Hostname: page-component-5db6c4db9b-s6gjx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-23T14:23:45.175Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Governance through Documents: The Board of Trade, Its Archive, and the Imperial Constitution of the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 May 2020


This article examines the role of documents, their circulation, and their archivization in the enactment of the imperial constitution of the British Empire in the Atlantic world during the long eighteenth century. It focuses on the Board of Trade's dispatch of “Instructions” and “Queries” to governors in the American colonies, arguing that it was through the circulation of these documents and the use of archives that the board sought to enforce constitutional norms of bureaucratic conduct and the authority of central institutions of imperial administration. In the absence of a singular, codified written constitution, the British state relied upon a variety of different kinds of documents to forge the imperial Atlantic into a governed space. The article concludes by pointing to the continuing centrality of documents and archives to the bureaucratic manifestation of the imperial constitution in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution.

Original Manuscript
Copyright © The North American Conference on British Studies, 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Burke, Edmund, “Speech on Conciliation with America,” 22 March 1775, in The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. Langford, Paul, vol. 3, Party, Parliament and the American War, 1774–1780, ed. Elofson, W. M. and Woods, John A. (Oxford, 1996), 124–25Google Scholar, 136, 165. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century spelling in English was highly variable, and documents are quoted as written.

2 “Debate on the Clause in Mr. Burke's Establishment Bill for abolishing the Board of Trade,” 13 March 1780, in The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, vol. 21 (London, 1814), 239.

3 For Burke's appearances before the Board of Trade, see, for example, The National Archives (hereafter TNA), CO 391/79, Journal of the Board of Trade, 12 November 1772, 167 (hereafter JBT); and CO 391/80, JBT, 1 July 1773, 130–31. For Burke's career as colonial agent, see Bourke, Richard, Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke (Princeton, 2015)Google Scholar, chap. 6.

4 Henry St. Bolingbroke, John, “Letter X,” in A Dissertation Upon Parties (1734), in Bolingbroke: Political Writings, ed. Armitage, David (Cambridge, 1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 88.

5 See, for example, McIlwain, Charles H., The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation (New York, 1923)Google Scholar; Pocock, J. G. A., The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century: A Reissue with a Retrospect (Cambridge, 1987)Google Scholar; Bailyn, Bernard, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA, 1992)Google Scholar; Greene, Jack P., Peripheries and Center: Constitutional Development in the Extended Polities of the British Empire and the United States, 1607–1788 (Athens, 1986)Google Scholar; Beeman, Richard R., The Varieties of Political Experience in Eighteenth-Century America (Philadelphia, 2004), 1120CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Reid, John Philip, The Ancient Constitution and the Origins of Anglo-American Liberty (DeKalb, 2005)Google Scholar.

6 Stourzh, Gerhard, “Constitution: Changing Meanings of the Term from the Early Seventeenth Century to the Late Eighteenth Century,” in Conceptual Change and the Constitution, ed. Ball, Terence and Pocock, J. G. A. (Lawrence, 1988), 3554Google Scholar; Bilder, Mary Sarah, The Transatlantic Constitution: Colonial Legal Culture and the Empire (Cambridge, MA, 2004), 12Google Scholar.

7 Blackstone, William, Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765–1769, 4 vols. (Chicago, 1979), 1:5051Google Scholar, 183.

8 Hulsebosch, Daniel J., Constituting Empire: New York and the Transformation of Constitutionalism in the Atlantic World, 1664–1830 (Chapel Hill, 2005), 3336Google Scholar.

9 For further discussion of the claim that Parliament was the ultimate sovereign over the colonies, see Humphreys, R. A., “The Rule of Law and the American Revolution,” Law Quarterly Review 53, no. 1 (1937): 8098Google Scholar; Pocock, J. G. A., “Political Thought in the English-Speaking Atlantic, 1760–1790: (i) The Imperial Crisis,” in The Varieties of British Political Thought, 1500–1800, ed. Pocock, J. G. A., with Schochet, Gordon J. and Schwoerer, Lois G. (Cambridge, 1993), 259–67, 274–77Google Scholar; Dickinson, H. T., “Britain's Imperial Sovereignty: The Ideological Case against the American Colonists,” in Britain and the American Revolution, ed. Dickinson, H. T. (New York, 2014), 6496CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Yirush, Craig, Settlers, Liberty, and Empire: The Roots of Early American Political Theory, 1675–1775 (Cambridge, 2011), 216–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 See especially Greene, Jack P., The Quest for Power: The Lower Houses of Assembly in the Southern Royal Colonies, 1689–1776 (Chapel Hill, 1963)Google Scholar; Sosin, Jack M., English America and the Restoration Monarchy of Charles II: Transatlantic Politics, Commerce, and Kinship (Lincoln, NE, 1980)Google Scholar; Sosin, Jack M., English America and the Revolution of 1688: Royal Administration and the Structure of Provincial Government (Lincoln, 1982)Google Scholar; Reid, John Phillip, In a Defiant Stance: The Conditions of Law in Massachusetts Bay, the Irish Comparison, and the Coming of the American Revolution (University Park, 1977)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Reid, John Phillip, Constitutional History of the American Revolution, abridged ed. (Madison, 1986)Google Scholar; Greene, Peripheries and Center; Bilder, Transatlantic Constitution; Hulsebosch, Constituting Empire; MacMillan, Ken, The Atlantic Imperial Constitution: Center and Periphery in the English Atlantic World (New York, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 On the significance of charters in imperial governance, see McIlwain, C. H., “The Transfer of the Charter to New England and Its Significance in American Constitutional History,” chap. 10 of Constitutionalism and the Changing World: Collected Papers (Cambridge, 1969), 231–43Google Scholar; Kellogg, Louise Phelps, The American Colonial Charter: A Study of English Administration in Relation Thereto, Chiefly after 1688 (Washington, DC, 1958)Google Scholar; Haffenden, Philip S., “The Crown and the Colonial Charters, 1675–1688: Part 2,” William and Mary Quarterly 15, no. 4 (1958): 452–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tomlins, Christopher, “The Legal Cartography of Colonization, the Legal Polyphony of Settlement: English Intrusions on the American Mainland in the Seventeenth Century,” Law and Social Inquiry 26, no. 2 (2001): 315–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 328–47; Mancke, Elizabeth, “Chartered Enterprises and the Evolution of the British Atlantic World,” in The Creation of the British Atlantic World, ed. Mancke, Elizabeth and Shammas, Carole (Baltimore, 2005), 237–62Google Scholar; Hsueh, Vicki, Hybrid Constitutions: Challenging Legacies of Law, Privilege, and Culture in Colonial America (Durham, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; MacMillan, Ken, “Imperial Constitutions: Sovereignty and Law in the British Atlantic,” in Britain's Oceanic Empire: Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds, c. 1550–1850, ed. Bowen, H. V., Mancke, Elizabeth, and Reid, John G. (Cambridge, 2012), 6997, at 74–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bowie, Nikolas, “Why the Constitution Was Written Down,” Stanford Law Review, 71, no. 6 (2019), 13971508Google Scholar.

