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The Rise of the Brazilian Cotton Trade in Britain during the Industrial Revolution

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 April 2018

Abstract

When and why did Brazilian cotton become important to the Industrial Revolution in Britain? Between 1791 and 1801, Brazilian cotton represented 40 per cent of raw cotton imports in Liverpool, rivalling those from the West Indies. Using archival data between 1760 and 1808, this paper shows that Brazil benefitted from increasing British demand for a new variety of cotton staple that emerged with mechanised textile production. Previous explanations for the rise of Brazilian cotton trade attributed it to the revolutions in the Caribbean in the 1790s, and the American War of Independence, which ended in 1783. Evidence, however, suggests that these explanations are incomplete or incorrect. The United States did not export cotton to Britain before 1790, and British imports from the West Indies did not fall after the revolutions.

Spanish abstract

¿Cuándo y por qué el algodón brasileño se volvió importante en la Revolución Industrial en Gran Bretaña? Entre 1791 y 1801, el algodón brasileño representó el 40 por ciento de las importaciones de algodón en bruto en Liverpool, rivalizando con las Indias Occidentales. Utilizando datos de archivo del periodo 1760–1808, este artículo muestra que Brasil se benefició de la creciente demanda británica de una nueva variedad de planta de algodón que emergió con la producción textil mecanizada. Explicaciones anteriores sobre el incremento del algodón brasileño lo atribuyen a las revoluciones en el Caribe de los años 1790s, y la Guerra de Independencia Americana, que terminó en 1783. Las evidencias, sin embargo, sugieren que esas explicaciones son incompletas o erróneas. Los Estados Unidos no exportaron algodón a Gran Bretaña antes de 1790, y las importaciones británicas desde las Indias Occidentales no decayeron tras las revoluciones.

Portuguese abstract

Quando e por que o algodão brasileiro se tornou importante para a Revolução Industrial na Grã Bretanha? Entre 1791 e 1801, o algodão brasileiro representava 40 por cento do total das importações de algodão bruto em Liverpool, competindo com as Índias Ocidentais. Através do uso de dados de arquivo entre 1760 e 1808, este artigo demonstra que o Brasil se beneficiou da crescente demanda britânica por uma nova variedade de fibra de algodão que surgiu com a produção têxtil mecanizada. Explicações anteriores sobre o aumento do comércio de algodão do Brasil atribuíam tal aumento às revoluções no Caribe nos anos 1790 e à Guerra da Independência Americana, que terminou em 1783. No entanto, evidências sugerem que tais explicações são incompletas ou incorretas. Os Estados Unidos não exportaram algodão para a Grã-Bretanha antes de 1790, e as importações britânicas oriundas das Índias Ocidentais não diminuíram após as revoluções.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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Footnotes

*

For their suggestions I am indebted to Renato Colistete, Kara Dimitruk, Robert Greenhill, Knick Harley, Anton Howes, Alejandra Irigoin, Rafael Marquese, John Styles, William Summerhill, André Villela, and participants in seminars at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP), the University of California Los Angeles, Oxford, the Institute of Historical Research, and the Britain and Brazil Conference at the University of London, Institute of Latin American Studies. The research was funded by the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa de São Paulo (Foundation for the Support of Research in São Paulo, FAPESP).

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132 Edwards, The Growth of the British Cotton Trade, 1780–1815, p. 75.

133 TNA, ref. BT 6/140: Board of Trade. Miscellanea. Cotton. 1787–92, fol. 17.

134 Tobago: under Britain (until 1781), then under France (until 1814); Cayenne and Saint Domingue: under France; Berbice, Surinam and Demerara: under the Netherlands.

135 TNA, ref. BT 6/140: Board of Trade. Miscellanea. Cotton. 1787–92, fol. 17.

136 Wadsworth and Mann, The Cotton Trade and Industrial Lancashire, 1600–1780, p. 523.

137 TNA, ref. BT 6/140: Board of Trade. Miscellanea. Cotton. 1787–92, fol. 16.

138 Saunders, Gail, Slavery in the Bahamas, 1648–1838 (Swanley: D. Gail Saunders, 2000), p. 23Google Scholar; see also Edwards, The Growth of the British Cotton Trade, 1780–1815, p. 76.

139 TNA, ref. CO 37/40/21: Colonial Office, 5 Feb. 1787.

140 Duffy, ‘The French Revolution and British Attitudes to the West Indian Colonies’, pp. 78–80.

141 Dubois, A Colony of Citizens, p. 115.

142 TNA, ref. CUST 17: ‘States of Navigation, Commerce and Revenue’.

143 Ibid.

Ibid

144 Burnard, Trevor, Planters, Merchants, and Slaves: Plantation Societies in British America, 1650–1820 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2015), p. 125CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

145 Mackenzie, Facts, Relative to the Present State of the British Cotton Colonies, p. 17.

146 Bolingbroke, Henry, A Voyage to the Demerary, Containing a Statistical Account of the Settlements there, and of those on the Essequebo, the Berbice, and Other Contiguous Rivers of Guyana (London: R. Phillips, 1807), p. 140CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

147 Dubois, A Colony of Citizens, p. 224.

148 Beckert, Empire of Cotton.

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