“A very promising appearance”: credit, honor, and deception in the emerging market for American debt, 1784-92

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Eighteenth-century merchants relied on interlinked notions of credit and honor to help them predict and control the behavior of others and thus conduct business profitably. Some accounts of commercial growth during this period give prominence to this form of institutional self-regulation. Yet while merchants were keen for others to perceive their business as self-regulating and their behavior as controlled by a strict code of honor, their private actions did not necessarily live up to this ideal. Daniel Parker was one of many merchants working between New York, London, and Amsterdam as a broker in the public debts of the new American state and federal governments from 1784 to 1792, but letters retained by his friend and partner Andrew Craigie provide insight into how he conducted his business. Far from being bound by the mercantile code of honor, Parker regularly flouted its rules. He manipulated flows of information, deliberately deceiving trading partners, in order to eke out a commercial advantage. Moreover, he was no exceptional case, at least within the emerging transatlantic finance market of the late eighteenth century. His story therefore demands a reassessment of the institutions and networks underpinning commercial capitalism.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-650
Number of pages28
JournalWilliam and Mary Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • Commerce, Capitalism, Credit, American Revolution, Atlantic World, Business

ASJC Scopus subject areas