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The Linen and Flaxseed Trade of Philadelphia, 1765 to 1815

Dissertation
Author: Michelle M. Mormul
Abstract:
From the closing stages of the British colonial era to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Philadelphia merchants experienced some of the darkest trading days, an era of tumultuous revolutions, wars, and heightened commercial competition, and also some of the best commercial opportunities that political independence from England could offer. Within the broader trade connections of the Atlantic world, my work tracks the importation of linen textiles together with the exportation of flaxseed, one of Philadelphia's most important exports to Ireland by the 1750s, in a cycle of trade across the north Atlantic. This is also a story about re-exports as most linen imported into America was first imported into England from Ireland and continental Europe, reexported to Philadelphia, and then merchants here re-exported linens to the hinterland, the Caribbean, and South America. I show that both British imperial aspirations and American patriotic manufacturing rhetoric could not dismiss the reality that the United States consistently imported more European textiles than before the Revolution, a higher import than any other commodity. I explore the cooperative relationships between importing linen merchants, the retail trade in urban and rural areas, and the export of essential raw materials to the fabrication process. The dissertation chronologically charts how Philadelphia merchants transferred goods from the producer to the consumer, what was available in the midst of political tumult and what was desired, their systems of credit and accounting, the internal organization of their partnerships, the development of marketing techniques for the fairly stable priced linen, and their methods of transportation and distribution of Irish, English, and northern European linens. It shows important trends of material improvements for middling and elite customers from the colonial era to the beginning of the nineteenth century. My dissertation bridges the gap between studies related to the techniques of textile production and a separate scholarship on textile use, between writings on manufacturing and consumption, and it shows how common people's textiles were distributed within the context of maritime commerce, shipping, and the economic development of late-eighteenth century North America. This dissertation challenges the centrality of trade that was conducted with the West Indies flour and sugar relationships and pushes our gaze toward the north-Atlantic traders' ties, arguing that within an interwoven web across the Atlantic with new trading patterns, Americans could start to substitute the traditional markets for their fabric with both their own cloth and its eventual replacement, cotton, from new places.

TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF TABLES ...................................................................................................... viii

LIST OF FIGURES ........................................................................................................ x

ABSTRACT ................................................................................................................. xii

INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................... 1

CHAPTER 1 COLONIAL FOUNDATIONS ........................................................................ 20

2 FLAXSEED AND ITS CONNECTIONS TO THE HINTERLAND .............. 73

3 PHILADELPHIA’’S LINEN IMPORTING DURING THE COLONIAL ERA ........................................................................................... 126

4 REVOLUTIONARY TURMOIL, 1764 to 1787 ............................................ 168

5 NEW DIRECTIONS WITHIN PHILADELPHIA’’S POST-WAR LINEN AND FLAXSEED TRADE, 1787 to 1797 ........................................ 231

6 WAR & REORIENTATION, 1797 TO 1815 ................................................ 277

CONCLUSION .......................................................................................................... 339

APPENDIX A DICTIONARY OF LINEN TERMS .............................................................. 345

B VOLUMES, QUANTITIES, CONTAINERS ................................................ 366

C A NOTE ON SOURCES AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES ...................... 370

D REGULAR FLAXSEED EXPORTERS IN THE NARA RECORDS ...................................................................................................... 375

BIBLIOGRAPHY OF SOURCES CITED ................................................................ 378

PERMISSIONS FOR FIGURES ................................................................................ 415

viii

LIST OF TABLES Table 1. Direct Irish Linen Exports and English Re-Exports to America, 1741-1772 (Annual Averages: Thousands of Yards) ......... 69

Table 2. Linen to and Flaxseed from the Americas in the Colonial Era .......... 70

Table 3. Percentage of the Total Number of Vessels Leaving and Entering Philadelphia by Country of Destination and Origin .......................... 87

Table 4. North American Share of Irish Flaxseed Imports (hogsheads) .......... 89

Table 5. Number of Ships Sailing between Ireland and the Delaware Valley ................................................................................................. 94

Table 6. Colonial Flaxseed Export Quantities ............................................... 103

Table 7. Value of Pennsylvania’’s Trade with Ireland and England ............... 108

Table 8. Philadelphia Textile Price Index ...................................................... 130

Table 9. Quantity of Flaxseed Bushels Exported ........................................... 182

Table 10. Value of Linen Imports from Britain into Pennsylvania.................. 188

Table 11. Exports of Flaxseed after the Revolution ......................................... 215

