ORE of American History is now a consistently updated digital resource. Visit About to learn more, meet the editorial board, or explore the latest articles.

Dismiss
Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, AMERICAN HISTORY (americanhistory.oxfordre.com). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 23 May 2017

Smuggling in Early America

Summary and Keywords

Smuggling was a regular feature of the economy of colonial British America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Though the very nature of illicit commerce means that the extent of this trade is incalculable, a wide variety of British and colonial sources testify to the ability of merchants to trade where they pleased and to avoid paying duties in the process. Together admiralty proceedings, merchant correspondence and account books, customs reports, and petitions demonstrate that illicit trade enriched individuals and allowed settlers to shape their colonies’ development. Smuggling formed in resistance to British economic and political control. British authorities attempted to harness the trade of their Atlantic colonies by employing a series of laws that restricted overseas commerce (often referred to as the Navigation Acts). This legislation created the opportunity for illicit trade by raising the costs of legal trade. Hampered by insufficient resources, thousands of miles of coastline, and complicit local officials, British customs agents could not prevent smuggling. Economic self-interest and the pursuit of profit certainly motivated smugglers, but because it was tied to a larger transatlantic debate about the proper balance between regulation and free trade, smuggling was also a political act. Through smuggling colonists rejected what they saw as capricious regulations designed to enrich Britain at their expense.

Keywords: smuggling, Navigation Acts, Molasses Act, mercantilism, molasses, tea, rum, Dutch

Smuggling and the Law

Smuggling in colonial British America comprised a number of different activities including evading import and export duties, side-stepping state monopolies, violating trade laws that banned or restricted trade in particular goods, and defying laws that limited where one could trade. In many cases, smuggling entailed the violation of one or more commercial laws. It is impossible to understand smuggling in the British Atlantic without understanding the legal regime that defined some trade as legal and some as illegal. That story begins with the passage of a series of laws historians refer to as the Navigation Acts.

Beginning in 1651, and extending for more than a century, successive English governments worked to channel colonial trade in a way that would best promote the wealth and prosperity of the empire as a whole by raising metropolitan revenues, eliminating foreign (principally Dutch) interference in overseas trade, and enriching metropolitan merchants. The legal regime authorities created is often referred to as “mercantilism” by historians, but these laws were not as coherent as that label suggests, nor were they driven by a cohesive economic theory.1 What the laws had in common was their goal of capturing colonial trade to enhance the wealth and power of the state. Practically, these laws did three things. First, they required that goods carried to or from the colonies travel on English or colonial ships whose crews were at least three-fourths English or colonial. Second, the laws mandated that certain colonial goods must be sent to England or another English possession, where the appropriate duties could be collected, before they could travel beyond the empire. These “enumerated” goods were the most important colonial products and included sugar, tobacco, cotton, indigo, ginger, and dyewoods. Finally the laws required that nearly all European goods consumed in the colonies be imported from England. These trade laws essentially created a national monopoly that assured the returns from colonial trade would be contained inside the empire and flow toward the metropole. More than this, though, the Navigation Acts held that individuals could not be trusted to determine the state’s economic fate. People’s consumption needed to be directed along paths that were best for the empire (in reality, this meant what was best for those who controlled the levers of government) in terms of raising revenue, creating wealth, and preventing other regimes from achieving dominance.2

The Navigation Acts were designed to intercede between suppliers and consumers to reshape commerce. For metropolitan merchants who benefitted most from the national monopoly, these price differences created rents that made many of them wealthy. For colonists, though, the laws almost always meant that the costs of imports were higher and the return on exports was lower than under conditions of free trade. This difference between the price of legal and smuggled goods created the opportunity for smuggling by allowing British American traders to buy imports cheaply in a foreign market, smuggle them into a British colony, and sell them at a higher price, a process which economists call arbitrage.

Adding to the burden of trade laws were the effects of custom duties, which were collected both in the colonies and in England. In the plantations, the most important of these duties was the 4½ percent duty on the export of commodities from Barbados and the Leeward Islands. Designed to contribute to military and administrative costs, this export duty created additional incentive for planters to engage in illicit trade.3 Import duties on goods like tea further encouraged smuggling and provided a clear case of how similar duties fostered illegal trade. Already by the 1750s, import duties and the East India Company’s (EIC) control of the tea market through a series of preferred wholesalers had created an opening for the illicit tea trade; smugglers provided perhaps as much as three quarters of all tea consumed in British North America. When Parliament passed the Revenue (Townshend) Act in 1767, which, among other things, placed a tax of three pence per pound tax on tea, the law further discouraged consumers from buying EIC tea and propelled them towards smugglers who imported cheaper undutied tea from suppliers in the Dutch Republic and the Caribbean. As Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson reported, “The Smugglers not only buy cheaper in Holland but save the 3d duty.” The result of the law was that, in the two years after its implementation, New England’s legal tea imports fell from about 300,000 pounds to roughly 86,000 pounds a year. In New York City and Philadelphia, smuggling was even more extensive. Legal imports in those cities fell from about 500,000 pounds of tea to zero and 269 pounds, respectively. Smugglers filled the gaps in demand, providing what Hutchinson estimated to be 83 percent of tea in Boston and 90 percent in New York and Philadelphia.4

The inability of authorities to significantly raise the costs of illicit trade through effective enforcement provided robust incentives to smuggle. Even though Parliament’s Act for Preventing Frauds (1696), by which it extended the customs service to the colonies and created a system of vice-admiralty courts to prosecute smugglers, was designed expressly to address violations of trade laws, enforcement was difficult. With thousands of miles of coastline and innumerable small bays, coves, and inlets to patrol, too few customs agents, too few naval vessels, and rampant corruption, English officials could not provide significant disincentive for smugglers. Even if caught, smugglers faced only civil, not criminal penalties. These entailed forfeiture of the cargo and the vessel together with fines but provided no risk of imprisonment unless violence was involved. With the risks of evasion low, the opportunity for profit was great. In such an environment, comprehensive enforcement of Britain’s commercial laws was impossible, and smuggling became a part of daily life for Anglo-Americans.5

A Typology of Smuggling

While smuggling was a regular feature of life in the early modern British Atlantic, it ebbed and flowed with Atlantic-wide developments. In the middle decades of the 17th century, smuggling was especially common, as English mercantile capacity did not match the ambitions of commercial policy. As colonists struggled to build productive settlements in the middle decades of the 17th century, they often found their needs unmet by legal shipping and reached beyond the empire to find whatever trade they thought could best support their rapidly evolving colonies. When English merchants became better able to meet their needs in the last decades of the 17th century, illegal trade began to decline, only to return when regular supply was interrupted. Imperial warfare was particularly important in encouraging smuggling at the end of the 17th and start of the 18th centuries. Not only did Atlantic wars foster illegal commerce by creating scarcities and raising the costs of legal shipping, they also distracted naval fleets and other officials from their roles in stopping smuggling. Illicit commerce spiked dramatically after Parliament passed the Molasses Act of 1733, to discourage trade with the French West Indies—not because it made Anglo-Americans more willing to engage in illegal activity, but because the law suddenly defined what had been a vital and common trade as illegal. With few alternate trading partners, North Americans, especially, simply ignored the law and traded as they had for decades.

As widespread as smuggling was in British America, it is impossible to confidently estimate its scale beyond acknowledging that it never made up a majority of commerce. By definition, illicit trade went uncounted in shipping registers and customs documents, and while it is possible to compare the accounts of a few individual merchants with official records to uncover the extent of single merchant’s contraband trade, such comparisons are far from comprehensive. Governors, customs agents, and other authorities often noted the prevalence of smuggling and offered their own estimates of the extent of illegal trade. These reports are valuable because they confirm that smuggling was widespread, but they often inflate or diminish smuggling’s scope depending on the perspective and motives of the correspondent. Instead of trying to provide precise statistics, it is more useful to try to recover what Anglo-Americans smuggled, how they smuggled, why they smuggled, and what their smuggling meant.

