Britain and the Fur Trade: Commerce and Consumers in the North-Atlantic World, 1783-1821

Hope, David (2016) Britain and the Fur Trade: Commerce and Consumers in the North-Atlantic World, 1783-1821. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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This is a study of the mercantile organisation of the British fur trade in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The thesis seeks to answer two over-arching questions. Firstly, why did the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) maintain its Charter and acquire a monopoly of the British fur trade during a period of significant trade liberalisation in British overseas commerce? Secondly, why did London remain the European emporium of the North-Atlantic fur trade despite the rise of the provincial outports in other branches of Britain’s colonial and foreign trades?

In seeking to answer these questions, the thesis explores each stage of the British fur trade in order to establish the factors that prolonged the continuation of the London mercantilist system in the trade. Underpinning these explorations is a detailed study of the trade statistics contained within the British customs’ records, as well as, from sale, purchase, and employee ledgers, and correspondence contained within the HBC Archives. The thesis presents the argument that developments occurring on both sides of the North-Atlantic World supported the continuation of the mercantilist system in the fur trade, and that the trade was actually a more robust model of that system in 1821 than it had been in 1783. The factors that led the British government to grant the HBC a de facto monopoly of the British fur trade in 1821 were multifaceted and it was not, as much of the existing literature suggests, a simple business merger. Ecological constraints in North America limited the potential for growth in the trade and made the enterprise ever more specialised, which served to discourage new entrants and to increase pressure on existing participants. Limited prospects for expansion and the presence of the rival North West Company (NWC) restrained the critiques of British manufacturers towards the HBC. From 1815, violent confrontations between the HBC and NWC on the frozen frontiers of the British North American Empire increased political scrutiny of the fur trade and led metropolitan interests to conclude that a single company with a monopoly of the fur trade was preferable to the injurious effects of unrestrained free market competition. The continued importance of the re-export trade and the buying preferences of the consumers who purchased the trade’s high-value products kept the trade centred on the metropolitan economy and restricted its proliferation to other British ports. Finally, the role of Cain and Hopkins’ ‘gentlemanly capitalists’ proved crucial, as the total absence of provincial opposition allowed the future of the fur trade to be solely shaped by the hands of London’s commercial elite.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Eighteenth-century history, economic history, British imperial history, Hudson's Bay Company, Atlantic history
Subjects: L100 Economics
V100 History by period
V200 History by area
V300 History by topic
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Becky Skoyles
Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2017 07:33
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 23:07

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