Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


William and Mary Quarterly

3d ser., 71, no. 1 January 2014


The King’s Pirates?
Naval Enforcement of Imperial Authority, 1740–76

By Sarah Kinkel

The Royal Navy played a crucial yet overlooked role in enforcing metropolitan authority in the American colonies during the growing imperial crisis following the Seven Years’ War. The navy was central to London’s attempts to bring the recalcitrant colonies back into order in part because it could regulate waterborne trade—one of the front lines of the conflict—but also in large part because, unlike other colonial officials, sea officers did not back down in the face of violent resistance. This dedication to duty came from a series of naval reforms enacted in the 1740s, which inculcated new values of order, discipline, and obedience. Those who supported these reforms in the 1740s’intended to centralize, rationalize, and strengthen hierarchy in naval governance’also supported similar reforms in imperial governance in the 1760s. Those who opposed the naval reforms in the 1740s on the grounds that a professional military would undermine Britain’s constitution and threaten civilian liberties likewise opposed using the professional navy to coerce colonists in the 1760s. Concern over the actions of the professional navy was a major component of the constitutional debate taking place across the Atlantic during the eighteenth century; ideological resistance to it was one of the forces behind the American Revolution.

Freedom Suits, African American Women,
and the Genealogy of Slavery

By Loren Schweninger

Freedom suits in the southern states provide a unique window into the complex history of race and slavery in the United States. In parts of the Upper South during the early national period, freedom suits had the potential to unravel the institution of slavery. Yet, with few exceptions, these early suits have not been examined in any depth by scholars, despite offering many insights into social, cultural, family, racial, legal, and even political history. Suits such as the sixteen filed by members of the Boston family of Maryland tell us about the impact of the ideals of the American Revolution on society and the importance of oral traditions among African American family members dating back many generations. Beyond the legal aspects of the cases—the plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses, lawyers, and judges—the struggle for freedom among various groups of slaves affords an exceptional rendering of the voices of people who are rarely heard, especially African American women. The voices tell us how over several generations a community established itself and how hearsay and gossip among both whites and blacks functioned to create and re-create social roles.

Sources and Interpretations

British “Ghost” Exports, American Middlemen,
and the Trade to Spanish America, 1790–1819:
A Speculative Reconstruction

By Javier Cuenca-Esteban

With due allowance for transport costs, British exports to the United States appear to have exceeded U.S. imports from Great Britain during the period 1795–1812. These gaps suggest that two-fifths of those British goods that were formally cleared for the United States were diverted to alternative destinations, without being recorded as imports at U.S. ports. The “ghost” cargoes involved would amount to some two-thirds of those U.S. imports that were reexported worldwide. In terms of volume alone, but also through related spin-offs, this unrecorded middleman’s trade should add a footnote to the old debate on U.S. economic development during the neutrality years 1793–1807. Drawing on shipping records, statistical inferences, and data on U.S. payments at Canton in Spanish silver coin, it is argued that significant shares of “ghost” cargoes could have found their way to Spanish America. This suggestion has worldwide implications, for large silver exports from Spanish America were deemed essential at the time to finance the U.S. carrying trade and to settle deficits with Europe and the Far East. The orders of magnitude potentially added by “ghost” cargoes to British exports to Spanish America from 1795 to 1819 are calibrated with reference to six new subseries of Britain’s direct and indirect exports to this area.

“Dangerous Designes”:
The 1676 Barbados Act to Prohibit New England Indian Slave Importation

By Linford D. Fisher

On June 14, 1676, the Assembly of Barbados passed an act that prohibited the importation of Indians. This essay provides a transcript of the full text of this act—previously thought lost to historians—and situates it within the immediate context of Barbados in the 1670s as well as events in English North America, particularly King Philip’s War. The full text of the 1676 act makes several things clear. First, the act itself only prohibited the ongoing importation of enslaved New England Indians; it was not intended to outlaw Indian enslavement in general on the island. Second, Barbadian fears regarding New England Indians were rooted in the May 1675 attempted African revolt on Barbados, not the Indian uprisings on neighboring Caribbean islands. Third, the act suggests that New England Indians were being shipped to Barbados in enough numbers to warrant an entire law that specifically targeted them. The great lengths to which Barbados planters went to root out the presence of enslaved New England Indians is especially evident through comparison with Jamaica and New York, where Indian slaves were similarly outlawed.