Daniel Defoe Around the Web

Twelve Illustrations of Robinson Crusoe

Twelve Illustrations of Robinson Crusoe by Carington Bowles, 1724-1793, British. Yale Center for British Art, Yale University Art Gallery Collection.

Here are some recent internet gleanings for enthusiasts of Daniel Defoe to explore:

Happy (Recent) Birthday, Jane Austen!

Autograph note concerning the "Profits of my Novels, over and above the £600 in the Navy Fives" ca. March 1817

Detail of Jane Austen’s autograph note concerning the “Profits of my Novels, over and above the £600 in the Navy Fives” ca. March 1817. The Morgan Library and Museum.

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, and we want to highlight a few items around the web marking the occasion:

  • At Ms. Magazine Audrey Bilger (Professor of Literature, Claremont McKenna College) notes that on the occasion of Austen’s birth “Most likely much of the attention will focus on Austen as a writer of romances. Each of the novels concludes in marriage, after all, and the marriage of Elizabeth to Mr. Darcy is a particularly happy ending. We should also pay tribute, however, to Austen’s early adoption of feminist ideals and her insistence that women’s voices and experiences be taken seriously.”  Read her account of “Five Feminist Footnotes” to Jane Austen’s work here.
  • At the British Newspaper Archive, Ed King highlights the advertisements and newspaper notices for some first editions of Austen’s novels in the early nineteenth century.  The post includes images of the original newspapers (which are normally available only to subscribers).
  • The Morgan Library maintains an online version of its 2010 exhibit “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy” which includes images of Austen manuscripts owned by the Morgan, video of luminaries such as Cornel West, Fran Leibowitz, Colm Tóibín, and others describing what Austen means to them, and more.

Dogs of the 18th Century

Brown and White Norfolk or Water Spaniel Date, 1778.  By George Stubbs (1724-1806, British).  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Brown and White Norfolk or Water Spaniel Date, 1778. By George Stubbs (1724-1806, British). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Scholars date both the beginnings of modern pet-keeping and modern discourses of animal rights to the eighteenth century.  Here is just a small sampling of recent scholarly work on dogs in eighteenth-century life.

Laura Brown‘s book Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes (Cornell University Press, 2010) shows

how the literary works of the eighteenth century use animal-kind to bring abstract philosophical, ontological, and metaphysical questions into the realm of everyday experience, affording a uniquely flexible perspective on difference, hierarchy, intimacy, diversity, and transcendence. Writers of this first age of the rise of the animal in the modern literary imagination used their nonhuman characters—from the lapdogs of Alexander Pope and his contemporaries to the ill-mannered monkey of Frances Burney’s Evelina or the ape-like Yahoos of Jonathan Swift—to explore questions of human identity and self-definition, human love and the experience of intimacy, and human diversity and the boundaries of convention.

Lynn Festa‘s article on the English Dog Tax debate of 1796 was published in the journal Eighteenth-Century Life in 2009.  The abstract describes it thus (full text of the essay is available here):

Drawing on Parliamentary debates, print polemics, and satirical prints, this essay traces the rhetorical erosion of seemingly categorical distinctions between human and animal, animate and inanimate, person and thing, in the controversy that arose around the 1796 imposition of a tax on dogs. The passage of this seemingly slight piece of legislation created impassioned debates about the nature and welfare of animals, about the rights of individuals to possess or keep property, and about the way the kinship felt for animals tampers with the seemingly self-evident borders of kind. At a moment in which sentimental humanitarian concern with the rights and interests of animals had reached new heights, the taxation of dogs seemed to reclassify the animal as a thing and to draw into question the relation between humans and their ostensible best friends. Although proponents of the bill endeavor to proceed as if dogs can be considered on the same terms as other kinds of taxable luxuries (devouring resources that might better be devoted to humans), opponents of the tax focus on the bonds of mutual dependency and reciprocal obligation that tie humans and animals together, arguing that the right to keep a beloved entity such as a dog expresses a distinctively human need to keep something beyond mere, bare, necessity. Inasmuch as humanity is expressed and inheres in the relation people take to other creatures, the seeming superfluity of the dog embodies the essence of what allows, or enables, people to act as humans.

