Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
Beginning with the arrival of Portuguese colonists in 1500, Brazil attracted the attention of traders throughout the Atlantic world. England's close commercial and political ties with Portugal, and later with Brazil itself, allowed British merchants to dominate trade with the South American state. By the second quarter of the nineteenth century, the production of printed cottons in Britain had expanded thanks to technical and chemical innovations. Simultaneously, the new nation of Brazil developed trade policies favoring British goods, including desirable printed textiles. In 1834, just twelve years after declaring independence from Portugal, Brazil became the single largest market for English printed cottons. A letter-book known as the Potiers Diary presents an invaluable lens on the execution of the textile trade with Britain during the first decades of Brazil's independence: It records the correspondence sent from five British merchant firms operating in three Brazilian port cities between 1827 and 1841. The letters capture market reactions to specific prints, as well prices and import duties. Conflicts within Brazil, competition among importers, and evolving trade regulations shaped the conduct of business among these traders. Cotton goods, in particular, provided a medium through which British merchants, forbidden from direct participation in the slave trade, could profit from the importation of Africans to Brazil?a trade that continued until 1856. This paper will explore how these merchants negotiated local and trans-Atlantic politics in the trade in British printed cotton to Brazil during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, through the lens of their correspondence.