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John Appleby, The English fur trade in Chesapeake Bay: A case study in English commercial and entrepreneurial activity, c.1580 to 1680 (23 November 2001)



The paper provides an overview of the emergence and development of the fur trade in Chesapeake Bay during this period, which it places in a broader context. It argues that the trade was shaped by the interaction between the European background, demonstrated in the growing demand for beaver skins for headwear, and the opportunities that were becoming available in North America. As a new trade, based on cross-cultural commerce, it made demands on both colonial and Indian traders which are explored, alongside other characteristics of the business. In a concluding section the paper uses the fur trade as a case study for English activity in a more general discussion of broader influences on overseas trade and exchange. (As for example in drawing attention to the role of consumption and fashion in the trade).


The English fur trade in Chesapeake Bay, c.1580 to 1680: a case study in commercial and entrepreneurial enterprise

John C. Appleby


            The significance of the fur trade for the European exploration and settlement of North America has been widely acknowledged by historians, although a comprehensive study of its operation and impact has yet to be undertaken.  As one recent survey points out, the trade in peltry “was basic to the initiation of Acadia, Canada, New England, and New Netherland”.[1]  It also played a significant role in the development of colonies farther south, including Virginia, Maryland and Carolina.  At a time when the demand for beaver skins was increasing, due to changes in the fashion for headwear in Europe, the acquisition of fur from Indian hunters and traders provided small, struggling settlements with an economic resource that helped to offset the early costs of colonization.  It also laid the basis for the emergence of a new transatlantic trade, linking Indian suppliers with European consumers, through an extensive and complex chain of commerce and production.

            Within Chesapeake Bay, English activity grew out of a specific context which was informal and improvised in character.  Commercial and colonial enterprises were poorly supported and plagued by problems during the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.[2]  The lack of state support left transatlantic enterprise in the hands of a small, but diverse, group of adventurers who shared a deep hostility towards Spain, which reinforced an attachment to plunder and short-term profit, as demonstrated in the appeal of privateering to a broad cross-section of English society.  In such circumstances English transatlantic enterprise acquired a speculative and exploitative approach that had far-reaching consequences; indeed, in some parts of North America and the Caribbean, English colonization could almost be seen as a deliberate extension of maritime plunder as settlers and traders struggled to reap rapid returns from the land and its people.  Moreover, with a limited formal or institutional sector to deal with, ambitious entrepreneurs were presented with a rich field of opportunity in many parts of North America.[3]

            It was against this background, of private enterprise and opportunism, that the fur trade in Chesapeake Bay developed.  Overshadowed by the rapid growth of a farm economy, based on the cultivation of tobacco, the volume of trade was usually modest, especially when compared with the scale of Dutch and French commerce in New Netherland and Canada.[4]  However, during the period before 1680 the Chesapeake trade accounted for a significant proportion of the English fur trade in North America; while within the confines of the Bay it was an important feature of colonial enterprise that deserves more attention than it has received so far.[5]  For the purposes of this paper it also provides an interesting and unusual perspective on certain aspects of English commercial and entrepreneurial activity, during a time of experimentation and growing ambition in transatlantic venturing.  In order to provide a framework for a more thematic discussion, I will briefly outline the development of the Chesapeake fur trade and then go on to comment on the character of the business.  In the concluding section I will raise some general remarks on the wider commercial perspective, which I hope will address more specifically a number of key issues relating to the subject of the workshop.

1.         The development of the fur trade in Chesapeake Bay.

            As in the cases of the French, Dutch and Swedish trades, the English transatlantic fur trade grew out of an uneven combination of local, metropolitan and international influences and opportunities.  The expanding economies of Western Europe, linked with the growth of the market and changes in fashion, fuelled demand for beaver skins which served as the driving force behind the emergence of the North American fur trade.  A vital part of this pattern lay in the growing appeal of the beaver hat, an expensive, luxurious but versatile piece of headwear, the market for which rested on the expansion of a fashion-conscious group of wealthy consumers.  Fashion and the consumption of an increasing range of non-essential commodities, were beginning to exert a strong influence over commercial enterprise, though both remain difficult to estimate with precision.[6]  In North America these conditions led fur traders to favour beaver skins over other types of fur, at least until the later seventeenth century; in London, moreover, they encouraged traders and manufacturers into a more responsive and flexible approach towards changes in taste.  Despite the high prices of beaver hats, ranging from £2 to £5 during the period, the emergence of a national market for fashionable headwear, based on trends established in London, was part of the longer-term growth of a consumer society which favoured change and novelty in public appearance.[7]

