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Response to Review of Advancing Empire: English Interests and Overseas Expansion, 1613-1688

I would like to thank Dr Hope for his thorough and gratifying review and I welcome the invitation to reply to his thoughtful observations with the aim of furthering discussion of the historiographical issues related to 17th-century English overseas trade and colonization about which I welcome further comment.

To that end, I would like to consider slavery – the labour system that constituted a platform for successful colonization and, indeed, for the expansion of 17th-century English overseas interests generally – the treatment of which constitutes a primary instance in which an American-centred approach to that expansion blinkers (ironically) our understanding of the history of Anglo-America.  I sought to provide a clearer sense of the introduction and perpetuation of slavery in the Anglophone world in Advancing Empire, which obliged me to track English involvement in West Africa in conjunction with English activities in the Western Hemisphere.

This led me to argue, as Dr Hope notes, that ‘increased slave supplies enabled planters to diversify their crops and boost yields, rather than the traditional view that the introduction of labour-intensive crops drove demand for slaves and thus the expansion of the slave trade’. Admittedly, I have found no ‘smoking gun’ to support this proposition – I live in hope, if not expectation, that one will turn up as I continue my investigation into the 17th-century ‘Guinea trade’. Neither, however, has one been unearthed as yet to support the ‘traditional view’.

I have, however, discerned what I regard as strong circumstantial evidence – including the reality that the introduction of slavery to Anglo-America (Bermuda, c. 1615) – preceded the creation of indentured servitude by the Virginia Company (1618), that those interested in the ‘Guinea trade’ were responsible for perpetuating the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the Anglophone world; not coincidentally, these operators also maintained American interests. These networks and their descendants in interest remained best placed to direct supplies of slaves to both English and other colonies into the 18th century. I would also observe that ‘American’ planters were not in a social or geographical position to make good whatever labour preferences or demands they may have had, especially with respect to slavery, certainly during the 17th century.

Dr Hope has also helpfully pointed out that I missed several good chances to develop more of the chronological, geographical, and thematic connections and comparisons that provide the most appropriate approach for understanding the history of the English Empire and I thank him further for the references he has kindly provided. The work of Professor Ogilvie, of which I had been embarrassingly ignorant, offers a nice perspective for the consideration the history of English projects such as American colonization – including the role of the state in undertaking them – in a more comprehensive way: must do better in future.