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The Gardiners of Massachusetts
Provincial Ambition and the British-American Career
T. A. Milford

Revisiting New England

University of New Hampshire Press
2005 • 320 pp. 3 illus. 6 x 9"
Biography / History

$29.95 Paperback, 978-1-58465-504-6

“Milford seems equally at homes in Wales, St. Kitts, Scotland, London, or Boston. His grasp the regional history for each of these areas is impressive. One sees the various components of the British Atlantic Empire, and how people and influences traversed it... Milford's book leaves one with a deeper appreciation of the merchant and professional bourgeoisie who were emerging in the eighteenth century.”New England Quarterly

An engaging biography of three generations of a prominent New England family.

The Gardiners of Massachusetts examines late eighteenth-century American political and cultural history through the lives and careers of three men from successive generations of a prominent New England family. Silvester Gardiner, who established the family’s fortunes in Boston, was a colonial surgeon, a dedicated Anglican, and a Loyalist. He received his medical training in Britain before settling in Massachusetts, where he became a giant in the drugs trade. In the mid-eighteenth century, as a director of the Kennebeck Company, he acquired vast landholdings in what became the state of Maine.

At the end of the Revolution, when Silvester’s estates were in jeopardy, his son John returned to his native New England after a long absence. Fully at ease within the British Atlantic Empire, John relied on his knowledge of imperial administration and on his connections at Whitehall and Westminster to enhance his career. He attended university in Glasgow during the Scottish Enlightenment and studied law at London’s Inns of Court. His legal practice took him to Wales and the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Returning to Boston in the 1780s, he emerged as a figure of considerable public controversy. John’s son, J.S.J. Gardiner, was an Episcopal priest and a leader of Boston’s Federalist literati.

As Milford describes the careers of these three men, he contends that the Gardiners exemplified the ambitions of the cosmopolitan middle class throughout the British Empire and English-speaking Atlantic world during the decades just before and after the American Revolution. He also uses this history to intervene in the long-running scholarly debate over the relative influence of liberalism and republicanism in the political culture of the early republic. The Gardiners’ ambitions, Milford suggests, demonstrate a deep allegiance to the liberal vocabulary of private gains and public good—a vocabulary in which Americans had been schooled by their imperial engagements. Because of this attachment to liberalism, the disintegration of British authority in the colonies presented an acute dilemma for those New Englanders for whom the British Empire had offered an expanding array of professional opportunities.

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“Through the Gardiner family, Milford adds dimension to recent studies that explore the English influence on American political culture.”The Journal of American History

“The book is a history of how ambitious provincials functioned in the first British Empire, of how they failed to fit in, but how the residues of empire continued into the early republic. Along the way, Milford provides some finely drawn portraits of the professional class at work: the trading of Silvester Gardiner, John Gardiner’s practice of law in Wales and St. Kitts, and J. S. J. Gardiner’s literary scene in early nineteenth-century Boston.”Historical Journal of Massachusetts


"A deftly written account of three generations of the Gardiner family during the Revolutionary era. Men of middle rank—successively a physician turned land speculator and loyalist, a lawyer in Britain's Atlantic world, and an Episcopalian minister in Boston—they grappled with, and their careers illustrate, the perplexities of Anglo-American culture, society, and politics as Britain and America went separate ways."—Bernard Bailyn, Harvard University

The Gardiners of Massachusetts is a most welcome volume. T.A. Milford has provided a penetrating portrait of an important family whose triumphs and anxieties shed light on the tortured transition from province to commonwealth in the late 18th century. This innovative and deeply researched book reflects wisely on the inheritances that unite and divide generations, and illustrates the ways that urban sophisticates navigated rapidly shifting winds of fortune during a turbulent era. An exciting family history that goes well beyond the conventions of the genre.”—Ted Widmer, Washington College

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T.A. Milford grew up in Michigan and took his baccalaureate and doctoral degrees from Duke and Harvard. He lives in Brooklyn and is an assistant professor of history at St. John’s University.

Wed, 20 Jun 2012 09:58:22 -0500