April Lee Hatfield. Atlantic Virginia: Intercolonial Relations in the Seventeenth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. 320 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-3757-3.
Reviewed by Lou Roper (Department of History, State University of New York at New Paltz)
Published on H-Atlantic (November, 2004)
Early Virginia and the Wider World
This volume offers a limited contribution to the highly desirable effort to conceive of "colonial America" as more than the history of the thirteen individual colonies that became the founding members of the United States of America. Hatfield seeks to recreate "the intercolonial, international, and transatlantic connections that constituted the Atlantic world," one that "emerged around the movement of goods but then provided routes as important for moving people and information" (p. 1). In eight chapters accompanied by an introduction and conclusion, the author has chosen to focus on seventeenth-century Virginia, since the study of what proved to be the first permanent English colony in the Americas "has been even less mindful than average of colonial residents' relations with the inhabitants of other colonies" (p. 3). But the statement of "intercolonial" intent set out in the subtitle cancels the promise of a study of "transatlantic connections."
Hatfield's "Atlantic world," then, is primarily a commercial one in which Africans, Europeans, and Indians pursued their agendas with scant regard for the political boundaries drawn in the metropolis and in which geography, in the form of Indian trading paths and pursuit of nearby markets, "shaped" Virginia's maritime, economic, and social histories. Hatfield's Virginians took on ideas ranging from Spanish notions of colonization to an understanding of the operation of race-based slavery as they followed the landscape and forged connections with indigenous and European peoples from New England to Barbados to the Cherokee country.
Chapter 6, which locates the development of race-based slavery in Virginia in terms of the colony's hitherto under-studied associations with Barbados, provides the strongest analysis. As Hatfield astutely observes, previous analyses of the origins of the "peculiar institution" in British North America "have focused principally on the questions of whether slavery or racism came first, and what specific economic and social factors in Virginia and England accounted for the transition from indentured servitude to slavery as the primary source of unfree labor" (p. 141). Reconsidering Virginia slavery in light of the close personal and commercial ties (that played out, notably, in the laws of slavery enacted by the mainland colony) with Barbados, which are set out here, sheds significant new light on the history of Anglo-American slavery.
On the other hand, chapter 5, "English Atlantic Networks and Religion in Virginia," tracks the intercolonial movements--especially useful in considering relations between New Netherland and its English neighbors--of "Puritans" and Quakers, which Hatfield links inexorably to trade and to hostility to "Anglican" authority. Yet it makes little attempt to investigate transatlantic religious links nor does it attempt any analysis of "Atlantic" religious thought. Did the movement of people and ideas, even in the relatively limited intercolonial sense, have any impact on the worldview of the heterodox inhabitants of English America? Did they have any impact on the development of religious thought in Europe?
Ironically, considering Hatfield's emphasis, the creation of these "Atlantic world" connections duplicated "Old World" behavior. For two centuries after Luther tacked his theses to the Wittenberg church door, religious dissenters in France, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales crossed and re-crossed boundaries, especially those that demarcated the Netherlands. Holland, in particular, became a haven, which had a commercial aspect, for English disaffection from Tyndall to Locke. The affinity, and even networks, that developed between like-minded individuals of various nationalities translated readily to the "New World." Could this have been the background to the friendly relations between the Dutchman David Peterson de Vries, based in New Amsterdam, with George Menefie, Virginia factor for the prominent overseas merchant, descendant of Huguenots, and opponent of Stuart policy, Samuel Vassall, and Menefie's associate, Samuel Mathews (p. 61)? These connections suggest that these seventeenth-century Anglo-Americans, so far from "linking the Chesapeake, New England and New Netherland as an American archipelago of northwestern European Protestantism and commerce," sought to extend their already existing sense of international Protestantism to North America (p. 50).
Hatfield's conception of the "Atlantic world" thus suffers from several related difficulties. First, the notes provide disappointingly few references to actual manuscripts. Instead, they indicate an attempt to synthesize secondary material rather than to read the historical record afresh (citations to the literature include references to manuscript citations made by other authors in their works). Second, while we should welcome a portrayal of the history of early Virginia in a broader context, the "intercolonial" emphasis proffered here provides an incomplete basis for understanding the creation and development of the colony. For instance, curiously (especially considering all of the emphasis Hatfield places on Iberian influences on the settlement of Jamestown), the impact of Elizabethan and Jacobean colonizing experiences in Ireland receives no discussion, despite their well-known influence upon early modern English imperial history. Indeed, Ireland finds no place in the index whatsoever. The military experiences in the Low Countries of such "founding" Virginians as Sir George Somers likewise receive no mention.
In addition, Hatfield, by choosing to emphasize the activities of intercolonial boundary crossers, downplays the importance of colonists who cultivated and maintained connections with the "Old World." Patrons and partners in England did more than facilitate commercial and political behavior between colonies: they served as political and economic ends in and of themselves, as such Virginians as Mathews, Menefie, and William Claiborne well knew. At the same time, for all of the strengths of her "intercolonial" emphasis, Africa and the African backgrounds of slaves receive no consideration in Hatfield's examination of "Chesapeake Slavery in Atlantic Context."
As it happens, it was the very pursuit of these agendas that led to the creation of an (English-speaking) "Atlantic world" (although its denizens seem not to have thought of it as such). Virginia itself came into existence because certain aristocrats and merchants had the idea to create a colony that would be partially a haven for privateers; partially a post for trade with indigenous folk and for seeking a Northwest Passage; and partially a military base for exploration and conquest on the Iberian model. Generations of settlers--sometimes already clients of these metropolitan patrons--then set about exploiting old connections and forming new ones (in typical early modern fashion, it must be said) on both sides of the ocean, using, as occasion warranted, the pre-existing avenues that Hatfield sets out in her first chapter.
In the end, then, a reading of this "Atlantic world" produces little more than a substitution of "intercolonial" for "New World," a concept, prima facie, distinct from the metropolis. Regrettably, such a conception leaves out a substantial part of the picture of development, for Virginia and England's other colonies. All of the inhabitants of the seventeenth-century "English Empire" carried "Old World" cultural baggage with them on their voyages to America and all of that baggage surely "shaped" (to use Hatfield's term) the American experiences and behavior of those migrants--be they tobacco planter, slave, intercolonial merchant, or indentured servant--as much as, if not more than, relations with other colonies and other colonists. At the same time, American history had some effect, albeit limited, on the "Old World." Such a reality calls forth the question of the actual distinctiveness of the worlds these colonists formed and, correspondingly, of the nature of the "Atlantic world."
. Keith L. Sprunger, Dutch Puritanism: A History of Scottish and English Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Leiden: Brill, 1982); and The Learned Doctor William Ames: Dutch Backgrounds of English and American Puritanism_ (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972).
. Kenneth R. Andrews, Nicholas P. Canny, and P. E. H. Hair, eds., The Westward Enterprise: English Activities in Ireland, the Atlantic, and America, 1480-1650 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979).
. Henry Steele Commager and Elmo Giordanetti, Was America a Mistake? An Eighteenth-Century Controversy (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).
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Lou Roper. Review of Hatfield, April Lee, Atlantic Virginia: Intercolonial Relations in the Seventeenth Century.
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