Early American History Seminar: James Epstein, Vanderbilt University

Early American History and Culture Seminar
Thursday, October 20, 2005

5:30 pm to 7:00 pm

“The Radical Underworld Goes Colonial: P.F. McCallum’s Travels in Trinidad
James Epstein, Vanderbilt University
Scandal-monger, blackmailer, bankrupt, and pornographer, P.F. McCallum appears at the fringes of the history of British radicalism. A Scot of obscure orgins, McCallum went abroad at an early age and in 1800 surfaced in North America, eventually landing at St. Domingue during the great slave insurrection. Following the French invasion of 1802, he escaped on a British frigate. But instead of returning to London as planned, he got wind of the tyrannical regime of General Thomas Picton, the first British governor of Trinidad, and set out to “enquire minutely into every part of his conduct.” His Travels in Trinidad (1805) is the most comprehensive account of Picton’s regime. Denounced in the Anti-Jacobin Review as an irresponsible Jacobin “performance,” the book operated under a subterfuge; its title suffested a work of travel literature, which it clearly was not. Seen as the incarnation of imperial acquisitiveness and license, the Caribbean provided a rich field of inquiry for a writer like McCallum. My paper analyzes McCallum’s expose of British rule, tracing some of the circuits, often hidden or unacknowledged, between the world of metropolitan radicalism and a wider trans-Atlantic, colonial world.