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Overseas Trade and the Decline of Privateering

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 September 2011

Henning Hillmann*
Professor of Economic and Organizational Sociology, School of Social Sciences, University of Mannheim, A5, 6, D-68131 Mannheim, Germany. E-mail:
Christina Gathmann*
Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Mannheim, L7, 3-5, D-68131 Mannheim, Germany. E-mail:


Using a novel data set on 2,483 British privateering cruises, we show that state-licensed raiding of commercial vessels was a popular and flourishing business among merchants that took a serious toll on enemy trade from 1689 to 1815. Why, then, did privateering merchants gradually turn away from these profitable endeavors? We show that the expansion of overseas trade increased the opportunity costs for merchants and resulted in the decline of privateering. Our findings document that the decline of privateering had as much to do with an expanding maritime economy as with the rising naval power of the British state.

Copyright © The Economic History Association 2011

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