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The Project

My research investigates the political economy and functioning of early modern British smuggling from c. 1690-1750. This was an important period of the development of the "running trade," as the range and size of tariffs increased dramatically due to the need to finance Britain's wars. Higher tariffs made is more and more financially lucrative to smuggle duty-free goods into the country, and incentivized illicit trade.

Learn more about these clandestine networks.

An early publication from research on this project reveals one of the biggest smuggling frauds of the period:


Fair Trade and the Political Economy of Brandy Smuggling in Early Eighteenth-Century Britain

The Database

The next stage of my project involves the transcription of a unique source: a report requested by the House of Commons in 1733 of all the prosecutions of smuggling in England from c. 1721-1732. This report is the first to provide comprehensive data on who was prosecuted and the outcomes of those prosecutions. We have used TransKribus, a machine learning transcription platform, to transcribe the hand written reports.

We have produced a database of these prosecutions, which is still incomplete and contains raw data. There are about 3,800 prosecutions in the reports.

Explore the database here

Data such as these reports provides only a narrow window onto the smuggling economy itself. After all, only those who were caught or accused are included. We can't tell how many more people evaded prosecution.

The data does tell us a lot, however, including the struggles of the Custom to enforce the law and reveals where enforcement was most intense. The cases themselves demonstrate the broad socio-economic composition of those who smuggled and even provides light on some of the gangs and professional networks.

The Report also reinforces the knowledge of the "near network"of smuggling havens around Britain.

Future research will provide new insights into enforcement patterns, the long history of tax havens, and the growth of bureaucracies and administrative law. 

Tax Haven network c 1720.png

Customs offices and smuggling ports c. 1720

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