Trading With the Enemy

During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Americans continued the great tradition of trading with the enemy, and even more readily than before. As in King George’s War, Newport took the lead; other vital centers were New York and Philadelphia. The individualistic Rhode Islanders angrily turned Governor Stephen Hopkins out of office for embroiling Rhode Island in a “foreign” war between England and France.

Rhode Island blithely disregarded the embargo against trade with the enemy, and redoubled its commerce with France. Rhode Island’s ships also functioned as one of the major sources of supply for French Canada during the war. In the fall of 1757, William Pitt was told that the Rhode Islanders “are a lawless set of smugglers, who continually supply the enemy with what provisions they want…”

The Crown ordered royal governors to embargo exports of food and to break up the extensive traffic with the West Indies, but shippers again resorted to flags of truce and trade through neutral ports in the West Indies. Monte Cristi, in Spanish Hispaniola, proved to be a particularly popular intermediary port.

The flags-of-truce device particularly irritated the British, and the lucrative sale of this privilege—with the prisoners’ names left blank—was indulged in by Governors William Denny of Pennsylvania and Francis Bernard of New Jersey. French prisoners, for token exchanges under the flags, were rare, and therefore at a premium, and merchants in Philadelphia and New York paid high prices for these prisoners to Newport privateers. The peak of this trade came in 1759, for in the following year, with the end of the war with New France, the Royal Navy was able to turn its attention to this trade and virtually suppress it.

Conceived in Liberty V…
Murray N. Rothbard
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