When London was Capital of America by Julie Flavell - review by Leslie Mitchell

Leslie Mitchell

We The People

When London was Capital of America


Yale University Press 289pp £20

Before 1776 there was no such thing as American. The adjective merely described the contents of a swathe of British colonies in an arc running from Nova Scotia through to the West Indies. Animals and plants could be called American. So too could the indigenous populations. Mohawk and Cherokee chiefs visiting London in the 1760s were plainly not British. But most people living in the colonies regarded themselves as British citizens who happened to live on the other side of a great ocean. As a consequence, England in particular was ‘home’, and they claimed the liberties of their compatriots with the same enthusiasm that they aped their fashions.

For people who thought this way, London was naturally seen as their capital city. It was perhaps twenty times larger than Boston or New York. For colonials, as for Yorkshiremen or East Anglians, London was the ultimate destination for the ambitious and those with pretensions to gentility. Acutely

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