Enterprise Forms and Accounting Conventions in Two 18th-Century Newfoundland Mercantile Concerns
22 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2012 Last revised: 11 Mar 2012
Date Written: February 3, 2012
18th-century British merchants Benjamin Lester and John Slade were attracted to the Notre Dame Bay borderland region of northeastern Newfoundland by the abundance and variety of marketable commodities gracing the region. Their commercial rivalry played out within the context of a wider French-English competition in a borderland region where resident Beothuk natives and eventually migrant Irish labourers added to the complex social and economic mix. Lester and Slade adapted novel business systems for the procurement and shipment to European markets of the Bay’s salmon, seals, lumber, peltry and other resources, in addition to cod. They employed flexible bookkeeping and accounting conventions to track the values and volumes of the products that they traded with resident settler-planters. Similarly, they adapted enterprise forms according to the environmental, social/cultural and economic contingencies that arose during a period of great flux in the Atlantic world. Taken together, Lester’s commercial diaries and Slade’s extant ledgers represent a rare portrait of early-capitalist enterprise and entrepreneurship in a complex cultural and inter-imperial setting. Lester was a networked Atlantic merchant who aspired to join the ranks of economic and colonial elites. He was one of a large group of international “thinkers and actors” for whom the world consisted of nothing other than markets to satisfy. For his part, Slade was a focused, aggressive instrument of British imperial expansion and took advantage of the uncertain imperial and legal status of Notre Dame Bay to base himself there and intensively expand his supply trade. Once he had consolidated control over the majority of the clients there, Notre Dame Bay became for Slade the base for expansion into more distant commercial orbits further north, in Labrador. Both merchants left sizeable complexes of documents which explain in different ways the strategic priorities they pursued and the methods they adopted.
Keywords: accounting history, Atlantic world, 18th century, business history, Newfoundland, empires
JEL Classification: N31, N33, N41, N43, N71, N73
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation