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Dangerous EconomiesDangerous Economies

Status and Commerce in Imperial New York

Serena R. Zabin

Narrated by Naomi Jacobson

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Pennsylvania Press

Before the American Revolution, the people who lived in British North America were not just colonists; they were also imperial subjects. To think of eighteenth-century New Yorkers as Britons rather than incipient Americans allows us fresh investigations into their world. How was the British Empire experienced by those who lived at its margins? How did the mundane affairs of ordinary New Yorkers affect the culture at the center of an enormous commercial empire?

Dangerous Economies is a history of New York culture and commerce in the first two thirds of the eighteenth century, when Britain was just beginning to catch up with its imperial rivals, France and Spain. In that sparsely populated city on the fringe of an empire, enslaved Africans rubbed elbows with white indentured servants while the elite strove to maintain ties with European genteel culture. The transience of the city's people, goods, and fortunes created a notably fluid society in which establishing one's own status or verifying another's was a challenge. New York's shifting imperial identity created new avenues for success but also made success harder to define and demonstrate socially.

Such a mobile urban milieu was the ideal breeding ground for crime and conspiracy, which became all too evident in 1741, when thirty slaves were executed and more than seventy other people were deported after being found guilty—on dubious evidence—of plotting a revolt. This sort of violent outburst was the unforeseen but unsurprising result of the seething culture that existed at the margins of the British Empire.

Serena R. Zabin is Associate Professor of History at Carleton College.


“In this wonderful snapshot of the relationship between economic systems and social hierarchies in eighteenth-century New York, Serena Zabin offers an exciting view of life on the margins in the imperial city.”


“This is not merely an account of a single city but instead a consideration of culture and commerce shaped by political and economic competition and exchange in the Atlantic world.... Zabin paints a portrait of colonial New York City that others working on eighteenth-century urban centers will find useful in analyzing how residents thought about their position within the imperial system and their relationships to others, near and far, throughout the empire.”

William and Mary Quarterly


Introduction: Imperial New York City

1. Where Credit Is Due

2. Webs of Dependence

3. The Informal Economy

4. Masters of Distinction

5. Black Cargo or Crew

6. Status, Commerce, and Conspiracy

All titles are published by:
University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks