Skip to content

Imperial Political Economy and Its Discontents in Colonial New York City, 1664-1763

Andrew Wells

Pages 349 - 372



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Based on the apparent incongruity between the ideology of liberty within the British Empire and the extensive trade regulations that governed its economic life, this article explores efforts to circumvent the Navigation Acts undertaken in New York or by its citizens between the English conquest and the end of the Seven Years War. It argues that a remarkably wide range of evasive measures were employed, forcing us to re-examine both what it meant to be “loyal” and the functioning of imperial political economy, one influential model of which even provided intellectual justification for extremely subversive behavior. The article demonstrates that licit activities aimed against the Navigation Acts could be highly damaging, while their illicit counterparts might support the spirit, if not the letter, of British imperial policy.

1 Acts of the Privy Council of England (Colonial Series). 6 vols. Hereford and London: HMSO, 1908-12. Print.

2 Andrews, Charles M. “The Acts of Trade.” The Old Empire: From the Beginnings to 1783. Ed. J. Holland Rose, A. P. Newton, and E. A. Benians. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1929. 268-345. Print.

3 Armitage, David. The Ideological Origins of the British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. Print.

4 Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992. Print.

5 Barrow, Thomas C. Trade and Empire: The British Customs Service in Colonial America, 1660-1775. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1967. Print.

6 The Beekman Mercantile Papers, 1746-1799. 3 vols. Ed. Philip L. White. New York: New-York Historical Society, 1956. Print.

7 Beer, George Louis. The Origins of the British Colonial System, 1578-1660. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1908. Print.

8 Blackstone, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England. 4 vols. 13th ed. London: Cadell and Davies, 1800. Print.

9 Board of Customs. Ledgers of Imports and Exports. 1713. MS. CUST3/15. National Archives of the United Kingdom, London.

10 Books of General Entries of the Colony of New York, 1674-1688. Ed. Peter R. Christoph and Florence R. Christoph. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1982. Print.

11 Breen, T. H. “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century.” Past & Present 119 (1988): 73-104. Print.

12 ---. “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776.” Journal of British Studies 25.4 (1986): 467-99. Print.

13 Burnaby’s Travels through North America. Ed. Rufus Rockwell Wilson. New York: A. Wessels, 1904. Print.

14 Burrows, Edwin G., and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

15 Calendar of State Papers (Colonial). 44 vols. London: Longman and HMSO, 1860-1994. Print.

16 Cary, John. A Discourse concerning the East-India Trade. London, 1696. Print.

17 [Child, Josiah]. A Discourse concerning Trade. London: Andrew Sowle, 1689. Print.

18 [---]. Discourse of the Nature, Use, and Advantages of Trade. London: Randal Taylor, 1694. Print.

19 Colden, Cadwallader. The Colden Letter Books. 2 vols. New York, 1876-1877. Collections of the New-York Historical Society 9-10. Print.

20 [---]. The Interest of City and Country to Lay No Duties. New York: J. Peter Zenger, 1726. Print.

21 [---]. The Interest of the Country in Laying Duties. New York: J. Peter Zenger, 1726. Print.

22 ---. Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden, 1711-1775. 9 vols. New York: New-York Historical Society, 1917-1935. Collections of the New-York Historical Society 50-56, 67-68. Print.

23 ---. “The Second Party of the Interest of the Country in Laying Duties.” Colden, Letters and Papers 267-79. Print.

24 [---]. The Two Interests Reconciled. New York: J. Peter Zenger, 1726. Print.

25 Collections of the New-York Historical Society. New York, 1868- . Publication Fund Series. Print.

26 Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837. London: Pimlico, 1994. Print.

27 Colonial Laws of New York. 4 vols. Albany, NY: James B. Lyon, 1894. Print.

28 “Colonial Records. General Entries V. 1, 1664-1665.” New York State Library Bulletin History No. 2, May 1899. Ed. George Rogers Howell. Albany, NY: SUNY P, 1899. Print.

29 Danckaerts, Jasper. Journal of Jasper Danckaerts, 1679-1680. New York: Charles Scribner, 1913. Print.

30 Dummer, Jeremiah. A Defence of the New-England Charters. Boston, MA: 1721. Print.

31 Fischer, David Hackett. Liberty and Freedom. New York: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.

32 Gee, Joshua. The Trade and Navigation of Great Britain Considered. London: Sam Buckley, 1729. Print.

33 Greene, Jack P. The Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.

34 Grotius, Hugo. The Free Sea. Ed. David Armitage. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2004. Print.

35 Hamlin, Paul M., and Charles E. Baker. Supreme Court of Judicature of the Province of New York, 1691-1704. 3 vols. New York: New-York Historical Society, 1952-1959. Collections of the New York Historical Society 78-80. Print.

