British America 1500-1800

Creating Colonies, Imagining and Empire
Sarson, Steven
Date published: 
March 2005

British America combines the histories of colonies and empire – usually distinct fields of enquiry – in a sweeping introduction to and interpretation of the British-American New World. This book argues that while settlers created colonies, the early empire remained a largely imaginary construct. Writers, explorers, and colonial proprietors imagined colonies and empire as corporate entities serving various political, religious, and social purposes. Yet, these visions were invariably usurped by settlers who created colonies according to principles of political autonomy and individual independence based on private property, even if the liberties their ideals engendered entailed the extermination and expulsion of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans. English and then British governments encouraged autonomy by granting colonies as private proprietorships, and then accommodating the settler-led polities that subsequently emerged. When Britain finally imposed a vision of empire from the 1760s, the settlers declared their independence, forcing Britain to consider imperialism as something much more than imaginary.

This account examines the way in which the New World was invented and offers a convincing analysis of the loss of the First British Empire.