My research focuses on the socio-cultural development of loyalism in colonial America, and asks why individuals chose to support the British – rather than the American – cause during the American Revolution. I am especially interested in the role that British social and material culture played in shaping identities and helping Americans to feel part of a wider British-Atlantic community. This included reading popular books and novels that were being published in Britain, following the London fashions, or discussing the latest British news with their peers at the dock-side coffee-house.
Libraries formed an important part of eighteenth-century social and public life. In New York – which was a loyalist stronghold and the focus of my doctoral research – the ‘Society Library’ (founded in 1754) was a symbol of the city’s new-found refinement, a place where New Yorkers could meet with and share texts with likeminded individuals. Importantly for my research, it was co-founded by William Smith Jr., who would later become a notorious loyalist.
The 'Libraries, Reading Communities, and Cultural Formation in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic' project will enrich my research, as well as wider studies of urban development in colonial America. Bibliographical information from library holdings, for instance, will shed light on the mercantile connections between British printers and provincial American towns. Meanwhile, by tracing the borrowing histories of known loyalists, scholars of the American Revolution can explore the connections between the texts that people read and their subsequent political opinions. I look forward to exploring how New York’s library users compare to those in other loyalist strongholds.