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The Empire Reformed

English America in the Age of the Glorious Revolution

By Owen Stanwood

Publication Year: 2011

The Empire Reformed tells the story of a forgotten revolution in English America—a revolution that created not a new nation but a new kind of transatlantic empire. During the seventeenth century England's American colonies were remote, disorganized outposts with reputations for political turmoil. Colonial subjects rebelled against authority with stunning regularity, culminating in uprisings that toppled colonial governments in the wake of England's "Glorious Revolution" in 1688-89. Nonetheless, after this crisis authorities in both England and the colonies successfully rebuilt the empire, providing the cornerstone of the great global power that would conquer much of the continent over the following century.

In The Empire Reformed historian Owen Stanwood illustrates this transition in a narrative that moves from Boston to London to Barbados and Bermuda. He demonstrates not only how the colonies fit into the empire but how imperial politics reflected—and influenced—changing power dynamics in England and Europe during the late 1600s. In particular, Stanwood reveals how the language of Catholic conspiracies informed most colonists' understanding of politics, serving first as the catalyst of rebellions against authority, but later as an ideological glue that held the disparate empire together. In the wake of the Glorious Revolution imperial leaders and colonial subjects began to define the British empire as a potent Protestant union that would save America from the designs of French "papists" and their "savage" Indian allies. By the eighteenth century, British Americans had become proud imperialists, committed to the project of expanding British power in the Americas.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Early American Studies


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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Introduction: Popery and Politics in the British Atlantic World

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pp. 1-21

On 4 June 1702, a crowd of worshippers gathered in Boston to pay homage to their departed monarch. William III had died the previous March, and as the Reverend Benjamin Wadsworth noted, seldom had there been a more heroic leader. William had been “A Good King,” Wadsworth preached, because he “Imploy[ed] his Power and Authority for the good of his People.” The king’s greatest moment had been the manner in which he had come to the ...

PART I. Empire Imagined

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Chapter 1. Imperial Designs

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pp. 25-53

Beginning in the 1670s administrators in Charles II’s court sought to build a new empire. As an anonymous official noted, proper management of “forraigne Plantations” was of “great consequence . . . to the prosperity of [the] Nation.” The king’s empire was vast, but poorly regulated. Local officials in the various plantations worked in virtual isolation from authorities in ...

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Chapter 2. Catholics, Indians, and the Politics of Conspiracy

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pp. 54-81

In the summer of 1688 the governor of the Dominion of New England, Sir Edmund Andros, faced a political crisis. A group of hostile Indians had attacked the colony’s northern and western borders, killing and capturing a number of English settlers and causing frightened townspeople to take refuge in garrison houses. Even more alarming than the violence, however, were the colonists’ reactions. ...

PART II. Empire Lost

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Chapter 3. Rumors and Rebellions

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pp. 85-112

In the last months of 1688 a new wave of fear swept England’s American colonies. On the island of Barbados, white planters believed themselves to be targets of a vast design by popish recusants, French Jesuits, and Irish servants, a plot to reduce the island to “popery and slavery” and perhaps deliver it to France. By January 1689 almost identical rumors appeared in New England, where Indians joined the list of enemies, and two months later settlers on the ...

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Chapter 4. The Empire Turned Upside Down

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pp. 113-139

In the wake of the rebellions of 1689, people from London to Boston debated the structure and meaning of the English empire in America. Not surprisingly, the colonists who had overthrown the Dominion of New England represented their action, like the larger Revolution in England, as a moderate, conservative, and consensual event. The people who took to the streets in ...

PART III. Empire Regained

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Chapter 5. The Protestant Assault on French America

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pp. 143-176

In July 1693 a large flotilla of English naval vessels, led by Sir Francis Wheler, limped into the port of Boston. Months earlier, Wheler had sailed from England to Barbados with 3,000 men and a mandate to destroy French America. His assault on the French Antilles had foundered, however, and along the way the fleet met a more formidable adversary than the French: disease. Hundreds ...

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Chapter 6. Ambivalent Bonds

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pp. 177-206

The bloody conflict of the 1690s created a great dilemma for many colonial Americans. Nowhere was this dilemma more visible than on the Isles of Shoals, a set of rocky outcroppings off the coast of New Hampshire. The islands were famous for their independence: though they were nominally part of New Hampshire, no authority possessed any real control there, and the ...

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Epilogue: Nicholson’s Redemption

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pp. 207-220

In 1710 a set of verses circulated around Boston paying homage to the recent English conquest of Acadia. The work began by praising the hero of the moment, the man who had commanded the victorious expedition. “Queen Anne sends Nicholson from London,” the poet began, “To save New-England from ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 221


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pp. 223-265


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pp. 267-274

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pp. 275-277

I could not have written this book without the aid of friends, patrons, and a number of “remarkable providences.” At Grinnell College, Alison Games and Don Smith unwittingly turned me into an English Atlanticist. Alison in particular convinced me that academic history was a glamorous life filled with Caribbean vacations. While I have spent very little time on the beach, I remain ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205480
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243413

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Early American Studies