Friday 14 April 2023
08.30 - 10.30
Exploiting the Empire of Others: Session 4 - Transnational Entrepreneurship and Exploitation in the Building of Empire in the America’s, 1500-1822
Tessa de Boer :
Re-framing the Principal-agent Problem: Who Dares to Enter the French West Indies?
Filipa Ribeiro da Silva
Foreign exploitation of the French West Indies was no straightforward enterprise. The institution of the Exclusif colonial in 1717 (further refined in 1727) promoted and privileged access to the resources of the French empire to French subjects only, and sought to exterminate foreign interference. Foreign entrepreneurs therefore needed to navigate ... (Show more)
Foreign exploitation of the French West Indies was no straightforward enterprise. The institution of the Exclusif colonial in 1717 (further refined in 1727) promoted and privileged access to the resources of the French empire to French subjects only, and sought to exterminate foreign interference. Foreign entrepreneurs therefore needed to navigate their way around or bust through significant institutional barriers to successfully participate in the exploiting of the French empire.
It can be deduced that in institutionally hostile environments such as these, the commonly anticipated risks in early modern business are both broadened and deepened. One of these major issues that entrepreneurs faced was the so-called principal-agent problem: what is needed to procure the loyalty of an agent who is (mostly geographically) removed from them, the principal? This problem has been widely assessed by a variety of scientific disciplines; within history and historiography analyses are also found across a range of chronological and thematic approaches. Within the subset of early modern business history, what most of these analyses have in common is that they are (paradoxically) vertically oriented: how does business entity x procure the loyalty of its agent business entity y? Whilst some differences in socioeconomic positioning are of course there, it remains essentially within the ‘white collar’ zone. The strategies to ‘solve’ the principal-agent problem would presumably look much different if the principal-agent set in question is decidedly unequal to start with.
In this paper, I propose a re-framing of the principal-agent problem based on the case of Dutch entrepreneurs (‘principals’) wishing to enter into direct trade with the French West Indies, and the seamen (‘agents’) hired by them to execute this by manning the ships and (in the case of the captains) taking the lead in procuring the desired freight in situ. Confronted with a legal framework that made this type of trade very complicated – and very illegal, according to some – the risks were high, the potential rewards for the principal higher, and the expected rewards of the agents the highest of all. How did Dutch entrepreneurs convince captains and crews to take on a mission that involved an extremely high risk of ending in disappointment (by French refusals to let them trade) or imprisonment (through capture by the mortal enemies of the French, the British)? What mechanisms of binding these agents to the cause, and holding the principal to its promises, can be distinguished?
Ultimately, I will argue that through the inherently risky nature of an enterprise such as Dutch exploitation of the French West Indies, a principal-agent relationship that is nominally wildly unequal (powerful business entities versus ‘blue-collar’ labor) can be rendered drastically equal in practice after all. This has broader implications regarding the way we understand ‘success’ in early modern transnational and colonial entrepreneurship: instead of simply assuming the cooperation of bottom-level labor as either a given or as insignificant compared to the efforts of the business entities, we should critically assess it. (Show less)
Ramona Negron :
The Coymans Family and the Exploitation of the Spanish Atlantic, 1580s-1710s
In 1685 protestant Dutch Balthasar Coymans (1652-1686) obtained the Spanish Asiento de Negros, the exclusive right granted by the Spanish King to introduce a stipulated number of enslaved Africans into the Spanish Americas. To comply with the terms in the contract, Coymans was required to introduce more than 22,000 enslaved ... (Show more)
In 1685 protestant Dutch Balthasar Coymans (1652-1686) obtained the Spanish Asiento de Negros, the exclusive right granted by the Spanish King to introduce a stipulated number of enslaved Africans into the Spanish Americas. To comply with the terms in the contract, Coymans was required to introduce more than 22,000 enslaved Africans into the Spanish Americas within 4,5 years.
It was a major breakthrough for the Coymans family in Amsterdam. Because of the trade and warfare monopolies of the WIC and VOC possibilities to invest in the rapidly expanding colonial world were limited in the Dutch Republic. Like many other Dutch entrepreneurs in their time, the Coymans looked for opportunities elsewhere. For generations, the Coymans had tried to get their feet in the closed-off Spanish-American markets. They were involved in silver shipments from Spain and had lent their services to former asentistas. In the 1670s the young Balthasar Coymans was sent to Seville. Using the services of Spanish partners he was able to participate in the colonial trade through the Carrera de Indias. However, that involvement had always been indirect. The Asiento de Negros changed that.
