Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830

Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830

Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830

Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830

Synopsis

Linking four continents over three centuries, Selling Empire demonstrates the centrality of India--both as an idea and a place--to the making of a global British imperial system. In the seventeenth century, Britain was economically, politically, and militarily weaker than India, but Britons increasingly made use of India’s strengths to build their own empire in both America and Asia. Early English colonial promoters first envisioned America as a potential India, hoping that the nascent Atlantic colonies could produce Asian raw materials. When this vision failed to materialize, Britain’s circulation of Indian manufactured goods--from umbrellas to cottons--to Africa, Europe, and America then established an empire of goods and the supposed good of empire. Eacott recasts the British empire's chronology and geography by situating the development of consumer culture, the American Revolution, and British industrialization in the commercial intersections linking the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. From the seventeenth into the nineteenth century and beyond, the evolving networks, ideas, and fashions that bound India, Britain, and America shaped persisting global structures of economic and cultural interdependence.

Excerpt

“The discovery of an India” could do more, for better or worse, than anything else for the English people, wrote Captain Edward Wynne to his king, Charles I, in 1623. the world did not have one India, it had many awaiting English discovery. Wynne explained that the “low-Countrymen,” meaning the Dutch, “have made the Sea their India; and by that sole waie of Fishing, have raised themselves to such an unweildlie Treasure.” the Dutch had found their India near Newfoundland. Wynne was sure that Newfoundland itself would be England’s India. It was more southerly than England, and it had, he claimed, mild winters with rare snows. Its potential wealth most made Newfoundland an India. Still, that wealth could be risky. the newfound wealth of the Dutch, he wrote, might lead to “lazyness, the readie waie to povertie.” But the benefits were worth such a risk. Wynne explained that, through territory in America, Charles I’s harbors would fill with ships and merchants, and “their houses with outlandish Commodities.” the king’s “Dominions” would gain “infinite wealth,” and he would gain great “coffers” of “Treasure.” For Wynne and other imperial thinkers and adventurers in Elizabethan and early Stuart England, India was a set of variable and sometimes competing ideas about wealth, trade, wondrous commodities, and potential corruption, more than it was a place. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, Britons came to see India much more as the subcontinent of Asia—a place of cultivation, manufacturing, conquest, and potential religious allies and converts—than as a set of transferable ideas. America the India and India the place might have many of the same potential benefits and dangers in common.

1. Edward Wynne, “The British India; or, a Compendious Discourse Tending to Advancement,” 1623? Royal ms 17 a lvii, fols. 6, 18, 32–33, bl. Wynne was part of George Calvert’s expeditions to Newfoundland. See Peter E. Pope, Fish into Wine: the Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2004), 2–57. Wynne was not alone in using a very broad definition of India as a source of wealth. Sir John Eliot advised the House of Commons that “the war with Spain is our Indies, that there shall we fetch wealth.” See Sir John Eliot, Spring Diary, Mar. 19, 1624, 124–125, Houghton Library, Harvard University,

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