12 See especially Keith, A. Berriedale, Constitutional History of the First British Empire (Oxford, 1930)Google Scholar; Bailyn, Ideological Origins; Richard L. Bushman, King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (Chapel Hill, 1985); Marston, Jerrilyn Greene, King and Congress: The Transfer of Political Legitimacy, 1774–1776 (Princeton, 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hulsebosch, Constituting Empire; McConville, Brendan, The King's Three Faces: The Rise and Fall of Royal America, 1688–1776 (Chapel Hill, 2007)Google Scholar; Nelson, Eric, The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding (Cambridge, MA, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 Keith, Constitutional History, part 2; Labaree, Leonard Woods, Royal Government in America: A Study of the British Colonial System before 1783 (New Haven, 1930)Google Scholar; Halliday, Paul D., Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire (Cambridge, MA, 2010)Google Scholar; Ken MacMillan, “Commissions and Committees for Foreign Plantations,” chap. 6 in Atlantic Imperial Constitution.

14 On the idea of a “written constitution” of the British state and empire, see Sartori, Giovanni, “Constitutionalism: A Preliminary Discussion,” American Political Science Review 56, no. 4 (1962): 853–64;CrossRefGoogle ScholarBogdanor, Vernon, The New British Constitution (Portland, 2009), 9Google Scholar; Colley, Linda, “Empires of Writing: Britain, America, and Constitutions, 1776–1848,” Law and History Review 32, no. 2 (2014): 237–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On written records as tools of rule for early modern states before the rise of codified constitutions, see Sternberg, Giora, “Manipulating Information in the Ancien Régime: Ceremonial Records, Aristocratic Strategies, and the Limits of the State Perspective,” Journal of Modern History 85, no. 2 (2013): 239–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For the role of archives and documents in colonial rule, see Stoler, Ann Laura, “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance,” Archival Science 2, no. 1–2 (2002): 87109CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Brewer, John, The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688–1783 (London, 1989)Google Scholar, esp. chap. 8; Poovey, Mary, A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society (Chicago, 1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Higgs, Edward, The Information State in England: The Central Collection of Information on Citizens since 1500 (New York, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Slack, Paul, “Government and Information in Seventeenth-Century England,” Past and Present 184, no. 1 (2004): 3368CrossRefGoogle Scholar; McCormick, Ted, William Petty and the Ambitions of Political Arithmetic (Oxford, 2010)Google Scholar; Tadmor, Naomi, “The Settlement of the Poor and the Rise of the Form in England, c.1662–1780,” Past and Present 236, no. 1 (2017): 4397CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Deringer, William, Calculated Values: Finance, Politics, and the Quantitative Age (Cambridge, MA, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Popper, Nicholas, “An Information State for Elizabethan England,” Journal of Modern History 90, no. 3 (2018): 503–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Kyle, Chris R. and Peacey, Jason, “‘Under Cover of So Much Coming and Going’: Public Access to Parliament and the Political Process in Early Modern England,” in Parliament at Work: Parliamentary Committees, Political Power and Public Access in Early Modern England, ed. Kyle, Chris R. and Peacey, Jason (Woodbridge, 2002), 124Google Scholar; Seaward, Paul, “Parliament and the Idea of Political Accountability in Early Modern Britain,” in Realities of Representation: State Building in Early Modern Europe and European America, ed. Jansson, Maija (New York, 2007), 4562CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Peacey, Jason, Print and Public Politics in the English Revolution (Cambridge, 2013), esp. chap. 11CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Millstone, Noah, “Seeing Like a Statesman in Early Stuart England,” Past and Present 223, no. 1 (2014): 77–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For the roots of ideas of accountable government in Europe and the attendant development of modes of documentation to facilitate their implementation, see Bisson, Thomas, “Medieval Lordship,” Speculum 70, no. 4 (1995): 743–59, esp. 752–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 On the role of the archive as an instrument of governance in early modern European states, see Head, Randolph, “Knowing Like a State: The Transformation of Political Knowledge in Swiss Archives, 1450–1770,” Journal of Modern History 75, no. 4 (2003): 745–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar; de Vivo, Filippo, “Ordering the Archive in Early Modern Venice (1400–1650),” Archival Science 10, no. 3 (2010): 231–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Soll, Jacob, The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert's Secret State Intelligence System (Ann Arbor, 2011)Google Scholar; Walsham, Alexandra, “The Social History of the Archive: Record-Keeping in Early Modern Europe,” Past and Present 230, issue suppl. 11 (2016): 948CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 18–23; Friedrich, Marcus, The Birth of the Archive: A History of Knowledge, trans. Noël, John Dillon (Ann Arbor, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, chap. 7; Popper, “An Information State for Elizabethan England.”