Chi-ming Yang, in “Culture in Miniature:  Toy Dogs and Object Life” in Eighteenth-Century Fiction examines porcelain dog figurines (particularly of the pug and King Charles spaniel, breeds imported from Asia and domesticated in England) produced in China and sold in England in the eighteenth century.  She argues:

The toy dog, a small but far from trivial commodity, mediated relations of racial, sexual, and species difference and helped establish a luxury market for the pet as a racialized fetish object that continues to this day.

The Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, published by the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, produced a Special Issue on “Animals in the Eighteenth Century” in December 2010.  While the full contents are only available to members and institutional subscribers, anyone can read abstracts of the articles at the link above.

Bernadette Paton of the Oxford English Dictionary charts the changing uses of dog-related vocabulary over time and notes that the eighteenth-century is an important turning point:

Until the eighteenth century small dogs kept as pets were regarded with some disdain (hence the negative connotations of lap-dog) but they enjoyed luxuries their outdoor counterparts could only dream of. But from the mid-1700s compounds attesting to the dog as a favoured and nurtured pet begin to appear, and they multiply and flourish throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. They include comforts like dog baskets (earliest in 1768 Catal. Household Furniture, ‘A dog-basket and cushion’), dog biscuits (specialized dog treats, from 1823), dog food, dog doctors (first recorded in 1771 Tobias Smollett’s novel Humphry Clinker, ‘A famous dog-doctor was sent for’), dog hospitals (from 1829), and dog soap (first use 1869). The first reference to the dog as ‘man’s best friend’ appears in 1841, at a time when dogs began to be sentimentalized, and to be seen as having, if not souls, then at least personalities and feelings (perhaps because the industrialized city no longer needed them as outdoor working or guard animals, while the rabies vaccination developed in the 1880s reduced the threat they posed).

Two articles in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal describe the dog’s life in the eighteenth century for a non-academic readership: “The Eighteenth Century Goes to the Dogs” (including a quiz matching eighteenth-century dogs to their famous owners) and “Personable Pooches.”

And someone has collected a vast array of eighteenth-century portraits of pets (many of them dogs) and their owners on Pinterest.

Eric G. Wilson on Keats & Weirdness

Benjamin Robert Haydon, “John Keats” (c. 1846). Pen and brown ink on wove paper. 9 1/8 x 7 3/8in. (23.2 x 18.7cm). Signed, dated and inscribed, in pen and brown ink, LC: John Keats 1816/ copied by B.R. Haydon from his/ original sketch. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. B1977.14.4160.

Friends and followers of The 18th-Century Common will likely want to read Professor Eric G. Wilson’s recent essay, entitled “Poetry Makes You Weird,” published earlier this week on the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Wilson’s piece reminds us of what happens with the convergence of poetry and nature and especially the “weird” but wonderful ways in which poetry (with all of its cherished oddities) possesses a unique ability to unlock the familiar and make it uncannily alive and rich and strange.

The Afterlife of Mary Shelley (in New York City)

Frontispiece of the 1831 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; engraving by Theodor M. von Holst. Private Collection/Bridgeman Art Library.

In January, The Kitchen (self-described as a “non-profit, interdisciplinary organization that provides innovative artists working in the media, literary, and performing arts with exhibition and performance opportunities”) in New York City will unveil its exhibition, entitled “Radiohole:  Inflatable Frankenstein!”.  The exhibition will explore the “tumultuous and tragic life of Mary Shelley,” author of the (in)famous (and brilliant) novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1818) and wife of British Romantic author, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The Shelleys have been the subject of numerous recent exhibitions in Manhattan.  The Kitchen’s provocative exploration of Shelley and her Frankenstein follows in the wake of the New York Public Library’s Shelley’s Ghost:  The Afterlife of a Poet, which investigated “the literary and cultural legacy” of the Shelleys and their Romantic-age circle of authors and fellow intellectuals this past February 24th-June 24th at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building’s Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery.  Indeed, the literary and cultural reputation of the Shelleys is alive and well in New York.

The University of Woodford Square and the Age of Obama

Edward L. Mooney. “The Hero of Lake Erie.” 1839. Portrait in oils after John Wesley Jarvis (1839). U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection.

The non-Western world was the “common” of 18th-century Europe, territory to be gradually colonized—fenced off, walled off, or hedged off—by powers looking to raise the value (and the rents) of their respective empires.  For modern nations forcibly melded and forged within this ruthless cauldron, imperial legacy offers a bitter, but seemingly indispensable path to identity.

