Empire's Callous Hands: British "Government Men" in the Atlantic Slave Trade

Doctoral Dissertation


Empire’s Callous Hands traces the involvement of British government officials in the Atlantic slave trade and analyzes the consequences of that involvement for both human trafficking and the imperial state. By reconstructing the lives, labor, and slave trade entanglements of an eclectic group of officials sent to administer British imperial authority in Africa and America, the narrative reveals how these “government men” fashioned the spaces and processes in Atlantic ports through which “free trade” in slaves flourished in the eighteenth century. In particular, it focuses on a specific slave trade network between the River Gambia and Charles Town in South Carolina. Between 1690 and 1770, at least one hundred recorded slave trade voyages passed between British settlements there, the most to or from a single port in both places. Historians have pointed to a number of historical processes and forces to explain the emergence of this distinct connection, from the broadest currents of Atlantic markets to a conscious planter demand in South Carolina for captives accustomed to growing rice. This dissertation, however, moves beyond conventional interpretations of the Gambia-Carolina trade and argues that the ever-shifting character of government and administration in British settlements in these Atlantic entrepôts played a special role in shaping this slave trade network through the work of individual government men. On both sides of the Atlantic, intimate involvements in slaving offered a path for government men to assert their authority and build their own wealth. As they acted out their own ambitions they often diverged from the designs of their metropolitan bosses; but over time, as a British world of slaving coalesced under an ideology of “free trade,” the interests of these government men came to align with the interests of empire. As they exploited the lives and labor of thousands of captives, state formation and human trafficking went hand in hand, not just at the level of ideology and policy but in the quotidian tasks of administration.


Attribute NameValues
Author Dylan M. LeBlanc
Contributor Mariana Candido, Committee Member
Contributor Patrick N. Griffin, Research Director
Contributor Trevor Burnard, Committee Member
Contributor Jon Coleman, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline History
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Banner Code

Defense Date
  • 2019-05-30

Submission Date 2019-06-19
  • History

  • Early America

  • Slavery and Atlantic Slave Trade

  • Atlantic History

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units
Catalog Record


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