Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Scott W. See

Second Committee Member

Liam Riordan

Third Committee Member

Richard Judd


The North Atlantic's nineteenth-century fishing industry covered a vast geographic and socioeconomic unit. It extended from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Atlantic Ocean, around the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, and south to the George's Banks off the coast of Massachusetts. Those who participated in the industry, both merchants and workers, operated within a global economy. Markets for fish products were not always domestic; in fact the majority of fish caught was shipped to foreign markets in the Mediterranean and the West Indies. The capital that was invested in the industry came from London, Halifax, Boston, and other economic centers throughout the world. Fishermen harvested their products from international waters and often found themselves encroaching upon protected waters of foreign nations. Therefore, this thesis examines the industry not from a regional perspective, as is the case of many prior histories, but from an international approach that recognizes the borderlands of the North Atlantic. Within these borderlands, fishermen and merchants carried out their business with the understanding that the industry did in fact exist within an international community. Fishermen in Nova Scotia recognized their ability to abandon their domestic arrangements with local merchants in favor of new relationships with American vessels, merchants, and capital. Meanwhile, merchants in Nova Scotia, recognizing the ability of the fishermen to transfer their business to American firms, sought to prevent the existence of close cooperation between Nova Scotia's and New England's fishing laborers in order to maintain their economic, political, and social control over the fishermen. This was perpetuated through the use of a debt-credit bond, commonly known as the truck system. In 181 8 the United States and Britain signed a treaty that, for the most part, restricted fishermen to domestic waters and merchants to home markets. By 1854 the economy of the North Atlantic fishery had undergone dramatic transformation. No longer did the merchants of Nova Scotia and their protected markets within the British Empire dominate this industry. New England f m s had gradually gained control of the profits yielded from this trade through the deconstruction of mercantilism throughout the Empire, the expansion of the American domestic market, and the accumulation of capital and labor within the Northeastern of the United States. As a result, the majority of fishing labor in the North Atlantic transferred themselves to large New England firms, leaving those firms in Nova Scotia with a diminished labor force and eventually destroying their hopes of regaining control of the industry.