Competing Visions of Empire

Competing Visions of Empire: Labor, Slavery, and the Origins of the British Atlantic Empire

Abigail L. Swingen
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x1tmx
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  • Book Info
    Competing Visions of Empire
    Book Description:

    Abigail L. Swingen's insightful study provides a new framework for understanding the origins of the British Empire while exploring how England's original imperial designs influenced contemporary English politics and debates about labor, economy, and overseas trade. Focusing on the ideological connections between the growth of unfree labor in the English colonies, particularly the use of enslaved Africans, and the development of British imperialism during the early modern period, the author examines the overlapping, often competing agendas of planters, merchants, privateers, colonial officials, and imperial authorities in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18944-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Author’s Note
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Map
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Why did England establish and maintain an empire in the Americas during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? The expansion of the English Atlantic empire during the second half of the seventeenth century was not a foregone conclusion and could even be seen as something of a puzzle, given the strong opposition to colonial acquisition from politicians and economic writers who worried that colonial demand for labor drained England of its own valuable workforce. According to these thinkers, colonies did not supplement the nation’s economic prosperity but were in fact detrimental to it. “The Trade of England, and the Fishing Trade,”...

  7. 1 Unfree Labor and the Origins of Empire
    (pp. 11-31)

    In June 1677 , the English Privy Council, in the presence of King Charles II, held a meeting to discuss the state of the Leeward Islands. The Caribbean colony, made up of four islands—Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts), Nevis, Antigua, and Montserrat—was in desperate need of laborers to work a growing number of plantations as well as to fill the militia rolls. In response to a number of pleas from the colony’s governor and leading officers, the Privy Council approved a plan to help populate Saint Christopher, which involved sending “malefactors,” or convicted felons, to the colony. According to...

  8. 2 Commonwealth and Protectorate Imperialism: The Western Design and Its Consequences, 1654–1660
    (pp. 32-55)

    In April 1655, nearly eight thousand English soldiers and sailors, under the command of General Robert Venables, landed on Hispaniola with the intention of capturing the island from the Spanish in a plan known as the Western Design. They hoped to take the city of Santo Domingo, but Venables and his regiments accidentally landed nearly thirty miles from the city and had to march for days though difficult terrain in extreme drought conditions. Almost immediately, the undernourished and ill-trained forces began to drop dead from heat exhaustion, thirst, and dysentery. After two failed attempts on Santo Domingo, in which at...

  9. 3 Restoration Imperialism: The Shaping of Imperial Administration, 1660–1671
    (pp. 56-81)

    With the death of Oliver Cromwell in late 1658 and the uncertain political situation in Britain, Governor Edward D’Oyley of Jamaica became extremely concerned for his colony and his position. “Your honours may now easily imagine,” he wrote to the commissioners of the Admiralty in July 1660, “with what sorrow and unwillingness I part with this frigate, whose departure not only fills me with apprehension of our future condition but imprints into ye sense of being disserted by our Country.” D’Oyley concluded, “All our hope rests in this, that when God shall give a settlement to ye nation, and put...

  10. 4 Politicized Empire: The Crown, the African Company, and Centralization, 1671–1678
    (pp. 82-107)

    In September 1670, before being removed from the governorship, Thomas Modyford informed Secretary of State Arlington of rumors circulating in Jamaica that “his Majesty as Lord of this island may impose wt taxes he pleaseth on ye native commodities of this place.” He warned that colonists were afraid that soon “we shall be under an arbitrary government which your Lordship well knows how much Englishmen abhor.” Modyford urged the king to declare that neither “he nor his successors will impose any tax, tallidge, ayde, subsidy, loane or any other charge upon them without ye consent of ye major part of...

  11. 5 Exclusion, the Tory Ascendancy, and the English Empire, 1678–1688
    (pp. 108-139)

    On the eve of the Exclusion Crisis, the Lords of Trade and Plantations were on high alert. Consistent problems governing Barbados and Jamaica, not to mention Virginia, New York, and New England, heightened imperial tensions throughout the 1670s. Some colonial governors, like Sir Jonathan Atkins of Barbados, seemed to thrive on repeatedly angering imperial authorities. In early 1678, William Blathwayt, the principal secretary to the Lords of Trade, ordered Atkins to send a complete survey of the colony’s laws for the lords to investigate. The committee’s desire to “acquaint themselves with the true constitution of each [colonial] government” was a...

  12. 6 The 1690s: War, Unfree Labor, and Empire
    (pp. 140-171)

    In March 1689, one month after the coronation of William III and Mary II, Sir Robert Southwell, a prominent Protestant landowner in Ireland who served as a secretary to the Lords of Trade, wrote to Daniel Finch, the Earl of Nottingham. Southwell, a moderate Whig, offered Nottingham, a Tory and one of the new secretaries of state, his opinion regarding the imperial implications of the new alliance with the Dutch and the pending war against France. In general, Southwell viewed England’s transatlantic empire as strong and worth maintaining. He was deeply concerned about the rebellions taking place in New York...

  13. 7 The Slave Trade, the Asiento, and the National Interest, 1698–1718
    (pp. 172-195)

    The 1690s had not been kind to the Royal African Company. Politically isolated, it no longer influenced colonial appointments or imperial policies. It also suffered financially, which was exacerbated by the way its enemies portrayed the company as a throwback to the worst of Stuart absolutism. Although the company hoped the Ten Percent Act of 1698 would improve its financial fortunes, it soon became apparent that any money it received from separate traders was offset by the increased costs of greater competition on the African coast. By 1707, it was clear to the company that the Ten Percent Act was...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 196-198)

    The early modern English empire did not emerge free from conflict or controversy, nor did it occupy an unimportant or marginal place in the politics of late-seventeenth-and early-eighteenth-century England. The acquisition of the colonial empire and the prevalence of African slavery as the dominant labor force in the West Indies colonies were deeply connected to transatlantic ideological debates over the purpose of empire and the proper management of population and labor. Imperial concerns played an increasingly significant role in contributing to the divisive and ideological nature of early modern English political culture. The almost constant confrontation and negotiation that took...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 199-258)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 259-271)