Thus European demand was fundamental to the growth of the trade in furs and skins.  Across the Atlantic, however, the trade depended on the supply of furs from Indian groups who were prepared to act as hunters or middlemen for European traders.  As colonial accounts indicate, the capture of fur-bearing animals was a skilled task, demanding knowledge of animal life-cycles and environmental conditions, which few Europeans were prepared to acquire during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Across the eastern seaboard of North America, therefore, Indian groups were drawn into a transatlantic market that was increasingly competitive in character.

            Within Chesapeake Bay, as in other cross-cultural trading zones, it is possible to detect several stages in the development of this commercial activity.  Unfortunately the earliest phase of the trade, during the pre-settlement period before 1607, is shrouded in obscurity.  Almost certainly commercial relations during this period were limited and high speculative, and possibly made little impact on Indian society.  But it was followed by the establishment of Jamestown, which served as the nucleus for the future colony of Virginia, under the auspices of the Virginia Company of London.  During the period of corporate control, from 1607 to 1624, commercial contact was established between English settlers and Powhatan Indians, despite the disruption of hostilities from 1609 to 1614 and after 1622.  Much of this trade was in corn, and was vital to the survival of Jamestown, but it also included varying amounts of furs and skins.[8]  By 1620 the prospect of French and Dutch competition appears to have galvanized the company into a serious attempt to develop the fur trade on a commercial scale.  Though seen as a potentially profitable enterprise, which would furnish the company with some return on its heavy investment in colonization, the development of these exchanges was also envisaged by some as a deliberate means of acculturation, or of “civilizing” savage Indians through the introduction and spread of a market economy.[9]

            The collapse of the company in 1624 inaugurated a new stage in the fur trade that lasted to about 1640.  It was during this period that several ambitious transatlantic joint-stock ventures were established, in order to exploit the commercial potential of the Bay.  These included the Kent Island partnership, one of the most interesting fur trading ventures to be formed in London prior to the formation of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670.[10]  It brought together a powerful group of aggressive, young merchants in London with William Claiborne, one of the leading representatives of a new generation of colonial entrepreneurs in Virginia.  Its aim was to re-direct the rich northern trade in Canada southwards, along the Susquehanna River, and into the Chesapeake.  But the partnership failed; as did other transatlantic ventures during the 1620s and 1630s, probably due to underlying weaknesses in the structure and organization of the fur trade at this time.

            This period of soaring ambition was followed by a difficult time of restructuring during the 1640s and 1650s.  Joint-stock enterprise was replaced by local, independent traders who struggled to cope effectively with powerful competition from Swedish and Dutch adventurers in Delaware Bay.  Indeed, it seems likely that during a period of severe political instability and rivalry, much of the fur trade in the upper Bay was lost to rival Europeans.  Although there was a recovery in commercial activity after 1660, by this time English traders in the Bay were running out of Indian trading partners or were faced with dwindling supplies of furs and skins.  In such circumstances a group of ambitious traders and explorers began to probe the commercial potential of the interior, creating a frontier of cross-cultural commercial activity.[11]  At the same time, this inland reconnaissance changed the nature of the trade: water-borne commercial enterprise in the Bay, in search of beaver skins, was replaced by an overland caravan network that was dominated by the transport of deer skins.

