Private Lives and Public Spaces: Newport Merchant John Banister and Colonial Consumers

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Tourists stream into shops and restaurants on Banister’s Wharf in Newport, purchasing products from Rhode Island and around the globe.  When merchant John Banister (1707-1767) owned this wharf in the 1740s, he imported luxury apparel, tools, household items, and foods from many places.  For nearly thirty years Banister’s ships traded goods from and to other American colonies, the West Indies, and Europe.  The Banister Account Books of September 1746 through December 1749, at the Rhode Island Historical Society and the Newport Historical Society, provide a focus on this golden era of trade. Lists of commodities provide information about the lives of consumers and producers in the public marketplace. 

The transactions reveal a merchant’s family expenses and income.  Banister’s careful delineation of profit, loss, commissions, taxes, and ownership shares provides insight into his roles as merchant, retailer, ship owner, broker, and as a trade and industry leader of Newport.  These details of mid-eighteenth-century Rhode Island reveal how Banister, as an adventurous capitalist, influenced the economy of pre-Revolutionary America.

Presented by Dr. Marian Desrosiers, Adjunct Professor of History and Humanities at Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island.  Dr. Desrosiers has a B.A. in history, M.A. in political science, and Ph.D. in Humanities.  She has received scholar research grants from the Rhode Island Foundation and Schlesinger Library, Harvard University.  Research for this presentation was partially funded by a scholar grant from the Rhode Island Council on the Humanities.