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When London Was Capital of America Hardcover – 4 May 2010
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'A wonderful evocation of the full panorama and panoply of life in eighteenth-century London.' --Andrew O Shaughnessy, author of An Empire Divided
'With clarity and sure authority, Julie Flavell tells us challenging things that will cast new light on the many readers' commonly-held beliefs. This is a splendid book.' --Peter Marshall
'A fascinating account of Americans in London in the 1760s and 1770s. Julie Flavell ingeniously weaves together the experiences of the Laurens family of South Carolina, Stephen Sayre of Long Island, and Benjamin Franklin, plus many other colonists, to reveal the rich variety of their London life, and she also illuminates the growing tensions of the revolutionary crisis in strikingly new ways.' --Richard S. Dunn, author of Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713
Flavell…reveals an extraordinary, almost forgotten world, rich with anecdote.’ Duncan Fallowell, Daily Express
‘Beautifully reimagining a city that was a distant but integral part of American life…essential reading.’ Andrea Wulf, New York Times Book Review
‘Flavell paints a vivid and compelling picture of London as the cultural, political, and economic center of colonial American life.’ Eliga H. Gould, author of The Persistence of Empire
‘[An] engaging social history, written with a novelist's eye for character and plot.’ Gaiutra Bahadur, The Observer, 29th August 2010
About the Author
Julie M. Flavell, the author of many scholarly and popular publications on the relationship between colonial America and Britain including Britain and America Go to War', is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and an independent scholar. Born in the United States, she currently lives in Scotland.
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We meet a wealthy American household, which sends a son aged seven to school in London. He is accompanied by a black slave who has renamed himself Robert, from Scipio, to fit in better. Upon walking around London the slaves at this time get to see that white people are not all powerful, all wealthy and all respected. Indeed, the gutters and slums are full of poor, sick, begging white people. Not only that, but the plentiful black people meet up and get to talking, and they discover that slavery is not lawful in England. An attempt to grab a slave and throw him on a ship is called kidnap and abduction. No wonder attitudes start to change.
We also contrast American cities of the day with the seat of learning, science and trade London provided. Benjamin Franklin is another character followed through his time in London. The West Indian goods such as sugar were stolen from docks while coffee fuelled commerce. Families considered it acceptable to send an embarrassingly pregnant daughter across the ocean in either direction. Con men thrived on boasts.
I enjoyed reading this account of fast-changing times. However I didn't need it in the depth provided, and we get no street plans of American cities at the time, for contrast. Depending on your requirements from this book you may rate it better than I did.
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The book goes a good way toward correcting the popular understanding that as the difficulties between the two soon-to-be different countries germinated after the end of the Seven Years' War, primarily because of the conflict's costs which Great Britain sought to partly recover from its North American subjects, and which culminated in the American Revolution, each affected royal subject chose a side and the break was clean and irrevocable. Flavell reminds that human nature doesn't work that way, and that the separation was much more gradual, painful and more often than not conflicted than might first appear.
The book has its shortcomings. First among them is that with the exception of the author's treatment of the Laurens family, whose representative history really does warrant the extensive treatment she affords, there isn't a lot new here. Ben Franklin in London may not be quite as familiar as Ben Franklin in Paris, the difference being he was a colonial agent in the first and a revolutionary rock star in the second, but at least this reader found the story of his many years in the city and the ever-diverging relationship with his son pretty familiar territory. Secondly, for a book with as many acknowledgements of editorial scrutiny and the Yale University Press as its publisher, there are a surprisingly large number of gaffes, including the spelling of words that might confuse a sixth-grader but should not escape even a casual editor.
Overall, the book is a worthwhile read for those interested in the period and relations between the `old' and `new countries. A prospective reader, however, should bear in mind that there is nothing, pardon me, `revolutionary' in these pages.
I own and have carefully read countless books about that era in our American past, and I was looking forward to some new insight regarding the mindset of the citizens of that day. And that is what was somewhat disappointing to me. She goes on at great length about one Henry Laurens, a Southern plantation owner with close ties to London, but perhaps more should have been revealed about others rather than devoting a good third of the book to someone who has disappeared in the fog of time.
The best part of her book is near the end when good old Ben Franklin appears. But for me it was too little too late. And the spelling of "defense" as "defence", and "gaol" for "jail" throughout the book was distracting at best. I firmly believe Ms. Flavell has a great deal to offer but Heather McCallum, her editor at Yale University Press, should have told her that one mention of an occasion or situation is enough. Telling us the same details over and over again simply becomes tedious.
This a fascinating account of the attitudes in both England and the Colonies before and during the American Revolution .The Rebellion,as it was termed, was viewed in that era,as a tedious but justified uprising against government policy, Just that -- not a bid for separation.
In American History Classes, this has long been presented as an heroic, single-minded endeavor toward Liberty