Poverty in the Early Modern English Atlantic

David Hitchcock

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:
Poverty in the Early Modern English Atlantic

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Poverty in the early modern English Atlantic world was an economic reality that could touch the lives of everyone who lived within the orbit of the Atlantic Ocean and its networks of people, trade, and transport. The poor, however one defines them, were the most numerous and yet the most marginal group to make the crossing from the Old World to the New, either willingly or as indentured servants or slaves. British migrants and African slaves dominated the flow of European transatlantic migration, and the lands that they came to, as colonizers and new masters, or, more commonly, as servants and property, were unforgiving and vast and not at all like homes once known. According to Armitage and Braddick 2009 (cited under Introductory Works), the Lower South, the Chesapeake, and the Caribbean were “charnel houses” for the vast majority of poor Europeans who migrated there. Yet, the rate at which poor whites died was dwarfed by the misery and death of the Middle Passage and of forced black migration to the plantation economies of the English Atlantic. The “lower sort,” whether “deserving” or not, had to get by, or “make shift,” in their new environs as readily as they did in their previous homes and parishes. They often did so through a mélange of casual or temporary employment, menial labor, household economies, and recourse to legal systems of relief. Moreover, researchers examining poverty should read widely beyond a narrow historiography of poor relief alone. Therefore, this bibliography contains sections on related topics, such as migration and law, colonialism in Ireland and Scotland, and survey texts on the social history of the Atlantic world. The historiography of Atlantic poverty is an immense subject, even when divided by empire or by geography. But, despite disparate scholarly interests and changing trends over time, social historians generally share one overriding concern: recovering marginalized experiences once thought lost to posterity. Atlantic social history has never been more vibrant or more relevant than it is in the early 21st century. Within this burgeoning scholarly corpus, which explores the massive and deeply important social implications, convergences, and marginalities of this fluid geography, the study of poverty and economic inequality continues to occupy a central place. The English Atlantic world conceived of by contemporaries between 1500 and 1800 was impossible without the poor—without slaves, indentured servants, and subsistence migrants; and without schemes for relief, colonization, and the easing of need.

Article.  6234 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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