18 See Dickerson, Oliver Morton, American Colonial Government, 1696–1765: A Study of the British Board of Trade in Its Relation to the American Colonies, Political, Industrial, Administrative (Cleveland, 1912)Google Scholar; Basye, Arthur Herbert, The Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, Commonly Known as the Board of Trade, 1748–1782 (New Haven, 1925)Google Scholar; Steele, Ian K., Politics of Colonial Policy: The Board of Trade in Colonial Administration, 1696–1720 (Oxford, 1968)Google Scholar; Henretta, James A., “Salutary Neglect”: Colonial Administration under the Duke of Newcastle (Princeton, 1972)Google Scholar.

19 On continuities in the policies and practices of the Board of Trade and its predecessor bodies, see Andrews, Charles McLean, The Colonial Period of American History, vol. 4, England's Commercial and Colonial Policy (New Haven, 1938), 291, 303–4Google Scholar.

20 For the parallel use of documentary technologies to consolidate power within the early modern British Isles, see Mendyk, Stan A. E., “Speculum Britanniae”: Regional Study, Antiquarianism, and Science in Britain to 1700 (Toronto, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Fox, Adam, “Printed Questionnaires, Research Networks, and the Discovery of the British Isles, 1650–1800,” Historical Journal 53, no. 3 (2010): 593621CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Yale, Elizabeth, Sociable Knowledge: Natural History and the Nation in Early Modern Britain (Philadelphia, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 TNA, CO 5/1354, “Order for Bringing in Books &c.,” 22 May 1623, 206–7; see also Neill, Edward D., History of the Virginia Company of London (Albany, 1869), 411–15Google Scholar; Andrews, Charles McLean, British Committees, Commissions, and Councils of Trade and Plantations, 1622–1675 (Baltimore, 1908)Google Scholar, esp. 14; Keith, Constitutional History, 18–26.

22 TNA, CO 1/3, Lord President Mandeville to Secretary Conway, enclosing “Orders sett down at a meetinge of the Commissioners for Virginia,” 16 July 1624, fol. 68. See also TNA, CO 1/3, “Capt. John Harvey, J. Pory, Abrah. Peirsey, and Captain Sam. Mathews to . . . the General Assembly of Virginia,” 2 March 1624, fols. 40–43; TNA, CO 5/1354, “The Commissioners . . . did order that Mr. Farrar Deputy for the late Company of Virginia should bring in all the Patents, Books of Acct. together with the Invoyces concerning the late Corporation of Virginia . . . to be there kept by the keeper of the Councill Chest,” 26 June 1624, fol. 277.

23 On “Instructions” to imperial governors, see Russell, Elmer, The Review of American Colonial Legislation by the King in Council (New York, 1915)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Labaree, Leonard Woods, ed., Royal Instructions to British Colonial Governors, 1670–1776, 2 vols. (New York, 1935)Google Scholar.

24 Andrews, Charles McLean, Guide to the Materials for American History, to 1783, in the Public Record Office of Great Britain, vol. 1, The State Papers (Washington, DC, 1912), 103–4Google Scholar; Higham, Charles, The Colonial Entry-Books: A Brief Guide to the Colonial Records in the Public Record Office before 1696 (New York, 1921), 1112Google Scholar.

25 On these committees, see Bieber, Ralph, The Lords of Trade and Plantations, 1675–1696 (Allentown, 1919)Google Scholar; Walker, Kathryn Anne, “An English Empire of Law: Plantation Councils and the Atlantic Origins of the Imperial Constitution” (PhD diss., New York University, 2016)Google Scholar.

26 TNA, CO 391/1, “Commission for dissolving the Councill for Trade and Plantations,” 1675, 1.

27 For the order, see TNA, CO 391/1, Minutes of the Committee of Trade and Plantations (hereafter MCTP), 13 March 1675, 7; and CO 1/34, MCTP, 12 March 1675.

28 TNA, CO 391/1, MCTP, 18 March 1675, 10.

29 See TNA, PC 2/68, Minutes of the Privy Council, 10 December 1679, 311, ordering “That the Severall Bundles of Papers concerning Trade & forreigne Plantations lying in the Councill office be Lodged in the Office of the Committee of the Councill of Trade and forreigne Plantations, and that a List of them be Left in the hands of the Clerke of the Councill in wayting; That they may be ready for the Service of the Councill and that Committee upon all Occasions.”

30 TNA, CO 391/1, MCTP, 11 July 1676, 163.

31 TNA, CO 391/1, MCTP, 24 May 1675, 24. For the committee's own use of this archive as precedent, see, for example, TNA 391/1, MCTP, 7 October 1675, 41: “This gives occasion to Mr Secretary to send for Sr Charles’ Commission and Instructions, which he read to clear up some doubt over how Sr Charles had been authorized in what he did about Ameliorations.”

