The Fisherman's Cause

Atlantic Commerce and Maritime Dimensions of the American Revolution

The Fisherman's Cause

In the first book-length examination of the connections between the commercial fishing industry in colonial America and the American Revolution, Christopher Magra places the origins and progress of this formative event in a wider Atlantic context. The Fisherman’s Cause utilizes extensive research from archives in the United States, Canada, and the U.K. in order to take this Atlantic approach. Dried, salted cod represented the most lucrative export in New England. The fishing industry connected colonial producers to transatlantic markets in the Iberian Peninsula and the West Indies. Parliament’s coercive regulation of this branch of colonial maritime commerce contributed to colonists’ willingness to engage in a variety of revolutionary activities. Colonists then used the sea to forcibly resist British authority. Fish merchants converted transatlantic trade routes into military supply lines, and they transformed fishing vessels into warships. Fishermen armed and manned the first American navy, served in the first coast guard units, and fought on privateers. These maritime activities helped secure American independence.


"Christopher Magra demonstrates the significance of the Atlantic context during the era of the American Revolution. He examines the economic importance of New England’s Atlantic fishery and how the British government’s attempts to curb that enterprise led directly to American independence. Magra also reveals the signal contributions that Massachusetts fishermen and fish merchants made to the origins of the United States Navy. Thoroughly researched and clearly written, The Fisherman’s Cause will appeal to anyone interested in the Atlantic world and the American Revolution as well as students of economic, maritime, and naval history." -Carl E. Swanson, East Carolina University

"The Fisherman’s Cause is a welcome reminder that America is a sea-minded nation. Native Americans turned to the sea for sustenance along the shore and in nearby shallow waters. For European settlers the Atlantic was both a highway to the Old World and a moat protecting them from it. The Atlantic was also a vast green pasture to which they ventured harvesting fish. Measured in quintals and packed in barrels these enterprising yankees marketed 'sacred cod' around the Atlantic world. Dancing across the ocean fishermen, seamen, and merchants established a sophisticated network of trade that generated profits used to fuel the extraordinary growth of the colonial economy. When this prosperous world was threatened by the acts of a clumsy imperial administration these traders and fishermen defended their interests and fought for American independence. Magra’s story, well told and well documented, is essential reading if we are to understand the role of the sea in establishing the American republic." William M. Fowler, Northeastern University

"...a thoughtful work, and as rich in information as the dried, salted cod was in protein." -Marc Egnal, Journal of Economic History

"...a fine book that deserves a wide readership. It makes a significant contribution to the ever growing literature on the American Revolution and it does so from a refreshingly Atlantic perspective." -Keith Mercer, International Journal of Maritime History

"...Christopher Magra's deep scholarly treatment places the cod fisheries near the center of the American Revolution and the history of colonial America. For those seriously interested in maritime America during the Revolution or the history of American fisheries, this is a significant book." -John Odin Jensen, Sea History

"...clearly a groundbreaking and influential work..." -Kelly Chaves, The Northern Mariner

"Filling a significant gap in the study of the American Revolution's origins, Christopher P. Magra's book places the New England cod fishery in an Atlantic world context..." -Glenn M. Grasso, American Historical Review

"This is an impressive effort from a young scholar. I anticipate that Christopher Magra will continue to provide us with interesting and well-written books in the future." -David Surdam, EH.NET

"Magra consciously adopts an Atlantic perspective on both cod fishing and the Revolution....For those who wonder why commercial fishing rights were so central to the Anglo-American peace negotiations of 1782 and 1783, Magra provides a convincing answer. In this short but stimulating book, he connects all players in the industry and sketches the changes they wrought during the 150 years preceding independence.  More important, he provides clear evidence of the extent to which events on land and sea were linked; for this we are in his debt. Atlantic life influenced mainland life, and vice versa. Connections within the wider Atlantic community are central to understanding the North American world." -David Hancock, The New England Quarterly

"Magra makes important connections between the fishing industry and revolution..." - Cathy Matson, The Journal of American History

"Thorough and careful in his research, Magra makes a persuasive case for the importance of the fisheries to colonial New England’s economy and attitudes toward the Empire." -Alan Taylor, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"This is an impressive effort from a young scholar. I anticipate that Christopher Magra will continue to provide us with interesting and well-written books in the future."
-David Surdam, University of Northern Iowa, (

"This book provides the clearest and the most informed delineation available of the vital commerical role and scope of the cod fish and the New England fishery in the Atlantic economy." -Barry Levy, LABOR


2010 Winslow House Book award