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Pieces of eight, pieces of eight: seafarers’ earnings and the venture economy of early modern seafaring

Blakemore, R. J. ORCID: (2017) Pieces of eight, pieces of eight: seafarers’ earnings and the venture economy of early modern seafaring. Economic History Review, 70 (4). pp. 1153-1184. ISSN 1468-0289

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1111/ehr.12428


Historians have generally argued that between the medieval period and the eighteenth century seafarers transformed from collaborative adventurers with a share in their vessel to the first international wage-earning proletariat. This interpretation has drawn upon relatively limited statistical analysis of mariners’ wages, and underestimates the variety of seafarers’ remuneration and economic activities besides wages themselves. This article undertakes a more sustained analysis of seventeenth-century wage data drawn from the papers of the English High Court of Admiralty, and uses the same evidence to examine other forms of income, both customary payments as part of shipping, and small-scale trade. Seafarers of all ranks carried their own commodities on all shipping routes, offering an opportunity to considerably increase their income. This evidence confirms that the maritime labour market was hierarchical, and that very often seafarers were poor labourers facing economic insecurity of many kinds. However, it refines the previous interpretation by emphasizing the presence of skilled workers even amongst the lower levels of this labour market, and by introducing a new dimension to mariners’ economic agency: they were not simply wage-workers, but also independent participants in a venture economy.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Early Modern Research Centre (EMRC)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:66967


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