The Paradox of American Trade in Spanish New Orleans in the 1790s

Thursday, January 3, 2013: 1:00 PM
Chamber Ballroom II (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Susan Stearns, Mary Baldwin College
In 1796, Euro-Americans in the trans-Appalachian West hailed Pinckney’s Treaty between the United States and Spain as a means to finally gain access to vital trading conduits to and through New Orleans.  Since the American Revolution, Spain’s policies regarding the Mississippi River and New Orleans had closed trade to interior Americans, but after 1796 one key feature of the treaty was the creation of the “right of deposit” that allowed North American farmers and merchants to transship their produce through the Spanish port of New Orleans free from taxation by the Spanish government.  However, economic and political forces in Europe and Louisiana quickly rendered the right of deposit moot.  Pinckney’s Treaty created only the fiction of domestic American trade occurring in the heart of a Spanish possession.  Quickly it became apparent that no European power intended to accept the new trade as “American.” As the Wars of the First and Second Coalitions engulfed Europe, American trade between Atlantic ports and New Orleans was preyed upon by first French and then British ships to whom Spain was the enemy. American ships, though technically neutral, were captured as the spoils of war. Changing factors in Europe, moreover, led Spain to attempt to reassert its control over the trade of the Mississippi, challenging western farmers and merchants who believed that their trade fell outside the purview of Spanish control. It quickly became clear to western farmers and to American statesmen that as long as the Mississippi remained in European hands, there could be no American trade in the Spanish city. The events surrounding these stormy events of the 1790s thus set the tone for North America’s future stance regarding the Gulf South and the Louisiana Territory.
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