Eighteenth-century London was, according to historian Julie Flavell, “the greatest city America ever had”. Her fascinating study explores the ‘untold’ story of the capital in the mid-18th century, when America was still part of the British empire.
The city of Dr Johnson, Garrick and Reynolds was the envy of the world and attracted as many as 1,000 colonists at a time, through whose eyes this engaging narrative is told.
They included Henry Laurens – rice planter, slave-keeper and transatlantic merchant; Stephen Sayre, a farmer’s son from Long Island, whose adventures bring to mind Dick Whittington’s; and Benjamin Franklin, the founding father of the United States. Flavell explores the influence that these men had upon Georgian London, and how they gained more acceptance from the xenophobic English than other nationalities, notably the “over-dressed fawning” French.
Even the American War of Independence did not altogether extinguish this cordial relationship, and it was only gradually that London’s predominance gave way to the booming metropolises of New York, Washington and Boston.
By the end of the 19th century, America had become the giant that Franklin had predicted.
Tracy Borman is the author of Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror (Jonathan Cape, 2011)
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