I am a quantitative historian who focuses on the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth century British Caribbean. My work takes on an economic and political economic slant, with particular interest in the relationship between Britain’s shifting economic orientation and the demise of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery. I first got into this field while pursuing a terminal masters degree in economics at the University of Delaware. I was fortunate to work under Farley Grubb, an expert in British colonial and early national history with specialization in the servant trade. After completing this degree, I studied at the University of Minnesota under Rus Menard and Steven Ruggles. I worked on the IPUMS census projects, which is now part of the Minnesota Population center. Recently, I returned to this type of work with a small study of Galveston Island’s maritime workers using the 1880 complete count data.
After Minnesota, I held a post-doctoral and lectureship position at Brunel University, in Uxbridge, west London. There I continued my work with Jamaica manuscripts, both in Spanish Town and in British archives. I learned a great deal from my colleagues there, Ken Morgan and Trevor Burnard, both Atlantic World historians who have helped shaped the recent historiography of British settlement, development, and exploitation of Britain’s American slave colonies.
My most important work shows that the economic crisis facing the most politically powerful West Indians can explain the timing of the abolition of Britain’s transatlantic slave trade. It was the glut in low-grade sugars, beginning in 1800, that led policymakers to conclude that slave trading no longer made practical sense (Ryden 2001, 2009). Parliament had long implicated itself in the slave trade with little thought to its morality, but, by 1807, the decision was an easy one given the twenty years of popular condemnation and the rising tide of bankruptcies seen in Britain’s most important sugar colony. Thus, my work both revises and resurrects an important piece of Eric Williams’ well known argument laid out in his seminal book, Capitalism and Slavery.
My present focus is on the political economy of the British emancipation movement and the defense of the West India planter interest. I am also working on manumission in Jamaica and my students are presently developing a WordPress project focused on manumission deeds in New York.
West Indian Slavery and British Abolition, 1783-1807 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) (ISBN-13: 9780521486590 & 9780521148047), 332 pp. – “Outstanding Academic Title,” ALA’s Choice magazine.
The Abolitionists Struggle: Promoters of the Slave Trade, volume 4 of The British Transatlantic Slave Trade series, series ed. Kenneth (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2003).
“Manumission in Late Eighteenth-Century Jamaica,” New West Indian Guide 92:3-4 (2018): 211–244.
“Galveston’s Maritime Workers in 1880: A Quantitative View,” East Texas Historical Journal 56:1 (2018): 40-54.
“Spokesmen for Oppression: Stephen Fuller, the Jamaica Assembly, and the London West India Interest during Popular Abolitionism, 1788-1795,” Jamaican Historical Review 26 (2013): 5-28.
“Sugar, Land Markets, and the Williams Thesis: Evidence from Jamaica’s Property Sales, 1750-1810,” co-authored with Ahmed Reid, Slavery and Abolition 34:3 (2013): 401-24.
“Sugar, Spirits, and Fodder: The London West India Interest and the Glut of 1807-15,” Atlantic Studies 9:1 (2012): 41-64.
“South Carolina’s Colonial Land Market: an Analysis of Rural Property Sales, 1720-1775,” co-authored with Russell R. Menard, Social Science History 29:4 (2005): 599-623.
“Does Decline Make Sense? The West Indian Economy and the Abolition of the British Slave Trade,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 31:3 (2001): 347-74.
“‘One of the fertilest pleasentest Spotts’: An Analysis of the Slave Economy in Jamaica’s St Andrew Parish, 1753,” Slavery and Abolition 21:1 (2000): 32-55.
“Data Consistency Checking,” co-authored with Daniel C. Kallgren, Historical Methods 28:1 (1995): 66-9.
“Anthony Benezet, James Ramsay, and the Political Economic Attack on the British Slave Trade,” in The Atlantic World: Essays on Slavery, Migration and Imagination, second edition, eds. Willem Klooster and Alfred Padula (Abington: Routledge, 2018).
“Maroon War, Peace, and Removal in the Eighteenth Century (Jamaica)” in Sociétés marronnes des Amériques. Mémoires, Patrimoines, Identités et Histoire XVIIe au XXe siècles, ed. Jean Moomou (Matoury, Guyane: IBIS Rouge Editions, 2015), 153-166.
“Planters, Slaves and Decline,” in Capitalism and Slavery Fifty Years Later; Eric Eustace Williams – A Reassessment of the Man and His Work, eds. Heather Cateau and Selwyn H. H. Carrington (New York: Peter Lang, 2000), 154-169.
“Running the Numbers [Review of Transatlantic Slave Trade Database],” Slavery and Abolition 22 (2001): 141-9.