Contraband Goods

Sprinkled throughout admiralty proceedings, government reports, court cases, shipping registers, and merchants’ papers is evidence that at one time or another almost everything Anglo-Americans imported or exported was smuggled. The make-up of most illicit cargos, however, coalesced around a few categories of goods: rum and molasses, European manufactures, and to a lesser extent, enslaved Africans. Conspicuously absent from this list are the two most valuable goods British colonists produced: tobacco and sugar. Anglo-Americans certainly smuggled these goods, but in general by the final quarter of the 17th century, most tobacco and sugar was sent legally to England. British authorities’ attention to these valuable commodities, the difficulties involved with smuggling such bulky agricultural products, merchants’ desire to control these trades, and the favorable prices for sugar that England’s protected markets provided planters all worked to reduce the incentive to trade these goods illicitly. Additionally, the rise of West Indian absenteeism, the indebtedness of planters to British mercantile houses, and the consolidation of the Chesapeake tobacco trade in the hands of fewer traders helped to confine these commodities to English markets and reduce the opportunity for smuggling.6 In contrast, there was great opportunity and few costs in smuggling rum and molasses. As a result, illegal trade in these goods entailed the largest portion of smuggling in British America.

Rum and Molasses

The illicit molasses and rum trade began in the middle of the 17th century as English North Americans began to venture cargos to the foreign islands of the Caribbean, especially to the Dutch colonies of Suriname, St. Eustatius, and Curaçao, and to Danish St. Thomas. Seeking out markets for lumber, barrel staves, flour, dairy products, fish, and other provisions, and eager to return with sugar, rum, and molasses, colonists engaged in commerce that was usually legal (as long as they did not return with prohibited goods to their colonies and as long as they paid import duties) and sometimes illegal (when they imported foreign sugar or skirted import duties). Centered in New England and the Mid-Atlantic (with Boston and New York leading the way), and an outgrowth of trade with the British West Indies, this trade expanded greatly in the decades spanning the close of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. Driving this expansion of British Americans’ trade with the foreign West Indies was the development and diversification of the British North American economy. The mainland colonies had grown rapidly since the 1660s, and this expansion meant colonial merchants were desperate to add new markets for flour, lumber, dried fish, and other goods. Bermudians, too, were active traders with the Dutch and Danish islands, transporting Caribbean goods such as dyewoods and salt, and returning with European manufactures, rum and sugar.7

The wars of the League of Augsburg (1688–1697) and the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) created new opportunities for American coasting vessels by raising the costs and risks of transatlantic trade; intercolonial traders throughout the Americas rushed to fill the gaps in supply. Perhaps most importantly, however, changes in the international sugar market reshaped commercial patterns. Between 1700 and 1730, French planters greatly expanded the production of sugar. By the start of the American Revolution, Saint-Domingue was the world’s largest sugar producer, outpacing the combined production of all British colonies. Without extensive agricultural colonies of their own, French planters relied upon British North Americans to provide lumber for construction and to fuel their sugar boilers and distilleries, provisions for enslaved workers, horses to drive sugar mills, and many other goods. In return, French planters were eager to sell molasses and rum (which they could not send to France due to laws designed to protect domestic brandy production) to willing British colonists. With British sugar expansion largely stalled and few available acres left for new production, trade with French and Dutch islands was essential for the British North American economy.8

Meanwhile, British West Indians at first welcomed the intercolonial sloop trade. During warfare this avenue of commerce was important in obtaining needed supplies of provisions and, sometimes, enslaved Africans, and in providing markets for British molasses and rum. Some West Indians even relied on coastal traders to supply them with comparatively cheaper French sugar, which they routed through their islands to Britain. By the 1710s, however, West Indian planters began to worry that this trade was having a “pernicious” affect on their own pocketbooks just as their re-export trade to Europe was evaporating.9 Pointing out that New England and New York’s trade with the French colonists helped to boost rival sugar production while simultaneously raising their own costs and eroding their market for molasses, planters argued that this trade undermined their business and the interests of the empire.10 After several ineffective local attempts at regulating this trade, these planters worked with their allies in the Walpole government to convince Parliament to intercede with the Molasses Act of 1733. Rejecting the most extreme calls to ban trade between the North American colonies and the foreign West Indies and to disallow the importation of foreign rum and molasses, the Molasses Act more moderately imposed duties on the importation of foreign sugar, rum, and most importantly, molasses.

If enforced, the six pence per gallon duty on molasses likely would have helped to stem North American trade with the French, but the law was impractical and only loosely enforced. In theory smuggling large bulky hogsheads of French molasses should have been difficult, but corruption and indifference on the part of customs agents reduced the costs associated with the illicit molasses trade. In the British Caribbean, customs officials routinely issued certificates to empty vessels, allowing them to then load illicit molasses at French colonies before continuing to North American ports, where they could then declare themselves as having travelled from a British colony and thus not be subject to duties. Alternatively, North American customs agents (especially those in New England) allowed shipmasters to pay duties on a small portion of their foreign molasses. Even when agents caught a smuggler, the British Treasury approved process of “compounding”—by which a smuggler agreed to pay a penalty of one-third the value of the cargo plus other costs in lieu of confiscation of the vessel and cargo—meant the penalty if seized was low. Less benign from the perspective of British authorities, however, was North American colonists’ propensity to continue trading with the French colonies during The War of Austrian Succession (1740–1748) and the Seven Years War (1754–1763), often termed “trading with the enemy.” Colonial merchants, particularly those in New York City and Newport, did a brisk business in foreign sugar, molasses, and other goods at Monte Cristi, a Spanish port in Santo Domingo, just miles from French Saint-Domingue or, more brazenly, directly in French ports under Flags of Truce that were meant for prisoner exchange. Before the English captured Louisbourgh in 1759, New England and Mid-Atlantic merchants obtained French molasses there as well. Such illicit trade infuriated many officials, including those in the Royal Navy, but occupied by warfare, they remained unable to halt it. The smuggling of foreign molasses was so widespread that one estimate has it that Boston’s rum distilleries obtained 99 percent of their molasses from non-British sources.11

Foreign Manufactures and Luxury Goods

The category of contraband trade that was second to molasses in importance for British America was illicit manufactured goods. The Staple Act of 1663 stipulated that colonists import virtually all European goods from England, but because colonists could secure better prices directly from Europe, especially from the Dutch Republic, they often turned to illicit trade. Backed by Amsterdam’s financial, shipping, and handicraft infrastructure, Dutch traders could offer textiles, ceramics, shoes, and often even provisions more cheaply and at more generous terms than could English competitors. As late as the 1680s and 1690s, English officials in the Caribbean reported that European goods could be bought 30 to 40 percent more cheaply from the Dutch than from the English. Moreover, Dutch merchants were often able to provide goods that English traders could or would not.12 Anglo-Dutch colonial trade diminished by the last quarter of 17th century as English merchants became better able to meet colonists’ needs but it never disappeared. As late as the 1760s, the Boston merchants Bourn & Davis worked with Amsterdam’s John Hodshon to slip illegal Dutch manufactures into Massachusetts, while in the West Indies colonists consumed Dutch goods smuggled through near-by Dutch island entrepôts like St. Eustatius. Contraband consumer goods also flowed to British America from France, either through colonists’ illegal fur trade with French traders based in Montreal or through New England merchants’ trade in fish, with the French in Newfoundland and with the French West Indies.13

Foreign luxury goods were also available through illicit trade. Though not as widespread as other illicit trades, there was great incentive to smuggle these expensive items. Not only were items such as silk, spices, wine, and tea costly, but these goods also bore high duties at American ports. Of these, tea was most often smuggled in the 18th century. As Americans increasingly began to participate in the rituals of English politeness, they developed a growing taste for tea. Hoping to satisfy this appetite at low prices, merchants like John Hancock in Boston and John Waddell in New York built fortunes smuggling undutied Dutch tea into North America, carrying it directly from Amsterdam or through the Dutch West Indies. Tea’s high value and low weight made it an attractive good to smuggle, and one that could make smugglers wealthy. Tea smuggling was so widespread that as much as perhaps three quarters of all the tea consumed in North America arrived illicitly by 1750. By 1770, in the midst of colonists’ struggle with Parliament over taxation, some believed 90 percent of the tea that Americans drank was illicit.14

Enslaved Africans

British American colonists also benefitted from and participated in the contraband trade in slaves. Unlike the exchange of European goods, much of this illicit commerce was intra-imperial, with most of the illegal supply of enslaved Africans provided by English interlopers. The English slave trade was protected by a domestic monopoly between 1660 and 1698. However, the Royal African Company, which emerged after several earlier failures, struggled to enforce its monopoly. The high costs of maintaining forts in West Africa, the impossibility of policing the thousands of miles of African coastline, and rampant corruption created space for interlopers. The scale of the illicit slave trade never matched that of the legal trade (about 2.5 million between 1660 and 1783), but it was significant, perhaps as high as one in four during the expansion of sugar production between the 1660s and 1680s. Americans, too, smuggled slaves but their participation was marginal, probably providing no more than the 5 percent of all voyages.15 After the Glorious Revolution (1688), the problems of enforcing the monopoly and opposition from planters led to the collapse of the Royal African Company and Parliament’s opening of the slave trade to all Englishmen in 1698. In this case, extensive smuggling undermined restricted trade and prompted a move away from monopoly towards more open trade.16

War Materials

For a brief period during the American Revolution, the smuggling of munitions and gunpowder was particularly important to North Americans. As the crisis with Great Britain deepened in 1774, Parliament banned the sending of war materials to North America. In response, colonists turned to their intercolonial connections to find these materials. Since they already traded with Dutch St. Eustatius, it was natural for colonists to turn to this island entrepôt. Relying on American agents living in Statia (as St. Eustatius was commonly known) to help organize the trade, first Virginia, then New York, and eventually the Continental Congress all imported arms and ammunition from St. Eustatius. The British understood this trade to be central to the American war effort and, in 1781, after the British had declared war on the Dutch Republic, Admiral George Rodney captured and plundered St. Eustatius.17

Spanish American Silver

In addition to engaging in trade that British law deemed illegal, some British colonists profited by undermining the trade laws of other nations. Of chief importance in such trade were 17th-century Jamaicans. In the 18th century, Jamaica would flourish as a sugar producer, but in its first decades, islanders took advantage of ready access to Spanish colonies to prosper. Illegal from the perspective of Spanish authorities, Jamaicans’ contraband trade earned the island returns that helped spur its development. Spanish law restricted trade in European manufactures to two fleets a year and did not permit foreign merchants access to their colonies’ trade. These strict regulations allowed the crown to control gold and silver but meant that Spanish colonists were often desperate for manufactured goods. Beginning in the 1670s, Jamaican traders began to meet these needs clandestinely. Working with shipping records for Jamaica, Nuala Zahedieh has found that between 40 to 70 percent of all the vessels that arrived in Port Royal between 1686 and 1688 continued on to Spanish colonial ports (principally Cartagena), a rate that is likely typical of the last decades of the 17th century. Jamaican smugglers provided Spanish colonists with European textiles, ceramics, North American provisions, and slaves in exchange for logwood—a dyestuff in demand among British woolens producers—cattle, hides, mules and horses to drive Caribbean sugar mills, and most importantly, silver bullion. Illicit Jamaican trade with the Spanish persisted into the 18th century, when Jamaican merchants defied the British South Sea Company’s exclusive contract to supply slaves to Spain (the asiento) and continued to provide slaves to mainland Spanish colonies and to Cuba as they had been doing since at least the 1670s. The silver bullion the contraband trade generated provided Jamaica with access to coin that flowed both to England and to North America, making Jamaica the “principal supplier of bullion to British North America” and a significant supplier to England. Locally, it made Jamaican smugglers wealthy and helped create the capital that many planters subsequently invested in the sugar plantations that would make Jamaica rich.18

The Mechanics of Smuggling

One of the most direct and simplest means to smuggle was spontaneous wharf-side exchange. Vessels bearing illegal goods simply arrived in Atlantic ports and offered illicit goods for sale, often facilitated by bribery or subterfuge. This trade was an outgrowth of legal trade during the first few decades of plantation building in British America and was most common in the Chesapeake and English Caribbean. As colonists struggled to establish themselves and to cultivate tobacco and sugar in the 1630s and 1640s, and as the English Civil War interfered with English trade, Dutch merchants played an especially important role in helping to sustain English colonies. Already active in the Atlantic, Dutch merchants began to call speculatively at English ports to buy tobacco and sugar and to supply locals with manufactured goods, provisions, slaves, and other plantation supplies in a form of trade historians refer to as the cruising trade. Over time, Anglo-Dutch trade became more routinized, with Dutch mercantile firms sending representatives to Virginia and the English Caribbean to manage trade.19 Initially legal, it was English trade laws in the 1650s and 1660s that made this trade illegal. Commercial regulations, however, could not meet English colonists’ demands, so Anglo-Dutch trade persisted. At first, illicit foreign trade was supported and encouraged by local officials who hoped it would sustain their colonies in a particularly vulnerable period, and thus participants took few steps to disguise their activities. In the early 1650s, Dutch merchants openly kept warehouses in English St. Christopher and Montserrat to manage trade in colonial products. Similarly, when an English fleet arrived in Barbados in 1655, it discovered nearly twenty Dutch vessels that had been busy for weeks trading livestock, consumer goods, and provisions for sugar.20

By the 1660s, with the passage of new trade laws, an increased naval presence due to the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667), and growing attention to enforcing existing laws, open trade with foreign traders became increasingly difficult. In response, smugglers developed a range of techniques to avoid detection.21 Direct trade was still possible, but now shipmasters needed an excuse to enter English ports. One ruse entailed captains claiming either immediate distress or the desire to collect wood and water. By the terms of several international treaties, local officials were required to admit such ships provided they not unload any cargo; of course many did anyhow. Other times captains simply claimed that weather had forced them to adjust their course and their arrival was accidental. If stopped by customs authorities, smugglers’ practice of concealing illicit cargo under flour or fish was usually enough to avoid detection.22

By the last quarter of the 17th century in North America Anglo-American merchants were experienced enough with illicit trade to launch voyages of their own directly to the Continent and the West Indies, with New England and Mid-Atlantic traders leading the way. To smuggle illegal cargos into British America, merchants utilized peripheral ports just outside major centers, where enforcement was more lax or detection was difficult. Aided by a long coastline and overburdened customs agents such trade faced few obstacles. Smugglers wishing to sell illegal goods in Manhattan could instruct their masters to land cargos in Perth Amboy, New Jersey; Stamford, New Haven, and Norwalk, Connecticut; or any number of roadsteads in Long Island Sound. Newport, Rhode Island merchants likewise had numerous choices of secluded inlets along Narragansett Bay, while smugglers in Boston made frequent use of the small islands just outside of that city’s harbor. In Philadelphia, merchants stopped in Wilmington, Delaware on their way up the Delaware River to unload parts of their cargos. Once landed, smugglers found it much easier to move these goods into major cities on the innumerable small craft that plied colonial waterways. Meanwhile, the paucity of defined ports in the Chesapeake facilitated planters in illegally exporting tobacco, as did the Bay’s almost 12,000 miles of shoreline and the overland and riverine routes that connected the Bay to the Delaware River. At the end of the 17th century, Philadelphia merchants were especially bothersome to customs officials for their smuggling of Chesapeake tobacco.23

Smuggling in Early AmericaClick to view larger

Figure 1. The Dutch map of the North American coastline shows how many points of access smugglers had and indicates how difficult it was to stop illicit trade. Joan Vickenboons, Pascaert van Nieuw Nederlandt Virginia, ende Nieuw-Engelandt verthonendt alles wat van die landin by See, oft by land is ondect oft Bekent [1639?].

Courtesy, Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Illicit traders in the mainland colonies used a similar strategy as those in the British West Indies. As British naval officer George St. Loe reported, “Most of Our Islands, but especially Antegua and St. Christopher have so many bays & places where they may put on board Sugars yet it is impossible for ye Custom house Officers (tho ever so careful) to prevent” smuggling.24 Even if the risk of being caught was relatively small, such trade was time consuming and difficult to coordinate, encouraging merchants to look for improved techniques.

As the pace of Atlantic trade quickened and the opportunities for illegal trade multiplied by the end of the 17th century, Anglo-American traders began to exploit the close presence of nearby foreign colonies to more efficiently facilitate their contraband trade. The most important of these colonies was Dutch St. Eustatius. Settled in 1636, Statia is a tiny volcanic island that has only limited land suitable for agriculture but is blessed with a deep and protected port, Oranjestad Bay, nestled within a day’s sail of the English Leeward Islands. Soon the Dutch realized it was much more valuable as a trading entrepôt than as a plantation colony. In 1688, the Dutch West India Company officially opened the port to all; Oranjestad’s almost 600 warehouses were quickly packed full of consumer goods, and its harbor teemed with between 1,000 and 2,500 vessels from around the Atlantic each year. It had become, according to Edmund Burke, “a mart, a magazine for all the nations of the earth.” From here Dutch, French, and Anglo-American merchants sailing small, fast vessels that were hard to detect journeyed back and forth to the near-by British Leeward Islands, Barbados, Martinique, and North America.

