English Merchants and Barbados

English Merchants and the Barbados Sugar Revolution, 1627-1672

This research project is based on a PhD thesis completed at the University of Sheffield (under the supervision of Prof. Mike Braddick) from 2016-2019. My thesis undertakes the first systematic study of the English merchants who financed the Barbados sugar boom in the mid-seventeenth century. It brings together archival material from the UK, USA, and the Caribbean to explore their involvement with Barbados in detail and put their commercial activity into metropolitan and global context. I trace how merchant capital was invested in the Barbadian economy during the 1640s, produced transformative social and economic changes on Barbados and in England over the next two decades, before being withdrawn in the 1660s and reinvested elsewhere.

By placing the merchant financiers of the sugar boom and their trading networks at the centre of my analysis, I work at the intersection of three historiographical subfields which are usually studied separately: the history of early modern England, Caribbean history, and global history. Bringing these fields into conversation has revealed the importance of both political events occurring in the metropole and the expansion of the empire in other parts of the globe to the development of the Barbadian sugar industry. The capital which merchants used to finance the growth of plantation slavery was generated through a variety of domestic and global business activities, and the political and economic uncertainty caused by the English Civil War (1642-49) was a key reason why London merchants invested such large amounts of money in land and enslaved Africans in the colony during the 1640s. This results in an analysis of early modern empire that is more global than is usually seen in current studies of seventeenth-century colonialism. It encourages historians to conceptualise the constituent parts of the seventeenth-century English empire in America, West Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean as an integrated whole.

My PhD is available to download and cite here. I am currently in the process of securing a book contract to publish a revised and expanded version of my PhD thesis as a monograph.