Credit and Ethnicity in the Urban Atlantic World: Scottish Associational Culture in Colonial Philadelphia

Tawny Paul

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The emergence of an associational world is often regarded as fundamental to the development of civil society, urban cultural life, and political consciousness in early America. The financial roles of voluntary associations, however, remain less well explored. This article draws on a case study of the St Andrews Society of Philadelphia to examine the credit functions of a voluntary association and to consider the relationship between ethnicity and economic practice in the urban Atlantic world. Through focus on the Society’s charitable, social and money-lending activities, it argues that associations had a crucial function in colonial communities as providers of credit in its entangled economic and social forms. In placing the Society within the context of both early American associational culture and the history of the Scottish Diaspora, the article considers why ‘Scottishness’ functioned as a basis for trust. Through its various activities, the Society manufactured and enforced a sense of Scottishness based upon the notion of good credit. Ethnicity was a flexible and fluid concept that incorporated the components of credit and individual worth based on social, occupational, and gender identities, providing a framework for interaction within Philadelphia’s particular public sphere and a wider Atlantic economy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-691
JournalEarly American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


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