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The emergence of Montevideo as an Atlantic port: the political economy of a trans-imperial hub

  • Fabricio Prado (a1)

Abstract

In the late eighteenth century, Montevideo evolved from a small colonial town dependent on Buenos Aires into the main Atlantic port in the region. Networks connecting Montevideo to Luso-Brazilian merchants turned Montevideo into a hub for trans-imperial trade. Between 1778 and 1810, thousands of Spanish and foreign ships entered the port of Montevideo. As a result, although economically dependent on Buenos Aires’ commercial community, Montevideo merchants and authorities managed to use their privileged port, newly created institutions and trans-imperial networks to advance the city's commercial and political role within the estuary. The emergence of Montevideo as an Atlantic port city with global connections was not an isolated event, but a part of a broader process of growing global trade and political transformation.

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*Corresponding author. Email: fpprado@wm.edu

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This article is part of a larger research project on trans-imperial networks in the Atlantic world. See F. Prado, Edge of Empire: Atlantic Networks and Revolution in Bourbon Rio de la Plata (Berkeley, 2015).

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1 The Age of Atlantic Revolutions encompasses the period spanning the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries and refers to a series of entangled social, economic, political and military events that changed the polities and societies of the communities bordering the Atlantic, including the American and French revolutions, and the Wars of Independence in Latin America. For a broader discussion of the theme, see Klooster, W., The Revolution in the Atlantic World (New York, 2018), 110.

2 For a general overview of the economic and social role of Iberian American port cities, see Knight, F.W. and Liss, P.K. (eds.), Atlantic Port Cities: Economy, Culture, and Society in the Atlantic World, 1650–1850 (Knoxville, 1991); Lugar, C., ‘Merchants’, in Hoberman, L. and Socolow, S. (eds.), Cities and Society in Latin America (Santa Fe, 1996), 4775. More recently, regarding the role of port cities for imperial administration and merchants as hubs of information, see Baskes, J., ‘Communication breakdown: information and risk in the Spanish Atlantic world’, Colonial Latin American Review, 20 (2011), 36–7.

3 For a discussion of the multiple overseas agents in port cities, see Benton, L., A Search for Sovereignty (New York, 2009), 160–1. For a discussion on the importance of port cities in the Americas, see Liss and Knight (eds.), Atlantic Port Cities, 1–12. For the role of port cities as gateways for overseas interactions, see Schneider, E., The Occupation of Havana: War, Trade, and Slavery in the Atlantic World (Chapel Hill, 2018); Chambers, S., No Gain but God: The Secret History of American Slavery in Cuba (New York, 2016); Fichter, J., So Great a Proffit (Cambridge, MA, 2007); Matson, C., Merchants and Empire: Trading in Colonial New York (Baltimore, 1998). For consequences to the hinterland on the coast of Africa, see DeCorse, C., An Archeology of Elmina (Washington, DC, 2001), 44101.

4 See Albertoni, M. and De Francesco, A. (eds.), Rethinking the Atlantic World (New York, 2009), 28; Bassi, E., An Aqueous Territory (Durham, NC, 2015); Rupert, L., Contraband and Creolization (Athens, GA, 2011).

5 Bentancur, A., El puerto colonial de Montevideo (Montevideo, 1998), 204.

6 The total number of foreign vessels in Rio de la Plata is higher if considering the ports of Buenos Aires and Ensenada de Barragan. At least 27 additional American ships docked in Buenos Aires or Ensenada ports during the period.

7 Documentos para la historia Argentina, 47 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1913– ), vol. VII (1918), 134.

8 Archivo General de Indias (AGI), Buenos Aires – Codice 333, Petition of Cipriano de Melo, 24 May 1785. Exchange rate for this period 1 peso = $750 réis.

