gain a place in society.” Kaye, Joining Places, 12–13 (quotation, 13). This article implicitly incorporates such notions into its readings of the relationship among market spaces, participants, and market cultures.

18. The colonial era was foundational to the nature of the antebellum American economy because it nurtured certain characteristics that were elements of American capitalism. That is to say, people’s experiences in the colonial marketplace disengaged them from European understandings of the domestic political economy and brought about a reinterpretation of the relationship between the government and the individual in that marketplace. Specifically, the colonial experience reified the rights of the individual private property owner. This situation was, I believe, a fundamental aspect of what would eventually become an American capitalist culture that celebrates private property owners and views the government chiefly as a vehicle to protect their interests. However, I am not proposing this as a definitive interpretation of American capitalism, which is a phenomenon so multifaceted (and so dependent on time and place) that it eludes comprehensive definition. In my refusal to offer a definition of capitalism, I am clearly aligning myself with recent scholars working on the “new” history of American capitalism. Although there is much that is problematic about this project, one of its virtues is that it refuses to be stifled by the circular debates that dogged older approaches to the issue. Indeed, in doing so it mirrors the vast majority of recent scholarship on the British economy in the 1700–1850 period that, while accepting that the emergence of a capitalist culture is the major narrative thread, has nevertheless avoided becoming mired in discussions about how to define the term. See for example Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present (Cambridge, 2008); Joel Mokyr, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain, 1700–1850 (New Haven, Conn., 2009).

19. On the medieval lineage of these discussions, see the comprehensive work of James Davies, Medieval Market Morality: Life, Law and Ethics in the English Marketplace, 1200–1500 (Cambridge, 2012), 1.

20. Work on retailing in Britain generally stresses the novel aspects that emerged in the eighteenth century. See for example Hoh-Cheung Mui and Lorna H. Mui, Shops and Shopkeeping in Eighteenth-Century England (London, 1989); Helen Berry, “Polite Consumption: Shopping in Eighteenth-Century England,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 12 (2002): 375–94; Claire Walsh, “Shops, Shopping, and the Art of Decision Making in Eighteenth-Century England,” in Gender, Taste, and Material Culture in Britain and North America, 1700–1830, ed. John Styles and Amanda Vickery (New Haven, Conn., 2007), 151–77. One notable early exception to this trend was Carole Shammas, The Pre-Industrial Consumer in England and America (Oxford, 1990). More recent work has now followed in Shammas’s footsteps and focused on continuities in the retail landscape. See for example Jon Stobart, Sugar and Spice: Grocers and Groceries in Provincial England, 1650–1830 (Oxford, 2012); Ian Mitchell, Tradition and Innovation in English Retailing, 1700 to 1850: Narratives of Consumption (Farnham, U.K., 2014). Andy Wood elucidates how “landscape is, above all, a social construction, a collective way of seeing, into which are built collective ways of remembering.” Wood, The Memory of the People: Custom and Popular Senses of the Past in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2013), 188–89.

21. W. Thwaites, “Dearth and the Marketing of Agricultural Produce: Oxford-shire c. 1750–1800,” Agricultural History Review 33, no. 2 (1985): 119–31 (quotation, 131); John Bohstedt, The Politics of Provisions: Food Riots, Moral Economy, and Market Transition in England, c. 1550–1850 (Farnham, U.K., 2010)

22. Continental European settlers such as Jacob Hiltzheimer often had to trade according to the norms of the dominant culture, which remained an Anglo one in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, Hiltzheimer had emigrated from the German lands, where institutions such as guilds, city corporations, and feudal landholding practices were even more influential in eighteenth-century market culture than they were in Britain. For a detailed study of institutions and the economy in a continental European setting, see Sheilagh Ogilvie, Institutions and European Trade: Merchant Guilds, 1000–1800 (Cambridge, 2011).

23. Wood, Black Majority, 28–34.

24. For lists of early statutes in the two colonies, see “Introduction to Statutes at Large,” Pennsylvania Statutes at Large,; Thomas Cooper, ed., The Statutes at Large of South Carolina. . . ., vol. 2 (Columbia, S.C., 1837).