In Port of Spain you will find—if lost—a cemetery gate ordained with the British Imperial Coat of Arms, iron corroding from the relentless force of West Indian rains, an eroding misnomer amidst the rising steel towers of the Caribbean’s most dynamic economy.  A freshly-placed bronze plaque, a recent gift to Trinidad & Tobago from the U.S. Embassy in honor of the country’s 50th anniversary of independence, denotes its significance.

Here an “illustrious hero and Christian gentleman”—U.S. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry—was once interred following a gracious ceremony by the British governor of Trinidad, Sir Ralph James Woodford.  The Commodore succumbed to yellow fever in 1819 on his 34th birthday, but not before becoming a well-known naval hero during America’s first international campaigns—the Barbary Wars and War of 1812.  (Commodore Oliver Perry is not to be mistaken with his younger brother, Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, the catalyst for prying open Japan to the West in 1853 and the resulting Meiji Restoration.  Has a bloodline of American sea-farers ever had a greater impact on history?)


Roncevert Almond. “Perry Gateway at Lapeyrouse Cemetery in Port of Spain, Trinidad.” 2012.

Wandering the streets of Trinidad, I was struck that the true character of a modern nation is not found in the rusting cemetery of empire, but in the living commons—the intellectual and physical space animated by the human spirit.  Merely a half-kilometer away, but ages apart, is the birthplace of modern Trinidad & Tobago, Woodford Square.  Seated before the country’s Parliament, the Red House, and courts of justice, this public space serves as the beating heart of Port of Spain.

When Dr. Eric Eustace Williams, the nation’s founding father and first prime minister, applied his Oxford education to challenge the British imperial system in Trinidad & Tobago, he did so from Woodford Square.  Ever the history professor, Dr. Williams held a series of lectures at the “University of Woodford Square” (as the park became known) that provided the intellectual basis for national sovereignty.  Forewarning the struggle of constructing a post-colonial identity, Dr. Williams remarked:

There can be no Mother India, for those whose ancestors came from India.  There can be no Mother Africa, for those of African origin. There can be no Mother England and no dual loyalties.  There can be no Mother China, even if one could agree as to which China is the Mother; and there can be no Mother Syria and no Mother Lebanon.  A nation, like an individual, can have only one Mother.  The only Mother we recognize is Mother Trinidad & Tobago, and Mother cannot discriminate between her children.  (History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago, 1962).

As a result of this political dialogue, Woodford Square was no longer the inert namesake of a former imperial overseer, but a reclaimed center of learning, a breathing manifestation of budding national identity.

Upon the lowering of the Union Jack and the tolling of the Anglican Cathedral’s bells, a new nation was born on August 31, 1962.  Addressing the new citizens via radio, the Prime Minister reminded his audience that “democracy means freedom of worship for all and the subordination of the right of any race to the overriding right of the human race.”  A contemporary of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Dr. Williams laid the pathway to a Rainbow Nation in the Americas.  The journey began long ago.

It was on behalf of the Spanish in 1498 that Columbus first spotted the three pinnacles of the Trinity Hills (hence “Trinidad”), but Madrid largely ignored the new colony due to its lack of gold or silver.  Lima and Bogota were more enticing jewels during the mercantile economy of the time.  Even Sir Walter Raleigh, in search of El Dorado, was disappointed by the lack of spoils and in 1592 sacked the lonely Spanish settlement.  In order to populate the island, the Spanish finally resorted in 1783 to issuing land grants to Roman Catholic Frenchmen fleeing pre-revolutionary turmoil at home.

Adam Smith’s industrializing Britain, however, envisioned for its possessions a more complex division of labor.  Following Spanish capitulation in 1797, British sugar barons and shipments of African slaves, cogs in the triangle trade of Europe-Africa-America, soon arrived.  Amerindian natives were already in steep decline—the exchange of cocoa production for soul salvation from the Catholic Church had resulted in a decidedly one-sided bargain.

In a unique and bemusing act of irony, in 1845 the British began “importing” indentured South Asians to the islands in order to fill the labor shortage at sugar plantations caused by earlier black emancipation.  They were supplemented by Chinese, Syrians, and Lebanese workers.  The artificial arrival of these “Oriental” exiles, equipped with their Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist upbringing, forced an early debate on multi-racial and multi-religious nation-building.