2.         Traders, planters and Indians: characteristics of the Chesapeake Bay trade.

            The North American fur trade was a new business, pioneered by a small group of traders and/or planters, whose activities were sufficiently flexible for them to establish effective commercial relations with Indian suppliers of peltry.  From the outset this was a difficult trade which depended on compromise and accommodation by the leading parties to it.  Moreover, it was subject to the uncertainties of consumption and fashion in Europe, which occasionally led to markets becoming over-stocked with certain types of fur.  As a French observer pointed out later in the seventeenth century, demand was “limited to a certain consumption beyond which there is no sale and the beaver remains a pure loss to those charged with the conduct of the trade”.[12]  These European difficulties were compounded with practical problems in North America that grew out of the demands of cross-cultural trade and exchange.  Transactions between the English and Indians brought together two different views of commerce which were embedded in different cultural values and patterns of behaviour.  Among the English commercial considerations were paramount, encouraging a functional view of exchange based on the maximization of profits, which tended to emphasize short-term gain.  In contrast, Indian groups envisaged trade as part of a longer-term and broader process in which exchange, gift-giving, ritual and ceremony were entangled.  The idea of trading only for profit appears to have been either absent or undeveloped, instead inter-tribal commercial relations articulated important political and diplomatic functions.[13]

            These ideas influenced the way in which Indian groups established trading contact with the English, but the notion that naïve natives were duped by sharp operators from across the Atlantic is a caricature of reality.  While English traders hoped to make lucrative profits from the fur trade, Indian groups expected a fair rate of return for their wares and many became adept at driving hard bargains for goods which were of value to them.  A trade based on the exchange of varied types of furs and skins for metal goods such as kettles, axes and hoes, as well as cloth, provided Indians with useful material commodities; even the baubles and glass beads were of value as status goods, and for their symbolic power within native society.[14]

            The interaction between English and Indian perceptions, expectations and conduct shaped the character of the fur trade in the Bay.  On the English side, generally it was a part-time activity which attracted only a small number of full-time traders.  A seasonal pattern of trading emerged, based around colonial traders who scouted for supplies of furs from Indian groups at various locations along the Potomac River, the Eastern Shore and at the head of the Bay.  Few traders appear to have made more than one or two voyages a year, or to have sustained a regular interest in the trade.  This is not to deny the existence of substantial traders who developed extensive, and profitable, interests in the business.  For example, during the 1620s Henry Fleet built up a considerable trade with the Susquehannocks, at a trading post on Kent Island. Later in the seventeenth century, in slightly different circumstances, there were other traders who operated on a large scale, such as John Nuthall and William Byrd I.  However, each of these traders also had significant interests in land, tobacco and servants, which in some cases were complemented by the economic rewards of public office.

            In effect most fur traders were entrepreneurs who developed a wide range of interests in the colonial economy.  Although this pattern of enterprise may have been reinforced by the economic environment in the Chesapeake, it was rooted in London commercial behaviour. Furthermore it was reinforced by an increasingly speculative element in London enterprise that grew stronger after the commercial difficulties of the mid-sixteenth century, which encouraged ambitious city merchants into newer branches of trade, facilitating the development of long-distance commercial and colonial activity.  This commercial change may have formed part of a broader process of social and cultural re-definition, ranging across the period from the 1550s to the 1650s.  According to Robert Brenner, during these years a distinct group of “new merchants” emerged in the city, who came to control the new, transatlantic trades during the 1620s and 1630s.[15]  Such traders shunned traditional branches of commerce within Europe, acquiring wide ranging interests in trade and colonial settlement in North America, the Caribbean, West Africa and the East Indies.  Adopting unconventional, occasionally controversial, methods they fought their way into privileged trades by a variety of means.  Many of them appear to have shared similar social and economic backgrounds, suggesting that cultural factors, such as family and provincial backgrounds, played some role in their city careers.  At the same time, however, the speculative and competitive environment in which traders operated raised the very real possibility of conflicts of interest between rival operators that casts doubt over the coherence of the “new merchants” as a group.

            Inadvertently this environment led to an increase in competition between rival operators for access to Indian supplies of furs and skins, which damaged English trading activity not least by enabling native groups to play off one trader against another.  In 1632, for example, Henry Fleet returned to the Potomac in the expectation of acquiring a substantial lading of furs from Indian groups in the region.  But Fleet was delayed in setting out from New England, and when he reached the Potomac he found that a rival trader, Charles Harman, while claiming that Fleet was dead, had “made… an unexpected trade for the tyme, and at a small chardge; having gotten 1500 weight of beaver & cleared 14 Townes”.[16]

            Competition between rival traders within the Bay was overlaid by international rivalry for access to fur trading regions which became particularly intense during the 1640s and 1650s.  Such competition had wide ranging consequences for Indian groups, but it also revealed weaknesses in the structure and organization of the English trade that left colonial traders struggling to compete with Swedish and Dutch adventurers.  Problems in the supply of appropriate trucking goods point to deeper problems in the flow of information across the Atlantic, that was made worse by the damaging consequences of the civil war in England.  As a result, New Sweden, which had been established in Delaware Bay during the late 1630s, soon became a focal point for a flourishing trade with the Susquehannocks, a powerful Indian group whose habitation at the head of the Bay gave them access to rich fur-bearing territory.  Taking advantage of a protracted conflict between the English and the Susquehannocks, the Swedes secured a diplomatic and commercial agreement with the Indians which effectively excluded traders from Maryland and Virginia.[17]

            Such competing, criss-crossing rivalries were a characteristic feature of the fur trade in North America which exerted a powerful influence on trading practices and strategies.  Thus increasing competition between rival European traders led to the emergence of a trade in arms and munitions, despite attempts by colonial authorities to prohibit it.  By the early 1640s the Swedes were supplying the Susquehannocks with muskets and, possibly, small ordnance; they also provided the Indians with training in their use.  But Dutch and English traders were soon copying the Swedes, in an aggressive attempt to maintain their share in the market.  Although New Sweden was taken over by the Dutch during the mid-1650s, it survived long enough to indicate the corrosive impact of international rivalry on the fur trade and on relations between Europeans and Indians.  Under prevailing conditions there was an almost inherent tendency for competition to provoke disorderly and dangerous activity, exposing the fragility of cross-cultural commerce and endangering colonial settlement.

            Given such conditions English commercial activity was modified, if not occasionally subverted, by the demands of Anglo-Indian trade and exchange.  Although relations between the English and Indians were fundamental to the maintenance of commerce, they were always threatened by the problems of communication and cultural adaptation.  The establishment of a mutually acceptable code of conduct, or commercial etiquette, depended on compromise and accommodation, which did not come easily to most colonial traders.  The cultural baggage of such men included hostile images of “savage” Indians mediated through a widespread and enduring ethnocentric perspective.[18]  The roots of these attitudes lay deep in English culture and society, and their prevalence and significance have been the subject of a growing body of work on Anglo-Indian relations in colonial America.  Despite the strength of “savage” stereotypes, however, the evidence suggests that in reality English attitudes were complex, contingent and open to change, particularly as a result of close contact with Indian groups.  Without this flexibility, indeed, it is difficult to see how cross-cultural commerce could have been sustained across the period, even though its practical consequences remained finely balanced.  The experiences of traders such as Fleet or Henry Spelman, who lived for a time with Indian groups, were offset by the disturbing behaviour of others, like Edmund Scarborough, whose trading relations with the Indians barely concealed an abiding hostility that occasionally was expressed in an extreme form.

            In general, colonial traders were sufficiently adaptable to deal with a strikingly different range of behaviour, perceptions and expectations.  Moreover, Indian traders also appear to have accommodated themselves to commercialised exchange with relative ease.  During the early years of English settlement in the Bay a “face-to-face frontier exchange economy” was rapidly established.[19]  But this economy drew on various strands of economic and non-economic motives which affected the character and conduct of trade.  Ethnohistorians have recently attempted to make the social and cultural implications of these exchanges more explicit, though some of their conclusions must remain tentative given the limitations of the surviving evidence.  Several studies argue that both natives and newcomers used trade as a means of bringing the other to civility or, in the case of the Powhatans, of incorporating potentially dangerous, but useful allies, into an already expanding native polity.  But the Powhatans were soon disillusioned with English behaviour.  Aggressive competition, as Robert Beverley pointed out in the early eighteenth century, “created Jealousies and Disturbances among the Indians, by letting one have a better Bargain than another”.[20]

