The Merchant Ship in the British Atlantic, 1600–1800

Continuity and Innovation in a Key Technology


In The Merchant Ship in the British Atlantic, 1600—1800, Phillip Reid refutes the long-held assumption that merchant ship technology in the British Atlantic during the two centuries of its development was static for all intents and purposes, and that whatever incremental changes took place in it were inconsequential to the development of the British Empire and its offshoots.

Drawing on a unique combination of evidence from both traditional and unconventional sources, Phillip Reid shows how merchants, shipwrights, and mariners used both proven principles and adaptive innovations in hulls, rigs, and steering systems to manage high physical and financial risks.

Listen also to the podcast where the author is interviewed about the book for New Books Network and the podcast with Liz Covart for Ben Franklin’s World by clicking here.

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Phillip Reid, Ph.D. (2017), Memorial University of Newfoundland, is an independent scholar. He has published articles on the early modern British Atlantic merchant ship in maritime, transport, and material history journals and edited collections.
"Reid’s book is [...] a superb technical handbook with a wealth of detail on the construction, organisation and use of merchant ships. [...] The amount of integration of archaeological material and especially the results of archaeological investigations is rare for any work that primarily identifes as historical and further strengthens the discussions here because it is handled so well. The questions and research avenues that result from this approach offer tremendous potential and are all areas in which maritime archaeology can make considerable impact."
- Jack Pink, University of Southampton, in: Journal of Maritime Archaeology, May 2021, Vol. 16: pp. 523-25.

"Reid, adopting a broad definition of and innovative approach to technological history, ably disentangles the complex web of factors that went into designing and building early modern ships, including economic, social, and cultural ones. His analysis draws on a broad variety of sources, including written documents, archaeological evidence, interviews with experimental archaeologists, and digital modelling. [...] this is a book I will highly recommend, both to those just beginning to dip their toes in the waters of maritime history and to those with a more long-standing interest in the field."
- Lena Moser, University of Tübingen, in: ISIS, March 2022, Vol. 113, No. 1: pp. 183-84.
List of Figures and Tables


1 A Ship’s Atlantic

2 The Ship: a Primer and Field Guide

3 From the Stocks to the Ways: Building a Ship from Contract to Launch

4 The Mysterious Art of the Shipwright: Deciphering Merchant Ship Design

5 Merchant Venturers and Merchant Ships

6 Sailing and Surviving: People and Labor Aboard

7 Working the Ship: the Technology of Operation

Conclusion: The Merchant Ship in the British Atlantic, 1600–1800

Epilogue: Ann & Hope in Canton—Beyond the British Atlantic

Glossary of Terms

Appendix 1: Basic Sails on a Square-Rigged Ship, a Sloop, and a Schooner

Appendix 2: Full Transcription of Winne & Hawksworth Letter to William Jones, 17 January 1733
Students and scholars of oceanic, maritime economic, and technological history; maritime archaeologists and material culture specialists.

Ben Franklin's World

New Books Network

In this podcast for New Books Network, Maritime Historian Phillip Reid discusses his recently published book.

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