(Even its current political geography, as a member of the Caribbean states, is more historical accident than natural reality.  Trinidad is actually an extension of the Paria Peninsula, an outcrop of the South American continental shelf—as opposed to an independent island arc like the rest of the Lesser Antilles.  On a clear day one can spy Venezuela from the capital city; the distance between the countries is only seven miles.)

Consequently, via the formation of Trinidad & Tobago, the journey of Columbus was complete.  Europe did not arrive in Asia through the Americas.  Instead, the Orient, the tale of Azeri poets and Silk Road travelers, had arrived in the Americas through Europe.  On the pleasant banks of this Caribbean island, on the volcanic cliffs of this South American mountain, humankind advanced a peculiar experiment.  The West—Indies indeed!

Dr. Williams noted that with independence the people of Trinidad & Tobago faced the “fiercest test in their history—whether they can invest with flesh and blood the bare skeleton of their National Anthem, ‘Here, every creed and race find an equal place.’”  (History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago, 1962).  It is a work in progress, much like the United States.

At the conclusion of my project in Port of Spain, I ventured to Woodford Square and reflected upon the young Commodore, the end of empire, and the continuous journey of a nation.  The park remains a lively space for debate and learning.  Unsurprisingly, therefore, I came across the latest lesson offered at the University of Woodford Square—an observation on the meaning of “The Age of Obama” and the power of the “changing course of time.”  Given the influence of demography upon national identity, as made evident by the U.S. presidential election, it was a fitting stop on the way home.

Roncevert Almond. “University of Woodford Square.” 2012

“African” in Early Haiti, or How to Fight Stereotypes

“The Slave Ship” or “Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon Coming on.” J.M.W. Turner, 1840. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The concept of Africa as a unified region whose inhabitants share a common identity developed alongside the transatlantic slave trade of the eighteenth century.  Europeans thought that the group of people they purchased and exploited (despite their vast cultural differences) belonged to a common group because of their social position.  This position was at first justified by theories of climate.  (They erroneously believed that people from “the torrid zone” could withstand hard labor in harsh climates better than those from more temperate zones.)  Gradually this inferior social position became known as that of “Africans,” which means that ancestry, geographic origin, and common physical traits became intertwined and began to define an entire group of people.  In this post, I examine, through the example of early Haiti (which was known as Saint-Domingue until 1804), the influence of a European understanding of Africa that erased nuances between different cultures.

When many twenty-first-century Americans hear the term “eighteenth century,” they might think of the beginning of the United States, the Enlightenment, or perhaps the French Revolution.  Artificial divisions between Western and non-Western histories mean that many of us learned a one-sided story about what happened in the Americas in the eighteenth century and do not often think of the many interactions between Europeans and people of other regions that happened during the time.  Sure, most of us know about the transatlantic slave trade, but we still do not often think of it as a period of contact that involved two active (albeit unequal) participants:  the slave master and the slave.  Henry Louis Gates describes what developed out of these interactions as a “veritable seething cauldron of cross-cultural contact” (4).  This “seething cauldron,” this place where cultures mixed violently, unequally, and even sometimes harmoniously, gave rise to the first successful slave revolt in the Americas.  The eighteenth century did not just end with the French Revolution, but rather with the birth of Haiti, the first black republic, and the first postcolony in the world.

Laurent Dubois, a well-respected historian of Haiti, has noted that the Haitian Revolution was an African revolution (5).  Indeed, two-thirds of the enslaved people living in Saint-Domingue at the end of the eighteenth century were born in Africa.  Beginning in the late 1780s, debates about the rights of three classes of people began in Paris:  the enslaved, the gens de couleur (free people, mainly of both European and African ancestry), and slave owners.  A lobby of slave owners known as the Club Massiac proved particularly unwilling to budge on rights for anyone with African ancestry in Saint-Domingue.  By 1791, the enslaved population took matters into their own hands and began to revolt.  Just two years later, the French commissioner Léger-Félicité Sonthonax abolished slavery, which was made official for all French colonies in Paris in 1794.  Napoleon’s troops, however, returned to Saint-Domingue in 1801 to reestablish slavery.  They were defeated at the Battle of Vertières in November of 1803, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806) declared the independence of the nation of Haiti (from the Arawak name for the island) on January 1, 1804.

As early Haitians were carving out a position for themselves independent of one of the most powerful colonial empires of the time, they had to assert their equality as human beings and their unity as a nation.  This required a rather complicated philosophical and rhetorical manoeuver that is the subject of this post:  early Haitians had to claim that this identity known as “African”—a label that the French gave them—did not denote inferiority.  At the same time, they were not all one homogenous group known as “Africans.”