25. Mary M. Schweitzer, “The Spatial Organization of Federalist Philadelphia, 1790,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 24, no. 1 (Summer 1993): 31–57; Michal McMahon, “‘Publick Service’ versus ‘Mans Properties’: Dock Creek and the Origins of Urban Technology in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia,” in Early American Technology: Making and Doing Things from the Colonial Era to 1850, ed. Judith A. McGaw (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1994), 114–47; Michael David Scholl, “The American Yeoman: An Historical Ecology of Production in Colonial Pennsylvania” (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2008), 152.

26. For example, 60.5 percent of men involved in processing provisions owned between one and nine workers, whereas the overall average of artisans was 50 percent. “Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the year 1790,” South Carolina, Bureau of the Census; Charleston City Directory, 1790, microfilm, Charleston County Public Library, South Carolina.

27. Alex. Smith and Robt. Raper, “On Thursday the 10th of July next,” South-Carolina Gazette, July 1–5, 1740, [3] (“Five”); “The London Porter,” South-Carolina Gazette, Jan. 4–11, 1768, [2] (“London”). A succession of advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette describe James Thomson’s properties and his workforce. See “Whereas I design to leave this Province,” South-Carolina Gazette, Mar. 4, 1745, [2]; “To Be Sold,” South-Carolina Gazette, Jan. 19, 1747, [3]; “To be Sold,” South-Carolina Gazette, July 13–20, 1747, [3]; “All persons who have any demands,” Postcript To the South-Carolina Gazette, Dec. 10, 1750, [2]; Court of Common Pleas Records, SCJR, 1703–90, S 136002, vol. 24A, no. 18A, Apr. 3, 1744, SCDAH. An advertisement placed by butcher James MacKelvey hints at a complex supply network that linked plantation and city, was based around the expertise of enslaved workers, and was owned by one individual. See “Run away,” South-Carolina Gazette, June 1, 1745, [2]

28. Extant bills for butchers’ work include entries for “carting to town your barrel’d beef,” “7 beer barrels, 2 hogsheads to salt your beef £3, storage for salting and storing your beef 18 months £30,” and pasturage charges in a suburban plot. These documents suggest that these tradesmen were running multifunctional businesses. See accounts between Thomas Fullalove, butcher, and Thomas Nightingale, SCJR, vol. 59A, no. 16A, Nov. 17, 1764, SCDAH.

29. May 6, 1766, Jan. 7, 1768, Jacob Hiltzheimer Diaries, APS; Martha A. Zierden and Elizabeth J. Reitz, “Animal Use and the Urban Landscape in Colonial Charleston, South Carolina, USA,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 13, no. 3 (September 2009): 327–65.

30. Much of the following data on auctions/vendues relies on two databases that I am compiling from advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette from 1730 to 1765 and the South-Carolina Gazette from 1732 to 1757 (but to be continued to incorporate data up until 1765). Currently, the Pennsylvania data set (PG Vendue Database) incorporates 2,500 notices and the South Carolina one (SCG Vendue Database) incorporates 1,100. Each entry represents a unique advertisement, with repeat notices discarded.

31. “Cornelis Verhoofe plt, Peter Groundyk deft, An Action of the Case,” May 10, 1682, in Records of the Courts of Sussex County Delaware, 1677–1710, ed. Craig W. Horle (Philadelphia, 1991), 1: 164 (quotation); “An Act for Appointing a Publick Vendue-Master. . . . ,” Apr. 8, 1710, act 292, in Cooper, Statutes at Large of South Carolina, 2: 348–49. It is clear that the Philadelphia authorities were having trouble limiting the number of auctions in the city by the early eighteenth century; thus, in 1718, they “ordered that no vendue or publick Sale of Goods be made under the Court House by any pson, Unless a Consideracon be paid to the Corporacon for the Same.” “At a Comon Council at Philada the 6th March 1718,” in Minutes of the Common Council of the City of Philadelphia, 1704 to 1776 (Philadelphia, 1847), 143–44 (quotation, 144).