            Native resentment, which occurred elsewhere in the Bay among other groups, also reflected differences between the English and Indians over the function and form of exchange, which was linked with the type of goods available for trade.  Initially, the supernatural aspect of exchange which existed among the Woodland Indians of the north east, appears to have invested some English trading goods with considerable symbolic and ceremonial value.  Indian demand for certain types of goods may have influenced the commercial tactics of colonial traders, while also assisting in the acquisition of land and food.  Copper, for example, was highly prized among many Indian groups for its symbolic value and aesthetic attributes.  Colonial reports indicate that copper beads were used as jewellery, gambling counters and wooing presents in Indian society.  Copper was also buried with Indian leaders, and employed as an offering to Indian gods.  Its importance within native society is suggested by William Strachey’s report that Indian rulers tried to monopolize the copper trade with the English, in order to use it to buy mercenaries.[21]

            The appeal of English commodities was counter-balanced by aggressive and intimidatory methods which alienated Indian groups, encouraging some to raise rates of exchange.  In the short-term, at least, the alienation of neighbouring groups, particularly the Powhatans, was partly compensated by the development of trading relations with distant Indians, some of whom were prepared to travel long distances to investigate the possibility of establishing commercial contact with the English in the Bay.  During the early 1630s, for example, Henry Fleet encountered a small party of Massawomecks, probably a northern based, Iroquoian group, who came from the region of the Great Lakes, apparently in search of trade.  According to Fleet’s account, contact was initiated by an Indian, who “with a shrill sound… cried quo, quo, quo, holding up a beaver skinne upon a pole” to attract attention as the English were sailing along the Potomac.  When Fleet went ashore the Indian gave him the beaver “with his hatchet, & layd downe his head with a strange kind of behavioure useinge some few words which I learned, but it was to mee a strainge language: I cheered him, tould him he was a good man & clapt him on the brest with my hands: whereupon he started up and used some complementall speech leavinge his thinges with me and ranne up the hill”.[22]  The Indian returned with a group of others, including a woman who acted as an interpreter, but they departed disappointed in the quality of Fleet’s trading goods.

            Fleet’s experience provides an interesting perspective on the economic and cultural demands of the early English fur trade.  As a new enterprise, located on the outer limits of a developing colonial and commercial network, it was based on uneasy negotiations with native suppliers that were essentially, but by no means comprehensively, economic in character.  At the same time, however, there was also a cultural dimension to these commercial encounters that may have exerted a discrete influence over the development of the fur trade which would be worthy of further attention.

3.         A wider perspective.

            Although the fur trade was a specialized activity, occurring under unusual circumstances, as a business it raises broader issues concerning English commercialism and entrepreneurial activity during this period.  In seizing the opportunities presented by cross-cultural commerce many colonial traders showed initiative and adaptability.  Some, such as William Claiborne, demonstrated a managerial ability that was purposeful and flexible, and responsive to local conditions, while undertaken within the constraints of an underlying anxiety about Indian intentions.  Many of these traders became skilful entrepreneurs, whose commercial careers helped to lay the basis for subsequent family wealth.  In the context of the theme for this workshop several related issues deserve emphasis, particularly for their broader implications in north west Europe.

            First, it is evident that London played a vital role in the fur trade and in English overseas expansion during this period, not only as a seed-bed of investment but also as a marketing and industrial centre.  Metropolitan centres, like London, were crucial to the emergence of global trading systems during this period.  Although provincial ports in south west England maintained significant commercial links with North America and the Caribbean, in some respects the new, transatlantic trades in tobacco or fur were an extension of the commercial culture of London.  Merchants like Maurice Thompson, one of the leading representatives of the “new merchants” in the city, came to dominate the transatlantic trades during the 1620s and 1630s, laying the basis for their political power during the troubled period of the civil war and commonwealth.[23]  But the emergence of such adventurers was inseparable from broader social and cultural features of English society at this time, which enabled the younger sons of provincial families to carve out successful careers as city merchants.  Social fluidity, combined with geographical mobility and the drawing-power of London, were all essential parts of this process.  Although it is very difficult to gauge the importance of this environment, it was surely crucial that English society was sufficiently open to enable the younger sons of gentry and aristocratic families to take up positions as merchant factors or colonial agents, particularly as it favoured an intermingling of landed and commercial wealth.  In this respect, London was a crucible of colonial and imperial expansion, while also serving as a conduit for a broader range of investors in commercial activity.

