[Documents menu]History of the world economy
Message-Id: <199609261406.KAA38772@h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 1996 10:03:59 -0500
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Subject: Triangular trade and rum--fwd

From: David Fahey, Miami University DFAHEY@MIAMIU.ACS.MUOHIO.edu

Triangular trade and rum

Posts from ATHG (Alcohol & Temperance History Group)

26 September, 1996

Date: Sat, 21 Sep 1996 11:02:27 EST
Subject: Triangular Trade

Dear Anatol Scott:

I am pleased to see that there is no problem with the "Triangular Trade" being a misnomer.

On the second point, my inclusion of the Caribbean with the Americas, the issue can be viewed as a methological problem. But only, it seems to me, if you look at the islands in isolation. Was the Caribbean not part and parcel of the Atlantic economy that emerged after 1492? The importance of how the "New England traders, the Caribbean rum traders, and the Brazilian rum-tobacco traders in the Atlantic slave trade" fit together is not just limited to the historiography of the U.S., but to that of the Atlantic as a whole. These folks, by drawing upon a low cost, colonial product (as opposed to Euro-Asian trade goods, that became valued in West, and especially West Central, Africa, were able to break the monopoly which merchant capitalists in Europe had enjoyed prior to the mid-1600s in the Atlantic slave trade. This because, colonial rum was much cheaper and cost less to transport to Africa, amongst other advantages, than any of the alcoholic beverages Europeans had to offer: and here colonial traders in Brazil were quite effective. Viewing this process in its totality does not necessarily suggest, as you do, that "their [people who inhabited the Caribbean] flourishing trade [was] subordinate to that of North or South America."

One more thing and do correct me if I am wrong. You ask "Will answers to such questions help to explain anything about the two solitudes which developed in the United States?" Which two: the Euro-Americans and the Amerindians, or the Euro-Americans and the African-Americans? In either case, one group is missing here: the African-Americans (in terms of the broad Americas), who produced most of the rum and were led to consume not small quantities of it; and the Amerindians who were also turned to this intoxicant.

As for the other point you raise, I shall leave it to specialists of the Caribbean and North America to comment on.

Cheers, Jose

Date: Sat, 21 Sep 1996 11:06:55 -0600
From: Anatol Scott <ascott@GPU.SRV.UALBERTA.CA>
Subject: Re: Triangular Trade

Dear Jose:

You wrote that your "inclusion of the Caribbean with the Americas .. can be viewed as a methodological problem[, b]ut only, it seems to me, if you look at the islands in isolation."

One of the things that has frustrated my advisors here at the University of Alberta has been my constant changes from one specialized field to the other. At some point, I have pursued British, European, African, Latin American, American, Canadian and Caribbean histories of the seventeeenth and eighteenth century. I've roamed through that literature primarily because of my need to understand why alcohol was so important in these societies. I do not, therefore, look at the islands in isolation. I am well aware of the tremendous body of literature on these subjects and I do think that I have an appreciation of the totality of the process.

My concern however is, not to explore the South American world where, incidentally, the matter of rum and slavery is dealt with very differently from the North American but, to open a discussion on the importance of rum to the North American world. In order to do that, my focus must necessarily be the West Indies, the area from which the vast bulk of rum in North America originated. But in concentrating on the West Indies, I became aware of the many areas of history which have either been excluded from the history of the United States and Canada or have not been explored in these histories. Historians have included the West Indies in discussions of the Atlantic economy but they have not dealt with the ideas that developed in that world. American historians have exerted themselves tremendously to explain the somewhat convoluted European origins of their social and political world but they ignore or have not pursued the very different un-European social and political developments which came into their society from the West Indies.

Thus, when I speak of the two solitudes which developed in the United States, I am not speaking of hyphenated peoples such as Euro-American and African-American, terms which I find objectionable for the simple reason that such distinctions are divisive and not truly representative of the whole or its parts. My sense of history is informed, rather, by that sentiment which was so well articulated by Derek Walcott: "I who am poisoned with the blood of both,/Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?/I who have cursed/The drunken officer of British rule, how choose/Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?/Betray them both, or give back what they give?/How can I face such slaughter and be cool?/How can I turn from Africa and live?" As far as I'm concerned the two solitudes which developed in the United States is North versus South, so-called freedom versus slavery.

But you are correct in raising the matter of the Amerindians. Their situation cannot be explained without reference to rum and to the slaves, slave holders, and traders whose combined efforts brought it to the Amerindians. American historians are becoming increasingly aware of the significance of rum but they have not attempted reseach (as far as I'm aware) which would firmly link it to specific West Indian plantations and traders (North American and West Indian) who produced, transported, and distributed it. On the other hand, Canadian historians have not looked at the subject and its importance to the trade in furs. West Indian rum became important to me because I was fascinated by the way one fur trader used it in his pursuit of furs. I could not understand why Alexander Henry, the Younger, would hold this product in such high esteem. I was fascinated by the many ways he used it to control the behaviours of those Indians who worked with him.

In short, my work _West Indian Rum in the Canadian Fur Trade: 1670-1850_ seeks to explain one important aspect of what happened to the other outsiders, the Amerindians, as they became enmeshed in that grand unfolding of the frontier.

Date: Sat, 21 Sep 1996 13:26:07 EST
Subject: Re: Triangular Trade

Got it Anatol. You will most probably find that the use of rum in the pursuit of furs was not unlike that in the pursuit of slaves. And the use of rum in North America, as you imply, also surely went beyond the simple acquisition of furs, just like in West Central Africa. Its roles were many and varied, although that in trade remained primordial.

Given that you have touched on a large chunk of the Atlantic, why not draw upon Ann McDougall for the African case and David Johnston for the Latin America, for comparative purposes? I forget, but is there anyone at the U of A who does (did?) alcohol in Amerindian societies?


Date: Sat, 21 Sep 1996 13:48:22 -0600
From: Anatol Scott <ascott@GPU.SRV.UALBERTA.CA>
Subject: Re: Triangular Trade

What a relief that we're finally on the same track!

I have worked with Dr. Ann McDougall on the African side of the question but, Dr. McDougall admits to not being as familiar with the West Indian side of the story. Nor is there an Atlantic specialist at the U of A; Dr. Phillip Lawson, who came closest to fitting the bill, unfortunately passed away late last year. I've also worked very closely with Dr. David Johnson on Latin American history. He, however, recognizes his extreme limitations in West Indian history and he is also having some difficulty in trying to unravel the similar issues surrounding alcohol in primary sources he recently uncovered in Columbia. These past years, I've worked under the direct supervision of Dr. John E. Foster, one of the leading specialists in Western Canadian Fur Trade and Native history, who was the first to confirm the centrality of what I'm trying to do. Unfortunately, Dr. Foster passed away last week. Despite these setbacks and limitations, I intend to persist if only to celebrate his daring, his desire to pursue that which he knew little about, to explore learning from a non-traditional path and, hopefully, to blaze a new trail.

Over and out!