This talk explores some of the commodities that were at the centre of British expansionism into the Atlantic World in the first flush of empire-building under the Stuart monarchs. It considers how and why American and Caribbean colonies evolved distinctive approaches to labour and landholding, and what some of the new products and fashions were that stimulated colonial growth. It looks at some of the great consumer commodities that dominated the commercial and physical landscapes, such as sugar and tobacco, but also explores some of the products that have garnered less historical attention – like silkworms and beaver – but which nonetheless invited considerable investment. The talk will convey a sense of the rapid pace of American settlement, and how improvised solutions and temporary expedients became institutionally fixed – among them racial slavery, environmental degradation, and ideas of power and sovereignty, as expressed in the Great Seals Deputed created for overseas royal colonies.
Ben Marsh, Reader in American History, joined the University of Kent in 2014. He has featured on BBC Radio, given many talks and workshops to schools, museums and history societies, and is one of the leading historians for the Age of Revolution project which supports classroom learning on the period 1775–1848. Ben’s main research interests are the social and economic history of the Atlantic world c.1500–1820 and the settlement of early America, including gender and race history, the US South and slave societies, demography, the American Revolution, and latterly, textile history. His latest book, Unravelled Dreams: Silk and the Atlantic World 1500–1840 was published by Cambridge University Press in 2020.