Slavery, Capitalism, Incorporation and the Close Harbour Company of Jamaica, circa 1800

Abstract: Levels of incorporation of joint-stock companies were far lower between 1790 and 1860 than in the American South, let alone New England and the British Isles, suggesting that slavery had a direct and proportional impact on patterns of incorporation and wider economic development. Examining the foundation of the Close Harbour Company of Jamaica between 1795 and 1803, the first joint-stock company chartered by a colonial legislature in the British West Indies, shows that potential entrepreneurs did not face legal or political obstacles, but rather a range of exogenous and endogenous economic factors arising in part from the conditions of a slave society which discouraged company formation. The effect may have been to exacerbate existing levels of economic backwardness in these islands by cutting off the supplies of capital needed for modernisation, thereby contributing to their underdevelopment.