British American Port Cities

Kenneth Morgan

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:
British American Port Cities

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  • History of the Americas
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British American port cities were an important part of the social, economic, cultural, and political fabric of North America and the West Indies in the early modern period. Although relatively small by today’s standards—no North American port city had a population greater than 25,000 by 1776—these multilayered maritime communities were essential cogs in the wheels of coastal and transatlantic commerce. Merchants, retailers, wholesalers, agents, shopkeepers, manual laborers, and seamen all formed part of the population of these port cities. These populations differed in their ethnic and racial composition, in social status and income, and in residential patterns and living standards. The port cities themselves varied considerably: some were extensive sites for shipbuilding and its associated trades, some mainly served as shipping points, and some were connected to thriving agricultural hinterlands. Most North American regions were dominated by one particular port. Boston was the leading port in Massachusetts and throughout New England, New York City was the hub of New York’s trade, Philadelphia dominated the Delaware Valley’s seaborne commerce, Baltimore emerged by the time of the American Revolution as the chief port on the Chesapeake Bay, and Charleston was the focal point for ships and trade throughout the Lower South. These ports were situated where transaction and distribution costs could be concentrated in one trading center. The West Indian sugar islands were not sufficiently large to have more than one main port each. Apart from Kingston, Jamaica, and Bridgetown, Barbados, these island ports were little more than small towns before 1800. The main published studies dealing directly with these ports are cited in this article. Few scholars specialize in the history of British American ports, however, and even fewer publish works on colonial urban history. Therefore, interesting work on port cities is often done by scholars primarily concerned with other analytical questions, such as social structure, race, and consumption.

Article.  8849 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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