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Merchants and Empire: Trading in Colonial New York
by Cathy Matson
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University 1997
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Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the port of New Amsterdam—later New York—bustled with all the activity associated with emergent capitalism: shipping, trading, and coffeehouse speculation. But how, exactly, did this leading port work? How did merchants below the top tier adjust to changing markets? How did British trade policy affect them, their politics, and the prospects for American independence?In Merchants and Empire Cathy Matson examines the attitudes and practices of New York's wholesale merchants, a group that operated beneath the gaze of imperial traders yet made up as much as eighty percent of the mercantile community. She finds them an interesting, if opportunistic, lot—quick to flout authority to their own advantage, but also willing to enjoy the benefits of British imperial protection when it suited them. These merchants succeeded in extending their interior market range up navigable rivers and out early roads, drawing as many settlers as they could reach into the commercial economy. They also defied British law by trading directly with the West Indies. It was this opportunism, Matson finds, that finally helped middling or lesser merchants fashion a plausible alternative to mercantilism—and to make the challenge to British rule in 1775 commercially viable. Merchants and Empire also offers detailed portraits of individual traders and vivid descriptions of their New York City environs, taking the reader inside the shops and warehouses where business was transacted. This book will interest students and scholars of economic history, early America, and old New York."Merchants and Empire has admirable chronological and social range. It covers virtually the entire merchant community in the context of the commercial history of a colony over the entire colonial period."—Jack Crowley, Dalhousie University*

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