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British Industry and the West Indies Plantations

  • William Darity
Extract

Is it not notorious to the whole World, that the Business of Planting in our British Colonies, as well as in the French, is carried on by the Labour of Negroes, imported thither from Africa? Are we not indebted to those valuable People, the Africans for our Sugars, Tobaccoes, Rice, Rum, and all other Plantation Produce? And the greater the Number of Negroes imported into our Colonies, from Africa, will not the Exportation of British Manufactures among the Africans be in Proportion, they being paid for in such Commodities only? The more likewise our Plantations abound in Negroes, will not more Land become cultivated, and both better and greater Variety of Plantation Commodities be produced? As those Trades are subservient to the Well Being and Prosperity of each other; so the more either flourishes or declines, the other must be necessarily affected; and the general Trade and Navigation of their Mother Country, will be proportionably benefited or injured. May we not therefore say, with equal Truth, as the French do in their before cited Memorial, that the general Navigation of Great Britain owes all its Encrease and Splendor to the Commerce of its American and African Colonies; and that it cannot be maintained and enlarged otherwise than from the constant Prosperity of both those branches, whose Interests are mutual and inseparable?

[Postlethwayt 1968c: 6]

The atlantic slave trade remains oddly invisible in the commentaries of historians who have specialized in the sources and causes of British industrialization in the late eighteenth century. This curiosity contrasts sharply with the perspective of eighteenth-century strategists who, on the eve of the industrial revolution, placed great stock in both the trade and the colonial plantations as vital instruments for British economic progress. Specifically, Joshua Gee and Malachy Postlethwayt, once described by the imperial historian Charles Ryle Fay (1934: 2–3) as Britain’s major “spokesmen” for the eighteenth century, both placed the importation of African slaves into the Americas at the core of their visions of the requirements for national expansion. Fay (ibid.: 3) also described both of them as “mercantilists hardening into a manufacturers’ imperialism.” For such a “manufacturers’ imperialism” to be a success, both Gee and Postlethwayt saw the need for extensive British participation in the trade in Africans and in the maintenance and development of the West Indies.

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