Smuggling in Early AmericaClick to view larger

Figure 2. Emmanuel Bowen’s Map indicates the close proximity of colonies from different empires in the Caribbean. An accurate map of the West Indies. Drawn from the best authorities, assisted by the most approved modern maps and charts, and regulated by astronomical observations. [London, 1752].

Courtesy, Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Meanwhile, traders from the West Indies, Bermuda, and North America arrived at the Dutch free port eager to exchange colonial produce, lumber, and foodstuffs from North America and Ireland for textiles, French wine, cocoa, rum and molasses, sugar, and, for a brief period in the 1720s, when the West Indies Company used it as slave market, for enslaved Africans. So frequent was trade with British colonies and so numerous were Anglo-American merchants and captains in St. Eustatius, that English became the island’s dominant language.25 Other entrepôts important for contraband trade that functioned similarly included Danish St. Thomas and Dutch Curaçao, an island just off the coast of Venezuela, which provided close access to Barbados and Jamaica. In the 18th century it was Suriname that increasingly attracted North Americans. Rhode Island and New York merchants, particularly, incorporated this Dutch plantation colony into their intercolonial circuit trade, stopping to exchange foodstuffs, horses, and lumber for rum and molasses. In the North Atlantic, nearby foreign colonies in the Bay of Fundy worked similarly to Caribbean entrepôts, facilitating trade between New Englanders and French Acadians.26

Smugglers also learned to disguise their vessels’ origins and registrations as a way to thwart trade laws. Under the Navigation Acts, only British or colonial-built vessels manned by a crew that was three-quarters British or colonial were able to trade legally. To get around this restriction while simultaneously making it appear that their cargos had originated in England or a British colony, shipmasters often used falsified registrations. Bermuda was one key source of these registrations. This tiny island colony produced a distinctive small vessel called the “Bermuda Sloop” that was perfect for intercolonial trade. Based originally on a Dutch design, these two-masted cedar vessels were fast and nimble enough to outrun almost any other Atlantic vessel in the 18th century. Thanks to their shallow draughts that enabled them to work close to the shore, their small crews, and their speed, Bermuda Sloops were the ideal choice for smugglers especially since Dutch buyers acquired not only a well-equipped vessel but also the sloop’s British registration. Alternatively, foreign traders hoping to gain access to British colonial ports hired English captains and crews to man their vessels so as to pass their voyages off as legal. Outfitting their ships with multiple sets of papers—both Dutch and English—further helped foreign merchants disguise the true origins of their cargos and to move seamlessly across imperial borders.27

Anglo-American merchants who sought to bring enumerated goods directly to foreign ports used similar techniques to hide their true intentions. A well-placed bribe could secure a false clearance to a British colony, leaving captains to simply sail where they pleased. When returning to port, a similar bribe could convince a complicit customs agent to forego inspection and instead note that the vessel had returned “in ballast” or had returned with “prize goods” seized from a vessel of another empire.28 During the Anglo-French warfare of the late 17th and 18th centuries, British colonists in North America and the Caribbean carried on a robust trade with French colonists by using flags of truce—merchantmen given special passes to allow for prisoner exchange—as a conduit for smuggling. Oftentimes this trade happened alongside of legitimate prisoner exchange, but some governors, like Governor Deny of Pennsylvania, authorized blank flag of truce commissions with false names of French prisoners. Particularly abhorrent in the eyes of British officials, North Americans sailing under flags of truce brought flour to French colonies badly in need of foodstuffs either directly or through neutral ports like Monte Cristi. North Americans returned with wine, sugar, rum and molasses. British West Indians also engaged in this trade, though complicit governors tended to prefer only trade that did not interfere with their island’s interests. As a result, Jamaican flags of truce carried indigo and cocoa from the French West Indies, but rarely did they bear sugar.29

British American traders also exploited a provision in the Navigation Acts to engage in a form of trade that was theoretically legal but often was not. To execute these quasi-legal ventures, merchants ordered their vessels to stop in England while travelling between the colonies and a foreign port to declare their cargos and to pay duties. In so far as shipmasters actually paid duties on their complete cargos this form of trade was legal, but masters commonly skirted the law by concealing a substantial portion of their cargo. For example, when the Experiment arrived in Falmouth, England from Barbados, in 1680, and declared its intention to carry its cargo of sugar on to Amsterdam, the vessel’s master Henry Sutton paid the appropriate duties on these enumerated goods as required by law. But when a suspicious customs agent decided to investigate further, he found that Sutton had hidden a substantial portion of the cargo that was bound for Amsterdam.30 Dutch New Yorkers, because of their ethnic and family ties to the Dutch Republic and their right to trade freely in the British empire, most often directed this form of quasi-legal trade from the 1660s to the 1720s. Leading New York City trader Frederick Philipse worked with Falmouth merchant Bryan Rogers (also hired by the owners of the Experiment) and with partners in New York and Amsterdam to send more than a vessel a year illicitly between those cities in the late 1670s and early 1680s.31 In the 1750s, a number of prominent Boston merchants revived this out-port strategy. One of the leading participants in this trade was John Erving, who also sat on the Governor’s Council. Primarily importing consumer goods and tea, Erving’s vessels travelled from the Netherlands to the Orkney Islands where Erving, who had been born there, arranged for the vessels to continue on to Boston. When they arrived, they claimed the Orkney Islands as their point of departure, a declaration that made their cargoes legal. Other Bostonians, too, participated in their trade with partners in Amsterdam and London.32 Caribbean merchants used the out-port trade to smuggle as well. Jewish merchants were best positioned here to use their form of exchange because they had extensive family networks that spanned the Dutch Republic, England, and the British Caribbean. The Barbadian and Amsterdam merchants who organized the Experiment’s voyage in 1680, for example, were drawn from the Jewish communities of Amsterdam and Barbados.33

Smuggling and Corruption

Facilitating all of this illegal trade and complicating British authorities efforts to prevent it was corruption. Local customs agents and naval officers, distant from the seat of power and generally poorly paid, had little incentive to resist bribes and other favors. With customs collectors in office like Benjamin Barons, who served in Boston from 1759 to 1761, smuggling thrived. Barons made it known that he would allow merchants caught violating the Navigation Acts to register their vessels and pay duties after being caught so as to avoid having their cargoes seized. Barons also helped merchants clear their vessels for Monte Cristi, the Spanish entrepôt through which so many North American merchants did business with the French. Barons was eventually censured for his acts, but many more complicit officials went undetected.34

Preventing smuggling was ultimately the responsibility of colonial governors, but their origins and the nature of their jobs discouraged them from ardent enforcement of trade laws. Colonial governors were often drawn from among local elites, meaning their strongest ties were usually local not imperial. Beyond their personal and financial connections to some smugglers, governors were often lax in enforcing trade laws because their success as administrators depended on building successful economies. Soon after taking office many Governors realized that illicit trade served an important role in the local economy by bringing in needed trade during wars, supplying vital goods in the wake of natural disasters, or simply by adding to a colony’s economic activity. In short, their local experience taught them that trade laws damaged colonial success. The pursuit of local economic interests over imperial interests partly explains why, for example, William Berkeley of Virginia, Benjamin Fletcher of New York, and Christopher Codrington of the Leeward Islands all encouraged illicit trade during periods of instability in the 17th century. In other cases the pursuit of personal wealth encouraged governors to strictly enforce trade laws. Under English law, governors were usually personally guaranteed one third of the value of seized vessels, their furniture, and their confiscated goods. For a man like Governor Francis Barnard of Massachusetts who did not come from great wealth and was eager to support his family, aggressive customs enforcement was key to his own economic survival. Most governors’ behavior probably fell between these two poles, enforcing the law when smugglers acted particularly brazenly but occupying themselves with other matters in most cases.35

