Toby Nash

‘At Water’s Edge: Empire, Disorder, and Commerce on the Docks in British America, 1714–1774’ (MA in History, 2018).

Early modern British imperial commerce focused its trading operations upon the orderly extraction of wealth from its colonies. This thesis argues that a key area of this process was the urban waterfront sector in its Atlantic port cities in the Caribbean and North America. The waterfront lies at a liminal intersection between the city and the sea, between urban history and maritime history. The essential economic function of the waterfront – as a point for the movement of shipping, offloading, warehousing, and wholesaling – necessitated effective administration and governance by the state. But insecure imperial control over wharfside flows of commodities, people, and the environment, created difficulties for the British state. By examining this area in terms of space and place, we find a funnel or ‘bottleneck’ with competing vested economic interests and significant environmental instability, which could hinder imperial processes. Examining the docks in high-traffic port cities across the British Atlantic coast, this paper provides a microcosmic framework for viewing the insecurity and instability that plagued the eighteenth-century British Empire in its growing colonial cities. Delving into this small quarter of the city enlightens us as to how disruptions at the colonial waterfront could cause disruption to the Empire, allowing us to gain a larger understanding of the British state apparatus and its administrative and commercial difficulties and vulnerabilities.

Supervisor: Professor Trevor Burnard