David Hancock, Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735-1785
List: 17th-18th Century
Subjects: Trade, Atlantic History.
Citizens of the World examines the financial and social milieu of four loosely related groups of London merchants, centered around Augustus Boyd, Richard Oswald, John Sargent II, and Alexander Grant (Were they really the leaders of these circles, or just the ones who left the most records?) After examining the diverse and worldly backgrounds of these men (a treatment that recalls Ronald Hoffman's work on the Carrolls), Hancock goes into great detail in exploring the many facets of their increasingly (backwards-)integrated associations, particularly in shipping, planting, slaving, war contracting, and investing. Throughout, he discovers that these merchants relied heavily both upon their extended family, kinship, and ethnic networks to safeguard their overseas operations and upon each other when these merchants had complementary expertise. Hancock closes the book by exploring these men's attempts at achieving refinement and social advance (a la Bushman) through improvements, to their homes, lands, gardens and societies.
To be honest, I thought the book was a bit dry, but I can't really put my finger on what I didn't like about it…perhaps it's because I think it ultimately fails at some of the premises it set up. It doesn't make for a very engaging biography (much less so than Hoffman's Carrolls, for example), nor does it approach the Annalist comprehensiveness of, say, Phillip Morgan's Slave Counterpoint. And some of the detours it takes - Oswald's failed "Mosquito's Bite" in Florida, for example - don't seem to buttress the points Hancock is trying to make. (How experimental was Oswald's vision if he came in dead-set against rice?) All in all, though, the book is a solid piece of work in the burgeoning field of Atlantic history.