A journalist and Revolutionary War historian examines in abundant and authoritative detail the reluctant city of New York as the colonies reeled toward revolution.
Ketchum (Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, 1997) begins with an account of the beauty of Manhattan and with the small city forming there (population 25,000 in 1774). When troubles began (taxes, taxes, taxes), the merchants, importers, shipping magnates, sailors, laborers—virtually all of them—were loyal to George III. No one wanted political independence. Ketchum notes that Robert Walpole’s policy of “salutary neglect” was one early factor in the emergence of a spirit of independence in New York (and elsewhere). The author examines the competitive political forces in the city (the Livingston and DeLancey factions) and shows how an increasing number and variety of taxes (molasses and sugar were among the first) created frustration and then rage among the city’s commercial men. But it was the Stamp Act (1765) that fomented the first open, pervasive opposition. Ketchum does a splendid job of explaining this act—its origins, its terms, its consequences—and of showing the myriad responses in the colonies, including meetings, demonstrations, resistances, and publications. Following hard upon it were the odious Quartering and Townshend Acts, which occasioned opposition that Ketchum correctly characterizes as “vociferous” and “immediate and widespread.” Ketchum’s focus is on New York, so we catch only glimpses of the Boston Massacre, of Concord (whose “shot heard round the world” we often hear, but not much else), and of Bunker Hill. But one of his principal accomplishments is to remind us that the origins of the revolution were economic, not political, and that the ultimate losers, the American Tories, were treated harshly before, during, and after the conflict. (Tarring and feathering and hanging were common.)
First-rate research, first-rate synthesis. (28 b&w illustrations, 1 map; not seen)