9 For more on Cipriano de Melo and his role in Montevideo's community, see Prado, Edge of Empire, 131–52.

10 Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino (AHU) Rio de Janeiro (RJ), D. 9198, Ofício do [vice-rei do Estado do Brasil], marquês do Lavradio, [D. Luís de Almeida Portugal Soares de Alarcão Eça e Melo Silva e Mascarenhas], ao [secretário de estado da Marinha e Ultramar], Martinho de Melo e Castro, 24 Sep. 1778. Although the ships are Spanish, the sources record the names using Portuguese spellings.

11 AHU RJ, D. 9294, Ofício do [vice-rei do Estado do Brasil], Luís de Vasconcelos e Sousa, ao [secretário de estado da Marinha e Ultramar], Martinho de Melo Castro, 30 Mar. 1780.

12 The exchange rate for this period: 1 peso = 1 dollar = $750 réis.

13 AHU RJ, D. 9294, Ofício do [vice-rei do Estado do Brasil], Luís de Vasconcelos e Sousa, ao [secretário de estado da Marinha e Ultramar], Martinho de Melo Castro, 30 Mar. 1780.

15 For more on smuggling in Iberian America, see C. Rosenmuller, Corruption in the Iberian Empires: Greed, Custom, and Colonial Networks (Santa Fe, 2017); Ebert, C., ‘From gold to manioc: contraband trade in Brazil during the golden age (1700–1750)’, Colonial Latin American Review, 20 (2010), 110–12; E. Pijning, ‘Contraband and mentality in Rio de Janeiro’, Johns Hopkins University Ph.D. thesis, 1996.

16 AHU RJ, D. 9561, Ofício do [vice-rei do Estado do Brasil], Luís de Vasconcelos e Sousa, ao [secretário de estado da Marinha e Ultramar], Martinho de Melo e Castro, 12 Jul. 1781.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Moutoukias, Z., Contrabando e control colonial en el Rio de la Plata en el siglo XVII (Buenos Aires, 1988), 98118.

20 AHU RJ, D. 9294, Ofício do [vice-rei do Estado do Brasil], Luís de Vasconcelos e Sousa, ao [secretário de estado da Marinha e Ultramar], Martinho de Melo e Castro, 30 Mar. 1780.

21 AHU RJ, D. 12729, Ofício do [vice-rei do Estado do Brasil], conde de Resende, [D. José Luís de Castro], ao [secretário de estado da Marinha e Ultramar], D. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, 11 Jun. 1799.

22 AHU RJ, D.13319, Ofício do [vice-rei do Estado do Brasil], conde de Resende, [D. José Luís de Castro], ao [secretário de estado da Marinha e Ultramar], D. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, 8 Jan. 1800.

23 Ibid.

24 AGI, Buenos Aires – Códice 346, Representacion del Sindico Procurador de la Junta de Gobierno del Real Consulado, Manuel Belgrano para el Secretario de Estado, 30 Apr. 1798.

25 For a detailed analysis of the slave trade in Rio de la Plata, see Borucki, A., ‘The slave trade to the Rıo de la Plata, 1777–1812: trans-imperial networks and Atlantic warfare’, Colonial Latin American Review, 20 (2011) 81107.

26 AHU RJ, D.12265, Ofício do desembargador que serve de presidente da Mesa da Inspeção [do Rio de Janeiro], José Feliciano da Rocha Gameiro, ao [secretário de estado da Marinha e Ultramar], D. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, 28 Apr. 1798.

27 For the sale of British products in Montevideo after the invasion, and the profit of Montevidean merchants, see John Carter Brown Library, C810 R278d, José da Silva Lisboa, Razões dos lavradores do vice-reynado de Buenos Ayres para a franqueza do comércio com os inglezes contra a representação de alguns comerciantes e resolução do governo com o appendice de observações e exame dos efeitos do novo regulamento dos interesses comerciais do Brazil (Impressão Régia, 1810).

28 AHU RJ, D.11714, Ofício (cópia) do [vice-rei de Estado do Brasil], conde de Resende, [D. José Luís de Castro] ao [secretário de estado dos Negócios Estrangeiros e da Guerra e interino da Marinha e Ultramar], Luís Pinto de Sousa [Coutinho], 17 Jul. 1795.

