When London Was Capital of America

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Overview

Benjamin Franklin secretly loved London more than Philadelphia: it was simply the most exciting place to be in the British Empire. And in the decade before the outbreak of the American Revolution, thousands of his fellow colonists flocked to the Georgian city in its first big wave of American visitors. At the very point of political rupture, mother country and colonies were socially and culturally closer than ever before. In this first-ever portrait of eighteenth-century London as the capital of America, Julie M. Flavell re-creates the famous city’s heyday as the center of an empire that encompassed North America and the West Indies. The momentous years before independence saw more colonial Americans than ever in London’s streets: wealthy Southern plantation owners in quest of culture, slaves hoping for a chance of freedom, Yankee businessmen looking for opportunities in the city, even Ben Franklin seeking a second, more distinguished career. The stories of the colonials, no innocents abroad, vividly re-create a time when Americans saw London as their own and remind us of the complex, multiracial—at times even decadent—nature of America’s colonial British heritage.

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Editorial Reviews

Andrea Wulf
…illuminates this fascinating chapter of London's—and North America's—past, showing how the metropolis functioned as a magnet for colonists from across the Atlantic (including the West Indies) who sought accomplishment, opportunity and commerce…Flavell has unearthed a host of stories that bring alive a previously neglected aspect of the colonial experience…Beautifully reimagining a city that was a distant but integral part of American life, Flavell's book is essential reading for anyone interested in the colonial period.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Before the Revolutionary War, England had a complex relationship with its colonial properties, but one truth always held: London was the center of the British Empire and therefore, the center of the world, politically, culturally, and intellectually. As such, it drew students, merchants, intellectuals, and fortune hunters from all over the empire. Flavell’s comprehensive examination of London’s lure to colonists focuses on specific individuals, including a wealthy merchant, his scientist son, the slave who makes a gamble on freedom, and Benjamin Franklin. Through these sketches readers begin to derive a complex understanding of London’s role in the Empire and its influence over colonial styles, affiliations, and racial attitudes. Having poured through manuscripts from the time, Flavell argues that the American colonies were a far more multicultural place than American history books tend to depict, and that the British perception of the colonies was not as simplistic as we’ve been led to believe. Flavell writes in a compelling and succinct style, and history fans will be intrigued by his interpretation of a tumultuous time that shaped the fate of nations. (June)
New York Times Book Review

"Ambitious . . . lively . . . . Beautifully reimagining a city that was a distant but integral part of American life, Flavell''s book is essential reading for anyone interested in the colonial period."--Andrea Wulf, New York Times Book Review

— Andrea Wulf

Reviews in History

''This is a good book that lives up to expectations'' — Leonard Schwarz, Reviews in History

— Leonard Schwarz

Literary Review

''[a] well-researched and enjoyable book'' — Leslie Mitchell, Literary Review

— Leslie Mitchell

Daily Express

''Julie Flavell has produced not an account of the administration of the American colonies from London but something much more original…She reveals an extraordinary, almost forgotten world, rich with anecdote.'' — Duncan Fallowell, Daily Express

— Duncan Fallowell

The Observer

''[An] engaging social history, written with a novelist''s eye for character and plot.'' — Gaiutra Bahadur, The Observer

— Gaiutra Bahadur

Choice Reviews Online

"Flavell''s subjects—their lives marked variously by bankruptcy, broken engagements, illegitimacy, and suicide—invite illusions to Fielding and Austen.... [An] engaging portrait of colonials in the metropolis. Highly recommended."—G. F. Steckley, Choice Reviews Online

— G. F. Steckley

New York Times Book Review - Andrea Wulf

"Ambitious . . . lively. . . . Beautifully reimagining a city that was a distant but integral part of American life, Flavell's book is essential reading for anyone interested in the colonial period."—Andrea Wulf, New York Times Book Review
Andrew O'Shaughnessy

"A wonderful evocation of the full panorama and panoply of life in eighteenth-century London.”—Andrew O’Shaughnessy, An Empire Divided

Peter Marshall

"With clarity and sure authority, Julie Flavell tells us challenging things that will cast new light on the many readers' commonly-held beliefs. This is a splendid book."—Peter Marshall

Richard S Dunn

"A fascinating account of Americans in London in the 1760s and 1770s. Julie Flavell ingeniously weaves together the experiences of the Laurens family of South Carolina, Stephen Sayre of Long Island, and Benjamin Franklin, plus many other colonists, to reveal the rich variety of their London life, and she also illuminates the growing tensions of the revolutionary crisis in strikingly new ways."—Richard S. Dunn, author of Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713
Eliga H Gould

"Before Americans had a Washington - or any other capital city worthy of the name - they had London. Taking as her subject the men and women, young and old, enslaved and free, high-born and humble, who crossed the Atlantic in the years just before and during the Revolution, Julie Flavell paints a vivid and compelling picture of London as the cultural, political, and economic center of colonial American life."—Eliga H. Gould, author of The Persistence of Empire: British political Culture in the Age of the American Revolution
Reviews in History - Leonard Schwarz

'This is a good book that lives up to expectations' — Leonard Schwarz, Reviews in History
Literary Review - Leslie Mitchell

'[a] well-researched and enjoyable book' — Leslie Mitchell, Literary Review
Daily Express - Duncan Fallowell

'Julie Flavell has produced not an account of the administration of the American colonies from London but something much more original…She reveals an extraordinary, almost forgotten world, rich with anecdote.' — Duncan Fallowell, Daily Express
The Observer - Gaiutra Bahadur

'[An] engaging social history, written with a novelist's eye for character and plot.' — Gaiutra Bahadur, The Observer
Choice Reviews Online - G. F. Steckley

"Flavell's subjects—their lives marked variously by bankruptcy, broken engagements, illegitimacy, and suicide—invite illusions to Fielding and Austen.... [An] engaging portrait of colonials in the metropolis. Highly recommended."—G. F. Steckley, Choice Reviews Online
The American Historical Review - Stephen Conway

"The book is written in a very accessible style laced with familiar literary parallels drawn from such authors as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and likely to attract the non-specialist reader. . . . But for all of its seeming lightness of touch, Flavell's work is based on thorough research and has some serious and important messages for historians of the revolutionary period."—Stephen Conway, The American Historical Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300178135
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/25/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 785,692
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Julie Flavell, the author and editor of many scholarly and popular publications on the relationship between colonial America and Britain, including Britain and America Go to War, is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and an independent scholar. Born in the United States, she currently lives in Scotland.

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