Date of Award

Fall 12-12-2022

Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ghulam A. Nadri

Second Advisor

Ian Fletcher

Third Advisor

Eric Oakley


In 1790, Salem, Massachusetts was the sixth largest city and, in terms of per capita wealth, the richest city in the United States (US). I explore Salem’s maritime trade with port cities in the North Atlantic Basin to the South China Sea during 1785-1815. This study is based on primary archival data on trade and shipping obtained from the Peabody Essex Museum (Phillips Library). I examine the trajectory of Salem’s global trade through three lenses: Trade circuits, merchant networks, and commodities. Salem merchant ships made commercial voyages to major port cities in six trade circuits: US Coastal, West Indies (Caribbean), Northern European (Baltic), Southern European (Mediterranean), Indian Ocean, and South China Sea. A significant feature of this trade was that Salem ships called at several ports for selling and purchasing merchandise for the final destination and for the return voyage. East Indiamen (ships sailing to Indian Ocean and South China Sea) carried cargoes consisting of goods procured at port cities in the Baltic, Caribbean, and the Mediterranean Seas before voyaging to Calcutta, Padang, Batavia, Manila, and Canton to obtain Asian goods, especially tea and cotton textiles. This study examines the role of merchant networks and institutions in the unprecedented commercial success of Salem during the Early Republic. Salem’s economy underwent a major transformation in the early 19th century due to partisan legislation and the Napoleonic Wars. From being a distribution center, re-exporting Asian and European merchandise, Salem and its hinterland emerged as a center of industrial shoe manufacturing and cotton textiles production. I question Salem’s decline as a port after 1815 and argue its merchants continued to play an active role in world trade for the US along with Boston, New York, and Canton (Guangzhou) where many prominent Salem merchants relocated after 1810.


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