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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: Economies

Herman Moll, This Map of North America, 1715, detail
"Sea of the British Empire"
Commerce I: Empire
- American perspectives on the colonies' commercial ties with Great Britain: the Observations of Benjamin Franklin & William Clarke, 1751, 1755 (PDF)
- European perspectives on Great Britain's commercial ties with the colonies: six views, 1699-1760 (PDF)
- Map: Herman Moll, This Map of North America, 32 x 22 1/2 in., ca. 1715-1720

Trafique, Commerce, and Trade are those great wheels that by their circular and continued motion turn into most Kingdoms of the Earth the plenty of abundant Riches that they are commonly fed withall: For Trafique in his right description is the very soul of a Kingdom . . .
George Alsop, English indentured servant in Maryland, 16661
Trafique. Traffic. Trade. What George Alsop called in 1666 "the very soul of a kingdom" had become a century later the central tie between Great Britain and her mainland Atlantic colonies. True, the pursuit of wealth was goal #1 for founding most colonies in the Americas, but in the 1600s Britain's primary focus was Europe—winning wars and gaining territory, influence, and "market share"—not America, where the commercial promise of its colonies stagnated.

Then the events of 1688 to 1713 changed everything. With the Glorious Revolution, the 1707 union of England and Scotland, and victory in the intercolonial wars (creating a massive national debt), the "United Kingdom of Great Britain" became a first-class power. Militarily, its navy dominated the seas. Economically, its banks and financiers replaced the Dutch as the source of capital: working money. Commerce became the "soul of the kingdom," and Britain took a new look at North America. "By giving a new priority to overseas expansion," writes historian Alan Taylor, "the English committed their empire to maritime commerce rather than to European territory—a dramatic shift that elevated their American colonies to a new importance."2 Things would never be the same. Here we consider this shift from two perspectives—American and European.

  • American perspectives. In 1755 during the French and Indian War, Bostonian William Clarke published a pamphlet addressed to the royal governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony. He stressed the necessity of Britain's defeating France and taking possession of Canada and the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, thereby providing more security for the settlers and, more significantly for the empire, opening North America as a vast economic market for Britain. As an appendix, Clarke included a paper written several years earlier by Benjamin Franklin, who agreed that Britain needed prodding to fully appreciate the economic potential of its mainland colonies—"a glorious market wholly under the power of Britain." Proceeding through a series of meticulously stated sociological precepts, Franklin argues that Britain must enlarge the colonies' territory as exponentially as their population was growing; otherwise their economic potential would not be realized: "What an Accession of Power to the British Empire by Sea as well as Land! What Increase of Trade and Navigation!"
    • - William Clarke, Observations on the late and present Conduct of the French, with Regard to their Encroachments upon the British Colonies in North America . . . , 1755 [excerpts], including as an appendix: Benjamin Franklin, Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c., 1751.

  • European perspectives. How did Europeans perceive this "dramatic shift" in the colonies' significance to Great Britain? What opportunities and challenges did they see in the commercial expansion? In this collection are the views of six Europeans—two British clergymen, a British trade official, a British philosopher, a Swedish biologist, and a Swiss nobleman, all of whom wrote from direct experience except the philosopher (Edmund Burke, later a statesman who supported the colonists' revolutionary stance). How do their views coincide or differ from those of the American colonists?
    • - Commentary of Edward Randolph (England, 1699), Francis Louis Michel (Switzerland, 1701-1702), Rev. Hugh Jones (England, 1724), Peter Kalm (Sweden, 1748-1751), Edmund Burke (England, 1757), and Rev. Andrew Burnaby (England, 1760

View Herman Moll's 1715 map of North America while you read the selections. Zoom in on his illustrations, insets, titles, and commentary. What does he express in this map about the European competition for the continent in 1715? (15 pages, not including the map.)