32. Statistics from the PG and SCG Vendue Databases. In both data sets, the number of vendue sale notices increases exponentially over the middle of the eighteenth century. For example, in 1738 and 1739 there were 21 notices per annum in the South-Carolina Gazette, but by 1750 this had climbed to 91. The number then dropped due to the 1752 hurricane and the Seven Years’ War but still stood at between 50 and 80 per annum—at least one sale per week. In the Pennsylvania Gazette, the yearly average exceeded 100 by 1750, then climbed to more than 200 per year when the number of bankruptcies increased following the end of the war. I have surveyed a number of British newspapers and have found that they contain many fewer auction notices overall and that a lower proportion of those auction notices include livestock. The Ipswich Gazette had 200 notices in 1767, with 10 percent of these including livestock. In 1780, though, the number of notices had declined to 24, with only 3 offering livestock. The Derby Mercury, on the other hand, listed only about 30 sales a year in the 1760s, none of them with livestock on offer, and the Bath Journal mentioned 30 sales, of which only 1 offered livestock. The Newcastle Journal was diligent in its biannual reports on how many cattle had been sold at the city’s fair and what prices they had fetched; it listed 27 auctions with 1 including livestock. This compares to 251 auction notices in the Pennsylvania Gazette for 1765, with 30 including livestock, and 56 notices in the South-Carolina Gazette for 1756, with 31 including livestock. Richard Perren, “The Meat and Livestock Trade in Britain, 1850–70,” Economic History Review 28, no. 3 (August 1975): 385–400.

33. For examples of “on the spot” notices, see “To be Sold,” South-Carolina Gazette, Oct. 25–Nov. 1, 1760, [3]; “To be Sold,” South-Carolina Gazette, Apr. 4–11, 1761, [1]. Of 1,100 auctions tabulated from the South-Carolina Gazette, almost a third took place at the location of the property that was up for sale. Other locations, such as Martha Sureau’s tavern at Ashley Ferry, “the usual place” in Charleston, and villages such as Dorchester, Camden, and Willtown also emerge as popular sale sites. See “To be Sold, for Ready Money,” Postscript To the South-Carolina Gazette, Feb. 18, 1751, [1] (quotation). For a Sureau’s tavern sale, see “To Be Sold, at Ashley-Ferry,” South-Carolina Gazette, Jan. 30–Feb. 25, 1749, [3].

34. Statistics taken from the PG and SCG Vendue Databases.

35. Statistic calculated from the SCG Vendue Database.

36. Wood, Memory of the People, 14.

37. For the continued importance of corporate structures in Scottish towns, see Bob Harris and Charles McKean, The Scottish Town in the Age of the Enlightenment, 1740–1820 (Edinburgh, 2014). For England, see Perry Gauci, Politics and Society in Great Yarmouth, 1660–1722 (Oxford, 1996); Kathleen Wilson, The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture, and Imperialism in England, 1715–1785 (Cambridge, 1998).

38. Ian MacLachlan, “A Bloody Offal Nuisance,” Urban History 34, no. 2 (August 2007): 227–54, esp. 235–36. Enclosure barely touched Scottish landholdings, which remain in aristocratic possession to the present day. For an explanation of the management of livestock raising on these unenclosed Scottish estates, see R. A. Houston, Peasant Petitions: Social Relations and Economic Life on Landed Estates, 1600–1850 (New York, 2014), 171–218.

39. The debate about the size and capitalist character of English farms in the eighteenth century is long running and severely hampered by real regional differences in farm size. For a good overview, see Leigh Shaw-Taylor, “The Rise of Agrarian Capitalism and the Decline of Family Farming in England,” Economic History Review 65, no. 1 (February 2012): 26–60. As Shaw-Taylor shows, tenancy rates reached 80 percent in many areas of England by the end of the eighteenth century. Lucy Simler demonstrates that while tenancy did exist in colonial Pennsylvania, rates stood at 20–25 percent by the Revolution. Simler, “Tenancy in Colonial Pennsylvania: The Case of Chester County,” WMQ 43, no. 4 (October 1986): 542–69.

40. See for example the petition of Robert and Ann Rankin to the Newcastle Common Council stating “that the said three shops were intended for Butchers sale shops, but coud never be let to any advantage, and the Tenants thereof finding them not to answer to that purpose, used them as slaughter shops, whereby they became a nuisance to that part of the street.” Common Council Order Books, Oct. 6, 1766–Sept. 20, 1785, Newcastle City Council, Dec. 17, 1772, 172–73, MD.NC/2/6, Tyne and Wear Archives Service (TWAS), Newcastle.

41. “Entry for Tuesday, Oct. 14, 1777, Recollections of John Brown,” Bogle Family Manuscripts, 1729–1787, MS, vol. 91b, ML; Hamilton of Barns Papers, TD589, ML; T TH 11/1/1: Minutes of the Incorporation of Fleshers, 1576–1968, ML.

