The Temptations of Trade
Britain, Spain, and the Struggle for EmpireUniversity of Pennsylvania Press The Early Modern Americas
The British and the Spanish had long been in conflict, often clashing over politics, trade, and religion. But in the early decades of the eighteenth century, these empires signed an asiento agreement granting the British South Sea Company a monopoly on the slave trade in the Spanish Atlantic, opening up a world of uneasy collaboration. British agents of the Company moved to cities in the Caribbean and West Indies, where they braved the unforgiving tropical climate and hostile religious environment in order to trade slaves, manufactured goods, and contraband with Spanish colonists. In the process, British merchants developed relationships with the Spanish—both professional and, at times, personal.
The Temptations of Trade traces the development of these complicated relationships in the context of the centuries-long imperial rivalry between Spain and Britain. Many British Merchants, in developing personal ties to the Spanish, were able to collect potentially damaging information about Spanish imperial trade, military defenses, and internal conflict. British agents juggled personal friendships with national affiliation—and, at the same time, developed a network of illicit trade, contraband, and piracy extending beyond the legal reach of the British South Sea Company and often at the Company's direct expense.
Ultimately, the very smuggling through which these empires unwittingly supported each other led to the resumption of Anglo-Spanish conflict, as both empires cracked down on the actions of traders within the colonies. The Temptations of Trade reveals the difficulties of colonizing regions far from strict imperial control, where the actions of individuals could both connect empires and drive them to war.
Prologue: Before the Asiento
Chapter 1. Britain Hopes for the "Riches of America," 1713-1716
Chapter 2. The Stuttering Success of the Early Trade, 1717-1728
Chapter 3. "Unjust Depredations" and Growing Tensions, 1729-1738
Chapter 4. The End of the British Asiento, 1739-1748
Epilogue: Beyond the Asiento
List of Abbreviations
"Finucane brings to bear significant research on company agents who brokered a difficult commerce while enriching themselves. Her work dramatizes the on-the-ground experiences of imperial loyalty and rivalry through their stories. It also greatly adds to previous scholarship on the South Sea Company, which has mainly focused on its presence in Britain . . . The Temptations of Trade provides a fascinating and granular work on transimperial contact and the formation of Atlantic communities."—Latin American Research Review
"In The Temptations of Trade, Adrian Finucane puts a human face on the Caribbean's imperial and commercial struggles by bringing to life the stories of the South Sea Company's agents in Spanish America. In the process, she answers a number of important questions about the nature of eighteenth-century trade and illustrates how British and Spanish empires, despite their unrelenting rivalry, depended on one another."—April Hatfield, Texas A&M University