English smuggling in the eighteenth century

Muskett, Paul (1997). English smuggling in the eighteenth century. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e12b


Three main areas are addressed: smuggling as a commercial activity; as a form of social crime; and as a problem of policing. The claim that the violence of the Sussex smugglers in the 1740s was atypical is scrutinised, adopting a comparative approach between regions and over time, and it is argued that force was a rational response adopted by many smugglers when their interests were threatened. The contrabanders extended their penetration of legal markets and distribution networks in the second half of the eighteenth century, but this was accompanied by increasing levels of violence. Studying the confrontations between the smugglers and the preventive forces raises the question of how violent a society England was. The discussion is moved away from the homicide statistics to armed defence and calculated intimidation. The use of violence as a business stratagem raises questions concerning the smugglers' status as 'social criminals.' Illicit importation enjoyed high levels of popular support, but whether contemporaries saw the pursuit of the contraband trade as legitimising murder and mayhem, remains debatable. The adversarial model, in which smugglers are pitted against the forces of the revenue, and represented as the defenders of the local economies against commercial monopolists, is an i[complete picture. Smugglers and revenue officers had to establish a modus vivandi, Collectors and Comptrollers were often leaders in their local communities and active in local politics, and some smugglers were themselves men of standing and influence.

The intention is to focus on continuity; in terms of attitudes, methods, and the problems presented to the authorities. The involvement of the continental East India companies indicates that the smuggling trade in the first half of the eighteenth century should be seen as more than a number of locally based, small-scale enterprises The problem for government was that smuggling was more of a business than a form of social protest. Members of the political nation were conscious of the need to compromise for the sake of stability, and the use of the state's coercive machinery against smuggling, the army, navy and the law, is perhaps better seen as an exercise in containment rather than an attempt at repression.

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