Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Review: "Crossroads of Empire"

Ned Landsman's Crossroads of Empire: The Middle Colonies in British North America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011) is the latest installment in the excellent Regional Perspectives on Early America series. Landsman's concise treatment of the Middle Colonies, which differed markedly from their southern and northeastern neighbors in everything from demography to settlement patterns to governmental, commercial, religious and social structures, makes for a fine addition to the series.

The first three chapters of this book treat the basic settlement and early history of the Middle Colonies (what would become New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware), noting the key distinction between these colonies and the others: that the territory involved was never the domain of a single European power, so the settlements tended to be more diverse. "New Netherland, sponsored by one of the most heterogeneous national states in Europe, contained a mixed population of Dutch and German-speakers, French-speaking Protestants from the Low Countries known as Walloons, Swedes, Danes, Africans from many lands, English, Scots, and Jews, among others. The largest element in the population of New Sweden was probably Finnish. Long Island, with portions claimed by New England and New Netherland, housed significant numbers of Dutch Reformed, New England Congregationalists, English Quakers, Baptists, and other sectarian groups" (p. 20).

Landsman examines the development of New York and Pennsylvania as "alternate possibilities that emerged within the Restoration empire at a time when neither the haphazard settlement schemes of the Chesapeake region nor the strict religious uniformity of New England were viable colonial options and when colonial constitutional arrangements were carefully considered in the name of order, balance, toleration, and - increasingly - trade" (p. 57).

The fourth chapter focuses on the rise of the Middle Colonies as an Atlantic trading hub, which allowed the creation of much more varied economic system in the region than in the northern or southern colonies, and made the area keenly dependent on the interconnected nature of the Atlantic economy. Landsman then transitions to two chapters on the religious pluralism of the region in its various forms and on the important (and sometimes contradictory) roles played by the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies.

Finally, Landsman turns to the factional and fraught political climate of the region in his last chapter, noting the trends of "consistently competitive politics with persistent partisan divides, ever-increasing popular participation in the political process, widespread claims of political liberty, and some of the earliest assertions of aggressively populist or even democratic political values" (p. 182).

Solid, well-sourced, and very readable. Recommended.

No comments: