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Drought and Disaster in a Revolutionary Age: Colonial Antigua during the American Independence War

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The American War of Independence (1775-1783) spelled crisis for the British West Indies. Trade embargos between rebelling and loyal territories, losses to American pirates, and hostilities with other European states left the Crown's tropical Atlantic colonies short of the imports that normally sustained their populations and commerce. Historians have studied the dynamics of these developments in considerable detail, but have tended to focus on economic, social and political dimensions of the subject matter. Although some investigations have highlighted that climate variability compounded agricultural and subsistence problems in certain locations, the role of climate has rarely been subject to the same level of scrutiny. The present paper addresses this theme by focusing on the island of Antigua (Lesser Antilles) and the severe drought it experienced during the war period. Based on extensive analysis of original, largely unpublished archival sources, the implications of deficient rainfall for human livelihoods, fiscal stability and governmental crisis management are examined. By supplementing findings with evidence from other episodes of warfare and extreme climate phenomena in the late 1700s and early 1800s, it is argued that successive years of drought were pivotal in defining the severe human and economic losses sustained in Antigua during the American independence conflict. The agency of this weather event must, however, be understood as the product of its dynamic interaction with the backdrop of a colonial regime under profound socio-economic and geopolitical stress.
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Keywords: American Independence War; Antigua; Drought; climate; colonialism; slavery

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2018

This article was made available online on January 4, 2018 as a Fast Track article with title: "Drought and Disaster in a Revolutionary Age: Colonial Antigua during the American Independence War".

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  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2019) of 0.698. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.806.
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