A Spanish Merchant’s Challenge: Trade, Credit, and Consumption through Sebastian De Torres’ Books, 1790–1830s

Friday, January 8, 2016: 8:30 AM
International Ballroom B (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Viviana L. Grieco, University of Missouri-Kansas City
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries legal grants as well as illegal practices allowed foreigners to establish short and long term profitable relations with Spanish merchants and authorities in the Rio de la Plata.  Additionally, during the wars of independence, fiscal chaos, monetary disorder, the decline of silver production, and the destruction of assets further undermined the principles sustaining Spanish mercantilism.  Consequently, merchants who profited from this system faced many challenges and a large number of them went out of business.  Historians looking at this period primarily emphasized the role of English merchants who, by the 1820s, emerged as the major trading and financial partners of the new South American Republics.  In the process, the Spanish merchants lost ground to foreign competitors.

This paper discusses the commercial strategies deployed by the Spanish merchant Sebastian de Torres who successfully managed to sustain and expand his business between 1790 and 1830.  Based on his accounting books and his commercial correspondence, my research demonstrates that, men like Torres, controlled the access to domestic credit for both commerce and consumption.  Thus, the success of foreign merchants also depended on the cooperation of Spanish traders with well-established commercial relations in the area.  This paper emphasizes the role of markets distant from Buenos Aires and provides a more nuanced view of the influence of foreign capital in the region.

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