Burrow on Lincoln, 'Trading in War: London's Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson'

Author: 
Margarette Lincoln
Reviewer: 
John R. Burrow

Margarette Lincoln. Trading in War: London's Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018. 304 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-300-22748-2.

Reviewed by John R. Burrow (Mississippi State University) Published on H-War (March, 2019) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53109

Margarette Lincoln’s Trading in War: London’s Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson offers insight into the gritty, exciting, rowdy, and sometimes dangerous world of the riverside parishes in London. Examining such communities as Wapping and Deptford from the 1740s through the 1810s, Lincoln explores the lives of laborers, merchants, shop owners and workers, and many others who played a vital role in Britain’s successes in trade, commerce, and warfare. She argues that not only did these river communities and their people play an important role in Britain’s success in war and peace, but also even “affluent” Londoners at the time understood their importance. Because of the importance of these places and their inhabitants, the author seeks to understand, uncover, and “feel” what it was like to live in these communities and illuminate the often forgotten lives of individuals living there. Lincoln explores these communities and the people who inhabited them through examining criminal activity; the lives of prominent locals, seafarers, and women; and the relationships between developers, politicians, and laborers. Ultimately, Lincoln aims for and succeeds in adding these communities, their inhabitants, and their story to a greater, more complete history of maritime London as she saves them from being lost. Thus, Trading in War contributes greatly to the historical literature on maritime London by unearthing the lives of those who contributed to the successes, failures, and transformations in meeting the demands of global economy and empire.

Lincoln wrote Trading in War: London’s Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson as a visiting fellow at Goldsmith’s, University of London. As the former head of curation and collections, as well as deputy director, of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and former university lecturer, she has published many works on Britain’s maritime world. Her previous works include Nelson & Napoleon (2005), Representing the Navy: British Sea Power, 1750-1815 (2002), and Naval Wives and Mistresses, 1745-1815 (2007), among others. She earned her PhD from the University of London.

Lincoln’s work contains many strengths, but her methodological approach of many first-hand sources, such as letters, journals, planning reports, and petitions from prominent shipyard owners to individual workers, stands as the greatest. Her exploration of Michael Henley and his family in Wapping, for example, provides not only an excellent view of the community through the eyes of one of its more powerful shipyard owners but also a view into the economics, politics, and work activity within these local communities. Individuals like Henley operated massive businesses important to the British state for commercial and naval activity and employed numerous laborers. As Lincoln argues convincingly, war influenced the lives of individuals like Henley and laborers in the dockyards; shaped their economic and political lives; and sparked conflict between workers, business owners, and state officials. Not only does Lincoln examine the economic and political lives of laborers and shipyard owners, but she also examines the lives of women who lived in these communities, like Mary and Elizabeth Slade of Deptford who developed strong business relations with the community. By looking at the wills and business records relating to the Slade sisters, Lincoln develops a better understanding of the role of women in these communities as sources give details about their personal relationships with family, business partners, and the community at large. While less prominent women typically took to “domestic service, in making or mending clothes, nursing and midwifery” and other occupations, these parishes could not operate effectively without the entrepreneurial skills of women like the Slade sisters (p. 133). Lincoln displays the varied views and experiences of life in these communities by contrasting the lives of well-to-do women like Elizabeth Cook (wife of Captain James Cook) and the Slade sisters and those of the laboring poor who forced their children into workhouses to scrape by. By focusing on the experiences of individuals living and working in these communities, she gives the reader a sense of what these places looked and felt like and how these people viewed their world that would otherwise be lost. This approach also illustrates that these communities did not simply react to or follow the dictates of Westminster or West End but held their own unique autonomy and even shaped the rest of the London metropolitan area.

Lincoln’s methodological approach unveils a vivid and diverse world in the riverside parishes and introduces colorful and intriguing individuals who help one explore those communities. The only true weakness of Trading in War resides in the reader wishing for more in-depth information concerning the connection between these parishes and their inhabitants to global trade during times of war. Britain engaged in warfare nearly continuously throughout the scope of this work. While the author does explore the routines of workers and seamen during those times, those sections remain focused almost entirely on the microeconomic level and are located toward the end of the work. Understanding the value of trade and why it flourished despite warfare and economic crisis on a macroeconomic scale could place parishes like Wapping and Deptford in relation not just to greater London but also to the British Empire and the globe. Lincoln provides a connection between those who lived in these riverside parishes to the growing trade around the globe, but more illustrations and descriptions of this connection would emphasize the importance of these communities and those who lived in them. Lincoln successfully grasps the reader’s attention by opening up the largely unknown world of riverside parishes, but uncovering and describing their importance and influence upon faraway markets and macroeconomic trends would further add to the complete history of London.

Lincoln’s Trading in War provides an extensive look into the often-neglected riverside communities that contributed greatly to the growth of trade by allowing the reader to view this world from the individual’s eye. Without a doubt, dockworkers, carpenters, shop owners, clothiers, rope makers, shipwrights, seamen, policemen, fleet captains, and outlaws made these communities vibrant, energetic, and harsh. But these individuals also made possible London’s global reach through trade. While the reader is left wishing for more illustrations of the connection between global markets and the small parishes at times, Lincoln succeeds at making the connection between the two. Ultimately, the author succeeds in adding more depth and detail to London’s history as it engaged in struggles of war and prospered in times of peace.

Citation: John R. Burrow. Review of Lincoln, Margarette, Trading in War: London's Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson. H-War, H-Net Reviews. March, 2019. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53109

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