Peter Mancall: Interviewed about Richard Hakluyt and the English in America

Historians in the News

Common-place asks Peter Mancall, whose Hakluyt’s Promise: An Elizabethan’s Obsession for an English America was recently published by Yale University Press,"What led you to turn from social history to biography in your study of English encounters in North America?" At the start of my career I was concerned with the ways Englishmen and other Europeans established control over eastern North America and its indigenous peoples. Few commodities had a more lasting influence on this process than alcohol, and yet no historian had ever studied the interplay of alcohol and empire in any depth. I never could have imagined that I would follow my own attempt to understand that subject with the biography of a man who helped launch the English colonial enterprise but who never stepped foot in America.

Richard Hakluyt the younger, as he is usually known, became the most important promoter of the English colonization of North America in the late sixteenth century. Often confused with his older cousin of the same name, the younger Hakluyt rose to prominence not through any great act of heroism or by braving an Atlantic crossing. His life was marked instead by more prosaic achievements. He was a scholarship student at Westminster School, near the edge of the walled city of London, who then attended college at Christ Church Oxford where he received his B.A. in 1574 and an M.A. in 1577. He spent most of his adult life in London, Oxford, and Wetheringsett, a small village in rural Suffolk. He also lived in Paris during the 1580s, as a chaplain assigned to the English ambassador. Hakluyt had two opportunities to go to the Western Hemisphere, once to Newfoundland in 1583 and again as one of the first colonists bound for Jamestown. He declined both....

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