29 Archivo General de la Nación (AGN)-Montevideo, Protocolos de Marina – Registro de Protocolizaciones, 1803–09.

30 AGN-Montevideo, Protocolos de Marina – Fianzas y Protocolizaciones, 1805–09.

31 Ibid.

32 Bentancur, El puerto, 42–5.

33 AGI, Buenos Aires Gobierno Leg 346 – Sindico Procurador de la Junta de Gobierno del Real Consulado, Manuel Belgrano to the Secretary of State, 3 Mar. 1798.

34 AGI, Buenos Aires Gobierno Leg 346 – Petición de Manoel Belgrano, 30 Apr. 1798.

35 AGI, Buenos Aires Gobierno Leg 346 – Testimonio de Josef de Escalada, 27 Feb. 1797.

36 Ibid.

37 AGI, Buenos Aires Gobierno Leg 346 – Representation of the Sindico Procurador de la Junta de Gobierno del Real Consulado, Manuel Belgrano to the Secretary of State, 23 [I] 17[97–8].

38 AGI, Buenos Aires Gobierno Leg 346 – Oficio of the Sindico Procurador de la Junta de Gobierno del Real Consulado, Manuel Belgrano to the Secretary of State, 13 [Jan.] 1798.

39 Ibid.

40 AGN, Montevideo, Actas y Acuerdos del Consulado de Montevideo, 1–13.

41 Paquette, G., ‘State-civil society cooperation and conflict in the Spanish empire: the intellectual and political activities of the ultramarine consulados and economic societies, c. 1780–1810’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 39 (2007), 263–98; Grieco, V.L., The Politics of Giving in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata: Donors, Lenders, Subjects, and Citizens (Santa Fe, 2012), 83.

42 Kraselski, J., ‘De las juntas de comercio al consulado: los comerciantes rioplatenses y sus estrategias corporativas, 1779–1794’, Anuario de Estudios Americanos, 64 (2007), 145–70; Tjarks, G., The Consulado of Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires, 1962), 634–6.

43 Tjarks, El Consulado, 805.

44 A. Cerviño, H. Vieytes, Academia Nacional de la Historia (Argentina), Semanario de agricultura, industria y comercio, vol. II (Buenos Aires, 1803–04).

45 General neutral trade policy had officially ended in 1799. However, neutral trade licences continued to be granted despite the protest of metropolitan authorities. Documentos para la historia Argentina, vol. VII, 157.

46 The New-York Evening Post, 10 Jun. 1802; Albany Gazette, 15 Jul. 1802; Norwich Courier, 7 Jul. 1802; Philadelphia Gazette, 30 Aug. 1802; Salem Register, 28 Aug. 1802; United States Oracle, and Portsmouth Advertiser, 24 Jul. 1802.

47 Albany Gazette, 15 Jul. 1802.

48 Chandler, C.L., Inter-American Acquaintances (Cambridge, MA, 1917), 40.

49 Founders Online, National Archives, ‘Letter to James Madison from Joseph Russell and others’, 6 Jun. 1802 (last modified 13 Jun. 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-03-02-0344).

50 Philadelphia Gazette, published as the Philadelphia Gazette & Daily Advertiser, 28 Jun. 1802, vol. XIX, no. 4246, 3.

51 Founders Online, National Archives, ‘Letter to James Madison from Joseph Russell and others’, 6 Jun. 1802 (last modified 13 Jun. 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-03-02-0344).

52 United States Oracle, published as the United States Oracle, and Portsmouth Advertiser, 24 Jul. 1802, vol. XII, issue 43, 2.

This article is part of a larger research project on trans-imperial networks in the Atlantic world. See F. Prado, Edge of Empire: Atlantic Networks and Revolution in Bourbon Rio de la Plata (Berkeley, 2015).

The emergence of Montevideo as an Atlantic port: the political economy of a trans-imperial hub

  • Fabricio Prado (a1)

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