British Colonial Developments, 1774-1834

By Vincent Harlow; Frederick Madden | Go to book overview

C. THE FREE PORTS AND PENETRATION INTO FOREIGN COLONIAL MONOPOLIES

42
REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE FOR TRADE ON THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A FREE PORT IN BERMUDA, 31 May 17841

[Although the Committee conclude that the exclusion of American shipping from the B.W.I. is unlikely to deter Americans from importing British manufactures or from continuing to supply British planters, they consider the idea of countering American retaliation by establishing a Free Port as an Anglo-American entrepôt.]

. . . But while the commerce of Great Britain with the United States is thus opening with a fair prospect of success, from every part of your Majesty's dominions, it has been a satisfaction to the Committee to find that foreign nations have made hitherto but languid and unprosperous efforts to avail themselves of those advantages, of which they thought they had deprived Great Britain. They either cannot or they will not give the Americans that credit, which the commerce of all new established countries necessarily requires They have perhaps been the more cautious in this respect, on account of the many bankruptcies which their intercourse with America, as the Committee have been informed, has already occasioned. They have sent therefore supercargoes on board their ships with orders to sell only for ready money Mr. Brook Watson,2 your Majesty's late Commissary General in America, was told by gentlemen who came from Philadelphia to New York, that all the foreign ships which had arrived there, had brought supercargoes with them, who gave no credit to the Americans for any part of their cargoes-that they even carried out artificers necessary for the repairing their ships. All which had created great murmurs among the merchants and tradesmen of that place, and that after they had disposed of their cargoes, they had offered to receive American produce at one half of the usual freight, by which means the freighting of American ships was totally stopped, and their seamen out of employ. The Committee have received intelligence to the like purport from several other quarters. They have

____________________
1
B.T. 5/1, pp. 25-3. The Committee of the Privy Council for Trade reported on 31 May on future policy on the regulation of trade with the U.S.; see pp. 258-65. Jamaica was then the only base for Free Port trade in the British West Indies. For the multiplication of free ports, see F. Armytage, The Free Port System in the British West Indies, a Study in Commercial Policy, 1766-1822 ( Lond. 1953).
2
Brook Watson, merchant and official, had been Commissary-General to the army in Canada under Carleton in 1782 and entered Parliament in April 1784. Like Carleton he gave somewhat over-optimistic evidence to the Committee for Trade in March 1784 on the ability of British North America to supply the West Indies with those provisions previously obtained from the American colonies.

-317-

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