The cod trade in early-modern Portugal deregulation, English domination, and the decline of female cod merchants

Darlene Abreu-Ferreira
History, Memorial University of Newfoundland - CANADA, 1995
April, 1995
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Doctoral thesis


This study analyzes the extent of Portuguese participation in the early cod fishery off Newfoundland and concludes that Portugal's role in the fishery was intermittent. Evidence shows that the Portuguese were not great cod fishers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The best archival documentation found in Portugal is for the seventeenth century and it shows the English and French supplying the Portuguese with most cod entering Portugal's harbours. Toward the second half of the seventeenth century the English monopoly of the cod trade in Portugal was entrenched. In order to accommodate the influx of a foreign merchant community, Portuguese authorities had to deregulate the structure of their regional economy. Consequently, a previously-protected native merchant class was displaced by foreigners. In the cod trade, many of these cod merchants who were supplanted by foreign interlopers were women. In certain coastal towns in northern Portugal women were big cod merchants but their number and the volume of cod they merchandised decreased substantially in the second half of the seventeenth century.