An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean

An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean

An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean

An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean

Synopsis

There were twenty-six, not thirteen British colonies in America in 1776. Of these, the eleven colonies in the Caribbean -- Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Tortola, and Tobago -- were among the wealthiest. These island colonies were closely related to the mainland by social ties and tightly connected by trade. In a period when most British colonists in North America lived less than two hundred miles inland and the major cities were all situated along the coast, the ocean often acted as a highway between islands and mainland rather than a barrier. The plantation system of the islands was so similar to that of the southern mainland colonies that these regions had more in common with each other, some historians argue, than either had with New England. Political developments in all the colonies moved along parallel tracks, with elected assemblies in the Caribbean, like their mainland counterparts, seeking to increase their authority at the expense of colonial executives. Yet when revolution came, the majority of the white island colonists did not side with their compatriots on the mainland.

A major contribution to the history of the American Revolution, An Empire Divided traces a split in the politics of the mainland and island colonies after the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765-66, when the colonists on the islands chose not to emulate the resistance of the patriots on the mainland. Once war came, it was increasingly unpopular in the British Caribbean; nevertheless, the white colonists cooperated with the British in defense of their islands. O'Shaughnessy decisively refutes the widespread belief that there was broad backing among the Caribbean colonists for the American Revolution and deftly reconstructs the history of how the island colonies followed an increasingly divergent course from the former colonies to the north.

Excerpt

The thirteen colonies in North America represented only half the colonies of British America in 1776. This book is concerned with the wealthiest of the nonmainland colonies that did not rebel: Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Tortola, and Tobago. the study of the British West Indies allows us to refine and qualify competing explanations of the American Revolution because the Caribbean colonies shared to a large degree the essential preconditions of the American Revolution but did not rebel. They shared similar political developments and a similar political ideology to North America and were closely associated with the mainland colonies by their proximity and trade. Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania described the British West Indies as “natural appendages of North America as the Isle of Man and the Orkneys” are of Britain. the plantation system of the islands was analogous to the southern mainland colonies, especially to South Carolina. in a period when most British colonists in North America lived less than two hundred miles inland and the major cities were situated along the coast, the ocean often acted as a highway between the islands and mainland rather than a barrier. Yet when revolution came, the majority of the white island colonists did not side with their compatriots on the mainland.

It may be argued that rebellion was impractical in the islands and that a comparison with the mainland colonies is therefore invalid. the British West Indies did not rebel in response to the Slave Emancipation Act of 1833 because obstacles to rebellion among the white island elites were as overwhelming then as they had been in 1776. However, diere were other possible strategies of opposition, such as vigorous lobbying, pamphleteering, framing petitions, and forming associations. the planters employed such methods in opposition to the abolition of the slave trade but only after the American War. in contrast, they did not unite in even a limited campaign of opposition before the American Revolution. Unlike Bermuda, the British West Indies did not send delegates to the Continental Congress.

The study of the British West Indies is also important because they played a crucial role in the origins and the development of the American Revolution. They received special consideration from the imperial government because . . .

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