Boatloads of Mexican Silver. The Political Economy of Specie Imports in New Orleans, 1839-1861
Date: 16/02/2021 @11.00hrs Colombia, 16.00hrs UK
Presenter: Manuel Bautista (Columbia University)
This paper reconstructs the monetary geography of antebellum New Orleans from the economic crisis of 1839 to the US. Navy’s blockade of the port in 1861 through a quantitative and geographic examination of specie imports (gold and silver coins) flowing into the port. It also sheds light into the commercial and financial actors, networks, and circuits involved in the intermediation of specie in New Orleans before the U.S. Civil War. Drawing on a novel dataset assembled from the semi-weekly economic newspaper New Orleans Price-Current (the first of its kind in the scholarly literature on specie in the early U.S. economy), the paper explores the amounts, the provenance, the types of vessels for maritime transportation, and the top-tier consignees of specie imports flowing into antebellum New Orleans. Specie (primarily Mexican silver dollars) helped accommodate the Crescent City’s cross-border flows of goods and capital, mirroring its commercial and financial ties with the rest of the world. New Orleans was central for the antebellum U.S. specie market and money supply, as it imported vast specie flows (primarily Mexican silver dollars) from ports such as Brazos Santiago (Texas), Veracruz, Tampico (both in Mexico), and Havana (Cuba). Specie consignees relied on high-powered money flows to fund their business ventures as commission merchants, commodity factors, real estate investors, and agents of European and U.S. Northern merchant banking houses.