Abstract: Friends and Family: Personal and Business Networks of Eighteenth-Century English Merchants

Jon Stobart


This paper examines the personal and business networks of merchants in eighteenth-century northwest England. Drawing on network theory, I focus on the ways in which merchants knew and interacted with one another, did business together, and were embedded into their local and wider communities. Detailed analysis of probate records, corporation minutes, business accounts, and letter books reveals that eighteenth-century merchants forged intensely personal links with business contacts. To do this, they drew on family and friends, were actively engaged in civic life, and became enmeshed in complex credit arrangements with suppliers and customers. These familial, communal, and monetary links were cemented by regular correspondence in person or by letter. Central to the effective integration of these networks were key intermediaries: messengers that "do the work of keeping networks connected." These are usually thought of as individuals, but can also be conceived in terms of urban institutions: corporations, exchanges, guilds and so on, which served to draw together networks within and between towns through their membership, but also through the links and reputation they afforded. In this way, it is possible to argue that the specific (urban) context was central in shaping personal and business networks.