Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2012

Level of Access

Restricted: Campus/Bates Community Only Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department or Program

History

Second Department or Program

Economics

Abstract

A Perfect Triangle: Aaron Lopez and the Colonial Mercantile System in Pre-Revolutionary Newport, Rhode Island

Aaron Lopez never made it back to Newport, Rhode Island, after fleeing the British invasion of the city in 1776. Tragically, the esteemed “Merchant Prince of New England,” perished on his triumphant return to the city in 1782, at the age of 51. There is an uncanny symmetry between the rise and fall of Aaron Lopez and the city that made him one of the most successful merchants in Colonial America. The Sephardic merchant’s arrival in Newport in 1752 coincided with the ushering of Newport into its golden years, 1750-1774, as an exceptional influx of earnings generated from the Triangular Trade transformed the sleepy port of Newport into the venerable “Venice of the Atlantic.” Lopez embodied the resourcefulness and opportunism that had characterized Newport’s celebrated merchant community, and his unique background facilitated the growth of his mercantile empire. As a devout Jew from a distinguished Portuguese family, Lopez was able to quickly enter the Sephardic trading network, and establish ties with creditors in England, plantation owners in the Dutch Caribbean, and merchants in South Carolina. These connections enabled Lopez to build a perfect triangular trade of his own. A key to Lopez’s and other Newport merchants’ success was smuggling. Due to the British Navy’s negligence in enforcing Parliament’s mercantilist policies in the decades preceding the American Revolution, Lopez and other Newport merchants were able to smuggle sugar into Newport, distill it into rum, and sell the rum in foreign markets, especially Africa, with a competitive advantage.

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