- The Creation of the British Atlantic World
Atlantic history, or the study of the motion and exchange of ideas, people, culture, and capital between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, has become much more than a cottage industry over the past two decades. Building off of but diverging from the imperial history of Charles Andrews and others, Atlanticists have presented a powerful challenge to the historiographical hegemony of the nation-state. In her introduction to The Creation of the British Atlantic World, Carole Shammas explains that "Atlantic history has little time for or interest in examining the place of imperial politics in the shaping of the transatlantic experience" (p. 5). Instead, Atlanticists use "nonpolitical causation" to explain how a British Atlantic world was crafted in the early modern era by various transnational and subnational groups (p.5). Merchants, African slaves, Indians, missionaries, migrants, botanists, painters, Quakers, and lawyers were all crucial actors in the production of this British Atlantic, and the volume under review engages this multitude of subjects and perspectives to explore how that world was fashioned.
The text is divided into three sections. The first, "Transatlantic Subjects," deals mainly with the various groups whose perpetual motion characterized this fluid Atlantic world. James Horn and Philip D. Morgan's essay on "Settlers and Slaves" combs over some familiar demographic territory on African and European migration, but it also contends that not all European migrants were settling in the Americas. Many western Europeans were also moving east rather than west [End Page 339] during periods of crisis, war, and unemployment. Horn and Morgan's piece also forces us to question whether the total numbers for migration are as statistically important as per capita migration, an issue that Joyce Chaplin considers in her essay on Indian enslavement. Chaplin found that although Indian slaves taken in wars were not as numerous as African captives, their loss to indigenous societies already depleted by warfare, disease, and forced migration was all the more significant and should be studied in more detail. Two essays, one by Mark L. Thompson and another by David Barry Gaspar, then discuss contested legal spaces in the British Atlantic. Thompson explores the career of Thomas Yong, a man who represented himself differently to English officials, Virginia politicians, Delaware Indians, and Dutch settlers in hope of colonizing the Delaware River. As he traveled farther away from the metropole, he endowed himself with more personal authority. Yet Yong continually represented himself as both a subject of the English Crown and as a member of the English people (a construction that Thompson dubs "national subjecthood"). Though this is a very useful essay, some readers may be irritated by jargon-laden phrases such as "rhetorical work," "discourses," and "modes of identity." Gaspar carries on this investigation of legal zones by examining a dramatic court case in which Cape Verdeans taken as slaves by a British captain sued for their repatriation once they reached Antigua. Though the slave trade was a nefarious practice, it was circumscribed by a set of geopolitical realities: British officials were concerned about the specter of piracy, and the Cape Verdeans were legitimate subjects of Portugal, a nation with which Britain wanted to maintain friendly commercial relations. Thus, the Cape Verdeans were set free and brought home. If diplomacy saved one group from slavery, Christianity failed to do so for Marotta/Magdalena, a Catholic African who was sold into slavery, shipped to the West Indies, and converted to Moravian pietism. The essay on Marotta, by Ray Kea, recounts a fascinating physical and spiritual journey of a person who fused West African, Catholic, and Moravian cosmologies into one epistemology. Kea's essay also shows the potential of using biography to illuminate larger patterns in the macrohistory of the Atlantic world.
"Transatlantic Connections" begins with a piece by April Lee Hatfield on how merchants and mariners had intimate contact with colonists in the courts and public spaces of the colonies, thus giving the colonists a more expansive worldview and broadening their transatlantic identities. William...