            Secondly, the growing importance of London was part of the broader commercialisation of English society that was gathering pace during the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  This is a profoundly important, but difficult, issue, not least because of its association with religion and religious practice.  Without straying too far into the enduring issue of the links between Protestantism and the rise of capitalism, it seems likely that the growth of newer, dynamic trades and traders was related to slower moving cultural change that was beginning to weaken older, inherited values and practices.  Keith Wrightson, for example, has recently argued that this period witnessed a transformation in attitudes towards economic morality, most notably revealed in changing views of usury.  Cumulatively, the result of these developments left the “ethics of economic relationships” to the private conscience, leaving matters such as usury to be dealt with as a secular issue.[24]  Although the practical implications of this change remain relatively unexplored, at least for the behaviour of merchants and traders, it provides a fascinating context for the activities of the “new merchants” of London whose deep religious beliefs were combined with an almost cut-throat, competitive approach to commerce.

            However, there were limits to the depth and extent of change, though in most cases this was the result of private decisions and opinions that are difficult to re-capture.  Nonetheless, enduring cultural values and forms, especially the family and religion, continued to affect commercial activity, but in complex ways that were subject to change and modification.  For example, the household continued to be a basic feature of economic life in early modern England, even though its membership was increasingly impermanent as a result of social and geographical mobility.  The household, or family, was the nucleus of society which fulfilled a broad range of social and cultural purposes that were of great importance to the economy.  Interestingly, during the 1630s William Claiborne insisted on portraying the fur-trading post on Kent Island as a family, though servants were also described as “peeces”, a term subsequently used to cover slaves.  In addition, however, Claiborne envisaged the enterprise as a “godly” venture, which was sustained by an overt attachment to Protestantism: here, on the farthest reaches of the English-speaking colonial world, were to be found a copy of the works of William Perkins, one of the leading puritan scholars from the 1580s and 1590s, and copies of the Bible and prayer-books which were to be used in trading boats that were set out to search for supplies of furs in the Upper Bay.[25]

            Although English society was in a state of flux during this period, the family and household retained their importance as social and economic units.  As businesses, families and their wider kin created informal networks and alliances that assisted the assimilation of the younger sons of the provincial gentry and professional groups into the commercial world of the city, while also providing the opportunity for self-advancement in a familiar and relatively secure environment.  From another perspective, moreover, marriages between apprentice traders and the daughters of their masters established business partnerships and commercial ventures, again in a way that facilitated social and geographical mobility.

            Third, English commercialism, particularly the fur trade, was favoured by a limited formal and institutionalised economic structure.  For most of this period the crown’s main interest in overseas trade and plantation was financial; beyond the collection of customs duties, which were passed on to consumers, both were subject to limited regulation or supervision.  In general, the new transatlantic trades developed free of state control.  Royal intervention, when it occurred, was intermittent, weakly enforced and not always helpful.  Furthermore, while colonial authorities attempted to control the development of the fur trade, essentially because it affected their relations with neighbouring Indians, they met with limited success.  These conditions favoured the emergence of a de-regulated and de-centralized trade, which contained weaknesses, for example in allowing marginal operators who adopted aggressive methods to survive; but they also encouraged flexibility and competition, possibly enabling the trade to respond more effectively to changes in fashion and consumption.

