Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Member

Dr. Rachel Moore, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Stephanie Barczewski

Committee Member

Dr. Steven Marks


The English mercantile house of Gibbs emerged alongside many other foreign merchant houses in the years after independence in South American countries, and they were active mostly in Peru, holding a virtual monopoly on Peruvian guano, from 1842 until 1861. Unlike many other merchants who dealt with private companies, Gibbs worked directly on a commission basis with the government of Peru and loaned money to the government in advance of sales. By the time Gibbs left the guano trade in 1861, the government was the stronger party. South American societies regarded the foreign merchants as parasites, “producing and contributing nothing.” Yet merchants were critical to trade in South America in the nineteenth century. Historians have countered the arguments, especially in the second half of the twentieth century when interest in South America peaked, that they were simply middlemen who never contributed to the trade. They moved goods, performed specialized functions that local businessmen were not equipped to handle, and bore the risk of transporting goods from producers to consumers overseas. They had access to contacts, overseas markets, money, and credit. The house of Gibbs was typical in that they had the money, contacts, sources, and personnel located in South America, and they performed similar day-to-day tasks of other foreign merchants. Gibbs was atypical, however, because they worked directly with the government on a commission basis and the government dictated the terms of their contracts, including how long they could export guano, where they could export it to, how much they could sell it for, and how much they could take. As will be seen in the case of the guano trade in Peru, the large, foreign mercantile houses, especially Gibbs, were critical to the survival of the trade.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.