Table 12. Total United States Flaxseed Casks Exported, Fiscal Year 1789-1790 ........................................................................................ 237

Table 13. Yearly Totals for Philadelphia Flaxseed Export, 1789-1815 ........... 240

Table 14. Post-Revolutionary Linen Imports at Philadelphia .......................... 242

Table 15. American Duck Exported from All States, Fiscal Year 1789-1790 249

Table 16. Post-Revolutionary Linen Imports at Philadelphia, 1798 to 1815 ... 283

Table 17. Volume of Hogsheads of Flaxseed Exports, 1800 to 1815 .............. 285

ix

Table 18. Number of American Ships in St. Petersburg .................................. 315

Table 19. Great Britain, Export, Official Value (£000) ................................... 333

x

LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1. Naval Office Impost Book ................................................................. 18

Figure 2. A Market for linen in Ireland ............................................................. 39

Figure 3. Bleachfield along the Leven River in Scotland ................................. 44

Figure 4. Perspective View of the Linen Hall of Dublin ................................... 47

Figure 5. Seal of Philadelphia in 1701 .............................................................. 74

Figure 6. The Philadelphia Trading Area, 1760 ................................................ 85

Figure 7. Lancaster Commercial Networks ..................................................... 111

Figure 8. Hanover Commercial Networks....................................................... 113

Figure 9. An Early Packet Boat ....................................................................... 116

Figure 10. The Old London Coffee House ........................................................ 135

Figure 11. The Sign of the Piece of Linen ......................................................... 155

Figure 12. A Pennsylvania-German Linen Printed by Walters and Bedwell .... 164

Figure 13. Elijah Boardman, Dry Goods Merchant .......................................... 221

Figure 14. Linen Trader Abraham Kintzing ...................................................... 236

Figure 15. Northern Germany and its Harbors circa 1790 ................................ 267

Figure 16. Delaware Flaxseed Exporting Locations ......................................... 274

Figure 17. Impost Ledger .................................................................................. 289

Figure 18. Delaware Valley Grain Bag ............................................................. 298

Figure 19. A Caribbean Linen Market, circa 1804 ............................................ 301

xi

Figure 20. Alternative Flaxseed Ports in Europe during the 1812 War ............ 319

Figure 21. Gathering a Linen Shipment ............................................................ 337

xii

ABSTRACT

From the closing stages of the British colonial era to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Philadelphia merchants experienced some of the darkest trading days, an era of tumultuous revolutions, wars, and heightened commercial competition, and also some of the best commercial opportunities that political independence from England could offer. Within the broader trade connections of the Atlantic world, my work tracks the importation of linen textiles together with the exportation of flaxseed, one of Philadelphia’’s most important exports to Ireland by the 1750s, in a cycle of trade across the north Atlantic. This is also a story about re-exports as most linen imported into America was first imported into England from Ireland and continental Europe, re- exported to Philadelphia, and then merchants here re-exported linens to the hinterland, the Caribbean, and South America. I show that both British imperial aspirations and American patriotic manufacturing rhetoric could not dismiss the reality that the United States consistently imported more European textiles than before the Revolution, a higher import than any other commodity. I explore the cooperative relationships between importing linen merchants, the retail trade in urban and rural areas, and the export of essential raw materials to the fabrication process. The dissertation chronologically charts how Philadelphia merchants transferred goods from the

xiii

producer to the consumer, what was available in the midst of political tumult and what was desired, their systems of credit and accounting, the internal organization of their partnerships, the development of marketing techniques for the fairly stable priced linen, and their methods of transportation and distribution of Irish, English, and northern European linens. It shows important trends of material improvements for middling and elite customers from the colonial era to the beginning of the nineteenth century. My dissertation bridges the gap between studies related to the techniques of textile production and a separate scholarship on textile use, between writings on manufacturing and consumption, and it shows how common people’’s textiles were distributed within the context of maritime commerce, shipping, and the economic development of late-eighteenth century North America. This dissertation challenges the centrality of trade that was conducted with the West Indies flour and sugar relationships and pushes our gaze toward the north-Atlantic traders’’ ties, arguing that within an interwoven web across the Atlantic with new trading patterns, Americans could start to substitute the traditional markets for their fabric with both their own cloth and its eventual replacement, cotton, from new places.

xiv

Abbreviations

APS American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA HSH Hagley Soda House, Wilmington, DE HSP Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA JAH The Journal of American History LCP Library Company of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA NARA