32 TNA, CO 391/1, MCTP, 2 October 1675, 41. For further examples, see TNA, CO 391/1, MCTP, 7 October 1675, 41.

33 TNA, CO 391/1, MCTP, 24 September 1675, 39.

34 Hall, Hubert, Studies in English Official Historical Documents (London, 1908), 132–33Google Scholar; Marshall, Alan, “Sir Joseph Williamson and the Conduct of Administration in Restoration England,” Historical Research 69, no. 168 (1996): 1841CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the rise of the State Paper Office as the central archive of the English state, see Popper, Nicholas, “From Abbey to Archive: Managing Texts and Records in Early Modern England,” Archival Science 10, no. 3 (2010): 249–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On Blathwayt's organization of the Board of Trade's papers and his connection to Williamson, see Jacobsen, Gertrude Ann, William Blathwayt: A Late Seventeenth Century English Administrator (New Haven, 1932), 6795Google Scholar.

35 See TNA, PC 1/3128, “List of Papers relating to Trade and Foreign Plantations, taken of the Bundles lying in ye Council Chambers, and Lodged in ye Plantation Office pursuant to an Order of Council dated the 10th of December 1679,” 6 May 1680; Andrews, Guide to the Materials for American History, vol. 1, esp. 104; Higham, The Colonial Entry-Books, 16–18. On systems of filing records in early modern England, see Wolfe, Heather and Stallybrass, Peter, “The Material Culture of Record-Keeping in Early Modern England,” in Archives and Information in the Early Modern World, ed. Corens, Liesbeth, Peters, Kate, and Walsham, Alexandra (Oxford, 2018), 179208Google Scholar.

36 See, for example, TNA, CO 38/1, “Charters and Entries relating to Bermuda,” including copy of Bermuda charter of 29 June 1615, 1–16, and “An Index containing the Titles of Such Papers, concerning ye Bermuda or Somers-Islands Company & as are enterd in this Book”; TNA, CO 29/1, Barbados Entry Book, 1627–1669, including “Index to what is contained in this Book”; TNA, CO 153/1, Leeward Islands Entry Book, 1670–1671, including “A Table of Entries into this Booke.” See also the collection of indexes cut out of original volumes of colonial papers in TNA, OBS 1/866.

37 See, for example, TNA, CO 38/2, “Entries for Bermuda Papers, Vol: 2.d,” including “Index of ye Entrys in this Book”; TNA, CO 29/2, “Entry of Papers Relating to Barbados,” including “An Index containing the Heads of all the Papers Entred in this Booke of Barbados”; TNA, CO 153/2, “Entries of Papers Relating to the Leeward Islands,” including “Index containing Heads of all the Papers Entred in this Booke [. . .].”

38 On the centralizing ambitions behind the creation and practices of the Board, see Hall, Michael G., “The House of Lords, Edward Randolph, and the Navigation Act of 1696,” William and Mary Quarterly 14, no. 4 (1957): 494515CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Steele, I. K., “The Board of Trade, The Quakers, and Resumption of Colonial Charters, 1699–1702,” William and Mary Quarterly 23, no. 4 (1966): 596619CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Steele, Politics of Colonial Policy, 9–10; Yirush, Settlers, Liberty and Empire, 83–90; Burgess, Douglas R. Jr, “A Crisis of Charter and Right: Piracy and Colonial Resistance in Seventeenth-Century Rhode Island,” Journal of Social History 45, no. 3 (2012): 605–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 TNA, CO 391/9, Commission to Board of Trade, 15 May 1696, 3–4. For the establishment of the board and its administrative powers, see Dickerson, American Colonial Government, 130; Basye, Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, 61; Lees, R. M., “Parliament and the Proposal for a Council of Trade, 1695–6,” English Historical Review 54, no. 213 (1939): 3866CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Steele, Politics of Colonial Policy, 10–18; Laslett, Peter, “John Locke, the Great Recoinage, and the Origins of the Board of Trade: 1695–1698,” William and Mary Quarterly 14, no. 3 (1957): 370402CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gauci, Perry, The Politics of Trade: The Overseas Merchant in State and Society, 1660–1720 (Oxford, 2003), 180–93Google Scholar.

40 TNA, CO 391/9, JBT, 25 June 1696, 7. On Popple's appointment to the board, see Robbins, Caroline, “Absolute Liberty: The Life and Thought of William Popple, 1638–1708,” William and Mary Quarterly 24, no. 2 (1967): 190223CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 210–12.

41 TNA, CO 391/9, JBT, 29 June 1696, 8.

42 TNA, CO 391/9, JBT 1 July 1696, 8.

43 TNA, CO 391/9, JBT, 3 July 1696, 9.

44 TNA, CO 391/9, JBT, 7 July 1696, 33; 3 August 1696, 31; 5 August 1696, 34; 21 August 1696, 64. See also TNA, CO 29/6, Popple to William Bridges, 31 July 1696, and Bridges to Popple, 5 August 1696, 2–3.

45 TNA, CO 326/1, Popple's books listing board's papers.

46 TNA, CO 391/12, JBT, 22 December 1699, 302.

47 Dickerson, American Colonial Government, chap. 1; Clarke, Mary Patterson, “The Board of Trade at Work,” American Historical Review 17, no. 1 (1911): 1743CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Labaree, Royal Government in America, 29–30.

48 Andrews, Guide to the Materials for American History, 1:104–6.

49 TNA, CO 326/2, General index to Trade papers. For indexes for particular bound volumes, see, for example, TNA, CO 1/66.

