EXPERIENCES OF EMPIRE
The Johnstones’ experience of empire was indistinctly public and private, economic and political, reckless and prudent. It was disorderly in multiple respects, with regard to the forces of progress, or the forces of empire. But the family's history and the history of their extended households provide a circumstantial view of eighteenthcentury economic life. Their stories show the multiplicity of connections between the slave economies of the times and the enlightened officials of East Indian and Atlantic commerce. The history of the Johnstones’ fortunes—of how these brothers and sisters, who grew up with the prospect of penury and loss, were able to make money out of information, and out of the returns on their initial, unlikely prizes (William's wife's inheritance and John's presents from the Indian princes)—is an unusual story of economic improvement. The story of the Johnstones’ family exchanges is the vista of a multiplier effect by which distant events were of consequence in the interior of Scotland, and by which the empire at home became an information order of sisters and nieces. It is a vista, too, of intimate exchange.
The Johnstones were minor participants in the political history of British slavery over more than forty years. They were on different sides at different times and in different circumstances: Alexander, as an opponent of