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The Political Geography of Empire in the English Revolution

The Political Geography of Empire in the English Revolution

(p.86) Chapter Three The Political Geography of Empire in the English Revolution
Urban Dreams, Rural Commonwealth
Paul Musselwhite
University of Chicago Press

This chapter focuses on the role that debates over Chesapeake political economy and town development played in the drafting of the first Navigation Act in the early 1650s. It examines the connections between London merchants, radical religious communities in the Chesapeake, and the intellectual circle that developed around the London publisher Samuel Hartlib. Members of this network exchanged ideas about the potential for economic growth within the empire and the political problems in the Chesapeake that were holding it back. The solutions that Hartlib’s circle developed centered on the need for towns in the Chesapeake. The architect of the first Navigation Act, Benjamin Worsley (a member of Hartlib’s circle), predicated his vision for restricting colonial commerce to English shipping upon his understanding of this simultaneous effort to establish multiple urban centers that would enforce, but also benefit from, the trading restrictions. The chapter goes on to trace the practically unknown story of the effort to impose this urban vision on both Maryland and Virginia. Ultimately, a backlash against the project helped to reinforce the political cohesion of the county community and lay the groundwork for an explicitly agrarian civic vision amongst the royalist planter elite during the late 1650s.

Keywords:   Benjamin Worsley, Hartlib Circle, Navigation Act, Maryland, Virginia, urban corporations, planter-merchants, puritanism, mercantilism

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