Corporate naval supply in England’s commercial empire, 1600–1760

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Britain’s imperial and commercial success rested on maritime links. Whether trading wool across the Channel to Europe, seeking spices in South Asia or importing sugar from the Caribbean, shipping was an essential resource. Yet, to undertake these trades, merchants required naval supplies – finished ships, timber to build them and stores to fill them – that were not always easily accessible. This challenge was particularly apparent in the early seventeenth century for trading corporations whose specific needs demanded innovative approaches to the naval supply problem. This article examines the responses of English corporations to the challenge of supplying its international shipping by focusing on activities on each side of the Atlantic. First, it assesses the development of the East India Company’s docks at Blackwall and Dundaniel, before turning to a detailed study of ship-building and supply in Virginia and New England. In doing so, this article highlights the importance of naval supply to Britain’s north Atlantic empire, both in terms of the rhetorical support for empire and the economic incentives of participants. This reveals how traditional interpretations of Britain’s naval development have too often focused on state-driven activities (particularly from the very end of the seventeenth century) and failed to examine the complex, sometimes chaotic attempts by private individuals and corporations to overcome the naval supply challenges common to this early period of globalisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)574-589
JournalInternational Journal of Maritime History
Issue number3
Early online date23 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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