When the Monarchy of Denmark-Norway set out to develop the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix in the Caribbean, it's lack of resources forced it to rely on outside assistance. Tapping into European supply chains, expertise, credit markets, and white Caribbean settler communities, the crown built up a plantation system that offered opportunities for profits for its own subjects as well as foreign ones. This was no easy calculation, nor was it always a successful one. In the second half of the eighteenth century, planter debt to foreign capitalists - particularly to Dutch money lenders - increasingly threatened the balance of profit. To counter the haemorrhaging of profits into foreign pockets, the crown of Denmark-Norway therefore purchased a sizeable portion of these "Dutch loans" in 1786. In 1792, when it declared its intention to abolish the Danish slave trade in 1803, the crown extended additional loans to its Caribbean planters to help them "stock up" on African labor ahead of abolition. The loans offered by the crown, however, ran alongside its own borrowing on Dutch capital markets. By examining these trans-imperial circuits of credit, debt, and sugar in the Danish West Indies, this paper highlights a history of European profit making from the Caribbean plantation complex that cuts across imperial boundaries and national frameworks.
Dr Pernille Røge is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh. Interested in the entangled history of European colonial empires, her first book explored interconnections between political economic theory and French imperial reform in the second half of the eighteenth century. Currently, she is working on a project entitled A Gateway to Empire: Danish Colonial Expansion in a Transimperial World, c. 1660-1815 which examines the impact of foreign interests in the development of the Danish colonial empire.
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