36 Hayne, Samuel. Abstract of all the Statutes Made Concerning Aliens Trading in England. London, 1685. Print.

37 Heckscher, E. F. Mercantilism. 2 vols. London: Allen & Unwin, 1955. Print.

38 Henretta, James A. “Salutary Neglect”: Colonial Administration under the Duke of Newcastle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1972. Print.

39 Hulsebosch, Daniel J. Constituting Empire: New York and the Transformation of Constitutionalism in the Atlantic World, 1664-1830. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2005. Print.

40 Israel, Jonathan I. Dutch Primacy in World Trade, 1585-1740. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989. Print.

41 Jacobs, Jaap. The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2009. Print.

42 Jones, David, and Robert Charles. Copies of Official Correspondence between David Jones, Speaker of the General Assembly, and Robert Charles, the Agent for New York in London. 1748-1760. MS. William Smith Papers, Box 1 (Lot 191). New York Public Library, New York.

43 Journal of the Commissioners for Trade and Plantations. 14 vols. London: HMSO, 1920-1938. Print.

44 Journal of the House of Commons. 57 vols. London, 1802. Print.

45 Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 24, 1732-1737. London, 1760-1830. Print.

46 Journal of the Legislative Council of the Colony of New York, 1691-1775. 2 vols. Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons & Company, 1861. Print.

47 Kammen, Michael. Colonial New York. New York: Charles Scribner, 1975. Print.

48 Katz, Stanley Nider. Newcastle’s New York: Anglo-American Politics, 1732-1753. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1968. Print.

49 Klooster, Wim. “Inter-Imperial Smuggling in the Americas, 1600-1800.” Soundings in Atlantic History: Latent Structures and Intellectual Currents, 1500-1830. Ed. Bernard Bailyn and Patricia L. Denault. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2009. 142-80. Print.

50 Koot, Christian J. Empire at the Periphery: British Colonists, Anglo-Dutch Trade, and the Development of the British Atlantic, 1621-1713. New York: New York UP, 2011. Print.

51 Langford, Paul. Englishness Identified: Manners and Character, 1650-1850. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

52 Mancke, Elizabeth. “The Languages of Liberty in British North America, 1607-1776.” Exclusionary Empire: English Liberty Overseas, 1600-1900. Ed. Jack P. Greene. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. 25-49. Print.

53 Matson, Cathy. “Imperial Political Economy: An Ideological Debate and Shifting Practices.” William and Mary Quarterly 69.1 (2012): 35-40. Print.

54 ---. Merchants and Empire: Trading in Colonial New York. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1998. Print.

55 McConville, Brendan. The King’s Three Faces: The Rise & Fall of Royal America, 1688-1776. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2006. Print.

56 McCormick, Charles Howard. Leisler’s Rebellion. New York: Garland, 1989. Print.

57 McCusker, John J., and Russel R. Menard. The Economy of British America, 1607-1789. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1985. Print.

58 McLellan, William S. Smuggling in the American Colonies. New York: Moffat, Yard, and Co., 1912. Print.

59 “Merchant of London.” State of the Trade Carried on with the French on the Island of Hispaniola. New York: Hugh Gaine, 1760. Print.

60 Middleton, Simon. From Privileges to Rights: Work and Politics in Colonial New York City. Philadelphia, PA: U of Pennsylvania P, 2006. Print.

61 Minchinton, W. E., ed. Politics and the Port of Bristol in the Eighteenth Century: The Petitions of the Society of Merchant Venturers, 1698-1803. Bristol: Bristol Record Society, 1963. Print.

62 Minutes of the Executive Council of the Province of New York. 2 vols. Ed. Victor Hugo Paltsits. Albany, NY: State of New York, 1910. Print.

63 Mun, Thomas. England’s Treasure by Forraign Trade. London, 1664. Print.

64 Nash, Gary B. The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution. Abridged ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1986. Print.

65 New-England Weekly Journal [Boston].

66 Newman, Gerald. The Rise of English Nationalism: A Cultural History, 1740-1830. New York: Macmillan, 1997. Print.

67 New-York Evening Post.

68 New-York Gazette, or, the Weekly Post-Boy.

69 New-York Gazette.

70 New-York Mercury.

71 New-York Weekly Journal.

72 “New York in America, 1711.” 1711. MS. New York (Colony) (Misc) Collection, Box 1. New York Public Library, New York.

73 O’Callaghan, E. B., ed. The Documentary History of the State of New-York. 4 vols. Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons & Company, 1849-51. Print.

74 ---. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York. 15 vols. Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons & Company, 1856-87. Print.

75 Ormrod, David. The Rise of Commercial Empires: England and the Netherlands in the Age of Mercantilism, 1650-1770. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.

