Cityscapes and Revolution Political Mobilization and Urban Spaces in North America, 1740-1783

Carp, Benjamin Louis, Department of History, University of Virginia
Onuf, Peter S., Department of History, University of Virginia

This project explores Revolutionary mobilization in the five largest cities in the American colonies: Boston, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. These port cities connected the colonies economically, politically, and culturally to the British imperial system. During the imperial crisis that began after 1763, urban Americans enacted the social transformations and radical ideological principles of the American Revolution. City dwellers were best able to transmit the ideas that flowed through the networks of the Atlantic world to the rural countryside. The project’s emphasis on mobilization shies away from schemes of interpretation that focus solely on a set of ideologies or a social category such as class. Instead, urban proximity and interaction helped to foster social cooperation and negotiation among city dwellers in physical spaces. This work seeks to improve our understanding of politics and social change in the Revolutionary cities. Each of the first five chapters focuses on political resistance and social unrest within a specific type of space in each of the five cities, exploring an interconnected, cosmopolitan urban culture and a common process of urban resistance. I look at the clash between the Boston waterfront community and British customs officials, troops, and naval officers from 1747 to 1774. I show how New Yorkers grappled with the tension between the ordered dialogue of tavern associations and the chaotic violence that accompanied drunkenness, since both phenomena comprised the city’s tavern life as well as its revolutionary movement. Another chapter examines the religious landscape of Newport, its pluralism as well as its denominational confrontations and interracial revival movement. I also observe the Charleston household, where elite patriarchs wrestled with the issues of refinement, slavery, and gender relations. Philadelphia’s Court House and State House, and the spaces surrounding them, gave rise to legal discussions indoors as well as influential crowd meetings “out of doors.” The final chapter discusses the Revolutionary War itself: the occupation, immobilization, and destruction of the cities during the war and the devolution of Revolutionary mobilization from urban institutions such as taverns and the waterfront to peripatetic institutions such as the Continental Army and the Continental Congress.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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