Creating, Maintaining, and Contesting Power in the Atlantic World, 1600-1778 [Preview]

This is the first in a series of presentation previews of the 8th Annual Loyola University Chicago Graduate Student History Conference, to be held November 5, 2011. If you would like to learn more about the topics or the scholars, please leave a note in the comments of this post.

The period 1600-1800 marked a tumultuous time in the British Atlantic.  Population growth, demographic change, and economic transformations pushed England into a period of social instability.  This tension was exacerbated by Civil Wars, regicide, overseas expansion, and repeated conflicts with the French and other Continental powers.  The tenuous line between stability and instability brought issues of power and control to the forefront of social and political discourse. Moreover, Britons on both sides of the Atlantic spent considerable time addressing these notions in both explicit and implicit ways.  Each time someone created or challenged authority, it shed light on the myriad forces that created the infrastructure for social relations in the Atlantic world.

Erin Feichtinger’s paper “Unhappy Wretches: Interpretation of Emotions in the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account shows how English officials attempted to maintain order through the written word.  By exploring the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account, Feichtinger sheds light on what values, ideals, and attitudes the Ordinary attempted to foster, or in some cases, eliminate.  In doing so, the Ordinary was able to shape political discourse through exercising power over the condemned.  Peter Kotowski’s “The Best Poor Man’s Country?  Indentured Servitude in Pennsylvania, 1650-1750,” approaches the issues of authority and power from a different perspective.  In trying to re-examine the historiographical narrative of Pennsylvania, Peter Kotowski offers an opposite view to Feichtinger’s work.  Rather than focusing on those who manipulated power, Kotowski uses indentured servants to show how they were manipulated and controlled in Pennsylvania during the first half of the eighteenth century.  In doing so, he calls for a reassessment of both the historiography of servants, and the literature on Penn’s Woods.  Finally, Aaron Brunmeier’s “The Quartering Act, Taverns, and New York City’s Radicalization: A Reinterpretation of the Imperial Crisis, 1765-1770,” looks at the public sphere of the New York Tavern as a locus for contested notions of control.  Brunmeier argues that tensions over the implicit and explicit implications of the Quartering Act manifested themselves in popular and radical protest stemming from the tavern.

In each of these papers the author addresses the pivotal ways in which the Atlantic world bore witness to contestations of authority and stability.  In some cases, like the Ordinary of Newgate, the elites successfully presented an image of order through their careful maintenance of the poor.  In others, the lower class managed to challenge imperial authority, such as Brunmeier’s tavern goers.  As Kotowski’s paper illustrates, in most cases there were no winners and losers, simply an omnipresent tension between those seeking to maintain control, and those wishing to escape such authority.  Nevertheless, these issues permeate the Atlantic World.

“The Quartering Act, Taverns, and New York City’s Radicalization: A Reinterpretation of the Imperial Crisis, 1765-1770” – Aaron Brunmeier

Tumult, violence, radicalism, and alcohol defined New York in the years of 1765-1770. A dialectic of resistance came to cast a shadow over New York pitting radicals ostensibly against soldiers, but also against the British Empire and, at times, their fellow New Yorkers. Resistance started off as opposition to the Stamp Act but soon mutated into something much different. The Quartering Act of 1765 reached far deeper into the colonists’ lives than did a tax on stamped paper. Their social surroundings drastically altered and as a result, so did their behavior. The imposition of soldiers jeopardized the previous integrity of public places.  New Yorkers’ normative civil recourse deteriorated into base expressions of violence. A healthy “public sphere” allowed for the creation of discursive means of expression that served to check political authority. Without a healthy public domain, according to Jürgen Habermas, political authority had the potential to become tyrannical. The British soldiers, as agents of the Empire (political authority), started to act in ways that were autocratic and violent and thus infringed upon the rights of the people. With a compromised social framework, the colonists resorted to rebellious persuasion as a crude method of delivering a check on the overreaching political authority of the British Empire.