People arguing against extending the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) to people of African descent in the colonies used the term “African” to highlight that these people were foreign, different, not French and therefore excluded from access to rights.  In this moment, we can see that “African” began to take on a meaning that included anyone with non-European ancestry in the colonies (i.e., people whom French colonists wanted to omit from the new doctrines of freedom espoused by revolutionaries).

Early Haitians argued that they were equal to the French, despite the negative use of this term “African.”  Yet while “African” was a term that they sometimes championed as they were asserting their humanity, it did not achieve a sense of solidarity among the varied population of eighteenth-and early-nineteenth-century Haiti.  The eighteenth-century Creole colonist and writer M.L.E. Moreau de Saint-Méry mentions the large number of different peoples represented among “the black population” of the colony.  In his work, distinctions between Africans in Saint-Domingue were glossed, detailed, and translated for those unfamiliar with the colony.  A new site developed by the French Atlantic History Group that contains advertisements for runaway slaves shows the diversity of people living in late eighteenth-century Saint-Domingue.  Slaves were described as belonging to the Nago, Congo, Senegalese, Gold Coast, Tiambo, and Arada “nations,” just to name a few (“nation” meant “group” in this context).  During the Haitian Revolution, these “nations” did not always fight together and division existed among different cultures (Jenson 620).  In addition to the diversity present among people born in Africa, slaves born in the colony (Creole) were often of a higher status than those who had survived the Middle Passage (Bossale).  The population also included people of both European and African ancestry (often the result of consensual and non-consensual relationships between masters and enslaved women).  These gens de couleur were often of a higher class and sometimes owned slaves themselves.

What it meant to be African or from Africa in Saint-Domingue at the end of the eighteenth century was complex and multifaceted, which means that in early Haiti vindicating the rights of a group of people based on their common African origin was not easy or even particularly effective.  If we examine some of the earliest writing by Haitians—their governmental documents—we see that in order to argue for Haitian national unity, the Declaration of Independence never refers to “Africa.”  “Africa” actually meant division and was counter to their vision of a new nation.  In a similar manner to Europeans, the authors (Jean-Jacques Dessalines with the aid of his secretary Louis Boisrond-Tonnerre) left Africa out of discussions of identity, but not because they thought of Africans as a unified block.  It was precisely the opposite.  For them, being reminded of Africa might distract Haitians from the new national identity that they wished to form.  If anything, the unified block had to be comprised of Haitians—a new category that Dessalines would, in his 1805 constitution, define as “black.”  By associating “black” with nationality rather than with physical traits, Dessalines challenged a developing negative conception of “race” that the Europeans were creating.  Dessalines made “black” a political project of independence.

Studying the eighteenth century, and Haiti in particular, helps us see how the meaning of the term “African” developed within the context of the institution of slavery.  This institution classified its victims based on physical traits that were common to people from a vast region that originally had been categorized only by its climate.  In the Americas, it was what this population had in common—their unfortunate position as enslaved peoples—that defined them as a group; physical traits came to represent this position.  Slavery created racial difference.

It takes philosophical argumentation to combat stereotypes that deny our freedoms as individuals.  Early Haitians contributed to eighteenth-century Enlightenment thought on freedom and human rights by challenging and redefining the categorizations set up for them by a hostile colonial ruler. They were some of the first postcolonial philosophers and provide us with a powerful example of how categorizations are ever-evolving ways of conceptualizing the world that should be considered critically and challenged accordingly.

 Works Cited

Dessalines, Jean‑Jacques.  Déclaration d’Indépendance, Centre historique des Archives nationales de Paris, AF III 210.

Dubois, Laurent.  Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution.  Cambridge, Mass.:  Harvard University Press, 2004.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.  The Signifying Monkey:  A Theory Of African-American Literary Criticism.  New York, NY:  Oxford UP, 2010.

Jenson, Deborah.  “Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the African Character of the Haitian Revolution.”  The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 3 (July 2012):  615-638.

Moreau de Saint-Méry, M.L.E.  Description de la Partie française de l’Ile de Saint-Domingue.  Philadelphia, 1797.

“Le Marronnage à Saint-Domingue,” Accessed November, 2012 at http://marronnage.info/fr/index.html.