            This leads on to my last, and most far-reaching, point concerning the growth of the market in England.  The importance of consumption has been increasingly acknowledged as a powerful influence on wider economic change in Europe during this period, though its consequences remain easier to describe than analyze.  It was, of course, vital to the growth of the transatlantic fur trade, particularly in beaver skins.  Demand for the latter was linked with the production and marketing of hats which rested on wider social, cultural and economic change.  Although debate continues as to the dating and extent of the emergence of a consumer society in England, the outlines of a national market for certain types of goods can be detected in the late sixteenth century.[26]  The consolidation and growth of this market, which became more evident after 1660, grew out of broader changes in which rising standards of living for “middling” groups facilitated the creation of a fashionable public who were prepared to spend regularly on clothing and headwear.  A vast body of mainly anecdotal evidence indicates the growing popularity of the beaver hat in England, and other parts of Europe, which was increasingly linked with the growth of leisure and entertainment.  Fashionable city men and women wanted to be seen out in the new parks and squares, or in the coffee houses, or at the bear-baiting, wearing their best beavers.  Though more work needs to be done on this subject, particularly in defining the extent of the market, the emergence of a fashionable consumer society in England had wide ranging consequences for commercial and entrepreneurial practice; through it, a new culture of fashion began to emerge, linking trade, production and distribution in a dynamic combination that, as the example of the fur trade indicates, extended far beyond the confines of the domestic economy.




Publications by John Appleby include:


Editor of:

A Calendar of Material relating to Ireland from the High Court of Admiralty Examinations 1536-1641 (Dublin 1992).


Co-editor of:

The Irish Sea (Belfast 1989).

Government, Religion and Society in Northern England 1000-1700 (Stroud 1997).


Contributions :

'Trade, Neutrality and Privateering, 1500-1689' in: A.G. Jamieson (ed.), People of the Sea: A Maritime History of the Channel Islands (London 1986) 63-109.

'Women and Piracy in Early Modern Ireland: From Grainne O'Malley to Anne Bonny' in: M. MacCurtain and M. O'Dowd (eds.), Women in Early Modern Ireland (Edinburgh 1991) 251-61.

'Plunder and Prize: Devon piracy and privateering from early times to 1688' in: Joyce Youings et al. (eds.), A New Maritime History of Devon (Exeter 1992) 90-97.

'English Settlement in the Lesser Antilles during War and Peace, 1603-1660' in: R.L. Paquette and S.L. Engerman (eds.), The Lesser Antilles in the Age of European Expansion (Gainesville 1996) 86-104.

'War, Politics and Colonization, 1558-1625' in: N. Canny (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, Volume 1, The Origins of Empire (Oxford 1998) 55-78.


Some of John Applby's all-time favourites:


K.R. Andrews, Trade, plunder, and settlement: maritime enterprise and the genesis of the British empire (Cambridge,1984).

I. Archer, The pursuit of stability:social relations in Elizabethan London (Cambridge,1991).

R. Ashton, The city and the court, 1603-43 (Cambridge,1979).

J. Axtell, The invasion within (Oxford & New York,1985).

A.G. Bailey, The conflict of European and Eastern Algonkian cultures, 1504-1700 (2nd edn. Toronto,1969).

R. Brenner, Merchants and revolution (Cambridge,1993).

R. Davis, The rise of the English shipping industry (London,1962).

R. Grassby, The business community of seventeenth-century England (Cambridge, 1995).

H.A. Innis, The fur trade in Canada (Yale,1930).

R.G. Lang, 'The social origins and social aspirations of Jacobean London merchants', Economic History Review, 2nd series, 27(1974),28-47.

E.E. Rich, The history of the Hudson's Bay Company 1670-1870 (London, 1959).

B. Supple, Commercial crisis and change in England, 1600-1642 (Cambridge,1959).


[1]           D.W. Meinig, The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History (New Haven & London, 1986, p. 64.

[2]           See, for example, Kenneth R. Andrews, Trade, Plunder and Settlement: Maritime Enterprise and the Genesis of the British Empire, 1480-1630 (Cambridge, 1984), chapter 14.

[3]           By formal or institutional sector, I mainly have in mind government regulation through parliamentary statute or proclamation.  For a recent discussion, see Peter Musgrave, The Early Modern European Economy (London, 1999).

