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Rebels’ Property: Smuggling and Imperial [Dis]loyalty in the Anglo-American Atlantic *

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In early 1776, the Royal Navy entered Liverpool, Nova Scotia searching for smuggled goods. The sailors found what they sought in three warehouses, including that of Simeon Perkins, the local magistrate. My curiosity over this incident includes an off-hand reference to the contraband as “rebels’ property”. Why describe trade goods in politically loaded terms? Caught up in the pre-revolutionary tensions, understandings of illegal commerce intertwined with debates over political ideologies and imperial obligations between Great Britain and its original mainland colonies. In the process, loyalty to empire became linked to commerce in the imperial imagination. In this essay, I focus on the experience of Nova Scotia as seen through the diary of Simeon Perkins. Although not one of the central venues of the American Revolution, Nova Scotia represented one site of intersection between the metropole and its colonies. As such, it reveals a unique insight into the larger imperial civil war and the anxieties that produced it.

Affiliations: 1: Michigan State University E-mail:


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