All logs and ship manifests from Record Group 36, Mid-Atlantic Region, National Archives and Records Administration, Philadelphia, PA PMHB Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography PRONI Public Records Office of Northern Ireland WLG Winterthur Library and Gardens, Wilmington, DE Hhd Hogshead Hhds. Hogsheads d British pence/penny s British shilling; 1 shilling = 12 pence £ British pound; 20 shillings = 1 pound

1

INTRODUCTION ““Linnen [sic] is a commodity of universal use, from the prince to the meanest subject, and a commodity that cannot be supplanted by any thing else near so commodious and agreeable for those uses to which it is applied.”” 1

Linen was fundamental in colonial Philadelphia. Colonists sent flaxseed to the north of Ireland, where farmers grew the fibrous plant essential in weaving linen. The flaxseed trade provided a small but important remittance from North American ports to Great Britain to pay for imported manufactured goods, including linen. Though minor in the city’’s overall trade volume, never over ten percent of the city’’s total tonnage, the flaxseed trade dominated the port of Philadelphia’’s exports to Ireland from November to February. Flaxseed was different from other exports, as it was sent to specialized markets in only a few places, and it was used to make textiles imported back into the Philadelphia region. These tight-knit and defined connections bound together a closer group of merchants, manufacturers, and farmers than in the more disconnected and far-flung trades of flour or sugar. The linked routes of Irish, English, and northern European linens into the Philadelphia region also show us both familial

1 Malachy Postlethwayt, The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce Translated from the French of Celebrated Monsieur Savary (London: J. & P. Knapton, 1751-55), Vol. II, 76.

2

and ethnic trading networks that endured for generations. This dissertation examines how merchants responded to international turmoil, including rising costs for transporting goods and uncertain supplies of both necessary and highly desirable commodities. Colonial relations between England and its North American colonies persisted into the nineteenth century, developing into new trading relationships between German and North American shippers. From 1765 to 1815, London credit connections allowed linen and flaxseed to flow across the Atlantic Ocean. Telling simply the import side of British textiles, as much scholarship accomplishes, does not give us a comprehensive picture of Atlantic world relationships; adding flaxseed exports to this study reveals a more inclusive account of the circles of trade across the Atlantic. Flaxseed was a key supplement to the flour trade as farmers could diversify their crops and use the residual useful elements such as linseed oil, flaxseed cake, and the remaining plant fiber to make rough textiles for home use. The flaxseed trade also played an essential role as payment for linen, provisions, and emigrants from Ireland. It furthered the human trade in Irishmen, sending payment back across the North Atlantic from Philadelphia to Ireland. In turn, these Irish emigrants played an essential role as builders of Philadelphia’’s trade, as weavers and farmers. Furthermore, imported linen coming to Philadelphia on returning ships was only one item in diverse cargoes of goods and immigrants. The networks of traders that brought in linen textiles almost always brought those fabrics alongside other

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manufactured goods. Merchants in London and Liverpool filled ships with cotton, wool, and silk textiles, trimmings, thread, and metal ware such as snuff boxes and pewter teapots, alongside linen. Linen was among many items that traveled under the broader trade connections across the North Atlantic. At the same time, the linen and flaxseed trades passed through specific flaxseed and linen ports, Newry and Londonderry, with regimented trading times during the year. Further, a tightly knit community of trans-Atlantic traders assembled these diverse cargoes. Linen was versatile for household, clothing, and sail use. It was a valuable conductor of heat so that the textile feels cool against the skin. Due to the slight luster that emanated from the spinning process, fancy weaves were made both domestically and abroad. Adrienne Hood reminds us, ““Everyone needed clothing and household textiles for warmth and protection against the environment.”” 2 Hood’’s look at the technical aspects of textile manufacture and production from 1750 to 1850 is crucial to balance my story on importation. Her early pre-industrial laborers in Chester County, Pennsylvania produced the other side of the story of linen imports. One of my central goals is to understand how much linen came into Philadelphia and the amount of flaxseed exported. Hood challenges the old interpretation of self-sufficient American textile production by tracking probate inventories, and teaches us about craft work in a

2 Adrienne D. Hood, ““Organization and Extent of Textile Manufacture in Eighteenth- Century Rural Pennsylvania: A Case Study of Chester County”” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, 1988), 1.

