Early American colonialism is often distinguished by an urban and rural divide. Urban development was a sign of imperial progress. British writers frequently boasted about the size of early Boston and Philadelphia while mocking the scattered settlements of the French. Colonial founders characterized their social experiment as a ‘City on a Hill’, and texts that promoted colonization listed the size and location of a growing number of principal towns and cities. Outside the confines of cities lay different places: the backcountry of settlement and Indian war; an unmapped landscape of forests and rivers. If the town stood out as a site of ordered settlement, the ‘wilderness’ remained a place of mystery and danger.
is Associate Professor of History at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. In Urban Dreams, Rural Commonwealth: The Rise of Plantation Society in the Chesapeake
(University of Chicago Press, 2019), he challenges the conventional view of the Chesapeake as a rural society of tobacco and slavery that prevented the development of towns and cities. He argues that contemporaries argued about urban development in ways that intersected with wider discussions of the political and commercial order of the Chesapeake, and its place in theories of commerce and the state in Britain between the early seventeenth century and the American Revolution.
Charles Prior is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Hull (UK), who has written on the politics of religion in early modern Britain, and whose work has recently expanded to the intersection of colonial, indigenous, and imperial politics in early America. He co-leads the Treatied Spaces Research Cluster.