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Abstract: When and why did Brazilian cotton become important to the Industrial Revolution? After 1780, Brazil increased substantially its trade share relative to other cotton suppliers. Between 1791 and 1801, Brazilian cotton represented 40 percent of raw cotton imports in Liverpool, rivalling the West Indies. Using archival data between 1760 and 1808, this paper shows that Brazil benefited from increasing British demand for a new variety of cotton staple that emerged with mechanized textile production. Previous explanations for the rise of Brazilian cotton trade attributed it to the revolutions in the Caribbean in the 1790s, and the American Revolutionary War, which ended in 1783. Evidence, however, suggests that these explanations are incomplete or incorrect. The United States did not export cotton to Britain before 1790, and British imports from the West Indies did not fall after the revolutions. The increase in cotton trade between Brazil and Britain can be explained by four parallel stories: 1) how diplomatic conflicts between Portugal and Britain involving the wine trade increased Brazilian cotton importance in the Portuguese trade balance; 2) how cotton plantations in Brazil managed to respond to Britain’s increasing demand after the 1780s; 3) why the West Indies were not a viable alternative to Brazilian cotton; 4) why the Brazilian cotton staple had natural advantages over initial alternatives for new textile machines in Britain.
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