Even when local officials upheld the law they faced difficulties in securing convictions in local courts and exposed themselves to harassment. In 1698, customs agent William Sharpe reported that several well-connected Barbadians were openly “importing foreign European goods & manufacture[s]: & also the Enumerated Plantation Commodities, without any manner of Cocketts, Certificates, or Custom-house Clearings.” If “any of the Custom house Officers shall” interfere with them, Sharpe reported, the smugglers will have “them either turned out at Home, or will ruine them here.” Dedicated customs officials like Sharpe and Edward Randolph complained bitterly that local administrators and courts refused to prosecute smugglers.36 Taken to the extreme, strictly enforcing trade laws might endanger the lives of customs collectors. This was certainly true during the Imperial Crisis in North America, and some witnesses believed it also contributed to the murder of Governor Daniel Parke in 1710, at the hands of an angry mob, after he refused a bribe of £1,000 a year to allow illegal trade in the Leeward Islands.37

The Political Economy of Smuggling

Governors’ involvement in smoothing the path for illicit trade suggests that it was not just self-interest, corruption, and inattention that stood behind smuggling. Rather, governors’ decisions to willingly allow illegal trade because it was in the best interest of their colonies indicates how important local needs were in motivating smugglers. Certainly, smuggling could be lucrative. At the same time, many who participated in illicit trade did so because they saw little reason not to. Most early modern Britons did not see smuggling as a violation of “the laws of nature.” Though the famous economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith could not condone a smuggler’s violation of “the laws of his country,” he condemned the state, not the individual, writing that the smuggler would have been “in every respect an excellent citizen had not the laws of his country made that a crime which nature never meant to be so.”38 British law bore this out by imposing only civil, not criminal, penalties on those caught trafficking illegal goods. Broader civil society, too accepted known smugglers like Thomas Hancock into polite circles. Some illicit traders in the colonies were even celebrated for their actions. Meanwhile, Anglo-American consumers often had no idea if the goods they consumed were legal or not, meaning the morality of smuggling was not a part of their decision-making process.39 Since so much Anglo-American smuggling involved inter-imperial trade, it is important to note that foreign traders did not see their trade with British colonists as illegal, since it was legal according to the laws of their own empires.

When smuggling is viewed from the perspective of smugglers, as opposed to the state, the politics of illicit trade begin to emerge. To smuggle in the early modern period was to articulate a divergent understanding of what was best for individuals and their local communities. For metropolitan authorities, stopping illicit trade was partly a problem of authority; the government needed to enforce its trade laws to demonstrate its sovereignty over its colonies. The desire to cement metropolitan authority explains why officials devoted so many resources to trying to stop illicit trade. Resisting these laws therefore became a proxy for colonists seeking to reshape the empire so that it served their local needs, not only those of entrenched metropolitan interests and royal privilege. To view smuggling as part of a larger struggle of authority between the British government and Anglo-Americans is not to deny that smuggling was also driven by the desire for profit. Rather it is to suggest that smuggling was rooted in a debate over the proper relationship between the state and the imperial economy. It was about ideas as well as individual profit.40

That smuggling was part of a wider discussion about the political economy of empire is clear in the lobbying efforts and petition writing that often accompanied illicit trade. As English authorities codified the empire’s mercantilist trade laws in the second half of the 17th century, colonists both violated these new laws and simultaneously lobbied against them. In dozens of petitions, colonists argued that the Navigation Acts would “utterly ruinate the colonies[’] commerce” by forcing their sugars “into one market” at the same time that they raised costs by eliminating important foreign trading partners.41 In the debate over the Molasses Act in the 1730s, North American colonists reacted similarly, urging Parliament to rescind the law at the same time that they openly violated it. Here too, colonists argued that restricting their commerce with French and Dutch colonies would rob them of vital trade, leave North Americans unable to afford English manufactured goods, and undermine the empire. In making this claim, colonists aligned themselves with Patriot Whigs in England. Colonists’ smuggling and its defense was part of an ongoing struggle to determine the nature of the empire in the 1730s.42 Though Parliament ignored efforts to repeal the Molasses Act, the tacit approval by British official of rum and molasses smuggling indicates how sympathetic to this argument many in London were. Colonists protested by smuggling and petitioning because it was clear metropolitan law did not meet their local needs. Smuggling became, therefore, one tool Anglo-Americans used to protest against the authority of the state.

When fueled by larger concerns and contexts, these small rebellions could blossom into more significant political action. This was certainly the case in the era of the American Revolution. In the period after the Seven Years’ War, Britain’s Parliament used taxes on imported goods such as tea to raise revenue to offset the administration of royal government. In reaction, American patriots used nonimportation movements that targeted imported goods like British tea. As rejecting tea sold by the East India Company became a patriotic act, so too did consuming illicit tea smuggled into Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The larger context of the struggle over political authority transformed the smuggling of tea from a business activity into a political act. This politicization of smuggling appeared both in the rhetoric used in newspapers and pamphlets and in the actions of citizens who interfered with customs agents, sometimes even going so far as to use violence in the process.43

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the politicization of smuggling was the burning of the HMS Gaspée in Rhode Island in 1773, an event with some parallels to the Boston Tea Party later the same year. The Gaspée was one of a number of Royal Navy vessels sent to patrol Narragansett Bay and to stop Rhode Islanders’ notorious smuggling. Embroiled in the wider politics of the Imperial Crisis, the Gaspée’s captain and crew soon aroused the anger of local traders who had used the many small inlets and coves that make up the Narragansett Bay to run goods ashore. When the Gaspée ran aground in pursuit of one such trader, a group of men boarded the vessel and burned it. An act of violence in support of illegal trade, the Gaspée incident united Rhode Islanders in political opposition to an empire they felt had overstepped its authority. Frustrated by new taxes and newly aggressive custom enforcement, Americans like those who seized the Gaspée were beginning to express control over their own economic interests in the language of Lockeian rights that James Otis had sketched out in the famous Writs of Assistance case in February 1761. In the process, smuggling, or what they were increasingly calling “fair trade,” had become a patriotic act.44

Discussion of the Literature

Scholars who write about the history of commerce and state building in the early modern Atlantic cannot avoid smuggling, and it regularly appears as a theme in their works. However, few scholars focus solely on smuggling, and there is no article or book-length treatment of smuggling in the British Atlantic. Those interested in recovering the robust debate about illicit trade’s scope, prevalence, and impact on the development of British America will need to read widely in a number of regional and local studies.

Some of the first to discuss smuggling were historians of the so-called “Imperial School.” These scholars, such as Charles Andrews and Lawrence Harper, approached smuggling from the perspective of the English state. Engaged in the task of describing the institutional history of the empire, they charted the difficulties British officials experienced in trying to bring order to colonial trade. Noting the apparent widespread violation of English commercial laws, these historians nevertheless concluded that reports of illegal trade were only circumstantial, that such violations were in the minority, and that on balance, British officials were able to channel most trade to benefit the state.45 Others who have followed this institutional approach to understanding colonial America tend to agree with these findings. McCusker and Menard’s magisterial survey of the British American economy, The Economy of British America, finds that, though smuggling was prevalent in rum and molasses, it was but a minor and unimportant aspect of colonial trade.46

Historians looking at the empire from the perspective of the colonies—not the metropole as imperial school scholars did—have found smuggling to be much more important to local economies than it may have been to the empire as a whole. In his path-breaking examination of the history of the British West Indies, Frank Pitman devoted three chapters to the efforts of the British West Indies to secure both legal and illegal foreign trade. Richard Pares, too, found smuggling important for intercolonial trade and as a tactic during warfare in the Caribbean. In his pioneering study of the commercial history of New England merchants, Bernard Bailyn likewise discovered that many of these men’s fortunes rested on smuggling. Two decades later, Richard Sheridan’s ambitious study about the economic history of the British West Indies again found that illicit trade was a regular and important part of daily life.47

More recently, as transnational and “Atlantic” history has become more prevalent, historians have begun to develop new perspectives on smuggling and its inter-imperial aspects. Cathy Matson, for example, found smuggling to be an important part of New York City’s development. Centered on New York’s mercantile community, Matson traces out local networks to discover how traders crossed imperial boundaries and blended legal and illegal trade as they chased profits. Examining New York City during the Seven Years’ War, Thomas Truxes similarly found that New Yorkers sought out trade with French colonists even during periods of Anglo-French warfare, because war enhanced the potential profits smuggling could bring them. Others studying individual colonies, merchants, or commercial networks, have discovered that illicit commerce was an essential aspect of Atlantic trade. Scholars of the Jewish Diaspora have uncovered much smuggling because the networks they focus on were multi-imperial and thus well positioned to drive illicit trade.48

One of the most important recent studies of illegal trade is Wim Klooster’s, Illicit Riches, which showed that the success of Dutch Curaçao rested on its inhabitants’ smuggling. Though about a Dutch colony, this work has influenced historians of British America both because it so clearly shows the centrality of smuggling for a local economy, and because his work in Dutch archives has raised scholars’ awareness of the richness of Dutch commercial sources. Since Dutch trade was such an important part of Anglo-American smuggling, and since this trade was legal from the Dutch perspective, these sources contain much more evidence of smuggling in British colonies than is otherwise available. Historians examining Dutch Suriname and St. Eustatius have likewise begun to quantify North Americans’ illicit trade with those colonies using Dutch sources.49 While full quantification of smuggling by Anglo-Americans will never be possible, such efforts, together with the discipline’s move towards the construction of large collaborative datasets, suggest that future work will be able to more accurately quantify smuggling’s extent and thus its impact on economic development.