42. David Pinkerton, “By Order of the Burgesses and Common-Council of the Borough of Bristol, May 5, 1759,” [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Gazette, May 10, 1759, [3].

43. For Lancaster fairs, see George Folwell, “Notice is hereby given,” Pennsylvania Gazette, Apr. 3, 1740, [3]; “Notice is hereby given,” Pennsylvania Gazette, Oct. 17, 1745, [3]; “Notice is hereby given,” Pennsylvania Gazette, Mar. 22, 1764, [3]; “Whereas by the Clemency and free-good Will of the Honorable William Denny Esq,” Pennsylvania Gazette, Sept. 13, 1759, [4]. For South Carolina fairs, see “An Act for settling a Fair and Markets in Childsbury Town in St. John’s Parish in Berkeley County, 1723,” Child Family Muniments, 1704–1801, 502/14, SCHS 502.00, South Carolina Historical Society.

44. “Charles-Town, Dec. 15, Whereas several Offences have been committed,” South-Carolina Gazette, Dec. 8–15, 1739, [2] (quotation); “An Act to appoint and erect a Market in Charlestown for the Publick Sale of Provisions. . . . ,” Apr. 8, 1710, act 294, in Cooper, Statutes at Large of South Carolina, 2: 351. For developments in provision marketing in colonial mainland cities, see Gergely Baics, “The Geography of Urban Food Retail: Locational Principles of Public Market Provisioning in New York City, 1790–1860,” Urban History, June 8, 2015, 1–19, doi:; Martha J. McNamara, “‘In the face of the court . . . ’: Law, Commerce, and the Transformation of Public Space in Boston, 1650–1770,” Winter-thur Portfolio 36, no. 2/3 (Summer–Autumn 2001): 125–39. For discussion of a “new Market House” in 1708–9, see “Att a Comon Councill ye 22d Novemb 1708,” Nov. 22, 1708, in Minutes of the Common Council of the City of Philadelphia, 57–58 (quotation, 58); “At a Comon Council ye 2d May 1710,” May 22, 1710, ibid., 69–71.

45. Robert Olwell, Masters, Slaves, and Subjects: The Culture of Power in the South Carolina Low Country, 1740–1790 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1998), 17.

46. Harrold E. Gillinghan, ed., “Dr. Solomon Drowne,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 48, no. 3 (1924): 227–50 (quotation, 236). Other visitors were similarly effusive about Philadelphia’s principal market. See the diary entry of Robert Honyman: “Went this morning & walked several times through the market, & enquired the price of most of the Articles to be sold. It is certainly a very fine & plentiful market as I ever saw.” “Diary entry, Mar. 8, 1775,” in Colonial Panorama, 1775: Dr. Robert Honyman’s Journal for March and April, ed. Philip Padelford (San Marino, Calif., 1939), 16–17. See also the diary entry of Robert Hunter Jr.: “I took a walk out about ten o’clock to see the market, and think it superior to any I know in London, in point of neatness and regularity. There appeared to [be] great abundance of provisions of all sorts. Some of the wagons come from an amazing distance.” “Diary entry, Nov. 2, 1785,” in Quebec to Carolina in 1785–1786: Being the Travel Diary and Observations of Robert Hunter Jr., a Young Merchant of London, ed. Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling (San Marino, Calif., 1943), 172.

47. William B. Barr, “Strawberry Ferry (38K1723) and Childsbury Towne (38K1750): A Socio-Economic Enterprise on the Western Branch of the Cooper River, St. John’s Parish, Berkeley County, South Carolina,” 1996, Research Manuscript Series (RMS), book 208, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA),

48. “The Lord Bishop of Durham having been pleased to grant a Charter to Sir Thomas Haggerston, Baronet, . . . for holding, in the town of Norham, a Weekly Market on every Friday and two annual Fairs.” See “Fairs at Norham,” Newcastle Courant, Oct. 5, 1776, [3]. “That the Two Yearly Fairs or Markets, formerly in use to be held in the Town of Auchterardour in the Shire of Perth, belonging to the Honourable Family of Perth: and which Fairs, for some Years past, have been in Disuse: Are now to be renewed for this current Year 1725, and to continue in Time coming.” See Caledonian Mercury, June 22, 1725, [4]. “To be Held at Levin A Market for Black Cattle and Cows with Calves . . . the third Week of April next, the first five Years Custom free.” See Caledonian Mercury, Apr. 2, 1744, [4].