Public Use Microdata Sample of the 1850 United States Census of Population: User’s Guide and Technical Documentation, multi-authored with Steven Ruggles, et. al. (Minneapolis: Social History Research Laboratory, 1995).
Review Articles, Comments, and Encyclopedia Entries
“Manumission,” Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History, ed. Trevor Burnard (Oxford University Press, 2013)
“Eric Williams’ Three Faces of West India Decline,” [The Fernand Braudel Center’s] Review 35:2 (2012):117-133.
“Perhaps We Can Talk: Discussant Comments for ‘Taking Stock and Moving Ahead: The Past, Present, and Future of Economics for History,'” Social Science History, special section, 35:2 (2011): 209-12.
“Sugar,” Encyclopedia of Early Modern World, ed. Jonathan Dewald (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003).
“Producing a Peculiar Commodity: Jamaican Sugar Production, Slave Life, and Planter Profits on the Eve of Abolition, 1750-1807,” Journal of Economic History 61:2 (2001): 504-7 [dissertation summary published in the annual awards section of the JEH].
“Marxism and Slavery Historiography,” Encyclopedia of World Slavery, eds. Paul Finkelman and Joseph C. Miller (New York: Macmillan Reference, 1999).
Review of Marcus Rediker’s The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist (Boston: Beacon, 2017) for the New West Indian Guide (forthcoming).
Review of Daniel Livesay’s Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Jamaicans in Britain and the Atlantic Family, 1733-1833 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018) for the New West Indian Guide 93: 1-2 (2019): 114-5.
Review of Christopher Taylor’s Empire of Neglect: The West Indies in the Wake of British Liberalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018) for Caribbean Studies 46:2 (2018): 207-210.
Review of Matthew J. Smith’s Haiti and Jamaica-Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014) for The Americas 71:1 (2018): 233-4.
Review of Abigail Swingen’s Competing Visions of Empire: Labor, Slavery, and the Origins of the British Atlantic Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015) for the New West Indian Guide 91: 1-2 (2017): 92-3.
Review of Claudius K. Fergus’s Revolutionary Emancipation: Slavery and Abolitionism in the British West Indies (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013) for the New West Indian Guide, 90:1-2 (2016): 86-88.
Review of Philip J. Stern and Carl Wennerlind’s (eds.) Mercantilism Reimagined: Political Economy in Early Modern Britain and Its Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) for the Journal of Modern History 87:4 (2015): 951-3.
Review of Simon Newman’s A New World of Labor: The Development of Plantation Slavery in the British Atlantic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) for Agricultural History 89:2 (2015): 329-31.
Review of Robert L. Paquette and Mark M. Smith’s (eds). Oxford Handbook on Slavery in the Americas for History: Reviews of New Books 39:4 (2011): 130-1.
Review of Nicholas Draper’s The Price of Emancipation: Slave-Ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery for the Journal of British Studies 50 (2011): 218-20.
Review of Natalie Zacek’s Settler Society in the English Leeward Islands, 1670-1776 for H-Albion, H-Net Reviews (2011).
Review of S.D. Smith’s, Slavery, Family, and Gentry Capitalism in the British Atlantic: The World of the Lascelles, 1648-1834 for Business History Review 82 (2008): 422-4.
Review of Deborah Valenze’s The Social Life of Money in the English Past for Literature and History 17 (2008): 89-90.
Review of Laura Croghan Kamoie’s Irons in the Fire: The Business History of the Tayloe Family and Virginia’s Gentry, 1700-1860 for the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 105 (2007): 690-2.
Review of B. W. Higman’s Plantation Jamaica: Capital and Control in a Colonial Economy for Labor History 48 (2007): 543-6.
Review of Cathy Matson’s (ed.) The Economy of Early America: Historical Perspectives and New Directions for EH.Net Review (2007).
Review of Frederick H. Smith’s Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History for Business History Review 80 (2006): 595-7.
Review of Trevor Burnard’s Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and his Slaves in the Anglo-Jamican World for Eighteenth-Century Book Reviews Online (2006).
Review of Jack P. Greene, Rosemary Brana-Shute, and Randy J. Sparks’ (eds.) Money, Trade, and Power: The Evolution of Colonial South Carolina’s Plantation Society for EH.Net Review (2003, http://www.eh.net/bookreviews/).
Review of Herbert S. Klein’s The Atlantic Slave Trade for the Journal of American Studies (2002).
Review of Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean for International History Review 23:4 (2001).
Review of Jenny Bourne Wahl’s Bondsmen’s Burden for the Journal of American Studies 34 (2000): 346-7.