"See the jails open and the thieves arise": Joseph Mountain's revolutionary Atlantic and consolidating early national Connecticut

Goodheart L., Hinks P.

ATLANTIC STUDIES-GLOBAL CURRENTS, cilt.10, ss.497-527, 2013 (ESCI İndekslerine Giren Dergi) identifier identifier

  • Cilt numarası: 10 Konu: 4
  • Basım Tarihi: 2013
  • Doi Numarası: 10.1080/14788810.2013.832013
  • Sayfa Sayıları: ss.497-527


The primary source for this essay is Sketches of the Life of Joseph Mountain, a Negro, Who was executed at New-Haven, on the 20th Day of October, 1790, For a Rape (1790), transcribed anonymously by a young New Haven attorney, David Daggett. It is set within the broad context of the late eighteenth-century revolutionary Atlantic and opens the inter-racial possibilities London and the Atlantic then afforded. After he departed his birth home in Philadelphia in 1775, the stern racial and social boundaries Joseph Mountain learned in Philadelphia collapsed as he entered a new world of proletarian interracial opportunities on the sea and especially in London where he embraced the tentative expansion of black freedom heralded by the Somerset decision of 1772. The essay explores in part the textual tension between Daggett's and Mountain's representation of the meaning of these Atlantic experiences and the nature of the impact they wielded upon him once he fatefully journeyed to Connecticut in 1790. Daggett argues that his supposedly corrupt English experiences with interracial license and endemic class warfare led him ineluctably to commit rape in New Haven. The essay examines this event and Mountain's conviction, concluding with near certainty that the rape never occurred. However, Daggett and his influential colleagues in the state's post-revolutionary elite were certain that it had. Nevertheless, sharp contention arose within this elite with partisans in Hartford castigating Daggett and his coterie in New Haven for a grossly self-interested use of Sketches and Mountain's execution to advance their own political ends. They indicted Sketches as a prime example of the new sensational crime literature that catered to democratic prurience and empowered its aspirations. Coming on the heels of Shays and innovations in Rhode Island, fears of democratic insurgency pervaded the state's elite. Yet the ongoing consolidation of their post-revolutionary rule was marked by internal contests over not only how to manage that insurgency, but even who constituted it. This essay highlights that elite anxiety and Mountain's relationship to it as Connecticut's elite sought to stabilize its still very young post-revolutionary rule.