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Defying Empire

Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York

Thomas M. Truxes
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Defying Empire
    Book Description:

    This enthralling book is the first to uncover the story of New York City merchants who engaged in forbidden trade with the enemy before and during the Seven Years' War (also known as the French and Indian War). Ignoring British prohibitions designed to end North America's wartime trade with the French, New York's merchant elite conducted a thriving business in the French West Indies, insisting that their behavior was protected by long practice and British commercial law. But the government in London viewed it as treachery, and its subsequent efforts to discipline North American commerce inflamed the colonists.

    Through fast-moving events and unforgettable characters, historian Thomas M. Truxes brings eighteenth-century New York and the Atlantic world to life. There are spies, street riots, exotic settings, informers, courtroom dramas, interdictions on the high seas, ruthless businessmen, political intrigues, and more. The author traces each phase of the city's trade with the enemy and details the frustrations that affected both British officials and independent-minded New Yorkers. The first book to focus on New York City during the Seven Years' War,Defying Empirereveals the important role the city played in hastening the colonies' march toward revolution.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15043-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  5. A Note on the Text
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the autumn of 1762, an Irish newspaper stunned its readers with a brief but vivid account of dramatic events in New York City. A few weeks earlier, eighteen men, among them the most prominent merchants in the city, had been arrested, “charged with high crimes and misdemeanors little short of treason,” and incarcerated in the New York City Jail. Their offense—trading in provisions and “all sorts of naval and warlike stores” with the enemies of Great Britain—led to a series of high-profile public trials and altered the course of history.¹

    The characters and events in the story...

  7. Prologue: The Informer
    (pp. 9-18)

    Manhattan sparkled in the crisp October night. Two large bonfires on the Common, thousands of candlelit windows, and a sea of ships’ lanterns, like autumn fireflies, lit the tiny city and its harbor. Four weeks earlier, Major-General James Wolfe’s British regulars had defeated a force under the marquis de Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham at Quebec, the key to French control of Canada and the interior of North America. When news reached New York City, Lieutenant-Governor James DeLancey declared Friday, October 12, 1759, a day of public thanksgiving.

    Church bells across the city proclaimed the British victory. With colors...

  8. CHAPTER ONE A City at War
    (pp. 19-36)

    A British warship bound for New York City cut a striking figure during the Seven Years’ War. A formidable presence, it could be trim and handsome under cloudless blue skies, white sails bright with reflected sunlight, or raw, dirty, and weather-scarred, battling gales and lashing rains in the North Atlantic.

    If it were arriving from the northeast—perhaps from the Royal Navy base at Halifax, Nova Scotia—its officers would keep a keen watch for Montauk Point at the eastern end of Long Island. If coming in from the West Indies or the colonies to the south, it would have...

  9. CHAPTER TWO Admiral Hardy and the Smugglers
    (pp. 37-51)

    May 1, 1756. A pilot boat carrying a lone customs officer slid past the navy’s careening yard at Turtle Bay on the East River. The rain became steady and the wind picked up. “It was night before I got to the place,” Alexander Colden wrote, describing the events of that—literally—“very dark and stormy” Saturday evening.¹

    Meanwhile, officers on horseback, including Tommy Kennedy, son of the head of the New York customhouse, followed Bowery Lane north out of town until it became the Boston Post Road and moved up the east side of Manhattan. Their destination, Prospect Farm (located...

  10. CHAPTER THREE Frenchified Bottoms
    (pp. 52-71)

    As midnight of Tuesday, May 18, 1756, approached, Samuel Stilwell and two slaves made their way along Dock Street in the direction of Whitehall Slip. At Bockee’s Wharf, they joined laborers working by lantern light to load flour and bread aboard a waiting harbor sloop. The vessel belonged to Stilwell’s partner John Burroughs, a grain dealer from Matawan Creek, New Jersey. It was taking on the last of a provisions cargo that had been assembled on Bockee’s Wharf, Moore’s Wharf, and Whitehall Dock.¹

    At four o’clock in the morning the workboat slipped its mooring in the shadows of the New...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR Mountmen
    (pp. 72-86)

    HMSSutherlandstrained at its anchorage as Admiral Hardy and Lord Loudoun awaited news of the whereabouts of Bauffremont’s squadron. Early in June 1757, two sailors taken by a navy press gang off an incoming Rhode Island sloop had been brought aboardSutherlandfor questioning. In their interrogation, they disclosed details of their vessel’s trade with the French enemy through an obscure Spanish port on Hispaniola. Their story corroborated that of Martin Garland, an Irishman aboard a New York privateer, the brigHawke, recently arrived from a cruise in the western Caribbean.¹

    Garland had been on the crew of a...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE Flag-Trucers
    (pp. 87-104)

    During the summer of 1759 fighting ships of the Royal Navy gathered in the Saint Lawrence River to support General James Wolfe’s assault on Quebec. As the North American coast lay exposed and vulnerable, a powerful French squadron appeared in the western Caribbean. News filtered into army headquarters in New York City that warships of the comte de Bompar refitting at Cape François were taking in supplies drawn from New York, Philadelphia, and ports in New England. At the head of a British force advancing up Lake Champlain—in an operation coordinated with Wolfe’s at Quebec—General Jeffery Amherst urged...

