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

By Elaine Forman Crane | Go to book overview

REFLECTIONS

Newport's growth and prosperity were intimately bound up with the expansion and continuation of trade. Some people were connected with the maintenance of the ship itself; others, with the distribution and sale of cargo. Many Rhode Islanders earned their living by supplying produce for export; others became dependent on the importation of raw material which they turned into manufactured goods. In short, commerce created a ripple effect, whereby only a very few townspeople were disinterested in the outcome of a voyage.

Seafaring provided employment for 2,200 Rhode Island sailors in 1764 as well as for hundreds of caulkers, carpenters, sailmakers, ropewalk owners, and painters who contributed directly to the operation of the sailing vessels.90 No less important were the stevedores and team drivers who could be assured of ships to load and unload or merchandise to haul away only if commerce was thriving. Coopers, too, prospered with every hogshead of molasses or rum that needed a barrel. Fishermen and farmers were dependent on the escalating shuttle trade between Newport and the West Indies for their economic well-being. White-collar employees of the merchants such as clerks, scribes, and warehouse overseers had a stake in the success of each oceangoing venture. So did the hundreds of vendors, hucksters, and shopkeepers who advertised in the Newport Mercury.

Newport was more than an entrepôt, however, and enterprising townspeople found it lucrative to produce manufactured goods from imported raw materials. Some of these goods were consumed locally; the surplus was exported wherever a demand arose. The rum distillers have been noted in this regard, but the spermaceti candle makers should not be forgotten. If it is true that Newport chandlers made more than one-half the number of candles produced in the English colonies, it is no less true that the vitality of this enterprise was dependent on the sea and the ships carrying the waxy headmatter.91 At the same time, blacksmiths and ironworkers found merchants eager to buy their wares, as the demand for domestic cast-iron products increased. And by the early 1770s, merchants such as Aaron Lopez were supplying townspeople (primarily women) with thread or fabric which

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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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