50 See, for example, TNA, CO 326/3, Subject Index to Trade papers, covering papers from 1696 to 1714 and subsequent volumes in this series, including TNA, CO 326/4, “Plantation Office General Index Continued from the Accession of King George 1st in 1714.” The dates of creation are unclear but must be from about 1714. A “General Index” to Plantation Office records from 1696 to 1714 was also created around this time; see TNA, CO 326/5, “Plantation Office General Index From its First Establishment, in 1696, To the Accession of King George the 1st in 1714.”

51 TNA, CO 391/9, “His Majesty's Commission for promoting the Trade of this Kingdom and for Inspecting and Improving His Plantations in America, and Elsewhere,” 15 May 1696.

52 Analyses of administrative querying in early modern imperial governance have largely focused on the case of Spain; see Brendecke, Arndt, “Informing the Council: Central Institutions and Local Knowledge in the Spanish Empire,” in Empowering Interactions: Political Cultures and the Emergence of the State in Europe, 1300–1900, ed. Blockmans, Wim, Holenstein, André, and Mathieu, Jon (Burlington, 2009), 247–51Google Scholar; Mundy, Barbara E., The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relaciones Geográficas (Chicago, 1996)Google Scholar; Barrera-Osorio, Antonio, Experiencing Nature: The Spanish American Empire and the Early Scientific Revolution (Austin, 2006)Google Scholar, chap. 4; Sellers-García, Sylvia, Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire's Periphery (Stanford, 2014)Google Scholar.

53 TNA, CO 5/1354, “Instructions [. . .] Sir George Yardly Kn.t Governor of Virginia, and to the Honble Councill of State there,” 19 April 1626, 258.

54 TNA, CO 38/1, Robert Southwell to Bermuda Company, 10 April 1676, 49–62.

55 TNA, CO 38/1, Robert Southwell to Bermuda Company, 10 April 1676, 49–62.

56 Matthew Carl Underwood, “Ordering Knowledge, Re-ordering Empire: Science and State-Formation in the English Atlantic World, 1650–1688” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2010), 219; see also Bliss, Robert M., Revolution and Empire: English Politics and the American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century (Manchester, 1990), 178–80Google Scholar. On the board's role as an acquirer of mercantile knowledge for the state, see Leng, Thomas, “Epistemology: Expertise and Knowledge in the World of Commerce,” in Mercantilism Reimagined: Political Economy in Early Modern Britain and Its Empire, ed. J., Philip Stern and Carl Wennerlind (Oxford, 2014), esp. 111–13Google Scholar.

57 TNA, CO 5/1359, “Mr Randolph's Memorial about the improvement of Virginia,” 6 October 1696, 19–22.

58 TNA, CO 5/1359, William Popple to Edward Randolph, 6 October 1696, 24.

59 TNA, CO 5/1309, Henry Hartwell to William Popple, 13 September 1697, fols. 75–81.

60 The board appropriated these practices of circulating instructions and queries from seventeenth-century English scientific endeavors. See Carey, Daniel, “Compiling Nature's History: Travellers and Travel Narratives in the Early Royal Society,” Annals of Science 54, no. 3 (1997): 269–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Underwood, “Ordering Knowledge, Re-ordering Empire,” chap. 4; Yale, Elizabeth, “Making Lists: Social and Material Technologies for Seventeenth-Century British Natural History,” in Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge, 1400–1850, ed. Smith, Pamela H., Meyers, Amy, and Cook, Harold (Ann Arbor, 2014), 280301Google Scholar; Keller, Vera, Knowledge and the Public Interest, 1575–1725 (New York, 2015), 230–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

61 TNA, CO 5/1359, “Letter from the Councill to Sr Edm: Andros,” 24 September 1696, 28–30.

62 TNA, CO 5/1309, “Andros to Lords of ye Councill of Trade & Plantations,” 22 April 1697, fols. 29–41.

63 TNA, CO 5/1309, Andros to Lords, fol. 33.

64 TNA, CO 5/1359, “Letter from the Council of Trade to Sir Edmond Andros,” 2 September 1697, 86–87. The board gave similar “Direction which we desire should be observed in all papers that we may receive from you in the future” to Francis Nicholson, governor of Maryland. TNA, CO 5/725, “The Committee's Letter to Coll. Nicholson,” 2 September 1697, 104.

65 TNA, CO 5/1359, William Popple to Andros, 23 February 1698, 199–200.

66 TNA, CO 5/1359, “Letter from Sir Edmond Andros to the Secretary,” 5 July 1698, 304.

67 TNA, CO 5/1359, “Letter from Sir Edmond Andros to the Board,” 8 July 1698, 303–4.

68 TNA, CO 5/1359, “Letter from Sir Edmond Andros to the Board,” 31 October 1698, 312.

69 On modes of training bureaucrats in expectations for conduct, see Dierks, Konstantin, In My Power: Letter Writing and Communications in Early America (Philadelphia, 2009), 1723CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Millstone, “Seeing Like a Statesman.”

70 TNA, PC 5/1, “Acts, Lawes, & Statutes prepared for his Majesty's Island of Jamaica By the Right Honorable the Lords of the Privy Councell appointed a Committee For Trade & Plantations,” 15 February 1678, 1–54.

71 See Labaree, Royal Instructions to British Governors. Colonists disputed that the Instructions had any force of law over their own actions; see, for example, Burns, John F., Controversies between Royal Governors and Their Assemblies in the Northern American Colonies (Boston, 1923)Google Scholar; Miller, John C., Origins of the American Revolution (1943; repr. Stanford, 1959), 3337Google Scholar; Bushman, King and People, 26–28; Greene, Jack P., The Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, 2011), 2933Google Scholar.

