In Occupied America, Donald F. Johnson chronicles the everyday experience of ordinary people living under military occupation during the American Revolution. Focusing on day-to-day life in port cities held by the British Army, Johnson recounts how men and women from a variety of backgrounds navigated harsh conditions, mitigated threats to their families and livelihoods, took advantage of new opportunities, and balanced precariously between revolutionary and royal attempts to secure their allegiance.
Between 1775 and 1783, every large port city along the Eastern seaboard fell under British rule at one time or another. As centers of population and commerce, these cities—Boston, New York, Newport, Philadelphia, Savannah, Charleston—should have been bastions from which the empire could restore order and inspire loyalty. Military rule’s exceptional social atmosphere initially did provide opportunities for many people—especially women and the enslaved, but also free men both rich and poor—to reinvent their lives, and while these opportunities came with risks, the hope of social betterment inspired thousands to embrace military rule. Nevertheless, as Johnson demonstrates, occupation failed to bring about a restoration of imperial authority, as harsh material circumstances forced even the most loyal subjects to turn to illicit means to feed and shelter themselves, while many maintained ties to rebel camps for the same reasons. As occupations dragged on, most residents no longer viewed restored royal rule as a viable option.
Don Johnson is associate professor of early American history at North Dakota State University, where his research focuses on popular politics and everyday experience during the American Revolution. His first book, Occupied America: British Military Rule and the Experience of Revolution, was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2020, and other writings have appeared in the Journal of American History, The Journal of Commonwealth and Imperial History, and the William and Mary Quarterly, among other venues. Johnson earned his PhD in American History from Northwestern University and also holds an MA from the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.
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