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The Culture and Commerce of the Early American Novel

Reading the Atlantic World-System

Stephen Shapiro

Taking his cue from Philadelphia-born novelist Charles Brockden Brown’s Annals of Europe and America, which contends that America is shaped most noticeably by the international struggle between Great Britain and France for control of the world trade market, Stephen Shapiro charts the advent, decline, and reinvigoration of the early American novel. That the American novel “sprang so unexpectedly into published existence during the 1790s” may be a reflection of the beginning of the end of Franco-British supremacy and of the power of a middle class riding the crest of a new world economic system. Shapiro’s world-systems approach is a relatively new methodology for literary studies, but it brings two particularly useful features to the table. First, it refines the conceptual frameworks for analyzing cultural and social history, such as the rise in sentimentalism, in relation to a long-wave economic history of global commerce; second, it fosters a new model for a comparative American studies across time. Rather than relying on contiguous time, a world-systems approach might compare the cultural production of one region to another at the same location within the recurring cycle in an economic reconfiguration. Shapiro offers a way of thinking about the causes for the emergence of the American novel that suggests a fresh approach to the paradigms shaping American studies.

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Dangerous Economies

Status and Commerce in Imperial New York

By Serena R. Zabin

Before the American Revolution, the people who lived in British North America were not just colonists; they were also imperial subjects. To think of eighteenth-century New Yorkers as Britons rather than incipient Americans allows us fresh investigations into their world. How was the British Empire experienced by those who lived at its margins? How did the mundane affairs of ordinary New Yorkers affect the culture at the center of an enormous commercial empire?

Dangerous Economies is a history of New York culture and commerce in the first two thirds of the eighteenth century, when Britain was just beginning to catch up with its imperial rivals, France and Spain. In that sparsely populated city on the fringe of an empire, enslaved Africans rubbed elbows with white indentured servants while the elite strove to maintain ties with European genteel culture. The transience of the city's people, goods, and fortunes created a notably fluid society in which establishing one's own status or verifying another's was a challenge. New York's shifting imperial identity created new avenues for success but also made success harder to define and demonstrate socially.

Such a mobile urban milieu was the ideal breeding ground for crime and conspiracy, which became all too evident in 1741, when thirty slaves were executed and more than seventy other people were deported after being found guilty—on dubious evidence—of plotting a revolt. This sort of violent outburst was the unforeseen but unsurprising result of the seething culture that existed at the margins of the British Empire.

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David Franks

Colonial Merchant

Mark Abbott Stern

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Decoding Roger Williams

The Lost Essay of Rhode Island’s Founding Father

Linford D. Fisher

Near the end of his life, Roger Williams, Rhode Island founder and father of American religious freedom, scrawled an encrypted essay in the margins of a colonial-era book. For more than 300 years those shorthand notes remained indecipherable... ...until a team of Brown University undergraduates led by Lucas Mason-Brown cracked Williams’ code after the marginalia languished for over a century in the archives of the John Carter Brown Library. At the time of Williams’ writing, a trans-Atlantic debate on infant versus believer’s baptism had taken shape that included London Baptist minister John Norcott and the famous Puritan “Apostle to the Indians,” John Eliot. Amazingly, Williams’ code contained a previously undiscovered essay, which was a point-by-point refutation of Eliot’s book supporting infant baptism. History professors Linford D. Fisher and J. Stanley Lemons immediately recognized the importance of what turned out to be theologian Roger Williams’ final treatise. Decoding Roger Williams reveals for the first time Williams’ translated and annotated essay, along with a critical essay by Fisher, Lemons, and Mason-Brown and reprints of the original Norcott and Eliot tracts.

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Deconstructing the Cherokee Nation

Town, Region, and Nation among Eighteenth-Century Cherokees

Tyler Boulware

This significant contribution to Cherokee studies examines the tribe’s life during the eighteenth century, up to the Removal. By revealing town loyalties and regional alliances, Tyler Boulware uncovers a persistent identification hierarchy among the colonial Cherokee.

Boulware aims to fill the gap in Cherokee historical studies by addressing two significant aspects of Cherokee identity: town and region. Though other factors mattered, these were arguably the most recognizable markers by which Cherokee peoples structured group identity and influenced their interactions with outside groups during the colonial era.

This volume focuses on the understudied importance of social and political ties that gradually connected villages and regions and slowly weakened the localism that dominated in earlier decades. It highlights the importance of borderland interactions to Cherokee political behavior and provides a nuanced investigation of the issue of Native American identity, bringing geographic relevance and distinctions to the topic.

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A Description of New Netherland

Adriaen van der Donck

This edition of A Description of New Netherland provides the first complete and accurate English-language translation of an essential first-hand account of the lives and world of Dutch colonists and northeastern Native communities in the seventeenth century. Adriaen van der Donck, a graduate of Leiden University in the 1640s, became the law enforcement officer for the Dutch patroonship of Rensselaerswijck, located along the upper Hudson River. His position enabled him to interact extensively with Dutch colonists and the local Algonquians and Iroquoians. An astute observer, detailed recorder, and accessible writer, Van der Donck was ideally situated to write about his experiences and the natural and cultural worlds around him.

