Masters of the Market: Ship Captaincy in the British Atlantic, 1680-1774

Tucker, Hannah Knox, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Edelson, S. Max, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

Masters of the Market reconstructs the economy of colonial British America by surveying the lives of captains who traded in the Atlantic between 1680 and 1774. Captains were practical “innovators” on the leading edge of a growing commercial order in the British Atlantic. Captains found opportunities to deepen markets, extract profits, minimize costs, mobilize labor, and invest capital in commercial pursuits for personal gain. Their mobility, access to foreign intelligence, and eagerness to accept risks made captains’ quotidian practices entrepreneurially innovative. Captains kept their wages and profits from independent trading ventures flowing by loading their vessels quickly and to capacity and transcending the local disruptions that threatened their voyages’ returns in nascent colonial markets. To trade, captains resolved obstacles created by imperial wars, local power politics, slow transatlantic communication, and misaligned expectations. As they resolved these threats to expanding trade with finesse and violence, captains fought to reap the rewards of trade by proving and articulating their indispensability. A universe of small negotiations went into each voyage. Captains stepped in to resolve local controversies, thereby establishing their far-reaching and integrative influence in the colonial economy. Resting on evidence from nineteen archives and 30,821 shipping records, Masters of the Market demonstrates that captains claimed control over trade and benefited financially from market expansion.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Ship Captains, Atlantic, Early America
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