Most scholarship on smuggling in the British Atlantic has focused on determining its extent and measuring its impact on state regulation and trade. Some scholars, however, are beginning to shift their attention to understanding what smuggling reveals about the political economy and culture of empire. Picking up on the Imperial School’s interest in what illicit trade meant for the empire and Atlantic historians’ recognition of the negotiated nature of early modern empires, these scholars are increasingly interested in what smuggling tells us about the complex ways in which states extended authority over distant polities and the ways local populations resisted or accepted that authority.50 Increased attention on the politics of smuggling has the potential to reopen the question of how the political economy of smuggling in North America, and its connection to conceptions of imperial authority, shaped the American Revolution, a topic that has received little attention since Oliver Dickerson dismissed such a connection more than half a century ago.51

Primary Sources

By its very nature, evidence of successful smuggling does not appear in official records; where it does appear, however is in the records of the British admiralty courts and colonial vice-admiralty courts located in the HCA series at the National Archives, Kew, London. Other British state papers relating to colonial policy can best be located in the Calendar of State Papers (Calendar of State Papers: Colonial Series, America and the West Indies, 1574–1738, edited by W. Noel Sainsbury, J. W. Fortescue, and Cecil Headlam, 44 vols [London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1860–1969]) and through British History Online and then examined at the National Archives, Kew. The most useful collections for researchers are Records of the Colonial Office (CO series), HM Treasury papers (T), State Paper Office (S), and Records of the Exchequer (E), which contain customs records relating to arriving and departing vessels in Britain. Correspondence between governors, colonial officials, and the Board of Trade also contain much information about illicit trade. Especially valuable are the Board of Trade Papers on the West Indies, 1654-1786 (Add MSS 14034) at the British Library. Collections of correspondence by governors and other officials such as Edward Randolph can help to supplement these materials. Since what the British declared illegal was usually legal in other empires, the archives of other nations—especially those in the Netherlands—are valuable for understanding the scope of smuggling. For St. Eustatius’s trade see the papers of the Nieuwe West-Indische Compagnie in the Algemeen Rijksarchief (ARA, The Hague). Johannes Postma has assembled a complete list of all known voyages to and from Suriname between 1683 and 1795, at his database Dutch Shipping and Trade with Surinam, 1683-1795. Also valuable for tracing individual Dutch traders who engaged in illicit trade in British America are the notarial archives in Amsterdam and Rotterdam (Notarieel Archief, Gemeentearchief Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Oud Notarieel Archief, Gemeentearchief Rotterdam, Netherlands). Parts of the Rotterdam Notarial Records are available online.

Merchants’ account books and correspondence—too numerous and varied to list here—contain much evidence of smuggling, though as is true about most personal commercial records of the 17th and 18th centuries, those which are extant offer only glimpses of illicit trade and are not comprehensive.

Further Reading

Fortune, Stephen Alexander. Merchants and Jews: The Struggle for British West Indian Commerce, 1650–1750. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1984.Find this resource:

Harper, Lawrence A. The English Navigation Laws: A Seventeenth-Century Experiment in Social Engineering. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939.Find this resource:

Jarvis, Michael. In the Eye of All Trade: Bermuda, Bermudians, and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680–1783. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Karras, Alan L. Smuggling: Contraband and Corruption in World History. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010.Find this resource:

Klooster, Willem. “Inter-Imperial Smuggling in the Americas, 1600–1800.” In Soundings in Atlantic History Latent Structures and Intellectual Currents, 1500–1830, edited by Bernard Bailyn and Patricia L. Denault, 141–180. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Matson, Cathy D. Merchants and Empire: Trading in Colonial New York. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

McCusker, John J. Rum and the American Revolution: The Rum Trade and the Balance of Payments of the Thirteen Continental Colonies. New York: Garland, 1989.Find this resource:

Mui, Hoh-Cheung, and Lorna H. Mui. “‘Trends in Eighteenth Century Smuggling’ Reconsidered.” Economic History Review 28.1 (1975): 28–43.Find this resource:

Pares, Richard. War and Trade in the West Indies, 1739–1763. London: Cass, 1963.Find this resource:

Randolph, Edward, Robert N. Toppan, and Alfred T. S. Goodrick, eds. Edward Randolph; including his letters and official papers from the New England, middle, and southern colonies in America, with other documents relating chiefly to the vacating of the royal charter of the colony of Massachusetts Bay, 1676–1703. 7 vols. Publications of the Prince Society, v. 24–28, 30–31. New York: Burt Franklin, 1967.Find this resource:

Tyler, John W. Smugglers & Patriots: Boston Merchants And The Advent Of The American Revolution. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) Steven Pincus, “Rethinking Mercantilism: Political Economy, the British Empire, and the Atlantic World in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” William and Mary Quarterly 69.2 (January 2012), 3–34, and the responses included in the forum, “Rethinking Mercantilism,” William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser., 69 (2012). 35–70; Michael Braddick, “The English Government, War, Trade, and Settlement,” in The Origins of Empire, ed. Nicholas Canny, vol. 1, The Oxford History of the British Empire ed., Wm. Roger Lewis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 302–308.

(2.) Lawrence A. Harper, The English Navigation Laws: A Seventeenth-Century Experiment in Social Engineering, originally published in 1939 (New York: Octagon, 1964), 50–74; John J. McCusker and Russell R. Menard, The Economy of British America, 1607–1789, With Supplementary Bibliography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985, 1991), 46–47.

(3.) Richard Sheridan, Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies, 1623–1775 (Barbados: Caribbean University Press, 1974), 48–49.

(4.) Thomas Hutchinson to Thomas Pownall, January 29, 1769 quoted in Benjamin L. Carp, Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party & the Making of America (New York: Yale University Press, 2010), 72. See also, Carp, Defiance of the Patriots, 17, 71–73, 76–77; Jane Merrit, “Tea Trade, Consumption, and the Republican Paradox in pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 128.2 (April 2004), 128–130.

(5.) Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History, vol. 4 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1934), 178–179; Harper, The English Navigation Laws, 100–103, 109–118; Sheridan, Sugar and Slavery, 44–49; Alan L. Karras, Smuggling: Contraband and Corruption in World History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010), 122–123; Michael G. Hall, “The House of Lords, Edward Randolph, and the Navigation Act of 1696,” The William and Mary Quarterly 14.4 (1957), 494–515.

(6.) McCusker and Menard, Economy of British America, 77–78; Harper, The English Navigation Laws, 246–274; David Eltis, “The Total Product of Barbados, 1664–1701,” Journal of Economic History 55 (1995), 321–338; David Eltis, “New Estimates of Exports from Barbados and Jamaica, 1665–1701,” The William and Mary Quarterly 52.4 (1995), 631–648. On the end of tobacco smuggling, see Douglas Bradburn. “The Visible Fist: The Chesapeake Tobacco Trade in War and the Purpose of Empire,” The William and Mary Quarterly 68 (July 2011), 361–386.

(7.) Richard Pares, Yankees and Creoles: The Trade between North America and the West Indies before the American Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956), 47–51; Michael Jarvis, In the Eye of All Trade: Bermuda, Bermudians, and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680–1783 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 167–180; Cathy Matson, Merchants and Empire: Trading in Colonial New York (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 206–209.

(8.) Richard Pares, War and Trade in the West Indies, 1739–1763 (London: Cass, 1963), 79–82, 395–396; James Pritchard, In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670–1730 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 173–186; Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, An Empire Divided, The American Revolution and the British Caribbean (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 60–62.

