Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Kenneth Aslakson

Second Advisor

Mark Dallas




Rhode Island, slave trade, rum, freedom, John Brown, Moses Brown, West Indies, slavery, colonial history, Newport


In the eighteenth century British colonies there existed a duality of freedom, in which salutary neglect facilitated economic opportunism in the form of the slave trade. This paper examines how the colony of Rhode Island was a microcosm of this freedom duality in the merchant capitalist world. The colony became the epicenter of the slave trade in British North America, while also the home to a fervent abolition movement headed by the Quakers. This thesis contends that broad economic and individual freedoms in the colony created the environment where the slave trade prospered, the exact opposite of freedom.

After the introduction and literature review this thesis examines the Rhode Island political economy of the eighteenth century, focusing on the role of slavery, slave trading, and abolition movement. Chapter two utilizes primary sources such as historical records, letters, and laws to explain the development and economics behind the trade. Chapter three uses Quaker records and colonial history to show the development of the abolition movement and the impact of the revolution on the colony. Finally chapter four delves into the Brown family of Providence, showing how as a family they were a microcosm of the colony. Exemplifying both the slave trading side and the abolitionist side, the family was at the apex of Rhode Island’s greatest moral crisis.