[4]           By the early 1630s exports of beaver skins from the Bay were probably in the region of 2,500 to 3,500, though there were considerable annual fluctuations.  Dutch traders were exporting 10,000 to 15,000 beaver skins p.a. by this time.  Donna Merwick, Possessing Albany, 1630-1710: The Dutch and English Experiences (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 70-1; Susan E. Hillier, The Trade of the Virginia Colony: 1606 to 1660 (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Liverpool, 1971), pp. 289-90, 420-1 passim.

[5]           Although F. Fausz has published several contributions to this subject.  See, for example, J. Frederick Fausz, “Patterns of Anglo-Indian Aggression and Accommodation along the mid-Atlantic Coast, 1584-1634”, in William W. Fitzhugh (ed.), Cultures in Contact: The Impact of European Contacts on Native American Cultural Institutions, A.D. 1000-1800 (Washington, 1985), pp. 225-68.

[6]           Musgrave, The Early Modern European Economy, pp. 59-68; Keith Wrightson Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (Yale, 2000), pp. 241, 298-9.

[7]           Prices are based on a variety of evidence, including household accounts, diary entries, and the clothing accounts for Henrietta Maria.

[8]           Hillier, The Trade of the Virginia Colony, passim.

[9]           In 1610 the Virginia Company claimed that the English offered “the pearles of heaven” to the Indians, in return for “the pearles of the earth”.  Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge, Mass., 1956), p. 122.

[10]          For a summary of the venture, see Robert Brenner, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders, 1550-1653 (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 120-4.

[11]          Alan Vance Briceland, Westward from Virginia: The Exploration of the Virginia-Carolina Frontier 1650-1710 (Charlottesville, 1987).

[12]          E.E. Rich (ed.), Hudson’s Bay Copy Booke of Letters, Commissions, Instructions Outward 1688-1696 (Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 20, 1957), pp. xxxvi-vii.

[13]          See, for example, Colin G. Galloway, New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (Baltimore, 1997), pp. 43-4.

[14]          Chrisopher L. Miller and George R. Hamell, “A New Perspective on Indian-White Contact: Cultural Symbols and Colonial Trade”, Journal of American History, 73 (1986), esp. pp. 314-5; Arthur J. Ray and Donald Freeman, ‘Give Us Good Measure’: An Economic Analysis of Relations Between the Indians and the Hudson’s Bay Company Before 1763 (Toronto, 1978).

[15]          Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, passim.

[16]          From Fleet’s journal, Lambeth Palace, London, MS.688.  A copy was published in Edward D. Neill, The Founders of Maryland (Albany, 1876).

[17]          On New Sweden, see the contributions in Carole E. Hoffecker (ed.), New Sweden in America (Newark, 1995).

[18]          For the “savage” image, see Bernard S. Sheehan, Savagism and Civility: Indians and Englishmen in Colonial Virginia (Cambridge, 1980).  For recent modifications see Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Ithaca, 2000).

[19]          Martin H. Quitt, “Trade and Acculturation at Jamestown, 1607-1609: The Limits of Understanding”, William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd  Series, 52 (1995), pp. 244, 257.

[20]          Robert Beverley, The History and Present State of Virginia, ed. Louis B. Wright (Chapel Hill, 1947).

[21]          Miller and Hamell, “A New Perspective”, pp. 325-8.  See also S. Potter, Commoners, Tribute, and Chiefs: The Development of Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Valley (Charlottesville, 1993), pp. 151, 157, 160-7.

[22]          Lambeth Palace, London, MS.688.

[23]          Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, pp. 123-4, 156-9 and passim.

[24]          Wrightson, Earthly Necessities, pp. 207-8.

[25]          Taken from Claiborne’s accounts, Public Record Office London, H.C.A. 13/243 Part 1.

[26]          Joan Thirsk, Economic Policy and Projects: The Development of a Consumer Society in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1978); Neil McKendrick et al., The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (London, 1983); Wrightson, Earthly Necessities, pp. 298-9.