Board of Trade — Colonial America and the American Revolution

1696–1782

The Board of Trade was a part of the British government that helped manage affairs in Colonial America. It is most famous for its involvement in the enforcement of policies that led to the American Revolution and the American Revolutionary War.

King William III, Portrait

King William III established the Board of Trade, which influenced the development of Colonial America and implemented policies that led to the American Revolution. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Board of Trade Summary

The Board of Trade, also known as the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, was established by King William III in 1696 as an advisory body to the Privy Council to oversee inspections and improvements to the English plantations and colonies. The board had no legislative power and was primarily responsible for managing communications between the English Government and Colonial Governors.

Board of Trade Facts

  • The Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations was different than the Lords of Trade and Plantation, which was established by King Charles II in 1675.
  • It is often referred to as the “Lords of Trade” or the “Board of Trade.”
  • It was led by a president who also held the title of the First Lord of Trade, and consisted of 8 paid members and 7 senior political officials.
  • The Board of Trade’s influence on colonial affairs varied throughout its history, reaching its height between 1748 and 1761 under the direction of George Montagu Dunk, the Earl of Halifax.
  • The Board declined during the final years of the French and Indian War (1756-1763).
  • In 1768, Wills Hill, the Earl of Hillsborough, took on the roles of Secretary of State for the American Colonies and President of the Board of Trade simultaneously, consolidating power.
  • The consolidation of power continued with William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, who became the First Lord of Trade in 1772.
  • Lord Dartmouth was Secretary of State for the Colonies when the Battle of Lexington took place in 1775.

The Board of Trade and Important Events in Colonial America

The Board of Trade was connected to many key events in Colonial America, many of which led to the American Revolution and resulted in the American Revolutionary War. Some of those events are summarized here:

Lords of Trade (1675)

In 1675, King Charles II established the Lords of Trade and Plantation, which consisted of 21 members of the Privy Council. Nine of them were responsible for paying attention to the needs of the colonies. The Lords of Trade was a permanent committee that provided guidance to the Privy Council but had no legislative power. 

King Charles II died and passed the throne to his brother, James II, who was deposed by Parliament during the Glorious Revolution.

Establishment of the Board of Trade (1696)

The Glorious Revolution culminated with King William III and Queen Mary II ascending to the throne of England. 

On May 15, 1696, King William III established the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations as a permanent legislative body to oversee the colonies. The Board was responsible for the development and oversight of British policies that dealt with the American Colonies. The goal was to keep them under British control and to make them profitable.

The Board was made up of 16 members who were selected by the Privy Council. Eight of them were responsible for attending meetings as much as possible and paying attention to colonial affairs.

The head of the group of eight was called the First Lords Commissioner, or First Lord of Trade, and the other seven were known as the Lords Commissioners. As Parliament passed legislation that dealt with the American Colonies, the responsibilities of the Board of Trade expanded.

The Albany Congress (1754)

In 1754, the Board of Trade was responsible for overseeing affairs in the colonies. The Board sent instructions to George Clinton, the Governor of New York, and told him to invite some of the colonies to a meeting, along with representatives of the Iroquois Confederacy, or Six Nations. This meeting, known as the Albany Congress, successfully repaired the fractured alliance between the colonies and the Iroquois. It also led to the proposal of the Albany Plan of Union.

Pontiac’s Rebellion and the Proclamation of 1763

Following the French and Indian War, a confederation of Indian tribes was organized by Chief Pontiac and other leaders. They attacked British forts and settlements and had success before British forces were sent to engage them. The affair is known as Pontiac’s Rebellion.

On October 7, 1763, the Board of Trade, with the approval of King George III, issued the Proclamation of 1763. The Proclamation reserved lands west of the Appalachian Mountains for the Indians to use as hunting grounds. American colonists were restricted from settling in the area.

Ultimately, the Proclamation was a failure, as the urge to move west proved to be too much for colonists to resist. The Proclamation of 1763 was one of the first grievances American colonists had against Parliament and King George III because it violated the colonial charters that granted them land from “sea to sea.”

Colonial Resistance to the Sugar Act (1764)

Before the passage of the Sugar Act, colonial leaders issued written protests. Rhode Island merchants would be hit hard by the Sugar Act, which would increase their cost of doing business. The Rhode Island General Assembly sent a written protest to the Board of Trade before the bill was passed, but it was no use. The Sugar Act was given Royal Assent on April 5, 1764, and went into effect on September 29. 

The Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768) and the Boundary Line Treaty (1768)

The Proclamation Line of 1763 was controversial — and unmarked. The Superintendent of Indian Affairs, William Johnson asked the British Board of Trade if he could conduct a formal survey of the boundary between the colonies and Indian Territory.