49. For notices advertising the fair, see “The Fairs,” South-Carolina Gazette, Sept. 2, 1751 [4] (quotations); “Notice is hereby given,” South-Carolina Gazette, Apr. 30–May 7, 1737, [3]; “Notice is hereby given that the Fair at Childsbury. . . . ,” Sept. 20, 1742, [3]. For accounts of Strawberry Ferry, see Barr, “Strawberry Ferry (38K1723) and Childsbury Towne (38K1750),” 1996, RMS, book 208, SCIAA. Ian Mitchell has argued that experiencing “novel thrills” was integral to English fairs and that over time it was the recreational element of the event that lived on while the commercial aspect died out. However, this process did not start until the late eighteenth century. Mitchell, “The Changing Role of Fairs in the Long Eighteenth Century: Evidence from the North Midlands,” Economic History Review 60, no. 3 (August 2007): 545–73 (quotation, 550). Some fairs in Pennsylvania also met with a similar fate to the Childsbury fair. See “An Act to Annul and Repeal So Much of Any Charter or Law of This State as Empowers the Inhabitants of the Borough of Bristol, in the County of Bucks, To Hold and Keep Fairs within the Same,” Apr. 4, 1796, act 1904, in Pennsylvania Statutes at Large, 15: 461. The Philadelphia fair was ended in 1775.

50. “The Petition of James Scoular deacon, and others members of the incorporation of fleshers in Glasgow,” March 1779 and Petition of 1844, T TH 11 Fleshers—Legal Papers: 36, Legal and other papers on a dispute between fleshers and candlemakers, 1779–1844, ML. This petition also noted that now most slaughtering actually took place outside the official slaughterhouse and thus was not subject to this ordinance anyway.

51. For general accounts of the dispute, see A. Michal McMahon, “‘Small Matters’: Benjamin Frankin, Philadelphia, and the ‘Progress of Cities,’” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 116, no. 2 (April 1992): 157–82; Simon Finger, The Contagious City: The Politics of Public Health in Early Philadelphia (Ithaca, N.Y., 2012), 70–73. McMahon outlines the property ownership patterns on the creek and argues that “the supporters of a public Dock faced tremendous obstacles in a society that had gone far to privatize the possessions and purposes of civil society.” McMahon, “‘Publick Service’ versus ‘Mans Properties,’” esp. 129 (quotation), 125–26. The tanners’ supporters claimed that “almost all the Ground between Walnut Street Bridge and Third Street, on both side theDock [sic], is in Possession of the Tanners.” Even opponents of the tanners focused their complaints on the interests of private property—namely that the pollution caused by the trade was to “the great Injury of all those who have Lots or Tenements near them, as it considerably lessens the Value of such Lots and Tenements.” Their self-proclaimed goal was to “restore to them the Liberty of Breathing freely in their own Houses.” See “Mr. Bradford,” [Philadelphia] American Weekly Mercury, Sept. 6–13, 1739, [1–2] (“almost,” [2]); “Mr. Franklin,” Pennsylvania Gazette, Aug. 23–30, 1739, [1] (“great Injury”). For the tanners’ proposals of self-regulation to the assembly, see Gertrude MacKinney, ed., “A convenient Method for the better regulating of Tan-yards,” Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania, Oct. 14, 1726–Sept. 22, 1741, Pennsylvania Archives, ser. 8 (Philadelphia, 1931), 3: 2503–4. For the original petition concerning the pollution, see “The Petition of the Tanners of Philadelphia,” Oct. 14, 1707–Aug. 6, 1726, ibid., 2: 1485.

52. For the presentments of the Grand Jury, see “South-Carolina. The Presentments,” South-Carolina Gazette, June 1–8, 1765, [1] (quotation). For the bell, see “Charles-Town, Dec. 15, Whereas several Offences have been committed,” South-Carolina Gazette, Dec. 8–15, 1739, [2].

53. For complaints in newspapers, see Veridicus, letter, South-Carolina Gazette, Nov. 12, 1772, [2]; “Many persons that constantly supplies the Market,” South-Carolina Gazette; and Country Journal, May 30, 1769, [3]. In their archaeological study of meat eating in Charleston, Martha Zierden and Elizabeth Reitz note how butchered animal remains are scattered across different places in the city, indicating that the beef market was just one of many locations in which livestock were killed. See Zierden and Reitz, International Journal of Historical Archaeology 13: 348.

