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Keeping “the wheel in motion”: Trans-Atlantic Credit Terms, Slave Prices, and the Geography of Slavery in the British Americas, 1755–1807

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 August 2015

Nicholas Radburn*
Nicholas Radburn is a Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University, 301 Gilman Hall, 3400 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218. E-mail:


This article uses a new dataset of 330 slaving voyages to examine terms of credit issued for British American slave sales between 1755 and 1807. It shows that credit terms consistently varied between American colonies, and that slave ship captains considered these differences when electing where to land enslaved Africans. Our dataset also shows that credit terms were highly erratic, especially in the last quarter of the century, contributing to both surges and collapses in the slave trade to individual colonies, and in the trade as a whole. Four such instances are examined in detail to show that instability in credit terms played an important and hitherto unacknowledged role in the volume and direction of Britain's trans-Atlantic slave trade in the second one-half of the eighteenth century.

Copyright © The Economic History Association 2015 

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The author is grateful for the helpful comments of numerous generous readers, especially the participants in the 2011 Johns Hopkins Atlantic Research Seminar, Stephen D. Behrendt, David Eltis, Philip D. Morgan, Justin Roberts, Katherine Smoak, and the Journal editor and anonymous readers.



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