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rural setting. I add an examination of how much linen was coming into Philadelphia, and once the commodity reached the docks, the distribution pathways to people in the city and hinterland, and the effects of linen on households. The distribution of linen was premised on an intricate circulation of goods in the Atlantic, a great web of fibers and finished goods, extending from the port of Philadelphia to Europe, South America, and the Pacific. Similarly, this work aims to catch a glimpse of the middleman, the pathways goods traveled between the producer and the consumer, in between the spinner of the flax yarn and the woman who cut it into a shirt. Linen was ubiquitous in colonial life but its history is often told in segmented ways. There has been research relating to the techniques of textile production and then a separate scholarship on textile use. Historian Philip Scranton has called this a ““longstanding divorce”” between writings on manufacturing and consumption. Here, the study of distribution aims to bridge the gap between the supplier and the consumer for both flaxseed and linen. Linen usage connected Pennsylvania households, American regions, and the Caribbean and South American ports. European linen was also a crucial trade good to Africa. In 1721, John Atkins described the types of goods in demand in various African regions, including ““Arms, Gunpowder, Tallow, old Sheets, Cottons of all the Various Denominations, and English Spirits,”” plus local and district demands for linen goods. Negley Harte believes ““Linen became the most important single commodity shipped across the Atlantic in the eighteenth century.”” So, whether the textile was created for domestic

5

British use, traded to Africa for slaves, or sent to the Americas in trade for raw materials, we can learn about networks around the Atlantic world from a study of its commerce. 3

Three phases of textile commerce emerge from the records. The first was during the colonial era, when a flaxseed trade developed between Philadelphia and the north of Ireland in order to gain funds to pay for finished goods brought from the British Isles. The second phase involved a return to trading with England during the 1780s and 1790s. The third phase, the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century, showed the Napoleonic Wars’’ disruption of European trading patterns, especially in the northern European linen exporting ports of Hamburg and Bremen. In North America, the Jeffersonian embargo and War of 1812 dashed the majority of Philadelphia traders’’ connections with linen commerce. My dissertation chronologically charts Philadelphia merchants’’ changing trade patterns over fifty years. Chapter one begins with the origins and working of the linen

3 Philip Scranton, ““Review of Textiles in America,”” Technology and Culture 28 (April, 1987), 364; Adrienne D. Hood, The Weaver’’s Craft: Cloth Commerce, and Industry in Early Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003); Lynn Zacek Bassett, Textiles of Regency Clothing, 1800-1850 (Arlington, VA: Q Graphics Production Company, 2001), 15, LCP; John Thornton, Africa and the Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 51; David Richardson, ““West African Consumption Patterns and English Slave Trade,”” in The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, eds., H. A. Gemery and Jan S. Hogendorn (New York: Academic Press, 1979), 310; N. B. Harte, ““The British Linen Trade with the United States in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,”” in Textiles in Trade: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium (Los Angeles: The Textile Society, 1990), 15.

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trade in England, Ireland, and Europe that had been going on for generations. The manufacturing and credit arrangements on the eastern edge of the Atlantic created the development of a colonial marketplace. A plantation system in Ireland set the stage for an increase in linen production, leaving wool production in England. It was the London credit relations that permitted the yarn to be sent from the spinner and the flat fabric to the final exporter’’s warehouse. Also, middlemen played an integral role in linen’’s day-to-day circulation within the country. Ireland benefited from linen manufacture and sale in hard-to-come-by specie doled out to spinners, weavers, and bleachers. Irish linen then rivaled medium quality inexpensive German linen re- exports through London for the American market. Irish linen exporters were the impetus for flaxseed export from the Philadelphia region once they traveled to the Delaware Valley. They were already familiar with Irish trade in imported seed from the Netherlands or Russia and it was natural to transfer the same type of seed from America. Chapter two introduces flaxseed agriculture and the rise of flaxseed exporting in the 1730s, a relatively late but very important colonial export. Flaxseed’’s shipment reveals the relationship between colonial farmers, backcountry millers and shopkeepers, and British mercantile credit systems. It is important to note that most of the larger flaxseed exporters also traded small amounts of linen, alongside various sundry goods. In contrast, linen importers did not deal in flaxseed. The flaxseed trade was in the hands of many small traders and farmers who did not diversify into linen