54. “At a Common Council held at Philada, October ye 29th=1722,” in Minutes of the Common Council, 221–23 (quotation, 222); “At a Comon Council at Philada the Tenth day of November 1710,” ibid., 72–73; “At a Comon Council held at Philada, the 10th Augt 1730,” ibid., 298; “An Act to Prevent Frauds and Abuses in the Manufacturing of Leather,” Mar. 21, 1772, act 657, in Pennsylvania Statutes at Large, 8: 220.

55. Barbara Clark Smith, “Food Rioters and the American Revolution,” WMQ 51, no. 1 (January 1994): 3–38 (quotation, 30). Some key interventions on the issue of the moral economy in a British American context include Charles Tilly, “Collective Action in England and America, 1765–1775,” in Tradition, Conflict, and Modernization: Perspectives on the American Revolution, ed. Richard Maxwell Brown and Don E. Fehrenbacker (New York, 1977), 45–72; Alfred F. Young, “English Plebeian Culture and Eighteenth-Century American Radicalism,” in The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism, ed. Margaret C. Jacob and James R. Jacob (London, 1984), 185–212; Ruth Bogin, “Petitioning and the New Moral Economy of Post-Revolutionary America,” WMQ 45, no. 3 (July 1988): 391–425.

56. For a list of food riots, see Smith, WMQ 51: 3–38. Regrating goods was one of the three major criminal activities that legislators sought to eliminate from the marketplace. Whereas forestallers bought goods before they reached the marketplace and engrossers bought up all available goods and held onto them to elevate the price, regraters bought goods at retail and then resold them at a higher price in the same marketplace. For a contemporary definition, see William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765–1769, (Chicago, 1979), 4: 158.

57. “An Act to Prevent Frauds and Abuses in the Manufacturing of Leather,” Mar. 21, 1772, act 657, in Pennsylvania Statutes at Large, 8: 220–28; Jan. 7, 1772, T TH 11/1/1: Minutes of the Incorporation of Fleshers, 1576–1968, ML; “10th July 1755 Butcher’s Guild Order Book,” microfilm 2069, order book/Gu/Bu/4, TWAS; “An Ordinance for regulating all Vendues within this State; and for raising supplies to Government, therein mentioned,” Mar. 16, 1783, act 1184, in Cooper, Statutes at Large of South Carolina, 4: 562.

58. For a reprinting of “The Bill intituled ‘An Act for the effectual suppression of Public Auctions and Vendues, and to prohibit white male persons, capable of bearing arms, from being pedlars or hawkers,” see “Philadelphia. In General Assembly, Nov. 16, 1779,” Pennsylvania Gazette, Dec. 1, 1779, [1].

59. P. Timothy, “That the Act ‘to prohibit the sale of goods,’” Gazette of the State of South-Carolina, Sept. 15, 1777, [1].

60. “An Act for the Regulation of the Markets in the City of Philadelphia, and for Other Purposes therein Mentioned,” Apr. 5, 1779, act 845, in Pennsylvania Statutes at Large, 9: 387–90 (“any butcher,” 9: 388, “within,” 9: 388–89).

61. Daniel Mandell, “Revolutionary Ideologies and Wartime Economic Regulation” (paper presented at the Early American History Seminar, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Feb. 19, 2013). My thanks to Professor Mandell for allowing me to cite this unpublished paper and for sharing his research with me. His discussion in this paper of the ongoing competition between supporters of laissez-faire markets and those who lobbied for continued regulation was vital in helping me to formulate the last part of this article.

62. Debates about enclosure in eighteenth-century Britain explicitly tussled with the question of whether the process of land privatization subjugated the public interest to the private and in doing so fatally undermined the common good. William Cowper stated that “the Good of the Whole ought constantly be preferr’d to that of a Part.” Cowper’s opponents, who supported enclosure, argued that in a manufacturing nation the economic value of a republic of smallholders was irrelevant. Of course, as Britons were debating the merits of enclosure while enclosing land over a matter of centuries, Americans had already accepted the fact that private property was integral to a commercial agrarian economy, and as such its protection had to be incorporated into the definition of the common good. S. J. Thompson, “Parliamentary Enclosure, Property, Population, and the Decline of Classical Republicanism in Eighteenth-Century Britain,” Historical Journal 51, no. 3 (September 2008): 621–42 (“Good,” 629).