(9.) Robert Robinson, The Present State of the British Sugar Colonies Consider’d (London: Printed for J. Wilford, 1731), 7.

(10.) Frank Wesley Pittman, The Development of the British West Indies, 1700–1763 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967), 242–270; Pares, Yankees and Creoles, 53–56.

(11.) John J. McCusker, Rum and the American Revolution: The Rum Trade and the Balance of Payments of the Thirteen Continental Colonies (New York: Garland,1989), 417–426; Pares, Yankees and Creoles, 57–58; O’Shaughnessy, Empire Divided, 63–64. For an estimate of smuggled molasses in Boston see Jarvis, In The Eye of All Trade, 178–180. On trading with the enemy see Pares, War and Trade in the West Indies, 397–468; and Thomas M. Truxes, Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008).

(12.) “A Letter from Barbados by ye Way of Holland Concerning ye Conditccon of Honest men There,” August 9, 1651, in Colonising Expeditions to the West Indies and Guiana, 1623–1667, ed. Vincent T. Harlow, (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1924), 51–52 (quotations); Richard Ligon, A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbados, 2d ed. (London: Peter Parker, 1673), 30, 37; Sir Thomas Lynch to Lords of Trade and Plantations, August 29, 1682, CO 1/49, fol. 33v, The National Archives, Kew, England (hereafter TNA); Gov. Codrington to the Council of Trade and Plantations, September 27, 1697, CO 152/2, #56, TNA.

(13.) Thomas Elliot Norton, The Fur Trade in Colonial New York, 1686–1776 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974); Joshua M. Smith, “Humbert’s Paradox: The Global Context of Smuggling in the Bay of Fundy,” in New England and the Maritime Provinces: Connections and Comparisons, ed. Stephen J. Hornsby and John G. Reid (Montreal: McGill–Queen’s University Press, 2005), 115–116; John W. Tyler, Smugglers & Patriots: Boston Merchants And The Advent Of The American Revolution (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986), 15–16, 191–192.

(14.) Benjamin Labree, The Boston Tea Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 7; Carp, Defiance of the Patriots, 35, 54–55, 71–72, 77; Matson, Merchants and Empire, 207–209; Merritt, “Tea Trade, Consumption, and the Republican Paradox in pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia,” 126–129.

(15.) David Richardson, “The British Empire and the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1660–1807,” in The Eighteenth Century, ed. P.J. Marshall, vol. 2 in The Oxford History of the British Empire, ed. Wm. Roger Louis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 440–447; Richard Dunn, Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624–1713 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972), 230–237; David Eltis, “The British Transatlantic Slave Trade Before 1714: Annual Estimates of Volume and Direction,” in The Lesser Antilles in the Age of European Expansion, ed. Robert L. Paquette and Stanley L. Engerman (Gainesville: University of Florida Press,1996), 186–191; Zahedieh, “Regulation, Rent-Seeking, and the Glorious Revolution in the English Atlantic Economy,” The Economic History Review 63.4 (2010), 876–877; The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database for data on slave vessels, numbers, dates, etc.

(16.) Ann M. Carlos, and Jamie Brown Kruse, “The Decline of the Royal African Company: Fringe Firms and the Role of the Charter,” Economic History Review 49 (1996), 291–313.

(17.) Victor Enthoven “‘That Abominable Nest of Pirates’: St. Eustatius and the North Americans, 1680–1780,” Early American Studies 10.2 (2012), 291–293.

(18.) Nuala Zahedieh, “The Merchants of Port Royal, Jamaica, and the Spanish Contraband Trade, 1655–1692,” William and Mary Quarterly 43 (1986), 573–574, 577–580, 582–584 (quote 584), 593; Willem Klooster, “Inter-Imperial Smuggling in the Americas, 1600–1800,” in Soundings in Atlantic History Latent Structures and Intellectual Currents, 1500–1830, ed. Bernard Bailyn and Patricia L. Denault (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2009), 165–167.

(19.) John R. Pagan, “Dutch Maritime and Commercial Activity in Mid-Seventeenth-Century Virginia,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 90 (1982), 485–501, 486–487; Jan Kupp, “Dutch Notarial Acts Relating to the Tobacco Trade of Virginia, 1608–1653,” William and Mary Quarterly 30 (1973), 653–655; Victor Enthoven and Wim Klooster, “The Rise and Fall of the Virginia-Dutch Connection in the Seventeenth Century,” in Early Modern Virginia: Reconsidering the Old Dominion, ed.Douglas Bradburn and John C. Coombs (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2011), 104–105.

(20.) Robert Venables, The Narrative of General Venables: With an Appendix of Papers Relating to the Expedition to the West Indies and the Conquest of Jamaica, 1654–1655, ed. C. H. Firth (New York: Longmans, Green, 1900), 8; CO 1/66, fols. 21r-83r, TNA.

(21.) The most exhaustive discussion of smuggler’s techniques in the late 17th and early 18th centuries is in the correspondence of Edward Randolph, R. N. Toppan, and A. T. S. Goodrick, eds., Edward Randolph; Including His Letters and Official Papers from the New England, Middle, And Southern Colonies in America, with other Documents Relating Chiefly to the Vacating of the Royal Charter of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, 1676–1703, 7 vols., (New York: Burt Franklin, 1967). Originally published in 1909.

(22.) “Governor the Earl of Bellomont to the Council of Trade and Plantations, November 28, 1700,” John Romeyn Brodhead, E. B. O’Callaghan, and Berthold Fernow, ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons, 1854), vol. 4, 792–793. Extract from an article of the Treaty of Breda, June 18, 1687, CO 1/62, no. 76; Robert Quary to the Council of Trade and Plantations, December 7, 1702, CO 324/8, 194–211, TNA; Nuala Zahedieh, The Capital and the Colonies: London and the Atlantic Economy, 1660–1700 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 35–40; Harper, The Navigation Laws, 166; Klooster, “Inter-Imperial Smuggling in the Americas,” in Soundings in Atlantic History, Bailyn and Denault, ed., 161; Matson, Merchants and Empire, 83–86, 207–209.

(23.) Matson, Merchants and Empire, 207–208; Pittman, The Development of the West Indies, 193; Merritt, “Tea Trade, Consumption, and the Republican Paradox in pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia,” 129–130; Klooster, “Inter-Imperial Smuggling in the Americas,” in Soundings in Atlantic History, ed. Bailyn and Denault, 154–162; Enthoven and Klooster, “The Rise and Fall of the Virginia-Dutch Connection,” in Early Modern Virginia, ed. Bradburn and Coombs, 111–113.

(24.) “Report of Captain George St. Loe,” May 1687, CO 1/62, 224–225r, TNA.

(25.) Enthoven, “‘That Abominable Nest of Pirates,’” Early American Studies, 220–221 (quotation), 243–251, 266–267, 270–272, 281; Cornelis Charles Goslinga, The Dutch in the Caribbean and on the Wild Coast, 1580–1680 (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1971), 81–95, 189–200; Jarvis, In the Eye of All Trade, 162–166, 354–358.

(26.) “Memorial of Mr. Holt,” CO 388/12, fols. 251r-255r, 257r-261r, TNA; Klooster, Illicit Riches: Dutch Trade in the Caribbean, 1648–1795 (Leiden, The Netherlands: KITLV Press, 1998); Johannes Postma “Suriname and its Atlantic Connections, 1667–1795,” in Riches From Atlantic Commerce Dutch Transatlantic Trade and Shipping, 1585–1817, ed. Johannes Postma and Victor Enthoven (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003), 288–322; Matson, Merchants and Empire, 207–212; Pittman, The Development of the British West Indies, 190–228; Smith, “Humbert’s Paradox,” in New England and the Maritime Provinces, Stephen J. Hornsby and John G. Reid ed., 115–116.

(27.) On Bermuda sloops see Jarvis, In the Eye of All Trade, 126–130, 171–173. For multiple sets of papers see the case of the Swarten Paert, a Dutch vessel captained by an Englishman that traded illegally in Barbados and carried multiple sets of papers. September 29, 1662, 2156/p. 361, not. Johannes d’Amour, Notarieel Archief, Gemeentearchief Amsterdam, Netherlands.

