Guest Post: Of Class and Courts-Martial: The Case of Ensign McVicar

Today’s guest post is by Emily Merrill, a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on issues of gender and military history in the British Atlantic world during the 18th century. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Judging Empire: British Military Courts and the Politics of the Body.”

adyeOne of the most provocative aspects of the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black is the way it grapples with the issue of class (as well as race, gender, and sexuality) as it relates to the contemporary American penal system. By contrasting the prison experiences of the main character, Piper, an upper middle class white woman, with those of a range of working class and minority characters, the show invites a deeper reflection on the complex ways in which class divisions help shape and organize a supposedly impartial system of justice. In my own research on British military courts during the Revolutionary War, I have found that class, specifically the divide between officers and enlisted men, also helped determine crucial aspects of the military justice system. Continue reading

Benjamin Franklin and “our Seamen who were Prisoners in England”

Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 31: 497.Earlier this week, I found myself sitting at my desk at the Franklin Papers faced with photostat copies of an “Alphabetical List of Escaped Prisoners” and a huge pile of promissory notes printed in triplicate by Franklin himself on the press he kept at his home in Passy, a suburb outside Paris. While I was going through them, I could not help but think back to the recent events surrounding the return of U.S. Army Sergeant, Bowe Bergdahl, the last remaining prisoner of the nation’s longest continuous period of war since the American Revolution. Politics aside, the Bergdahl affair speaks to the importance placed on coming to the aid of Americans detained in wartime. And what I had before me at my desk spoke to the same during the War for Independence. These men—largely privateersmen who had been captured on the high seas by the British and transported to English prisons—were among the very first Americans imprisoned on foreign soil during wartime and these documents reveal an often untold story about how the United States government and Benjamin Franklin dealt with this new problem.

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Slavery, Abolition, and “Socialism” in the U.S. Congress

Personalities AE  6Ever since Richard Hofstadter called John C. Calhoun the “Marx of the Master Class,” at least, American historians have pondered the relationship between the pro-slavery critique of Northern wage labor and later left-wing critiques of capitalism. One of Calhoun’s great themes, as Hofstadter noted, was the inevitable “conflict between labor and capital,” a conflict that threatened to overwhelm the “free institutions” of the North. Continue reading

Guest Post: Sir James Wright and Jenny, his free “black servant”

Today’s guest poster is Greg Brooking (PhD, Georgia State University). His dissertation on Sir James Wright, royal governor of Georgia, is entitled, “‘My zeal for the real happiness of both Great Britain and the colonies’: The Conflicting Imperial Career of Sir James Wright.” He is the recipient of two fellowships from the David Library of the American Revolution and authored a chapter in General Nathanael Greene and the American Revolution in the South (University of South Carolina Press, 2012). He currently teaches at Kennesaw State University and Southern New Hampshire University. This is his first guest post for The Junto

I’ve just begun the arduous task of transforming my recently completed dissertation about colonial and revolutionary Georgia into a work worthy of an academic press. Part of this process, for me at least, has been to re-examine my notecards (actually an enormous Excel spreadsheet), seeking new gems, ideas, and angles. In so doing, I’ve rediscovered a tidbit that I want to further develop during the manuscript process and I humbly submit this post as a solicitation to the blog’s readers, seeking their varied and expert insights. Specifically, this tidbit relates to a caveat in the final will and testament of Sir James Wright (1716-1785), which calls for an annuity for his free “black servant,” Jenny. Continue reading

Guest Post: Working on The Papers of Francis Bernard

Christopher F. Minty (University of Stirling) recently completed his dissertation on the social and cultural origins of Loyalism in New York during the imperial crisis. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships, including the British Library, the Huntington Library, the David Library of the American Revolution, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and Houghton Library at Harvard University. This is his second guest post for The Junto.

In early 2013, Michael D. Hattem offered some thoughts on his role as a Research Assistant on the Papers of Benjamin Franklin. Since then, a variety of other online databases have established themselves as essential go-to sources for students and scholars of colonial British America, the American Revolution and the early Republic. With the launch of Founders Online, it has complemented a stream of other online resources that have given us an unparalleled insight into the lives of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James and Dolley Madison, the Adams family as well as documentary histories of the ratification of the Constitution and, well, “People of the Founding Era.”  Continue reading

Teaching Through Primary Sources: Henry Drax’s Plantation Instructions

draxhallPrimary sources form an important part of the assignments for any of my undergraduate classes. As with any set readings, some of these sources work more successfully than others. One source that has proven reliably successful is Henry Drax’s instructions on running a sugar plantation in seventeenth-century Barbados. Back in my graduate student days, I prepared an initial transcription of the instructions as a research assistant. Thankfully, my students don’t have to grapple with some of the more eccentric approaches to handwriting in the original copy, and can instead read the 2009 William and Mary Quarterly “Sources and Interpretations” piece written by Peter Thompson. [1]

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Reptiles of America

Timber Rattlesnake, from Catesby, Natural HistoryThanks to the Comte de Buffon’s comprehensive Natural History, every European in the eighteenth century knew that the American environment was conducive only to degeneration. Still, Buffon admitted, “though Nature has reduced all the quadropeds of the new world, yet she has preferred the size of reptiles, and enlarged that of insects.” As his Dutch colleague Cornelis de Pauw put it, giant insects and venomous snakes “so unhappily distinguish this hemisphere” from the more hospitable side of the Atlantic.[1] Leaving aside insects for the moment, reptiles—and especially serpents—have always had a powerful symbolic valence. In the American context, the ambivalent use of the reptile shows up some of the complex relationship between the colonists’ natural world and their political imagination.

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