The overseas trade of Bristol in the seventeenth century

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Witnessing the shift from the medieval world based on trade with Europe's Atlantic coast to a new system encompassing the American colonies, the seventeenth century was a pivotal period in Bristol's commercial history. It has, however, received relatively little attention from modern historians. What work has been done has either focused on qualitative sources, or merely sampled the statistical evidence. This thesis, therefore, represents the first in-depth statistical study of Bristol's seventeenth-century trade. Based on a detailed examination of the surviving Port Books and Wharfage Books, it challenges many previous views. The first half of the thesis examines Bristol's trade in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, showing that, rather than being a 'dark epoch', these years were a time of commercial prosperity for Bristol. Trade with the city's existing markets is shown to have expanded significantly, as a result of both a diverse supply of exports and consumer demand for a range of imported wares. The later chapters provide the first detailed account of the emergence of Bristol's American trades. This shows that they developed faster and earlier than has previously been thought, questioning the assumption that Bristol's commercial success in the Americas trade depended on the slave trade. The principal driving force of the seventeenth-century expansion is shown to have been the growing colonial population's demand for English manufactures, and the rising domestic appetite for ever-Cheaper supplies of sugar and tobacco. Finally, Bristol's involvement in other branches of trade in the latter-seventeenth century is examined. This chapter charts the mixed fortunes of the city's traditional trades, as well as the reluctance of Bristol's merchants to exploit opportunities beyond the Atlantic
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRonald E Hutton (Supervisor) & Evan T Jones (Supervisor)

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