76 O’Rourke, Kevin H., Leandro Prados de la Escosura, and Guillaume Daudin. “Trade and Empire.” Cambridge Economic History of Modern Europe. Volume 1: 1700-1870. Ed. Stephen Broadberry and O’Rourke. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. 96-121. Print.

77 Otterness, Philip. Becoming German: The 1709 Palatine Migration to New York. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2004. Print.

78 Pettigrew, William A. “Free to Enslave: Politics and the Escalation of Britain’s Transatlantic Slave Trade.” William and Mary Quarterly 64.1 (2007): 3-38. Print.

79 Peyster, Frederic de. The Life and Administration of Richard, Earl of Bellomont. New York: New-York Historical Society, 1879. Print.

80 Pincus, Steve. 1688: The First Modern Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2009. Print.

81 ---. “Gulliver’s Travels, Party Politics, and Empire.” New Perspectives on the History of Political Economy. Ed. Robert Fredona and Sophus A. Reinert. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. 131-68. Print.

82 ---. “Rethinking Mercantilism: Political Economy, the British Empire, and the Atlantic World in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” William & Mary Quarterly 69.1 (2012): 3-34. Print.

83 Rabushka, Alvin. Taxation in Colonial America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2008. Print.

84 [Rawle, Francis]. Ways and Means for the Inhabitants of Delaware to Become Rich. Philadelphia, PA: S. Keimer, 1725. Print.

85 Reich, Jerome R. Leisler’s Rebellion: A Study of Democracy in New York, 1664-1720. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 1953. Print.

86 [Reynell, Carew]. A Necessary Companion or, the English Interest Discovered and Promoted. London: William Budden, 1685. Print.

87 Richardson, David. “The British Empire and the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1660-1807.” The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. 2: The Eighteenth Century. Ed. P. J. Marshall. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. 440-64. Print.

88 Ritchie, Robert C. The Duke’s Province: A Study of New York Politics and Society, 1664-1691. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1977. Print.

89 Sawers, Larry. “The Navigation Acts Revisited.” Economic History Review 45.2 (1992): 262-84. Print.

90 Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. London: Collins, 1986. Print.

91 Seeley, J. R. The Expansion of England. London: Macmillan and Co., 1914. Print.

92 Smith, Adam. Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 1776. Ed. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1976. Print.

93 Smith, William. History of the Late Province of New York. 2 vols. New York: New York Historical Society, 1830. Print.

94 Steele, Ian K. “The Anointed, the Appointed, and the Elected: Governance of the British Empire, 1689-1784.” The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. 2: The Eighteenth Century. Ed. P. J. Marshall. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. 105-27. Print.

95 Stern, Philip J., and Carl Wennerlind. Introduction. Mercantilism Reimagined: Political Economy in Early Modern Britain and Its Empire. Ed. Stern and Wennerlind. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. 3-22. Print.

96 ---, eds. Mercantilism Reimagined: Political Economy in Early Modern Britain and Its Empire. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.

97 Taylor, Alan. The Civil War of 1812. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print.

98 Thompson, E. P. “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century.” Past & Present 50 (1971): 76-136. Print.

99 Trenchard, John, and Thomas Gordon. Cato’s Letters: Or, Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and other Important Subjects. Ed. Ronald Hamowy. 2 vols. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1995. Print.

100 Truxes, Thomas M. Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2008. Print.

101 [Van Dam, Rip]. Copy of a Letter from Rip Van Dam, Esq. New York: J. Peter Zenger, 1736. Print.

102 Varga, Nicholas. “Robert Charles: New York Agent, 1748-1770.” William and Mary Quarterly 18.2 (1961): 211-35. Print.

103 Vries, Jan de. The Economy of Europe in an Age of Crisis, 1600-1750. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1976. Print.

104 Watts, John. Letter Book of John Watts. New York: New-York Historical Society, 1928. Print. Collections of the New-York Historical Society 61.

105 Werner, Edgar A. Civil List and Constitutional History of the Colony and State of New York. Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons & Company, 1888. Print.

106 Wilson, Kathleen. The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism in England, 1715-1785. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985. Print.

107 Young, Arthur. Political Essays concerning the Present State of the British Empire. London: Strahan and Cadell, 1772. Print.

108 Zahedieh, Nuala. “Economy.” The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800. Ed. David Armitage and Michael Braddick. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 53-70. Print.

109 ---. “Overseas Expansion and Trade in the Seventeenth Century.” The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. 1: The Origins of Empire. Ed. Nicholas Canny. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. 398-422. Print.

110 ---. “Productivity in English Atlantic Shipping in the Seventeenth Century: Evidence from the Navigation Acts.” Shipping and Economic Growth 1350-1850. Ed. Richard W. Unger. Leiden: Brill, 2011. 117-34. Print.


Export Citation