For the Coymans, the Asiento was not about participation in the slave trade. The experiences of former asentistas had shown that there were very few profits to be made with the trade in enslaved Africans to the Spanish Americas. Instead, the Asiento served as a door to the Spanish Americas and gave them direct access to its resources, most importantly among them, silver.
In this session, I assess how and why the Coymans family participated in exploiting the Spanish Atlantic between 1580 and 1710. Combining a variety of sources, both from Dutch and Spanish archives, I show how the Coymans identified entrepreneurial opportunities to exploit the Spanish colonial resources and, subsequently, why they took the risk in doing so. (Show less)
João Paulo Salvado, Catia Antunes :
The Van Dunen Family and the Exploitation of the Portuguese Empire: a View From Luanda in the 17th Century
The Portuguese Empire is relatively known by international historiography as a space of porous exchanges between Europeans and non-Europeans. However, current scholarship knows relatively little about the role played by foreigners (non-subjects of the Portuguese kings) in the Portuguese colonial spaces. This paper will partially fulfil this gap by questioning ... (Show more)
The Portuguese Empire is relatively known by international historiography as a space of porous exchanges between Europeans and non-Europeans. However, current scholarship knows relatively little about the role played by foreigners (non-subjects of the Portuguese kings) in the Portuguese colonial spaces. This paper will partially fulfil this gap by questioning and analysing the strategies of a German family from Hamburg, the Van Dunen, who since the beginning of the 17th century left their hometown to participate in the trade with the Iberian Peninsula and later transfer part of their business interest to Angola, in particular to Luanda. As skippers, supercargoes and traders, the Van Dunen faced a multitude of institutional, political and economic challenges that they were only able to overcome due to their adaptability, knowledge and know-how. Faced with Iberian legal frames, the specificities of the Angola trades and the Dutch invasion of Luanda (1640s) and parts of Brazil (1628-1654), the Van Dunen were successful in surviving adversity, grow to prominence as economic actors in Angola and attain social upward mobility. Their case illustrates a broader and more global phenomenon of entrepreneurial success whilst exploiting the colonial resources in the hands of foreign states. As the Van Dunen became part of the Angolan social imagination well into the 21st century, the interest of this case study overflows well and beyond the Early Modern constraints imposed by our current knowledge of the seventeenth century Luanda society. (Show less)
Patrick Van der Geest, Susana Münch Miranda :
Cornering the Market in Colonial Goods: How Hope & Co. sought to Monopolise the European Market for American Diamonds, Cochineal, and Sugar between 1750 and 1820
By the turn of the nineteenth century, Hope & Co. was deeply involved in the colonial trade and finance of all major European overseas empires. The portfolio of this Amsterdam- and from 1795 London-based merchant bank was diverse and comprehensive. In addition to its leading position in trade in colonial ... (Show more)
By the turn of the nineteenth century, Hope & Co. was deeply involved in the colonial trade and finance of all major European overseas empires. The portfolio of this Amsterdam- and from 1795 London-based merchant bank was diverse and comprehensive. In addition to its leading position in trade in colonial goods – from tea and indigo to diamonds and sugar – the firm had acquired several of Europe’s greatest monopolies – such as the exclusive right to trade in the Spanish Americas, and diamonds and brazilwood from Portugal – as collateral on multi-million loans to governments and heads of state. But this had not always been the case.
In this paper, I examine how Hope & Co. gained a stake in several European empires through its drawn-out efforts to corner the European market in Brazilian diamonds, New Spanish cochineal, and Caribbean sugar between circa 1750 and 1820. I argue that initially, Hope & Co. was mostly involved in the intra-European re-export of colonial goods: diamonds from Lisbon, cochineal from Cádiz, and sugar mostly from Bordeaux. Starting in the 1760s however, this merchant bank increasingly invested directly in colonial economies – predominantly in the plantation economies of the Dutch, Danish, and British Caribbean islands. I argue that in addition to direct financial gains from mortgages and other loans, the partners from Hope & Co. sought to cut out middlemen and reduce market volatility through the vertical integration of the colonial goods’ supply chain. This explains the bank’s gradual encroachment into the Americas’ colonial economies. (Show less)