72 TNA, PC 5/1, “Instructions to [. . .] Richard Earle of Bellomont Our Governour and Comander [sic] in Cheif [sic] of Our Province of New Hampshire and New England,” 1699, 334–36.

73 TNA, PC 5/1, “Instructions for Francis Nicholson Esq. His Majesty's Lieutenant and Governor Generall [sic] of His Majesty's Colony and Dominion of Virginia in America,” 1702, 413.

74 TNA, PC 5/1, “A Form of Entry according to which a List of all Shipps Trading to and from any of his Majesty's Plantations in America being Registred pursuant to the Directions of the late Act of Parliament is to be Transmitted to the Commissioners of His Majesty's Customes in the Port of London,” 1702, 425–26.

75 TNA, PC 5/2, “Orders and Instructions for William Selwyn Esq.r His Majesty's Captain Generall and Governour in Cheif in and over His Majesty's Island of Jamaica [. . .] And in His Absence to the Commander in Cheif of the said Island for the time being, in pursuance of Severall Laws relating to the Trade and Navigation [. . .],” 1701, 143.

76 TNA, CO 323/3, “Copy of a Circular Letter from Earl of Nottingham to all ye Governors in America for Proclaiming War with France and Spain,” 7 May 1702, fol. 353. On Nottingham's exertion of control over colonial policy, see Steele, Politics of Colonial Policy, 85–92.

77 TNA, CO 323/6, Earl of Sunderland to Council of Trade and Plantations, 3 January 1707, fol. 65; TNA, CO 324/9, Council to Sunderland, 13 January 1707, 134.

78 TNA, CO 391/60, JBT, 11 March 1752, 119.

79 TNA, CO 5/216, Order in Council, 6 August 1766, 30–32.

80 TNA CO 5/241, “Circular: To all the Governors in America,” 4 July 1768, 81–82. Some theorists of empire argued that all correspondence ought to be centered in the secretary of state's office; see Pownall, Thomas, The Administration of the Colonies (London, 1764), 616Google Scholar.

81 TNA, CO 324/19, “Circular Letter to the Governors and Lieut: Governors of the Colonies,” 11 May 1780, fols. 1–2.

82 See also Dickerson, American Colonial Government, 22.

83 TNA, CO 391/12, JBT, 7 March 1700, 398–99; for the board's preparation of the answer, see entries in TNA, CO 391/12, JBT, 8 March 1700, 400; 11 March 1700, 400–1; 19 March 1700, 407; 20 March 1700, 407; 21 March 1700, 408. For the board's dispatch of the report, see TNA, CO 391/12, JBT, 22 March 1700, 409; 25 March 1700, 410. For the report, see “Answer of the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations to an Order of the Honourable House of Commons,” British Library (hereafter, BL), Add. MSS. 46542, fol. 37.

84 See, for example, TNA, CO 391/13, JBT, 24 July 1700, 122, “An Order of Council [. . .] directing this Board to require the respective Governors of his Majesties’ Plantations to transmit an Account in the most particular manner, of the method of Proceedings upon Tryals [. . .].”

85 “From the Board of Trade about Sir Nathaniel Johnson's Settlement in Carolina,” 18 March 1729; Copy of charters of Carolina, BL, Add MSS. 35908, fols. 214–31v. This manuscript is a compilation of transactions of documents and reports circulated between the board and the solicitor and attorney generals during the 1720s and early 1730s. For the board's responses to requests for documents from Parliament, see, for example, TNA, CO 5/1261, “Order of the House of Lords requiring the Secretary of this Board to attend their Lordships with such Books & Papers as may relate to the Bill for Reuniting the Government of the Proprieties to the Crown,” 29 April 1701, fol. 2; TNA, CO 5/1289, “Report to the House of Lords [. . .] with Lists of Papers relating to Complaints against Proprietary Governments,” 8 May 1701, 66–88; “Order of the House of Lords [. . .] requiring all the Papers in this Office that concern Mr. Penn,” 88–89; and “Lists of Papers relating to Pennsylvania presented to the House of Lords [. . .],” 90–97.

86 TNA, CO 28/6, “Memorial from Mr Hodges desiring perusal of the Governor's Commission & Instructions the Laws & Journals of the Courts of Barbados,” n.d., fol. 47.

87 TNA, CO 391/14, JBT, 8 July 1701, 93.

88 TNA, CO 391/14, JBT, 23 October 1701, 186.

89 TNA, CO 323/8, Mr Delafaye to Council of Trade and Plantations, 15 July 1720, 35.

90 See TNA, PC 2/86, Minutes of the Privy Council, 448–51, covering 14–22 July 1720.

91 TNA, CO 391/29, JBT, 19 July 1720, 256–57.

92 TNA, CO 324/10, William Popple, “Queries to ye Agents &c for the Several Governments on the Continent of America [. . .],” 10 August 1720, fols. 142–43. On the administrative and political role of colonial agents, see Kammen, Michael G., A Rope of Sand: The Colonial Agents, British Politics, and the American Revolution (Ithaca, 1968)Google Scholar.

93 TNA, CO 5/971, “Brigadier Hunter's Answers to Several Queries relating to New Jersey,” 11 August 1720, fols. 242–44; TNA, CO 5/358, “Mr. Boon[e] & Col. Barnwell's Answers to Several Queries relating to Carolina,” n.d., received 23 August 1720, fols. 14–18; TNA, CO 5/717, “Col. Hart's Answers to the Circular Queries relating to the State of Maryland,” 25 August 1720; TNA, CO 5/1266, “Answers to Queries [. . .] in Relation to Pennsylvania,” received 30 November 1720; TNA, CO 5/868, “Queries relating to New Hampshire Answer'd,” 12 April 1721, fols. 321–24.