The crucible of the Quartering Act unfolded on the streets and in taverns. As time progressed, the scope and frequency of the violence between soldier and colonist increased. Although the Revolution was six years in the future, by 1770 many of the inhabitants of New York were radicalized. Their perception of British tyranny was not simply a cerebral exercise in political theory or Constitutional law, but grounded by the violent experiences associated with the Quartering Act. Through their lived experience and the expropriation of their public space, colonists encountered the reality of their status as subjects of the Empire.


Aaron Brunmeier is a second year MA student at Loyola University Chicago. He is studying Atlantic history with an emphasis on early modern conceptions of liberty held by various groups across the Atlantic world. Aaron would like to continue his work in a doctoral program next year.

“’Unhappy Wretches’: Interpretation of Emotions in the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account” – Erin Feichtinger

While much has been written regarding capital punishment in eighteenth-century England, the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account has thus far garnered little attention.  The Ordinary of Newgate himself is frequently mentioned in the compendium of eighteenth-century criminal biographers or as an example of the elite class whose interests were protected and propagated under England’s capital code.  As a member of the city government, a religious official and standing to profit from the publication of his reports, the Account is full of “brevity, fabrication, circumstantial realism, luridness and moral pretentiousness.” This assessment of the Ordinary and his Account is precisely the reason that it must be studied.

The Account was ultimately a story of power.  As the narrator of this story, the Ordinary controlled the reproduction of the malefactors’ words and emotional expressions.  The Ordinary’s tales are filled with the language of power; of right or wrong, fiction or fact, the merits of saved or eternally damned souls.  In his telling of this story, he was able to neatly place the condemned into a formula ruled by specific expectations.  As such, his interpretations of the condemned’s emotions provides a key insight into the social processes at work within a system where the “great thieves hang little ones.”

This brief study is intended to situate the Ordinary’s Account in the growing research of the history of emotions.  The Account’s formula is especially suited to this study, as the Ordinary’s interpretation of emotions rarely changes despite spanning a century of English history filled with social and political upheavals.  The Account’s intent was to define and reaffirm political authority through its specific interpretations, effectively distancing that same authority from the more sordid aspects of capital punishment. 


Erin Feichtinger, hailing from Omaha Nebraska.  I completed my undergraduate studies at Loyola University Chicago, receiving my BS.Ed in Special Education in 2006.  I am currently beginning my second year of doctoral studies at Loyola Chicago.  My research focus is the 17th and 18th century Atlantic World, specifically capital punishment and treatment of the dead bodies, and other assorted but equally macabre subjects. 

“The Best Poor Man’s Country?  Indentured Servitude in Pennsylvania, 1650-1750” – Peter Kotowski

Introductory history courses often hold Pennsylvania up as a paragon of colonial development where, in the words of William Penn, “Ingeniuous Spirits that being low in the World, are much clogg’d and oppress’d about a Livelyhood,” and “those that are younger Brothers of small Inheritances” whose “condition is too strait for them; and if married, their Children are often too numerous for the Estate” migrated to the New World in hopes of bettering their lives.1  Penn’s Woods has similarly worked its way into the historiographical record, as scholars like David Hackett Fischer paint Pennsylvania as the template for economic opportunity, multiethnic cooperation, and toleration.  But what if this narrative only relates one half of the story?  Was Pennsylvania a haven for opportunity, even for those “clogg’d and oppress’d about a Livelyhood” as Penn noted, or were the ordering principles that regulated Pennsylvania much more similar to other colonies.

This paper explores the relationship between masters and servants from 1650-1750 in an effort to repaint the narrative of Pennsylvania.  By recapturing the lived experience of Pennsylvania servants, this paper argues that masters exercised a harsh form of control in an effort to maintain social order and maximize the efficiency of their indentured labor force.  In turn, these servants were cognizant of the harshness of this system and found active ways to contest their experience.  These servants operated within a burgeoning capitalist society that sought to maximize profits, and one that did so at the expense of the labor force.  Through an exploration of the travel to Pennsylvania, the labor conditions, and the methods of resistance, this paper posits that the popular view of Pennsylvania is much more complicated.

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