In 1768, the Board of Trade agreed to the survey and defined the boundary as such: The line started at Fort Stanwix, proceeded south and west to the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, up the Kanawha River to its headwaters, and then south to Spanish East Florida.

Johnson proceeded to negotiate the Treaty of Hard Labour with the Cherokee on October 17, 1768, and the Boundary Line Treaty on November 5, 1768, with the Iroquois Confederacy. These treaties altered the Proclamation Line, which allowed for some westward expansion of the colonies.

Recall of Thomas Hutchinson

Unrest in Boston led to the Boston Tea Party and the Intolerable Acts. The trouble in Massachusetts led the Board of Trade to recommend the recall of Governor Thomas Hutchinson. He was replaced in May 1774 by General Thomas Gage, who was tasked with enforcing the Intolerable Acts as punishment for the Boston Tea Party.

The Battles of Lexington and Concord

On January 27, 1775, Lord Dartmouth sent a letter to General Thomas Gage and instructed him to take action against the “open Rebellion” in Massachusetts, however, he did not give him specific instructions on how to deal with the situation and left it up to Gage. Gage received the letter on April 14. Four days later, he sent an expedition to Concord to seize military supplies. During the march to Concord, British troops engaged the Lexington Militia, initiating the American Revolutionary War.

Board of Trade Frequently Asked Questions

When was the Board of Trade established and what was its purpose?

The Board of Trade was established by the crown in 1696. Its purpose was to oversee inspections and improvements to the English plantations and colonies. The Board of Trade did not have any legislative power, but it operated as an advisory board to the Privy Council and was in charge of collecting information related to colonial issues.

What was the Board of Trade’s relationship with the Privy Council and Parliament?

The Board of Trade was primarily a clearinghouse for information about the colonies and served as an advisory body to the Privy Council and Parliament.

What kind of authority did the Board of Trade have in colonial affairs?

The Board of Trade could help prepare royal instructions for governors, nominate candidates for colonial offices, recommend legislation, and hear disputes about and among the colonies. However, the ultimate authority for all colonial matters remained in the hands of Parliament and the King-in-Council and, more particularly, the Secretary of State for the Southern Department.

Who was George Montagu Dunk, and what was his impact on the Board of Trade?

George Montagu Dunk, the Earl of Halifax, was the Director of the Board of Trade between 1748 and 1761. He was able to gain significant personal influence and energy during this time and increased the Board’s influence. He was able to nominate colonial governors and gain a seat at cabinet meetings. However, the Seven Years’ War disrupted plans to expand the board’s authority.

How did the Board of Trade’s role change after the Seven Years War?

The Board of Trade’s main responsibility remained the acquisition and assessment of information on colonial affairs, which expanded significantly after the Seven Years’ War. The Board of Trade focused on Native American Indian affairs, colonial land disputes, and reports on the growing political tensions in America and the Caribbean. However, the creation of a new Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1768 diminished the Board’s role, and it was finally abolished in 1782.

How did the Board of Trade collect information about colonial affairs?

The Board of Trade collected information about colonial affairs through a variety of methods. One of its primary roles was to receive reports and petitions from the colonies. The Board of Trade also conducted investigations, consulted with colonial officials and other experts, and received reports from colonial governors. In addition, the Board of Trade had access to a vast network of informants in the colonies, including merchants, planters, and others.

What were some of the main issues that the Board of Trade dealt with during its existence?

The Board of Trade dealt with a wide range of issues during its existence, including trade regulations, colonial administration, land disputes, Indian affairs, and political tensions in America and the Caribbean. It was also responsible for promoting the economic interests of England in compliance with mercantilism and for developing policies to regulate and improve the English colonies, including the Navigation Acts.

Board of Trade APUSH Review 

Use the following links and videos to study the Board of Trade, the American Revolution, and the American Revolutionary War for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Board of Trade APUSH Definition

The Board of Trade was a British governmental body established in 1696 to oversee colonial affairs and regulate trade within the British Empire. Comprised of government officials and advisors, the Board of Trade played a crucial role in shaping colonial policy, managing commercial interests, and enforcing trade regulations. It granted colonial charters, supervised colonial governors, and monitored colonial economies. The Board of Trade’s decisions and policies significantly influenced colonial development and relations with Great Britain, contributing to the American Revolution and the American Revolutionary War.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Board of Trade — Colonial America and the American Revolution
  • Date 1696–1782
  • Author
  • Keywords Board of Trade, Lords of Trade, Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, American Revolution, American Revolutionary War
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date February 27, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 10, 2024

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