The latest book in our JAR series, Seized With the Temper of the Times: Identity and Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary America by Abby Chandler, a professor of Early American History at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, has been released. We recently reached out to Abby to ask a few questions about her work.
Tell us about your new book.
My book is about political rebellions before the American Revolution, with a particular focus on the events of the Stamp Act crisis in Rhode Island and North Carolina in 1765 and the events of the Regulator Rebellion which took place in North Carolina between 1768 and 1771. It finishes by arguing that these rebellions can help us to better understand why Rhode Island and North Carolina were the final states to ratify the Constitution in the 1780s.
Why did you decide to write Seized With the Temper of the Times? Was it a story that had not been told?
My original plan was to write a biography of Martin Howard who was a Loyalist from Rhode Island who later became the Chief Justice of North Carolina. He refused to disavow his loyalty to Britain in Rhode Island in 1765 and again in North Carolina in 1777 and had to flee for his life both times. The reason I found him interesting was because the arguments that he made for supporting the British Empire are rooted in the same political traditions used by the men who argued in favor of revolting against the British Empire. Like Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, he drew on John Locke’s concept of “life, liberty and personal estate” when he was discussing political rights for British subjects. This is a side of the American Revolution that we rarely talk about and that was what first drew me to Howard. The problem, however, with studying a man who had to abandon everything twice and died in exile is that he left very few documents explaining his thought processes.
By the time I realized that a biography of Martin Howard was unfeasible, I had become interested in the parallels I was seeing between the colonial histories of Rhode Island and North Carolina. Howard remained the central figure in the book but it discusses a much broader history. Both these colonies were constantly overshadowed by larger, more powerful neighbors and both have long histories of internal tensions. The Stamp Act crisis in Rhode Island and North Carolina was a product of these particular histories, as was the Regulator Rebellion. By looking at them together, I was able to tell a story about the tensions over local versus imperial power and control in the decade prior to the American Revolution which would become tensions over local versus federal power and control in the decade after the American Revolution when Rhode Island and North Carolina objected to ratifying the Constitution. And, arguably, these are still conversations that we are having in the United States, particularly in the last seven to eight years.
What is your intended audience, who would be interested in your book or would benefit from reading it?
I am a history professor who spent years in the museum field prior to graduate school so I try to write for anyone who is interested in history rather than a purely academic audience. More specifically, I think it would appeal to people who are interested in the years surrounding the American Revolution and people who are interested in populist rebellions in the United States which, again, is a topic that has become far more relevant in the past seven to eight years.
Was there anything surprising you learned while researching and writing about the topic?
I set out to write a book about Martin Howard and since he lived in Rhode Island and North Carolina, I did research in these states. What struck me once I was doing this work was the parallels between these places. We tend to think of the northern and southern colonies/states as having completely separate cultures but Howard was not the only person whom I came across with connections to both colonies. Rhode Island and North Carolina are both understudied which is probably why this has not been explored in previous books.
Do you have any upcoming events to promote the book?
Here are a few upcoming events:
Wednesday, October 25 at 7:00 on Zoom, Andover Public Library (focus: Howard family)
Event link: https://mhl.libnet.info/event/8953035
Wednesday, November 1 at 7:00, North Andover Historical Society (focus: Stamp Act crisis in Massachusetts and Rhode Island)
Thursday, November 9 at 6:30, Hamilton-Wenham Library (focus: Rhode Island and North Carolina and ratifying the Constitution)
I am working on setting up other talks at historical societies and libraries. Most, if not all, will be in New England because I live in Massachusetts but I’m looking into whether any historical societies or libraries in North Carolina would be interested in a virtual talk.
Lastly, what is your favorite local bookstore?
The Concord Bookshop, 65 Main Street, Concord, MA 01742