7

but sold other goods from their farm or region, such as timothy seed, clover, and wheat. Linen importers’’ culture in Philadelphia was as generalized as in Europe during the colonial era. Chapter three shows how Philadelphia merchants trained as clerks under apprenticeships, how they came to the business of trade, and what other types of commodities they worked with in the colonial marketplace. As in Europe, they became general dry goods importers, not specialists in linen. The linen and flaxseed traders also sustained a north-Atlantic trading focus, explicit linen and flaxseed ports, and targeted flaxseed advertising in newspapers. Merchants’’ records show a great deal of linen imported into the port of Philadelphia, and retail shops had a mix of domestically made, everyday linen and imported textiles. These first three chapters cover the imperial linen manufacturing and distribution processes over the Atlantic, with the concomitant flaxseed supply, from 1764 to the Revolutionary era. Revolutionary boycotts play a significant role overall in Chapter four: interestingly, linen from Ireland was not included in these stoppages. Linen traders joined boycott movements at first, but as time went on, fewer linen traders’’ names appeared on protesting documents. As soon as the merchants could, they ordered linen from London, as shown in the high imports of the early 1770s. Once war broke out between the North American colonists and Britain in 1775, legal trade ended except for British shipments to occupied Philadelphia and New York. A lack of linen during eight years of war brought on more hardship than during the nonimportation

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agreements, and the linen and flaxseed trades were so significant to both the Philadelphia region and Great Britain that they resumed immediately after the colonies’’ political break from England. Merchants worked very quickly toward a re- establishment of the regularized traffic in linen and flaxseed. The North Atlantic commercial and credit system under the Articles of Confederation recommenced its rule over Philadelphia’’s trade and remained quite similar to the colonial American system. Linen traders ordered textiles and flaxseed shipments from the same London traders, even with added federal duties and impost taxes. In the 1780s during the Critical Period, the general economy was dreary, though linen and flaxseed traded well. England’’s invisible empire over its former North American colonies blossomed in the independent new republic. As Chapter five will argue, postwar domestic manufacturing rhetoric pushed beyond previous Revolutionary boycott agreements. As a backlash of American writing in the 1780s went against particular imported goods associated with ““luxuries”” from England, manufacturers promoted new industries. But linen manufacturing emerged slowly despite all the pro-manufacturing language. As Carole Shammas argued over twenty-five years ago, early Americans did not have enough looms and spinning wheels in the eighteenth century to have been self-sufficient in cloth or most other manufactured items. Similarly, her work on the Pre-Industrial Consumer showed European importation from the earliest colonization, including linen. More recently, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich details the myth of an ““Age of Homespun”” that never

9

really occurred, although people seemed to look back to a better, simpler time of domestic production. As Shammas showed, Americans could simply not produce all the linen they needed for themselves. They did not have the technology on this continent and most refined textiles had to be imported well into the nineteenth century. Local production could never fill the Delaware Valley’’s linen needs. Raw materials were always in short supply, workers did not improve the quality over time, and less than ten percent of the population had weaving equipment. Imports provided both inexpensive and luxury linens that local producers could not make. Only gradually did Philadelphia develop a manufacturing base while still importing British linen across the North Atlantic trade route. Most factory plans failed since labor was always too dear, there was often an unsuccessful organization of manufacturing schemes, and most had a lack of funding. Fiber and textiles produced in the region were still such a rough quality that trade was the only way for people of the Philadelphia region to obtain a more pleasing fabric. Americans remained dependent on European linen for their middle-quality and better textiles. 4

The most important change in the trade after the Revolution was the opening of German linen markets to North and South America. Chapter five, covering from 1787

4 Carole Shammas, ““How Self-Sufficient Was Early America?,”” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 13 (Autumn, 1982), 247-282 and The Pre-industrial Consumer in England and America, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990); Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), 133, 159, 293; Adrienne D. Hood, ““Organization and Extent of Textile Manufacture in Eighteenth-Century Rural Pennsylvania: A Case Study of Chester County,”” xiv-xv.

10

to 1797, shows Americans regaining Atlantic trade, and an expansion into the new trading partnerships in northern German ports for central European linens. German immigrants played an important role in Philadelphia’’s community, importing linen from Hamburg and Bremen and then re-exporting linen to the West Indies. The focus here is geographically dissimilar to other scholars’’ inquiries into Philadelphia traders in that I draw attention to the goods transported primarily between the mid-Atlantic and northern Europe. Other scholars more often privilege Philadelphia’’s trade with the West Indies or southern Europe. The overall Caribbean and coastwise trade expanded in the post-war years and merchants made profits re-exporting European and Irish linen to the islands. Philadelphia’’s exporters of flour and grain often also carried re- exports of linen. Sugar, coffee, and molasses were paid for in part by linen, which clothed island slaves. During the war between major European nations, neutral American shipping brought some Philadelphia merchants considerable profits in the flaxseed and linen trades, even when the British and French seized ships in the 1790s. Certain records show a shift from linen to cotton, the main rival for the stylings and functionality of linen, but only seen in the more expensive imports at this time. Flaxseed did not have any export duties that linen now faced, and it continued to Ireland as before the American Revolution. The United States government also supported this trade with drawbacks of the import duty on linen once re-exported out