94 On divergence and the imperial constitution, see Morgan, Gwenda, “‘The Privilege of Making Laws’: The Board of Trade, the Virginia Assembly and Legislative Review, 1748–1754,” Journal of American Studies 10, no. 1 (1976): 1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bilder, Transatlantic Constitution, chap. 2.

95 TNA, CO 5/1266, “Answers to Queries [. . .] in relation to Pensylvania,” fol. 17; TNA, CO 5/971, Hunter replies, fol. 242.

96 TNA, CO 5/358, “Queries Relating to Carolina,” 23 August 1720, fol. 14.

97 TNA, CO 217/3, “Coll. Vetch's Answer to the Circular Queries given him concerning Nova Scotia,” 21 August 1720, fol. 114.

98 TNA, CO 324/10, “Representation upon the State of His Majesty's Plantations on the Continent of America,” 8 September 1721. For other manuscript copies of the report, see BL, Add. MSS. 23615; BL, Add MSS. 35907, fols. 2–49.

99 See, for example, in TNA, CO 324/10, “Representation,” 307, the citation for “N. England old Book R folio 9”; for the general description of the boundaries of New Hampshire, according to the “Charter of the Massachusetts Bay”; and the description of Pennsylvania's government as a proprietorship “vide Charter,” 341. Compare TNA, CO 5/717, “Col. Hart's answer to the Queries relating to the State of Maryland,” 25 August 1720, fol. 311, with TNA, CO 324/10, “Representation upon the State of His Majesty's Plantations,” 348–50.

100 TNA, CO 324/10, “Representation,”

101 TNA, CO 324/10, “Representation upon the State of His Majesty's Plantations,” 419–31.

102 On the Board of Trade's struggles to assert control over proprietary colonial governments, see Olson, Alison Gilbert, “William Penn, Parliament, and Proprietary Government,” William and Mary Quarterly 18, no. 2 (1961): 176–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Steele, Politics of Colonial Policy, 48–49. Notably, proprietary and charter colonies corresponded much less with the board than did royal colonies. See Steele, Ian K., The English Atlantic, 1675–1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community (Oxford, 1986)Google Scholar, 238.

103 Basye, Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, 29–37.

104 Examples of the board's continued use of the technique in the 1750s include TNA, CO 5/1274, “Answers to the Queries that were sent [. . .] to the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland,” 1755, fols. 154–55; TNA, CO 5/1274, “Answer to the Heads of Enquiry from the Board by the Gov. & Company of Connecticut,” 12 April 1756, fols. 162–67. For the persistence of the technique in the 1760s, see, for example, TNA, CO 5/1276, “Answers to the Queries [. . .] to the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland,” 14 January 1762, fols. 23–28.

105 TNA, CO 5/74, Lord Dartmouth, circular to American governors, 5 July 1773, fol. 114.

106 TNA, CO 5/1352, Lord Dunmore to Dartmouth, 18 March 1774, fol. 3. For other replies to Dartmouth's 1773 circular, see TNA, CO 37/36, Bermuda, 6 November 1773, fols. 29–34; TNA, CO 71/1, Dominica, 24 December 1773; TNA, CO 318/2, St. John, 1 May 1774, fols. 36–43; TNA, CO 5/1285, Connecticut, 23 November 1774, fols. 116–124; TNA, CO 137/70, Jamaica, fols. 88–97; TNA, CO 318/2, Tobago, Grenada, and St. Vincent, 1773–1775; TNA, CO 5/592, West Florida, 23 January 1775, fols. 41–55.

107 For the continuity of imperial constitutional norms in governance and legislation in the British Atlantic world after 1783, see Marshall, P. J., “Empire and Authority in the Later Eighteenth Century,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 15, no. 2 (1987): 105–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 115–20; Marshall, P. J., Remaking the British Atlantic: The United States and the British Empire after American Independence (Oxford, 2012), 313–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Benton, Lauren and Ford, Lisa, Rage for Order: The British Empire and the Origins of International Law, 1800–1850 (Cambridge, MA, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Graham, Aaron, “Jamaican Legislation and the Transatlantic Constitution, 1664–1839,” Historical Journal 61, no. 2 (2018): 327–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

108 TNA, PC 1/3131, “Additional Instruction to the Governors of Quebec, Island of St. John, New York, East Florida, Bermuda, and Leeward Islands,” 11 September 1782. On the bureaucratic reorganization of the administration of trade after 1782, see Lingelbach, Anna Lane, “The Inception of the British Board of Trade,” American Historical Review 30, no. 4 (1925): 701–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Beaglehole, J. C., “The Colonial Office, 1782–1854,” Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand 1, no. 3 (1941): 170–76Google Scholar.

109 TNA, BT 6/82, “Letter from the Lords of the Committee for Trade to His Majesty's Postmaster General that the Clerks of the Council in Waiting Should be Allowed the Privilege of Franking Letters and Pacquets as Exercised by the Secretary of the Board of Trade,” 3 September 1784; TNA, BT 5/2, Meeting of the Board of Trade, 5 May 1785, 258–60.

