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A faith of merchants: Quakers and institutional change in the early modern Atlantic, c.1660-1800.

Sahle, Esther (2016) A faith of merchants: Quakers and institutional change in the early modern Atlantic, c.1660-1800. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Quakers were disproportionately successful in commerce during the period in which Britain emerged as the world’s leading trading nation. Analysing the causes of their success sheds light on our understanding of the developments facilitating economic growth in the period immediately preceding the Industrial Revolution. This thesis critically explores how the Society of Friends’ religious ideas and institutions sustained its members’ businesses. It proves previous explanations for Quakers’ success wrong. It finds that contrary to what has been argued in the literature, the Quakers’ business ethics were not unique. The Society of Friends did not police honest conduct in business or enforce the payment of debts before the late eighteenth century. Equally, marital religious endogamy likely only began to facilitate the growth of kinship networks after 1750. This thesis moreover shows an important institutional change undergone by the Society of Friends in the mid-eighteenth century. As part of the Quaker revival of the 1750s, Quaker meetings began to monitor and police their members’ behaviour, including the conduct of business and marital endogamy, to an unprecedented degree. This may have had implications for Friends in business in the proceeding age of industrialisation. However, neither ethics, the enforcement of honesty, or marital endogamy can explain Quaker commercial success during the seventeenth century Atlantic trade expansion. Instead, this thesis it shows that Quaker meetings in seventeenth century Philadelphia arbitrated commercial disputes between local Friends as well as with Quaker merchants’ in England. Further research is required to establish the scale on which this happened, but it is possible that this activity of Philadelphia meetings provided Friends with a competitive edge in the colonial trade.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Esther Sahle
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Wallis, Patrick and Bakker, Gerben

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