Fish and Flour For Gold, 1600-1800
by James G. Lydon


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James Lydon’s Fish and Flour for Gold, 1600-1800 brings together extensive findings from numerous American and European archives and explores two centuries of commercial development between, on the one hand, North America and Iberia and its island possessions in the Eastern Atlantic, and, on the other, British mercantilist policy toward the colonies and toward this particular trade. The initial trade between the British colonies and Iberian ports in dried salted codfish grew over time to include wheat, flour, rice, corn, and wood products. Salt and wine came back to North America, but not nearly sufficient in value to balance the trade. Gold and silver, mined by the Spanish in Mexico and South America, made up the difference. A growing population in North America that demanded more imports of finished goods from Great Britain had created an unfavorable balance of trade with the Mother Country, which could be offset by the gold and silver from the American-Iberian trade. English mercantilists, aware of this fact, arranged special exceptions in their regulations to encourage the growth of this trade. British policy, however, fluctuated over time, depending upon the relative power of the merchants and the British farmers, themselves participants in the commodities trade with Iberia. When it was less favorable to the Americans, British policy was circumvented. James Lydon has produced a close study of English mercantilism as it applied to this trilateral traffic, one that was so profitable that the fledgling American nation was willing to go to war with the Barbary pirates to protect it.


Lydon’s research, conducted during the 1970s to 1990s, reveals for the first time a wealth of information about particular commodities and shipping arrangements in a most important arena of international trade. He has examined the various facets of the North American trade, as carried on from Newfoundland, New England, the middle colonies, and the Carolinas, and has traced the values and quantities of goods moving within this trilateral network, which he has reconstructed. Given the notorious dearth of records for many aspects of commerce in this era, his many statistical tables show some eye-opening trends in Americans’ increasing reliance on trade with foreign merchants in southern Europe. In all, Lydon shows us a dimension of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century commerce that should figure importantly in future generalizations about British imperial development and, more particularly, the colonial American economy.


The Library Company of Philadelphia’s Program in Early American Economy and Society is delighted to make this important contribution to Atlantic world studies available on its website, at Readers may download the entire book-length manuscript and its numerous charts and tables, and then read it electronically in its entirety, or they may search particular themes within its pages, or print any portions of the book. PEAES is pleased to bring Fish and Flour for Gold, a study rich in research findings and unique in the economic networks it reveals, to the widest possible audience.


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James G. Lydon, Fish and Flour for Gold, 1600-1800 (Philadelphia: Library Company of Philadelphia, 2008), an e-book accessed at