63. Philip E. Jones, The Butchers of London: A History of the Worshipful Company of Butchers of the City of London (London, 1976), 71–105; MacLachlan, Urban History 34: 227–54; Perren, Economic History Review 28: 385–400.

64. “An Ordinance for the regulating and governing of the Public Markets of the city of Charleston,” Oct. 11, 1786, ordinance no. 38, clause 13, in Ordinances of the City Council of Charleston. . . . (Charleston, S.C., 1789), 24–27 (“opprobious,” 26). Robert Olwell and Philip D. Morgan have explained how important the market was in maintaining power structures in colonial South Carolina’s slave society. This focus on the imperatives of a slave society, however, means that the nature of the marketplace in the region is not usually set within the context of American economic culture more generally. See Olwell, Masters, Slaves, and Subjects, 141–80; Morgan, Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Low-country (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1998), 358–84. With their emphasis on the unity of free white property-owning men in the antebellum era, the works of Stephanie McCurry and Rachel N. Klein provide sophisticated readings of South Carolina’s “herrenvolk democracy.” See McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country (Oxford, 1995), 43 (quotation); Klein, Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760–1808 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1990).

65. For Pennsylvania’s only prerevolutionary law relating to auctions, see “An Act for Regulating Peddlers, Vendues, &c.,” Feb. 14, 1729/30, act 308, in Pennsylvania Statutes at Large, 4: 141–47. The notes at the end of this statute list the thirteen statutes that amended section 3, which is the section related to vendue sales. For the sale of cattle, see “An Act to Authorize the Governor to Appoint and Commission an Auctioneer, for the Express and Sole Purpose of Selling Horses, Cattle and Carriages, within the City of Philadelphia,” Apr. 10, 1799, act 2073, ibid., 16: 313–14. In South Carolina two prerevolutionary acts touched on auctions. See “An Act to restrain and prevent the too frequent sales of Goods and Wares and Merchandize by public auction or outcry in Charlestown, and for the better regulation of sales,” May 4, 1751, act 786, in Cooper, Statutes at Large of South Carolina, 3: 734; “An act to restrain and prevent the too frequent Sales of Goods, Wares and Merchandize, by Public Auction or Outcry in Charlestown, and for the better regulation of such Sales,” Apr. 7, 1759, act 879, ibid., 4: 77. During the Revolution and afterward, the following acts were passed in South Carolina: “An Act to prohibit the sale of Goods, Wares and Merchandizes, by Public Vendue, in this State,” Aug. 22, 1777, act 1055, ibid., 4: 395–96 (repealed one year later); “An Ordinance for imposing a tax of two and a half per centum on Goods, Wares, and Merchandizes, exposed to public sale; and for regulating Public Auctions,” Sept. 11, 1779, act 1133, ibid., 4: 497–99; “An Ordinance for regulating all Vendues within this State; and for raising supplies to Government, therein mentioned,” Mar. 16, 1783, act 1184, ibid., 4: 562 (partly repealed and amended by “An Ordinance for regulating the Public Vendues in this State, and for repealing part of an Ordinance entitled ‘An Ordinance for regulating all Vendues. . . . ,’” Mar. 17, 1785, act 1270, ibid., 4: 670–74; “An Act for levying and collecting certain Duties and Imposts. . . . ,” Mar. 27, 1787, act 1350, ibid., 5: 8–11; “An Act to raise supplies for the year one thousand eight hundred and nine; and for other purposes therein mentioned,” Dec. 19, 1789, act 1960, ibid., 5: 604–13.

66. “An Act for the Effectual Suppression of Public Auctions and Vendues; and to Prohibit Male Persons, Capable of Bearing Arms from Being Peddlers or Hawkers,” Nov. 26, 1779, act 870, in Pennsylvania Statutes at Large, 10: 16–22 (quotation, 10: 17). For a discussion of the types of economic interests protected by the vendue in Pennsylvania, see Terry Bouton, Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution (Oxford, 2007), esp. chap. 4.

67. Novak, People’s Welfare, 237 (quotation). Novak notes, “The well-regulated society endorsed a regime of local self-government where all such rights were subordinated to the community’s ability to regulate for the good of the whole.” The word common “also denied the clear separation of the private from the public.” Ibid.

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