Discussion questions
  1. Overall, what impressions do you get from these readings on the "dramatic shift" in British commercial policy "that elevated their American colonies to a new importance," as historian Alan Taylor states?2
  2. What was this new importance, as interpreted by different observers?
  3. How do the two Americans, Benjamin Franklin and William Clarke, view the shift?
  4. What urgency do they recommend in British policy? Why?
  5. How (and why) does Franklin use "political arithmetic," i.e., statistics, to serve as the foundation of his argument that Britain must expand its possessions in North America?
  6. How do the six Europeans observers view the colonies' commercial significance to Great Britain?
  7. What opportunities and challenges do they see in commercial expansion?
  8. How does the commercial expansion affect specific groups and individuals?
  9. How do the Europeans' views coincide or differ from those of the American colonists?
  10. According to the various observers, what is the downside of increased commercial activity for the colonies? for Great Britain? for individuals?
  11. Include the readings in the next section, Commerce II: Colonies, as you consider these questions.
  12. Also consider the views about trade and colonial enterprise in Theme I: GROWTH #1: The Colonies, 1690-1715, and #9: The Colonies, 1720-1763. What does this broadening of perspective give to your understanding of the commercial bond between Britain and her colonies?
  13. How do the selections illustrate George Alsop's 1666 statement that "Trafique [trade] . . . is the very soul of a Kingdom"?

Map questions: Herman Moll, This Map of North America, 1715
  1. What is the full title of the map? (See the cartouche, upper left.)
  2. Why is the map dedicated to the head of the queen's privy (advisory) council, which was responsible for administering the colonies?
  3. Explain the significance of the Latin motto on the cartouche: Prodesse quam conspici—"To produce (accomplish) rather than to be conspicuous (display wealth)."
  4. How are Native Americans depicted in the cartouche? Note the Inuit (Eskimo).
  5. Note Moll's color coding of British (red), French (green), and Spanish (yellow) territory. Compare the territorial differences with a 1763 British map, published before the end of the French and Indian War.
  6. How does Moll title the Atlantic Ocean?
  7. How does he title the ocean near the mainland Atlantic colonies?
  8. Why does he give such prominence to cod fishing in Newfoundland? (See illustration at left, middle.)
  9. What harbors (five British and five Spanish) does he highlight in inset maps? Why is no French colonial harbor so depicted?
  10. Note the boxed "Explanation" in the lower right corner. Why does Moll include the Spanish plan "to hasten the King's treasure"? Where are Points A & B? (See the northern coast of South America.)
  11. Why does Moll track the usual path of the Spanish galleons?
  12. What do the arrows in the ocean and seas signify?
  13. Why does he trace the seventeenth-century voyages of Henry Hudson and Thomas James in search of a Northwest Passage around North America? Note the sentence (written south of Hudson's Bay): "Hereabouts was Capt. Hudson and others turned into a Shalop [i.e., left their ship in a small boat] and never heard of any more."
  14. Note that Moll points out that western shore of Baffin Bay is undetermined. Why would he include this statement?
  15. Describe the "Parts Unknown."
  16. Note that California is depicted as an island and that the Mississippi River is placed too far to the west. Why would these errors still appear in 1715?
  17. Note Moll's extended description (in the region of present-day western U.S.) of a river that is "adorn'd with six noble cities" and "empties itself into a Salt Lake." Why would he give emphasis to this information first told by a French explorer?
  18. Compare Moll's map with a 1718 French map of North America (also zoomable) by Guillaume de L'Isle (Delisle). How are the British and French possessions represented in each map? Why?

Framing Questions
  •  What were the local, regional, and global economies of pre-revolutionary America in the 1700s?
  •  How did they influence the colonies—their self-determination and sense of the future?
  •  How did they shape the lives of individuals—free, bonded, and enslaved?

American perspectives:  9
European perspectives:  6
View map online.    
TOTAL 15 pages
Supplemental Sites

1 Alsop, A Character of the Province of Mary-Land, 1666.

2 Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Viking/Penguin, 2001), p. 293.

Image: P: Herman Moll, This Map of North America, 1715, detail. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Call No. G3300 1715 .M6 TIL Vault.

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

1. Commerce I   2. Commerce II   3. Merchants
4. Consumers   5. Planters   6. Servitude

TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Growth | Peoples | Economies | Ideas | American

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