Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Martin, James Kirby
Pub Date: 12/22/2010
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Winter, 2010 Source Volume: 44 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Carp, Benjamin L.
Accession Number: 248907032
Full Text: Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution. By Benjamin L. Carp (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. ix plus 334 pp. $40.00 HB, $21.95 PB).

In this substantial new volume focusing on urban centers in Revolutionary North America, Benjamin L. Carp asserts that the port cities of Boston, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston "played a crucial 'preparatory' role in the coming of the Revolution, as population centers where leaders, crowds, and events conjoined." (p 9.) Building on the valuable findings of Carl Bridenbaugh and Gary B. Nash, Carp explores what he describes as "an interconnected landscape of layered geographies that was ripe for political mobilization," which ultimately led the colonists to open rebellion and revolution. (1) The specific "urban spaces" that facilitated popular mobilization included waterfronts, taverns, churches, households, and statehouses. (p. 18.) As such, Carp devotes a chapter each to waterfront life in Boston, tavern culture in New York, religious faiths and worship in Newport, gentry housing and elite control in Charleston, and public buildings and "out of doors" popular activity in Philadelphia. Each city thus serves as a case example of how a particular "cityscape" element helped to produce high enough levels of community consensus to support what became the rising tide of open rebellion against the British parent nation.

Boston's waterfront, for instance, "was a gateway between land and sea, between New England and distant parts, between foreign lands and homeland." (p. 25). It served as an arena in which a series of nasty conflicts took place from the time of the Knowles anti-impressment riots in 1747 through the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and beyond. In time, the waterfront became the location where many Bostonians "articulated a unified identity separate from that of the British Empire." (p. 24). So too with taverns in New York, public spaces where the denizens of this bustling city discussed and debated controversial issues, besides proving that they could consume more hard liquor, especially rum, than could colonists anywhere else in British North America. As Carp notes, loyalist leaning New Yorkers came to understand that Whig leaders were very "effective at mobilizing companies in taverns" to resist despised imperial policies and leaders, even to the point of crowd actions that the King's friends complained about as orchestrated "drunken anarchy" against imperial authority, (p. 95). The challenge in Newport, rich as it was in diverse religious groups and church buildings, was how to unify the populace, despite faith-based differences that spilled over into politics. Not surprisingly, Anglican worshipers were reluctant to question home government actions, unlike dissenting Congregationalists and radical Baptists, the latter group particularly anxious to put an end to the concept of state-supported religion. Many evangelical Christians in Newport did involve women and African Americans, whether slave or free, in their resistance efforts, foreshadowing "revolutionary transformations for people on the margins" in post-Revolutionary America and beyond, (pp. 141-42).

In the case of Charleston, Carp focuses on domestic spaces, especially the grand residences of the great planters who succeeded in "retaining control" of the local resistance movement while making the transition from the "monarchical household" to the "republican, household." (p. 143). The elaborate urban residences of these planters functioned as affirmations of their presumed right to lead in resistance, and these Whig leaning gentlemen did not hesitate to employ "the club of racial subjection ... to maintain white solidarity" in contesting unwanted British policies, (p. 171). As for Philadelphians, they had to reckon with public buildings, such as the Pennsylvania State House (later transformed into Independence Hall) in challenging established imperial and proprietary authority. As the rift with Britain widened, they turned to "politics out of doors ... at the expense of representatives indoors" to maneuver around established leaders too wedded to the British empire to mobilize in favor of rebellion, (p. 199). In so doing, everyday Philadelphians helped to craft a new, more open political order that gave them access to the halls of power. And once liberated, they continued to utilize out-of-door tactics when they felt aggrieved by Pennsylvania's Revolutionary leadership.

Readers will ask why Carp selected the elements that he did for each of these urban centers. What about the waterfront in New York? Elite housing and gentry actions in Boston? Religions, diversity and differences in Philadelphia? Taverns and "drunken anarchy" in Newport? Public buildings and out-of-door actions in Charleston? How would this rearrangement, or many other possible combinations, of key cityscape elements affect actual patterns of mobilization? What Carp has presented is a partial picture of what happened-and why-in each of these urban centers. In the process, his efforts serve to suggest the need for more detailed studies of each major city involved in the rising tide of rebellion. At the same time, few would deny his central conclusion that these cities were the true incubators of resistance and rebellion against imperial authority in British North America. Although such a finding is not necessarily new, Carp's thoroughly documented study represents the most significant elaboration of this very important subject to date.


(1.) Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1743-1776 (New York, 1955); and Nash, The Urban Crucible: Social Change. Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, MA, 1979).

James Kirby Martin

University of Houston
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.