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  • The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640–1661
  • John Donoghue
The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640–1661. By Carla Gardina Pestana ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004. 356 pp.).

In a review four years ago, Carla Gardina Pestana recalled a time when the scholarship of the "British Empire" simply meant the empire of the nineteenth century.1 But as Pestana argues in her latest book, The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, the empire was created in the seventeenth century, when the English Revolution set in motion political, economic, and social changes that redefined the relationship between England and its colonies across the Atlantic world. In the end, she writes that in "the interlock helped to create a new English dominated world that laid the foundation for empire... commercial, diverse, inegalitarian, and prickly about its rights, this world was born in the crucible of revolution."2

The book begins with an introduction to the English Atlantic before the Civil War. One of the strengths of this "prologue," indeed of the entire book, is its truly Atlantic scope, which ranges from Africa across to Newfoundland, down through New England and the Chesapeake all the way to Barbados, with dozens of stops along the way, including tiny Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Although the English successfully "planted" in these places, Pestana rejects the view that these holdings constituted an "empire," as the inter-colonial commercial network that would make colonization so profitable had yet to materialize, and would only do so in the turbulent context of the English Civil War. Before the war, the colonies shared an economic dependency on England as well as a class system where increasing concentrations of landed wealth had already begun to limit social mobility for the poorest of the poor. But as the author recognizes, the desire to acquire land bound colonists of all classes together. Pestana describes how this resulted in the expropriation of Native American land, although she does not treat the wars of colonial conquest that secured territory for English settlement. Thus, the blood-soaked Indian conflicts that formed the frontline of imperial expansion go unexplored, as do the attendant racial and religious identities that they helped to fashion.

The book's first two chapters discuss how most colonies tried to avoid choosing sides during the Civil War. Although sympathies were clear in many places and often religiously-based, Pestana proves that these sympathies did not translate into active support for King or Parliament. Putting aside political or religious principles, colonies such as Virginia, the Bay Colony, and Barbados opted [End Page 1189] for neutrality to protect their charters and the free trade that made profit possible. But religion did figure importantly in colonial-English relations during the war's early years when many of the English godly favored New England's congregational model as a template for the Atlantic-wide reformation of the English church. This view did not survive the war, however. Pestana argues convincingly that the Bay Colony's repression of heterodoxy ultimately led its English supporters to abandon the New England Way.

Chapters three and four deal with the revolution in imperial policy sponsored by the purged or "Rump" Parliament. The Rump's support for regicide prompted several neutral colonies to proclaim the Stuart heir, Charles II. Ensuing colonial regulations concerning religion and trade further redeemed the view of Royalist planters that the revolutionary government seemed bent on a course of tyrannical innovation. The Act of 1650 did, in fact, give Parliament complete legislative authority over the colonies, thus overhauling the de facto autonomy colonists enjoyed before the English Revolution. The Navigation Acts would follow, as would religious regulations that called for moral reformation and the abolition of episcopacy in favor of sectarian toleration. While parliament never really attempted moral reform in the Caribbean, it hardly needed prompting in New England. But the New Jerusalem would prove difficult in another way, as the Bay Colony's execution of Quakers revealed the difficulties the imperial government faced when it tried to safeguard toleration from afar.

The last two chapters are among the book's most interesting. Chapter five examines how colonials drew upon political...


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