Van der Donck’s Beschryvinge van Nieuw-Nederlant  was first published in 1655 and then expanded in 1656. An inaccurate and abbreviated English translation appeared in 1841 and was reprinted in 1968. This new volume features an accurate, polished translation by Diederik Willem Goedhuys and includes all the material from the original 1655 and 1656 editions. The result is an indispensable first-hand account with enduring value to historians, ethnohistorians, and anthropologists.

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Design in Puritan American Literature

William J. Scheick

Puritan American writers faced a dilemma: they had an obligation to use language as a celebration of divine artistry, but they could not allow their writing to become an iconic graven image of authorial self-idolatry. In this study William Scheick explores one way in which William Bradford, Nathaniel Ward, Anne Bradstreet, Urian Oakes, Edward Taylor, and Jonathan Edwards mediated these conflicting imperatives. They did so, he argues, by creating moments in their works when they and their audience could hesitate and contemplate the central paradox of language: its capacity to intimate both concealed authorial pride and latent deific design. These ambiguous occasions served Puritan writers as places where the threat of divine wrath and the promise of divine mercy intersected in unresolved tension.

By the nineteenth century the heritage of this Christlike mingling of temporal connotation and eternal denotation had mutated. A peculiar late eighteenth-century narrative by Nathan Fiske and a short story by Edward Bellamy both suggest that the binary nature of language exploited by their Puritan ancestors was still a vital authorial concern; but neither of these writers affirms the presence of an eternal denotative signification hidden within the conflicting historical contexts of their apparently allegorical language. For them, appreciation of the mystery of a divine revelation possibly concealed in words yielded to puzzlement over language itself, specifically over the inadequacy of language to signify more than its own instability of design.

This book is a tightly focused study of an important aspect of Puritan American writers' use of language by one of the leading scholars in the field of early American literature.

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Diplomacy in Black and White

John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Their Atlantic World Alliance

Ronald Angelo Johnson

From 1798 to 1801, during the Haitian Revolution, President John Adams and Toussaint Louverture forged diplomatic relations that empowered white Americans to embrace freedom and independence for people of color in Saint-Domingue. The United States supported the Dominguan revolutionaries with economic assistance and arms and munitions; the conflict was also the U.S. Navy’s first military action on behalf of a foreign ally. This cross-cultural cooperation was of immense and strategic importance as it helped to bring forth a new nation: Haiti.

Diplomacy in Black and White is the first book on the Adams-Louverture alliance. Historian and former diplomat Ronald Angelo Johnson details the aspirations of the Americans and Dominguans—two revolutionary peoples—and how they played significant roles in a hostile Atlantic world. Remarkably, leaders of both governments established multiracial relationships amid environments dominated by slavery and racial hierarchy. And though U.S.-Dominguan diplomacy did not end slavery in the United States, it altered Atlantic world discussions of slavery and race well into the twentieth century.

Diplomacy in Black and White reflects the capacity of leaders from disparate backgrounds to negotiate political and societal constraints to make lives better for the groups they represent. Adams and Louverture brought their peoples to the threshold of a lasting transracial relationship. And their shared history reveals the impact of decisions made by powerful people at pivotal moments. But in the end, a permanent alliance failed to emerge, and instead, the two republics born of revolution took divergent paths.

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A Distant Heritage

The Growth of Free Speech in Early America

Larry Eldridge

Historians often rely on a handful of unusual cases to illustrate the absence of free speech in the colonies—such as that of Richard Barnes, who had his arms broken and a hole bored through his tongue for seditious words against the governor of Virginia. In this definitive and accessible work, Larry Eldridge convincingly debunks this view by revealing surprising evidence of free speech in early America.

Using the court records of every American colony that existed before 1700 and an analysis of over 1,200 seditious speech cases sifted from those records, A Distant Heritage shows how colonists experienced a dramatic expansion during the seventeenth century of their freedom to criticize government and its officials. Exploring important changes in the roles of juries and appeals, the nature of prosecution and punishment, and the pattern of growing leniency, Eldridge also shows us why this expansion occurred when it did. He concludes that the ironic combination of tumult and destabilization on the one hand, and steady growth and development on the other, made colonists more willing to criticize authority openly and officials less able to prevent it. That, in turn, established a foundation for the more celebrated flowering of colonial dissent against English authority in the eighteenth century.

Steeped in primary sources and richly narrated, this is an invaluable addition to the library of anyone interested in legal history, colonial America, or the birth of free speech in the United States.

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The Dividing Line Histories of William Byrd II of Westover

Edited by Kevin Joel Berland

After his 1728 Virginia-North Carolina boundary expedition, Virginia planter and politician William Byrd II composed two very different accounts of his adventures. The Secret History of the Line was written for private circulation, offering tales of scandalous behavior and political misconduct, peppered with rakish humor and personal satire. The History of the Dividing Line, continually revised by Byrd for decades after the expedition, was intended for the London literary market, though not published in his lifetime. Collating all extant manuscripts, Kevin Joel Berland's landmark scholarly edition of these two histories provides wide-ranging historical and cultural contexts for both, helping to recreate the social and intellectual ethos of Byrd and his time.

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