11

of the country. Re-exports to the Caribbean and South America played an important role in Philadelphia’’s carrying trade when European wars raged. 5

Chapter six carries the story into the nineteenth century, illustrating the decline in linen and flaxseed trades in the western hemisphere from 1797 to 1815 due to war, embargo, and linen’’s replacement, to some extent, with cotton. The re-export trade in linens to South America became an alternate locale when war cut shipments to the West Indies and it funded the northern linen trade. Until the administration’’s political war against trade in 1807, Philadelphians played a top role in shipping. After the embargo and especially after the War of 1812, Philadelphia traders were never really able to rally as premier linen shippers. British warships also were the ruin of the regularized shipping across the North Atlantic at this time, too, and Napoleon’’s army captured the northern German states and ended the regular German linen imports into Philadelphia. New traders fulfilled the role of linen merchants after the war and a generational shift changed Philadelphia as a trading entrepôt. Wars and embargos in the nineteenth century diminished the efforts of mid-Atlantic merchants to import linen from England, Ireland, and the German areas.

5 For importing southward see: Thomas M. Doerflinger, A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in Revolutionary Philadelphia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 114-118, 120, 176, and Cathy D. Matson, Merchants & Empire: Trading in Colonial New York (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 60, 185-189. For British trade to the West Indies, see James Walvin, Fruits of Empire: Exotic Produce and British Trade, 1660-1800 (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1997).

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Urban merchants traded with communities in foreign lands, and linen merchants were especially dependent on these external connections. Linen crossed the Atlantic, landed on the docks, was shuttled into warehouses, and finally was distributed to local retail and hinterland shops. All those farmers who were not able to make the necessary linen supplies for their farm purchased imports from their local retailers. Philadelphia’’s farmers grew flax, exported its seeds, processed the fiber for local weaving, and imported even more linen. Well into the nineteenth century, the mid-Atlantic was different from the traditional New England model. There, men and women wove linen for local use, and then later the Lowell Mill model of female cotton textile production became the stepping-stone for British factories to finally succeed in America after the Civil War. The Philadelphia region remained artisanal, with small batch production well into the late-nineteenth century, as well as consistent demands of consumers for imported fabric. Thus, over a relatively long period, Philadelphia’’s linen importation, and its few significant networks of merchants, was the major supplier of linen to the areas’’ customers.

Full document contains 440 pages
Abstract: From the closing stages of the British colonial era to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Philadelphia merchants experienced some of the darkest trading days, an era of tumultuous revolutions, wars, and heightened commercial competition, and also some of the best commercial opportunities that political independence from England could offer. Within the broader trade connections of the Atlantic world, my work tracks the importation of linen textiles together with the exportation of flaxseed, one of Philadelphia's most important exports to Ireland by the 1750s, in a cycle of trade across the north Atlantic. This is also a story about re-exports as most linen imported into America was first imported into England from Ireland and continental Europe, reexported to Philadelphia, and then merchants here re-exported linens to the hinterland, the Caribbean, and South America. I show that both British imperial aspirations and American patriotic manufacturing rhetoric could not dismiss the reality that the United States consistently imported more European textiles than before the Revolution, a higher import than any other commodity. I explore the cooperative relationships between importing linen merchants, the retail trade in urban and rural areas, and the export of essential raw materials to the fabrication process. The dissertation chronologically charts how Philadelphia merchants transferred goods from the producer to the consumer, what was available in the midst of political tumult and what was desired, their systems of credit and accounting, the internal organization of their partnerships, the development of marketing techniques for the fairly stable priced linen, and their methods of transportation and distribution of Irish, English, and northern European linens. It shows important trends of material improvements for middling and elite customers from the colonial era to the beginning of the nineteenth century. My dissertation bridges the gap between studies related to the techniques of textile production and a separate scholarship on textile use, between writings on manufacturing and consumption, and it shows how common people's textiles were distributed within the context of maritime commerce, shipping, and the economic development of late-eighteenth century North America. This dissertation challenges the centrality of trade that was conducted with the West Indies flour and sugar relationships and pushes our gaze toward the north-Atlantic traders' ties, arguing that within an interwoven web across the Atlantic with new trading patterns, Americans could start to substitute the traditional markets for their fabric with both their own cloth and its eventual replacement, cotton, from new places.