110 TNA, SP 45/22, “List of Books sent down to the State Paper Office,” 16 December 1785, fol. 154.

111 TNA, BT 5/4, Meeting of the Committee of Trade and Plantations (hereafter MCT), 23 August 1786, 1–3.

112 TNA, BT 5/4, MCT, 25 August 1786, 16.

113 TNA, BT 5/4, MCT, 25 August 1786, 20. Many of these files remained in the “Home Office” series in the Public Record Office and were not transferred to their current location in the “Colonial Office” series until the 1880s; see TNA, OBS, 1/888/30, “Key to Volumes transferred from Home Office to Colonial Office.”

114 See, for example, BT 5/3, MCT, 23 January 1786, 56.

115 TNA, BT 5/7, MCT, 24 May 1791, 165–167, considering “Sundry Letters and Papers from Mr. Consul Bond [at Philadelphia] and Mr. Consul Miller [at Charleston],” followed by “Letter to be written to Lord Grenville upon considering the Letters & Papers above mentioned.”

116 See, for example, TNA, BT 5/7, MCT, 10 March 1792.

117 See, for example, TNA, CO 5/242, Lord Sydney to West India Governors, 11 November 1784, fols. 232–34.

118 See Helen Taft Manning, British Colonial Government after the American Revolution, 1782–1820 (New Haven, 1933), esp. chap. 3.

119 TNA, CO 5/251, William Knox to Sir Joseph Ayloffe and Thomas Astle, 11 March 1786, fol. 151.

120 George Chalmers, “The Preface,” in Political Annals of the Present United Colonies, From Their Settlement to the Peace of 1763: Compiled chiefly from Records, and Authorised by the Insertion of State-Papers (London, 1780).

121 See, for example, Chalmers, Political Annals, 147–49 (citing patents and grants for settlement in New England) and 378–79 (reproducing “extracts” of letters related to Maryland drawn from the colony's entry books).

122 See, for example, Chalmers, Political Annals, 230–35 (transcribing proceedings of Lords of Trade from 1639 with respect to Maryland), and 301–6 (transcribing articles of impeachment against the governor of Connecticut).

123 See Chalmers, Political Annals, 450–61, reproducing “Answers of New-England agents [. . .] From New-Eng. Papers, 4 vol. p. 165.”

124 On Chalmers, see Cockroft, Grace Amelia, The Public Life of George Chalmers (New York, 1939)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cheng, Eileen Ka-May, “Plagiarism in Pursuit of Historical Truth: George Chalmers and the Patriotic Legacy of Loyalist History,” in Remembering the Revolution: Memory, History, and Nation Making from Independence to the Civil War, ed. McDonnell, Michael A. et al. (Amherst, 2013), 144–61Google Scholar, at 147–48.

125 TNA, BT 5/7, MCT, 22 November 1791, 304; 1 December 1791, 312.

126 TNA, CO 318/2, Charles Long to Chalmers, 8 May 1792, fol. 66.

127 TNA, BT 5/8, MCT, 10 May 1792, 36.

128 See Chalmers's notes in TNA, CO 318/2, such as “Population of the British W. Indies 1774, of the French W. Indies, 1776–79,” and “Recapitulation of the Population of the British West Indies, 1764–1787.”

129 TNA, BT 5/8, MCT, 11 October 1792, 199–206.

130 The governors’ answers to the queries and related correspondence from the American colonies remained in the custody of the committee until 1807, when these documents, along with eighteenth volumes of “Plantations General” records and over one hundred volumes of both incoming and outgoing correspondence with the American colonies between 1760s and 1780s, were transferred to the State Paper Office. See TNA, SP 45/50, Charles Williams-Wynn to John Bruce, 16 February 1807. For the cataloguing of these documents in the State Paper Office, see TNA, OBS 1/862, “General Survey of the Documents deposited and preserved in His Majesty's State Paper Office,” May 1817, 233–35.

131 See Eastwood, David, “‘Amplifying the Province of the Legislature’: The Flow of Information and the English State in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Historical Research 62, no. 149 (1989): 276–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hacking, Ian, The Taming of Chance (Cambridge, 1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Desrosièrs, Alain, The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning, trans. Naish, Camille (1993; rpr. Cambridge, MA, 1998)Google Scholar, chap. 5; Laidlaw, Zoë, Colonial Connections, 1815–45: Patronage, the Information Revolution and Colonial Government (Manchester, 2005)Google Scholar, chap. 7; Siddique, Asheesh Kapur, “Mobilizing the ‘State Papers’ of Empire: John Bruce, Early Modernity, and the Bureaucratic Archives of Britain,” Journal of Early Modern History 22, no. 5 (2018): 392–410CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

132 Hamilton, Alexander, “The Farmer Refuted, &c.,” 1775, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 1, 1768–1778, ed. Syrett, Harold C. (New York, 1961)Google Scholar, 122.

133 Paine, Thomas, “The Rights of Man,” 1791, in Thomas Paine: Political Writings, ed. Kuklick, Bruce (Cambridge, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 67.

134 Oswald, John, Review of the Constitution of Great-Britain. Third Edition with Considerable Additions (London, 1792)Google Scholar, 31.

135 Thomas Jefferson to Major John Cartwright, 5 June 1824, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 15, ed. Albert Bergh (Washington, DC, 1905), 44. In practice, the embrace of natural rights arguments did not preclude collecting, reading, and deploying manuscript and archival documents in political argument. See Crow, Matthew, Thomas Jefferson, Legal History, and the Art of Recollection (Cambridge, 2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

136 On the role of archives in generating legal precedents in early modern England, see Halliday, Paul D., “Authority in the Archives,” Critical Analysis of Law 1, no. 1 (2014): 110–42Google Scholar.

137 For subsequent developments in imperial communications, see Bayly, C. A., Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge, 1996)Google Scholar; Laidlaw, Colonial Connections.