Guns and Austen

The military contrast, print from 1773

The military contrast, print from 1773. Source: ECF Tumblr

Jacqueline Langille, Managing Editor of the journal Eighteenth-Century Fiction, offers a weekly post on the ECF Tumblr that features a thematic collection of articles from the journal’s archives.  The links she posts take you to abstracts of the articles, and from there you can freely download the articles in full.  As many journals charge hefty fees both to institutions and individual subscribers, Eighteenth-Century Fiction must be commended for allowing open access to its articles.  If you are an enthusiast of eighteenth-century studies, you should follow the ECF Tumblr!  This week’s ECF Tumblr post features the entire Special Issue of the journal from 2006 on War/La Guerre, including an essay that is a recurring favorite of my students: Christopher Loar’s “How to Say Things With Guns: Military Technology and the Politics of Robinson Crusoe.”

Susan Celia Greenfield, Associate Professor of English at Fordham University, has been writing a series of blog posts for the Huffington Post this fall called The Jane Austen Weekly.  She makes provocative and convincing connections between Jane Austen and contemporary events, demonstrating the continuing importance of the (long) eighteenth century, which is very much our goal at The 18th-Century Common as well.  This week she reminds us that we learn from Austen’s (in)famous narrative reticence to be suspicious of an unironic desire for narrative control such as we heard expressed repeatedly by both sides in the U.S. presidential campaign.

The Jane Austen Society of North America just released its Call for Papers for its Annual Meeting in Montreal in October 2014.  JASNA is famously open to academics and nonacademics alike, and as such is a real-life model for the kind of meeting of minds that we hope to achieve at The 18th-Century Common.  For all you know, we may even be administering The 18th-Century Common in Regency costumes…

Taxes are Evil

In the wake of last summer’s debt-ceiling crisis, Republicans blamed America’s slow economic recovery on big government – or rather, the threat of big government. They claimed that a “climate of uncertainty” – a fear of future regulations and taxation – was keeping “job creators” from hiring. Economists convincingly demonstrated this wasn’t the case, but austerity policy, individual liberty, and economic growth continue to be nearly synonymous on the right. The founding fathers are frequently called upon to bolster the cause of all three, but links between national debt and big government predate them. The Seven Years War (1756-1763, aka the French and Indian War) may be remembered for incurring the debt American colonists so famously refused to pay, but government borrowing was persistently controversial in eighteenth-century Britain. It wasn’t unusual to blame economic slowdown on a very similar “climate of uncertainty”:  “The people of a country will teach one another to be industrious…as soon as they find themselves secure in their property” (in the House of Commons, December 1747). National debts gave “a power to rulers which they ought not to have; create a kind of state pawnbrokers, which ought never to be suffered; enslave the people with a dread of annihilating their property” (London Evening Post, 9-11 May 1749).

Anti-establishment readers of the London Evening Post, like Tea Partiers today, considered themselves the true heirs to revolutionary principles. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 ousted the troubled Stuart dynasty.  The revolutionary settlement limited monarchical power, most notably the power to tax, freed the judiciary from the executive, and enshrined the freedom of Parliamentary speech in a Bill of Rights. These developments laid the groundwork for a powerful fiscal-military state, championed by the Whig party, who favoured the politics of consent over the divine right of kings. John Locke’s emphasis on the protection of  “life, health, liberty, and possessions,”  reflects a very specific historical context. 1688 was arguably a very modern moment.

The new state also created new national debt, financed by the Bank of England and by joint-stock monopolies like the East India Company, and underwritten by the confidence public creditors had in their government and in England’s commercial future. By 1720, however, this confidence had been shaken by a market crash, and attendant revelations that one joint-stock company, the South Sea Company, had bribed government officials for the privilege of selling national debt on the stock market. As Company directors committed suicide, fled the country, and dodged pistol-wielding stockholders in the street, the Whig establishment faced growing criticism for mortgaging the state and its taxpayers to private corporations. (Foreshadowing, in interesting ways, the anti-Americanism of late nineteenth-century Britons, who thought American capitalism corrupted by special interests.)

