A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era

By Elaine Forman Crane | Go to book overview

PREFACE TO THE PAPERBACK EDITION

IT IS PROBABLY A GOOD IDEA for every writer to review his or her work after a lapse of several years because time and distance permit a more dispassionate assessment of a thesis than when the author and the original manuscript were constant companions. Having just completed such a critique, I am able to report (with some sense of relief, I might add), that in the seven years since A Dependent People was published, no newly discovered manuscript or recently issued book has created a need to modify its basic conclusions. At the same time, were I to explore the same subject today, I might give greater emphasis to topics which were only touched upon, and I might ask--and try to answer--questions that were not even raised seven years ago.

With the benefit of hindsight and further reading, I am not at all certain that I said enough about the prevailing attitude that influenced Newport's revolutionary expectations and actions. I am as convinced today as I was seven years ago that economic grievances precipitated Newport's entry into the war, yet today I would broaden that assertion to include a discussion of the intellectual baggage which made economic issues a raison d'être for rebellion. As I argue in the book itself, self-interest was surely a motivating value, but how did this component fit into the total equation: Why would one person perceive that his self-interest was best served by "ideal" British duties and yet another see those same duties as a threat to his very survival? And what did survival mean in the context of eighteenth-century Newport? Was it simply having enough to eat, or was survival equivalent to upward mobility and prosperity? In short, what in their collective mentalité--what in the cumulative experience of this seaport town--made the hasty pursuit of profit more important than standing membership in the British empire?

It occurs to me now that the absence of a strong Puritan legacy might relate in some way to these questions. Strict Puritan doctrine demanded economic moderation and the suppression of self-interest for the good of the whole. But as tempting opportunities presented themselves, the history of seventeenth-century Massachusetts became, at least in part, a story of the conflict between expanding mercantilism and undiluted Puritanism. If it took almost a century for mercantile interests to prevail in Massachusetts, however, Rhode Island merchants achieved predominance in far less time. The original settlers of Newport found Boston's brand of Puritanism incompatible with their own as early as 1639, and once they

-xi-

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A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Abbreviations and Short Titles vi
  • Editorial Note vi
  • Contents vii
  • Tables viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Preface to the Paperback Edition xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 6
  • I - A Good Voyage and Safe Return"" 9
  • 1 - Any Scheme of Trade"" 11
  • 2 - The First Wheel of Commerce"" 16
  • Reflections 34
  • II - An Interdependent People 47
  • 3 - A Mercantile Metropolis 49
  • 4 - The World of the Wealthy 53
  • 5 - Dependent People, Helping Hands 63
  • 6 - The Cruel Sea 69
  • 7 - The Black Community 76
  • 8 - A Lawless Rabble 84
  • Reflections 91
  • III - A Dependent People 107
  • 9 - Economic Arguments and Mob Rule 109
  • 10 - A Town at War with Itself 126
  • Reflections 141
  • Epilogue 157
  • Notes 166
  • Bibliography 169
  • Index 187
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