The Tropical Metropolis: Cities and Society in the Early Modern British Caribbean

Draper, Mary, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Edelson, Scott, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation recovers the history of three of the most important and neglected cities of British America and the Atlantic world—Bridgetown (Barbados), Port Royal (Jamaica), and Kingston (Jamaica)—from 1627 until 1763. Over these 136 years, planter elites, enslaved Africans, metropolitan officials, merchants, and mariners invested in the growth and development of these coastal settlements. By examining the townspeople who took up the mantle of urban improvement, the mariners and merchants who procured goods and foodstuffs, the enslaved Africans who labored as pilots and tradesmen, and the metropolitan officials charged with overseeing these tropical locales, this dissertation demonstrates that urban residents throughout the West Indies adapted to the maritime settings and terrestrial constraints of their island settlements in order to achieve a level of sufficiency and stability that sustained their growing urban populations. By reclaiming underwater land, building fortifications, and scouring a maritime hinterland for provisions, residents ensured that their settlements were profitable, defensible, and—most importantly—habitable. In viewing the Caribbean from the vantage point of its cities, it becomes evident that the West Indies was not a series of far-flung plantation societies, but rather a dynamic, integrated region featuring sustained social, cultural, and economic development. That development, predicated on a quest for Englishness, forged an adaptive creole culture.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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