Currency, Credit, and Imperial Deficiencies: Colonial American Business Practices and Maritime Trade before Independence

This paper explores how colonial American merchants conducted business with a nearly constant shortage of credit, currency, and imperial support for maritime commerce. With little specie on hand, largely due to the lack of attention or capacity from the British Empire, American merchants developed intricate and often complicated credit and accounting networks and tricks that allowed trade to continue. Producers and merchants both experienced the same issues and worked together in a variety of ways to overcome the chronic deficiencies in locally available currency. Moreover, the British imperial state placed legal limits on American commerce, but merchants consistently found avenues around the rules and regulations, in many instances smuggling to obtain the goods customers demanded. Through a discussion of 18th century business practices, the paper argues that Britain lacked the imperial capacity it needed to support the maritime commerce of American merchants, and merchants, as a result, developed mechanisms and practices that disregarded the state’s policies to meet their individual commercial needs.