Credit and social relations amongst artisans and tradesmen in Edinburgh and Philadelphia, c. 1710-1770
Paul, Katherin Tawny Wadsworth
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Credit was a central feature of the early-modern British economy. Due to shortages of specie, men and women of all social ranks participated in the urban, consumer marketplace by using credit. Historical research has convincingly shown that credit was socially mediated and constructed, and as such it sheds light not only on economic development, but also on contemporary culture. Several recent studies address these issues, but two gaps in the historiography deserve further consideration. The literature pertaining to personal credit and social relations has focused almost solely upon England, neglecting a wider British and comparative Atlantic context. Furthermore, the decades spanning the middle of the eighteenth century have not been subjected to dedicated treatment, though this period has often been considered an era when institutional development caused profound changes in the nature of interpersonal credit. This thesis examines credit and social relations in the British Atlantic between 1710 and 1770, comparing case studies drawn from two provincial, urban contexts: Edinburgh and Philadelphia. Particular attention has been given to artisans and tradesmen who have hitherto been less well served by the Atlantic historiography. Drawing on legal, institutional and personal records, the thesis begins by addressing economic structures of petty credit, before progressing to consider social constructions of credit and reputation and their change over time. The study concludes that while structures of credit changed, credibility continued to be built upon interpersonal trust, personal reputation, social capital and gender identity. Furthermore, this ‘culture of credit’ transcended national boundaries. Similarities of practice within two very different legal and institutional systems call into question the perceived influence of these structures upon the behaviour of the lower-middling sort.