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  • Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York
  • Russell R. Menard
Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York. By Thomas M. Truxes (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2008) 288 pp. $30.00

Truxes, a distinguished historian of Irish American trade during the colonial era, has written a riveting account of the conflict between the merchants of New York and imperial officials during the Seven Years' War, weaving political, economic, and business history into a compelling narrative. By the time hostilities began between the English and French in North America during the mid-1750s, the economies of the two empires in America had become closely interconnected. American merchants in the major cities exchanged British manufactured goods with New France for furs and fish, as well as provisions with the French Caribbean for sugar and molasses. Although such transactions were illegal, lax enforcement of the Navigation Laws and corrupt customs officials allowed those trades to flourish.

Imperial officials expected things to change when George II declared war against the French in May 1756. Giving "aid and comfort to the King's enemies" and maintaining "correspondence or communication with the French King or his subjects" was now strictly forbidden (5). However, various conditions encouraged trade between belligerents—"the possibility of high returns, the connivance of government officials, lax enforcement of customs regulation, and a distinction between the rights of civilians and those of combatants" (2). Distance also played a role, as did "a legacy of lawlessness handed down from the formative period of the Atlantic economy" (2). As a result, trade between British Americans and French colonists flourished throughout the War.

The merchants of New York City were especially active in this [End Page 617] trade, infuriating imperial officials, especially military commanders, who claimed that without American provisions, the French would have found it impossible to supply their troops or keep their fleets in American waters. British military men, particularly Sir Jeffery Amherst, did what they could to stop the trade, but their efforts were frustrated by colonial officials dragging their feet, a corrupt customs service, and mobs that intimidated witnesses and informers. The war brought imperial officials face to face with the "bankruptcy of the regulations that had governed British commerce through much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries" (191). This realization led to the determined effort on the part of imperial officials to tighten up the Empire in the War's aftermath, a strategy that eventually led to the American Revolution.

Truxes' account is thoroughly researched, engagingly written, and marked by rich detail. Although he is unable to measure the volume of trade with the enemy, he makes a strong case for its magnitude and convincingly describes how the illegal trade transpired. Altogether, this remarkable book makes an important contribution to early American economic and political history.

Russell R. Menard
University of Minnesota


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pp. 617-618
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