This was a battle over origin stories. When the economy slumped in the 1740s, the government made its own bid to retread the economic principles of the 1680s: freedom of conscience and indirect taxes on consumption. Their attempts to naturalize foreign Protestants and Jews in the 1740s and 1750s assumed that Britain’s “art and ingenuity” might be improved by immigrants bringing new manufacturing techniques with them, and that a larger population meant an increase in manpower and the tax base. Despite this appeal to founding principles, “discontented Whigs” in the House of Commons rebelled: “Our distress proceeds not from a want of people, but from the weight and multitude of our taxes.” They were backed by a wave of petitions from every important trading town and interest group in the country. In popular economic discourse of opposition, taxation was less and less a question of revenue and more and more a problem of government authority. Parliament, the safeguard against arbitrary monarchs, now behaved like one itself: “having seized on the sovereign power, [they] exercise it as children do knives, who commonly hurt themselves and offend their mothers and nurses therewith” (Old-England, or, the Constitutional Journal, 2 April 1748).

Fear-mongers who sought to convince Britons that the government was coming for their property while immigrants came for their jobs (“those who have grown up under arbitrary government, may be fittest to answerarbitrary purposes”) were self-made merchant elites several generations over, and comfortable with the mechanisms of modern finance. Despite posturing in the popular press, they simply wished to pay down the debt more slowly, abolishing taxes on certain necessities (soap, candles) and trimming military expenditure in peacetime. They weren’t reactionaries who lamented the luxury and excess of commercial society – they were commercial society.

But this was precisely their dispute with the establishment. Just as Obama’s imagined rejection of American exceptionalism has been deeply offensive to the right, the anti-establishment crowd felt the Whig party had forgotten its mission. Where Britain was linked with Rome – “all states which are liberal of naturalization, are fit for empire” – they bristled. Discontented Whigs were imperial skeptics: evangelists for economic influence, but unconvinced that captive markets required formal rule. Rome pursued conquest for conquest’s sake. Its decadence and decline were cautionary tales of territorial overreach. Britain need not make that mistake. The opposition created an elaborate narrative of English exceptionalism that celebrated limited government and free trade as far back as Queen Elizabeth (crowned the “Patriot Princess” by the London Evening Post). After all, it was Elizabethan subjects who first carried English enterprise beyond English borders. Infrequent Tudor Parliaments created a strong economy by keeping taxes low and leaving the population alone, and if 1688 had made Parliament permanent, it had only done so only to safeguard these basic liberties.

In many ways, British exceptionalism became American exceptionalism. It’s not surprising that the “Patriot Party,” which acquired a name and leadership under the “Great Commoner” William Pitt, was later sympathetic to the American cause (even after the “Great Commoner” became Lord Chatham in 1766). The popular story of American difference often comes tinged with isolationism, but Americans inherited their idea of uniqueness. Americans were able to imagine themselves as special, not in spite of being British colonists, but because they were.

(Heather Welland is an Assistant Professor of History at Wake Forest University. Her research and teaching interests include the British empire, Atlantic history, interest politics, political economy, institutions and expertise, and Loyalism.)

Fear and Love in a Revolutionary War

The memory began like a fairytale or Greek myth.  A young soldier walked along a forest road in the Highlands in the summer of 1780, the fifth year of the war.  Turning a corner, about forty yards off, he saw a young woman who had “divested herself of some of her outside garments” in the heat of the day.  As the soldier later recalled, she quickly slipped on her clothes and continued towards him, at first “seemingly quite unconcerned.”  She quickly changed her mind – clearly concluding “it would not be quite safe to encounter a solider in such a place” – and ran off through the underbrush.  The soldier called after her – but she only ran faster.  “She seemed,” he thought, “in a violent panic” (A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier172).

The young woman’s fear was well-founded.  In the War for Independence, King George’s Regulars and George Washington’s Continentals alike robbed houses and barns, drove off livestock, and smashed up fences for firewood.  Rogue soldiers assaulted women – a crime that propagandists either played up or covered up, depending on the predator’s uniform.  Despite deep-seated mistrust, under the right circumstances, soldiers and civilians could get on.  But when?  How?

One answer lay with the soldiers themselves.  As soldiers, young Continentals were outsiders, strangers.  If, however, civilians saw these soldiers as youths – as the overwhelming majority of soldiers were youths – they could fit them into a familiar place in their communities.  Soldiers could win kindness from wary civilians and a warm spot by the fire when they reminded inhabitants of their own sons, when they hired themselves out as labor, and when they courted local girls.