(28.) Klooster, “Inter-Imperial Smuggling in the Americas,” in Soundings in Atlantic History, Bailyn and Denault, ed., 167; Matson, Merchants and Empire, 207. Truxes, Defying Empire, 88.

(29.) Pittman, The Development of the West Indies, 195, 206; Pares, War and Trade, 356–358, 388–389, 417–419, 446–450; Truxes, Defying Empire, 88–104.

(30.) Samuel Hayne, An Abstract of All the Statutes Made Concerning Aliens Trading in England from the First Year of K. Henry the VII (London: Printed by N.T. for the author, and to be sold by Walter Davis, 1685), 15–38.

(31.) Jasper Danckaerts, Journal of Jasper Danckaerts, ed. Bartlett Burleigh James and J. Franklin Jameson (New York: Scribner, 1913), 25–32; Christian J. Koot, Empire at the Periphery: British Colonists, Anglo-Dutch Trade, and the Development of the British Atlantic, 1621–1713 (New York: NYU Press, 2011), 161–163; Dennis J. Maika, “Commerce and Community: Manhattan Merchants in the Seventeenth Century,” (PhD Diss. New York University, 1995), 389–398; Claudia Schnurman, “Atlantic Trade and American Identities: The Correlations of Supranational Commerce, Political Opposition, and Colonial Regionalism,” in The Atlantic Economy during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Organization, Operation, Practice, and Personnel, ed. Peter Coclanis, (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005), 192–196.

(32.) John W. Tyler, “The Long Shadow of Benjamin Barons: The Politics of Illicit Trade at Boston, 1760–1762,” American Neptune XL (1980), 248–249.

(33.) Hayne, An Abstract of All the Statutes Made Concerning Aliens, 15–38; October 20, 1683, 4108/p. 212, not. Dork van de Groe, Notarieel Archief, Gemeentearchief Amsterdam, Netherlands. Stephen Alexander Fortune, Merchants and Jews: The Struggle for British West Indian Commerce, 1650–1750 (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1984), 101–157.

(34.) Zahedieh, The Capital and the Colonies, 38–39; Matson, Merchants and Empire, 83–86, 206–207; Tyler, “The Long Shadow of Benjamin Barons,” 245–247.

(35.) Koot, “Constructing the Empire: English Governors and Inter-Imperial Trade in New York and the Leeward Islands, 1621–1689,” Itinerario 31.1 (2007), 35–60; Karras, Smuggling, 118. On William Berkeley, see Victor Enthoven and Wim Klooster, “The Rise and Fall of the Virginia-Dutch Connection,” in Early Modern Virginia, ed. Bradburn and Coombs, 101–103, 107–108; on Fletcher Matson, Merchants and Empire, 85–86; on Codrington Vincent T. Harlow, Christopher Codrington, 1668–1710 (1928; repr., London: St. Martin’s, 1990), 32–34; Tyler, “The Long Shadow of Benjamin Barons,” 250–251.

(36.) William Sharpe to the Lords of Treasury, October 26, 1698, CO 28/4, #6ii, fol. 13r, TNA (quotation); “An Account of Severall vessels seized & prosecuted by Edward Randolph . . . and cleerd by the courts & juryes in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsilvania,” July 31, 1696; Toppan and Goodrick, ed. Randolph Papers 5, 139–140.

(37.) George French, The History of Col. Park’s Administration Whilst He Was Captain-General and Chief Governor of the Leeward Islands . . . (London: Booksellers of London, 1717), 198–199; Natalie Zacek, “A Death in the Morning: The Murder of Daniel Parke,” in Cultures and Identities in Colonial British America, ed. Robert Olwell and Alan Tully (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 223–243, esp. 235.

(38.) Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1976), 898, original published in 1776; Joshua M. Smith, Borderland Smuggling: Patriots, Loyalists, and Illicit Trade in the Northeast, 1783–1820 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006), 10–12; Karrasm Smuggling, 59–61.

(39.) Matson, Merchants and Empire, 206; Tyler, Smugglers & Patriots, 3, 25; Smith, “Humbert’s Paradox,” 112.

(40.) Karras, Smuggling, 1–5, 49–50, 87–88; Smith, “Humbert’s Paradox,” 109–110.

(41.) John Bland, “The Humble Remonstrance of John Bland of London, Merchant, on the Behalf of the Inhabitants and Planters in Virginia and Mariland,” in “Virginia and the Act of Navigation,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 1 (1893–1894), 151 (first quotation); “Petition of the President, Council and Assembly of Barbados to His Majesty’s Commissioners for Foreign Plantations,” May 11, 1661, CSPC, 1661–8, 30 (second quotation).

(42.) Matson, Merchants and Empire, 193–196, 204–205.

(43.) Carp, Defiance of the Patriots, 76–77, Merritt, “Tea Trade, Consumption, and the Republican Paradox in pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia,” 118–119, 131

(44.) Carl Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1743–1776 (New York: Capricorn Books, 1964), 259, 308; Carp, Defiance of the Patriots, 145–146; Tyler, “The Long Shadow of Benjamin Barons,” 270–272; Merritt, “Tea Trade, Consumption, and the Republican Paradox in Pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia,” 132–148; “Fair Trade” in Boston Gazette, December 7, 1761.

(45.) Harper, The English Navigation Laws, 239–274; Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History, vol. 4.

(46.) McCusker and Menard, Economy of British America, 77–78; John J. McCusker, “British Mercantilist Policies and the American Colonies,” in Stanley L. Engerman and Robert E. Gallman, eds. The Cambridge Economic History of the United States, Volume I, The Colonial Era (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 354.

(47.) Pitman, The Development of the British West Indies,; Pares, Yankees and Creoles; Pares, War and Trade in the West Indies; Sheridan, Sugar and Slavery; Carl and Roberta Bridenbaugh, No Peace Beyond the Line: The English in the Caribbean, 1624–1690 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972).

(48.) Matson, Merchants and Empire; Truxes, Defying Empire; Jarvis, The Eye of All Trade: Zahedieh, “The Merchants of Port Royal, Jamaica, and the Spanish Contraband Trade”; Elaine Forman Crane, A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island, in the Revolutionary Era (New York: Fordham University Press, 1985); Daniel M Swetschinski, “Conflict and Opportunity in ‘Europe’s Other Sea’: The Adventure of Caribbean Jewish Settlement,” American Jewish Historical Quarterly 72 (1982), 212–240; Fortune, Merchants and Jews.

(49.) Goslinga, The Dutch in the Caribbean and on the Wild Coast; Klooster, Illicit Riches; “‘That Abominable Nest of Pirates’: St. Eustatius and the North Americans, 1680–1780,” Early American Studies 10.2 (2012), 239–301; Postma “Suriname and its Atlantic Connections,” in Riches From Atlantic Commerce, ed. Postma and Enthoven. Few scholars of British colonies have yet used these sources. Michael Jarvis, who used them to discover Bermudians’ deep involvement in illicit trade, is an exception. Jarvis, In the Eye of All Trade.

(50.) Karras, Smuggling, 1–5, 49–60. This theme was the major topic of the panel, “Smuggling in the Early Modern Atlantic World” at the 125th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, Boston, Massachusetts, January 2011. Though not explictly about smuggling, Lauren Benton’s work has been foundational for scholars examining the connection between maritime regulations and state building. Lauren Benton, “Legal Space of Empire: Piracy and the Origins of Ocean Regionalism,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 47.4 (October 2005), 700–724. For negotiated empires, see Christine Daniels and Michael V. Kennedy, eds. Negotiated Empires: Centers and Peripheries in the Americas, 1500–1820 (New York: Routledge, 2002); Jack P. Greene, “Negotiated Authorities: The Problem of Governance in the Extended Polities of the Early Modern Atlantic World,” in Greene, Negotiated Authorities: Essays in Colonial Political and Constitutional History (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1994), 1–24.

(51.) Oliver M. Dickerson, The Navigations Acts and the American Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1951). A few scholars have drawn out the relationship between smuggling and the American Revolution since 1951. Most notable of these is John Tyler who, in his exhaustive survey of Boston’s mercantile community during the Imperial Crisis, shows that those engaged in illegal trade were more likely to support the patriot cause. Tyler, Smugglers & Patriots. More recently, Benjamin Carp has argued that the Boston Tea Party was partly a product of the fear of Boston smugglers, that a reduced tea duty would erode their business. Carp, Defiance of the Patriots.