New World Inc.: The Making Of America By England’s Merchant Adventurers, by John Butman & Simon Targett
While this book focuses on the New World and America in its title, it should be noted that this book is really more about the context of England’s efforts in the period before 1620 than it is about the making of America per se. That is not to say that England’s colonial ventures and exploration ventures were without consequence in how America was founded and how indeed America has seen itself and seen the proper role of government in its relationship with businesses, but rather to say that the authors have chosen an unfamiliar aspect of American history to focus on instead of more familiar and obvious ones. Most of the people in this book will be unfamiliar to most readers, but their action formed a context that is vitally important in understanding how and why America was settle by the English in the way that it was, and how business concerns were of great importance. This context has had repercussions to the contemporary era and is likely to have implications that continue far beyond our age. And it is a context that is well worth reading about and this book does a good job with it.
This book is a pretty averaged sized one at about 300 pages or so in length in terms of its main contents. The book is divided into three parts and nearly 20 chapters or so. The book begins with a cast of characters that is set up as the prequel to the familiar story of the pilgrims. This is followed by a discussion of English imperial efforts before America from 1551-1574 (I), with chapters about English concerns of decay (1), dreams of China (2), the establishment of a mysterious company (3), as well as navigation (4) and exploration in Russia (5). The second part of the book looks at English enterprise between 1574 and 1604 (II), with chapters on the challenge of the age (6), the supposed passage across the Arctic (7), the search for treasure (8), goals for an English empire (9), New England (10), the death rates of early exploration missions (11), western plantation efforts (12), navigations (13), and the match between the East and West (14). The third and final part of the book looks at the establishment of the English commonwealth (III), with chapters on the Virginias (15), the public plantation (16), the first colony (17), as well as the weighty stakes (18) and voyages (19) to sustain Virginia. The book then ends with a look at forgotten founders, a chronology, a note to the reader, acknowledgements, a bibliography, notes, and an index.
Why does it matter that America was viewed as a place or corporate partnership and behavior by the underpaid English crown? Part of why it matters is because America itself developed an attitude that was similar in its own dealings with the world. It would make sense that America’s own experience with private-public partnerships where government outsourced its duties to corporations would become a model that was copied frequently by the United States later on, and so it was. Admittedly, it is a bit puzzling that the authors are not interested so much in this book for these implications but rather to tell the stories of the mostly obscure people who went to Russia and the New World under mixed public-private partnerships where private merchants too significant risk in the hope of significant rewards to set up new trading establishments and occasional new settlements at appalling death rates. To the extent that this book makes such people and their actions more familiar it is very much appreciated and the authors have done good work in this. For England, the New World, and that included both the Northwest and Northeast Passages and the lands around them, were opportunities for private merchants to help the English government with its own national economic strategies. That these opportunities were sometimes costly simply comes with the territory.