Date of Award

Summer 8-23-2019

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Liam Riordan

Second Committee Member

Jacques Ferland

Third Committee Member

Stephen Hornsby

Additional Committee Members

Stephen Miller

Scott See


The importance of staple agriculture in the development of the modern world can hardly be overstated. The connotations surrounding the word “bread” and the phrase “staff of life” bear witness to the close association between the availability of grain and the overall well-being of western societies. It is not a coincidence that bread is both an important religious symbol and a causal force in the maintenance or collapse of entire societies. This dissertation aspires to provide a clearer understanding of the leading place of overseas trade in the American economy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by showing how European war restored colonial trade relationships and reintegrated the US into trans-Atlantic and international economic exchanges led by grain exports. By challenging the assumption that the rupture of the American Revolution led naturally to economic separation, this project argues that material forces and long-standing cultural ties were more powerful than politics in shaping the contours of the British Atlantic world in the nineteenth century. Assessing the political economy of the grain trade deepens our understanding of the late colonial and early republican US. Grain was also vital to the British Atlantic and British North American economy of this era. The inherent difficulties of overcoming national, imperial, and war-divided historiographies conceals grain from our easy gaze. Mistaken ideas of periodization and politically inspired limitations to historical assessments ultimately hide connections that were fundamental at the time. The availability of surplus grain, particularly from the mid-Atlantic colonies in what would become the United States, were essential to the viability of societies around the British Atlantic. Simply stated, without food society ceases to function. Ideology falls to the wayside, plantations cease production, populations collapse, and long-distance warfare becomes impossible. Examining the availability of food products, the laws enabling or limiting trade, and the extraordinary (and sometimes illegal) steps taken to ensure that the staff of life was available to fuel social development was crucial to the rise of Anglo-American power in a tumultuous Age of Atlantic Revolutions whose political drama should not completely eclipse its economic foundations.