The inhabitants’ existing relationship with soldiers mattered immensely:  had they suffered at soldiers’ hands or did they miss their own lads who had gone for soldiers?  Private Joseph Plumb Martin recalled the kindness of a “good old housewife” who “lamented that we had no mothers nor sisters to take care of us.”  Because her own sons had suffered hunger, cold, and filth in the army, she fed the teenaged soldiers “with as much ease and familiarity as though we had belonged to the family” (A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier217).  Emotional connection helped some civilians see the familiar youth within the soldier on their doorstep.

For their part, young soldiers could ease their relationships with civilians by presenting themselves as helpful and subordinate.  When his Pennsylvania regiment traveled south to Yorktown, Samuel Dewees – who was little more than a boy – was left behind with some fellow musicians, invalids, and raw recruits.  Billeted at a public house run by the Zeiglers, he became an accepted member of the household.  “I drew my rations and handed them to the family,” he recalled.  “I lived here (I may state) at home, for I ate at the table with the family, and was treated as one of the family.”  When he wasn’t practicing his fife, Dewees undertook “many little jobs of work for the family” (A History233).  He lived with the Zeiglers for half a year.  The boy soldier made himself no different from a hired hand or apprentice.

John Robert Shaw, a young British deserter who had joined the Continental army, showed how young soldiers could slip into civilian communities while still serving in the army.  Garrisoned at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Shaw was doubly an outsider as a soldier and an Englishman.  This proved to matter little in the ethnically diverse crossroads town.  Indeed, after “a considerable time” in town, Shaw “began to grow weary of the single life” and “paid addresses to a certain young woman,” Mary O’Hara, an Irish immigrant who worked for an inn-keeper.  After a short courtship, Shaw reported they “were married at the home of Mr. Robert Johnson, a respectable citizen, who gave us a good dinner, and in the evening, I was conducted to the barracks, with my new bride, by a number of soldiers of the first respectability.”  Shaw had to bridge military and civilian spheres to support his wife, getting permission from his officers to work in the town and then scoring employment with a merchant in town “by the recommendation and interest of one Robert Gibson,” a prominent townsman (Autobiography, 57-58).  Work and marriage brought Shaw into the community’s embrace.

Courtship proved fear and fascination could go hand in hand.  As a song from 1778 put it, “Hark! the distant Drum, / Lasses all look frighted; / But, when Soldiers come, / Girls how you’re delighted.”  Sally Wister, a Quaker teenager in Pennsylvania demonstrated exactly these feelings in October 1777.  Her first encounters with Continental soldiers began with the terrifying appearance of dragoons at her father’s door seeking to buy horses.  Though bristling with weapons, they proved polite.  The Wisters were fortunate an American general chose their well-appointed house for his headquarters – “which,” Sally wrote to a friend, “secur’d us from straggling soldiers.”  With no predators to fear, the girls of the household turned hunters:  “our dress and lips were put in order for conquest and the hopes of adventures gave brightness to each.”  With the girls stalking so many young officers, it was not surprising when one “fell violently in love with Liddy at first sight,” while Sally herself swooned over a major from Maryland.  “How new is our situation,” she exclaimed, “I am going to my chamber to dream I suppose of bayonets and swords, sashes, guns, and epaulets” (Journal and Occasional Writings, 43-50).  A surgeon at West Point wryly noted the military side of the battle of the sexes, describing how one young officer had been “mortally wounded – with one of Cupid’s arrows, I mean, shot from the small blue eyes of a minister’s daughter…” (Samuel Adams to Sally Preston Adams, 11 August 1779).

During the Revolution, civilians might see the familiar form of a young man under the threatening guise of a soldier if he presented himself as a potential member of their community.  These positive encounters stand out as exceptions, however.  Historically, civilians suffer at the hands of soldiers – whether they be eighteenth century foraging parties searching for food or twenty-first century sentries at dusty checkpoints searching for insurgents.  And yet non-combatants tend to fade into the background of war stories.  Similarly, in the United States today soldier-civilian tensions are usually beyond our view, either far over the horizon or deep in the past.  For the revolutionary generation, however, the demands of armies on inhabitants – and the burdens of occupation – were fresh memories.  Rather than rely on young soldiers’ interest in work or women, citizens of the new republic insisted on the Constitution’s now-unremarkable Third Amendment, in which their consent and the due process of law would protect them from their soldiers.

(Jake Ruddiman is an Assistant Professor of History at Wake Forest University. His teaching and writing explore Revolutionary America as a hinge between eras.)