  13. CHAPTER SIX Mixed Messages
    (pp. 105-122)

    In May 1760, George Spencer was emboldened—even exhilarated—by the reports from Jamaica. In a cold and damp room reserved for insolvent debtors at the New York City Jail, the informer was spinning a legal web to ensnare his tormentors. “[They] imagine, that they have no other chance to reduce me to their own terms, but keeping me in jail,” he wrote, “and, by that means, tire me out, if they can, … in order to put off the evil day.”

    His enemies would soon know both his wrath and the severity of the law. “Without any view to...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN Business as Usual
    (pp. 123-138)

    New Yorkers expected that their city would be the first in colonial America to proclaim the young monarch King George III. But the warship carrying the documents from London was still at sea on December 30, 1760, when Governor Francis Bernard of Massachusetts announced that he had received “certain advice of the death of His Late Majesty King George the Second, and the accession of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to the imperial throne of Great Britain.” Reading his own draft, Bernard proclaimed the new king before the Massachusetts Council, after which it was “repeated with a loud...

  15. CHAPTER EIGHT Crackdown
    (pp. 139-155)

    French agents moved with ease in the shadows of wartime New York. They were there well before the king’s declaration of war in May 1756, faceless among the transients of the waterfront and innocuous in boardinghouses tucked into cobblestoned alleys. Occasionally the government paid attention to them, but there was no sustained effort to root them out—or even to monitor their activities. Agents and spies entered and departed unseen aboard vessels shuttling between New York City and French settlements in Maritime Canada, the western Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. In the busy Atlantic seaport, with its large Dutch-,...

  16. CHAPTER NINE The Trial
    (pp. 156-171)

    On July 1, 1762, Captain John Houlton took HMSEnterprisethrough the Sandy Hook channel into the open Atlantic. With the firing of a signal gun on that mild summer evening,Enterprise—in the company of HMSLizardandPorcupine—began nudging transports and supply ships toward a West Indian rendezvous off Cape Saint Nicholas at the far northwestern tip of Hispaniola. There they would join a large British force gathering for the assault on El Morro, the Spanish citadel at Havana. The departure of the first contingent of the North American expeditionary force was shrouded in mystery. “Their destination...

  17. CHAPTER TEN Fruits of Victory
    (pp. 172-187)

    Peace came at a price. Throughout the long conflict, New York had been self-assured and aggressive, benefiting from its geographic advantages and privileged status in the chain of military command. In addition to “an extensive trade to many parts of the world, particularly to the West Indies,” the city had “acquired great riches by the commerce which it has carried on, under flags of truce, to Cape François, and Monte Cristi.”¹

    Now all that was over. British expenditures had fallen o? sharply after the surrender of Montreal in the autumn of 1760, and the departure of Monckton’s army for Martinique...

  18. Epilogue: Path to Revolution
    (pp. 188-199)

    Exactly a fortnight after Justice Horsmanden’s decision in the Cunningham-White case, on February 11, 1764, George Spencer stepped out of his lodgings “at Mr. Cooper’s Hat and Feather on Snow-Hill” near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He probably cut through the Fleet Market within earshot of the debtors begging for alms in Old Fleet Prison. At Fleet Street he would have headed west in the direction of the Strand, following the sweeping southwesterly bend in the Thames to Whitehall and the seat of government. At the Treasury—a handsome stone building facing Saint James’s Park and the Horse Guards...

  19. Conclusion
    (pp. 200-210)

    The early 1760s were a high-water mark in the history of trading with the enemy. Large-scale trade between belligerents would rarely again be so open and bare-faced as it was during the Seven Years’ War. The world was undergoing profound changes. Great Britain, having conquered on a global scale, emerged from nine years of war as an eighteenth-century superpower. Its peacetime navy had the command of the oceans, and its economy was on the cusp of an industrial revolution. Trading with the enemy, when it challenged the interests of a nation with global reach, would not be tolerated in a...

  20. Chronology
    (pp. 211-216)
  21. Glossary of Persons
    (pp. 217-220)
  22. Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 221-224)
  23. List of Statutes, Proclamations, and Orders in Council
    (pp. 225-228)
  24. Notes
    (pp. 229-274)
  25. Index
    (pp. 275-288)