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Commercial Activity

The Caribbean region relied on trade and commerce. The items presented here highlight the interactions between North American and Caribbean trading partners to demonstrate how closely intertwined and mutually invested the two regions were.

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One of the earliest items featured on this site, this pamphlet was published in London but written by a "Barbadoes Planter" in 1734. Intended to inform the public and the British Parliament of "the whole state of the Sugar Trade," the author complains about the system of trade established in the Caribbean and among the European nations, and expresses hope that the British sugar planters in Barbados "shall soon be put upon an equal footing with Foreign Sugar Planters." This work provides insight into the planting operations of the early Caribbean planters, as well as the system of commerce and trade that developed around it, including who it benefited and who it did not.

This 1763 London imprint was intended as a resource for traders and merchants looking to do business in the British colonies in the Americas, from Nova Scotia to Montserrat. With twenty four full pages of subscribers, this was clearly a popular and in-demand volume. It was essentially a currency conversion guide that extended official conversion rates between the British sterling pound and all currencies used in the colonies, and in some cases even conversion rates between the currencies of those colonies. It is up front in the way it presents the early colonies, including Nova Scotia, Canada, Maryland, East Jersey, West Jersey, and six different Caribbean islands, all as part of the same interrelated economic sphere. it emphasizes the importance and desirability for merchants and traders to be able to convert rapidly and directly between currencies. 

(In Spanish) A compact of warehouse owners and merchants, this agreement was intended to impart the greatest possible benefit to all parties involved. Written and printed in Cuba in 1855, it provides a direct look into the functioning of a Caribbean economy and the advantages interested parties saw in their involvement with commercial trade as well as with governmental regulators.

(In French) This short summary of a party meeting of the General Assembly in Port-au-Prince in 1790 is about "the opening of all the ports of the colony to strangers." Eighteen points of the resolution were officially accepted, aimed at combating a food shortage and famine by opening up the ports of the colony to boats not of French origin, in opposition to French law, in order to supply the colony with necessary provisions. Indicative of the hardships of life in the Caribbean and the importance of international trade in responding to alleviating crises, this document not only rejected French policy, it declared: "The health of the people is the supreme law."

Collected and printed "under the direction of the President of the United States," in accordance with an act of the Senate, this volume sets out the commercial regulations of those foreign countries with whom the United States (officially) had commercial dealings, at the time of publication in 1817. It encompasses Great Britain and her colonies, with the specific regulations necessary for exporting or importing goods in direct trade with the colonies, as well as France, Portugal, Russia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Naples, Haiti, and Turkey. It acknowledges the economic independence of Haiti, and places the Caribbean territories as relevant to a global economic system that encompassed Scandinavia as much as it did the Antilles. It includes permanent duties and drawbacks on all sorts of goods, from Acacia to Yarn.

A comprehensive look at the state of the island of Trinidad at the time of collection in 1841, this volume is comprised of a series of interviews with experts in a variety of fields, including five planters, one merchant, and a navy lieutenant. The descriptions of the economics of planting and trade on and around the island of Trinidad from such a variety of perspectives is a valuable insight into the ways British islanders in the mid-nineteenth century worked to structure the commercial aspects of their colonial administration to best support their own prosperity and success.

Signed by John Quincy Adams, this 1828 report in response to a request of the Senate, supplies information relative to the trade between the United States and the Colonies of France. It contains a translation of an 1826 ordinance of the French king regarding importation of foreign goods into Martinique and Guadeloupe. The American response, signed by Secretary of State Henry Clay, examines the tariffs imposed on American exports to those territories and considers the resulting economic consequences. It is revealing of the way governments used trade policy as tools of governance, how other governments responded to those decisions, and the centrality of the Caribbean as a battleground market for these nations.