A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era

By Elaine Forman Crane | Go to book overview

2
"The First Wheel of Commerce"

ALTHOUGH A GREAT DEAL OF MOLASSES went to other colonies, a significant amount of rum was shipped to Africa and exchanged there for slaves who were brought to the Caribbean and southern mainland colonies. It was the profit from this triangular trade in particular which attracted attention in the pre-Revolutionary era. As a spur to secondary industries, and as a prime source of hard money, the trade in molasses, rum, and slaves became a dominant feature in the decade before the Revolution when Newport emerged as a "commercial metropolis." 27 Despite lingering skepticism about the authenticity of the triangular trade, evidence from Newport points not only to its existence but to its significance in terms of profit as well. 28 This last point is extremely important because the merchants of Newport, in company with other New England traders, were finding it increasingly difficult in these years to pay for goods imported from England. Much to their delight, they found that profits from the slave trade could alleviate this problem. As one Newport correspondent explained in 1762:

I know no other method you can take to do this, than that which is taken by most people who have remittance to make to London[,] that is by a Guinea Voyage--That trade has been carried on from this Place with great success, and is still the only sure way of makeing remmittances. Their Cargoes are Chiefly rum which can be procured here for the Currency of the Colony, and at a lower price too than in any other port of America.... Some merchants here have made vast sums of money by the Guinea Trade lately; they have ordered their slaves directly from the Coast to Monto Christo [Hispaniola] where they received a higher price for their Negros than in any of our Islands.... But what added greatly to the profit of the Voyage was their loading their Vessels from the mount with sugar. 29

Although it must be acknowledged that the greater part of Newport's trade was intercolonial, the triangular trade represented a crucial element in the economy. For this reason and because of the historiographical controversy

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A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Abbreviations and Short Titles vi
  • Editorial Note vi
  • Contents vii
  • Tables viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Preface to the Paperback Edition xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 6
  • I - A Good Voyage and Safe Return"" 9
  • 1 - Any Scheme of Trade"" 11
  • 2 - The First Wheel of Commerce"" 16
  • Reflections 34
  • II - An Interdependent People 47
  • 3 - A Mercantile Metropolis 49
  • 4 - The World of the Wealthy 53
  • 5 - Dependent People, Helping Hands 63
  • 6 - The Cruel Sea 69
  • 7 - The Black Community 76
  • 8 - A Lawless Rabble 84
  • Reflections 91
  • III - A Dependent People 107
  • 9 - Economic Arguments and Mob Rule 109
  • 10 - A Town at War with Itself 126
  • Reflections 141
  • Epilogue 157
  • Notes 166
  • Bibliography 169
  • Index 187
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