Magra C. (2007) For cod and country, fishermen and the American Revolution

Magra, Christopher P. (2007) “The New England Cod Fishing Industry and Maritime Dimensions of the American Revolution”8/4, Entreprise and Society, 799-806.

Fish CodPicture 1Picture 9

Intro: “a vibrant colonial extractive industry”

During the 18th century, cod fishing (at the sale thereof to Catholic Europe) allowed the young American colonies to reap enormous profits. From 1768 to 1772, “fish contributed 35% of New England’s total export revenue, making it the single most valuable export product for the entire region”. At that time, the area haboured around 600 vessels, representing about 25,000 tons (p.799) and employing over 4,400 people.

A contest of wills

When the Independence War broke out, the American fishermen transformed their vessels into warships and themselves into the first US Navy’s sailors or privateers. This episode shows that the conflict on the ocean during the early modern era can only partially be described as contests between nations and were also struggles within nations. The animosity of New England’s fishermen against the fatherland did not suddenly appear in 1776 (p.800).

The British government had been trying to impose its control over the colonial fishermen’s activities. While at the same time fishing had developed into a strong industry on whom the livelihood of many depended (from lumbering to taverns). The development of the colonial ports and of the transatlantic trade routes was in great part due to the rise of the industry from the mid-17th century onward (p.801).

Seamen had been engaged in a direct confrontation with the Crown before the Revolution. The Boston Tea Party shows how irritated the colonists had become of regulation over trade and correlatively how their openness to smuggling had grown (p.802). This mood was particularly important since there was no clear distinction at the time between the fishing and trading communities (p.803).

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