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Historical context offers valuable clues

ProfilePosted byOptionsPost Date

Paul Barton, Special Agent

Paul Barton, Special Agent Report 6 May 2013 09:50

For a long time I had wondered why my ancestor Richard Wilmshurst had returned to London around 1808 after living in New York for about 14 years. He had even become a naturalised US citizen in 1802. What had so disaffected him?

Yesterday I decided to explore the history of New York at the time he was there. I discovered that in 1807 the US government brought in the Embargo Act, which banned the import of foreign goods into American ports. The act had little effect on the British and French who simply found trade elsewhere, but it had a severe effect on American merchants who no longer had access to stock. High on this list were textiles. The US textile industry was in its infancy, so there had been a heavy reliance on foreign imports.

Richard was a tailor and without cloth he would have been unable to trade. Although the legislation only lasted a couple of years, it's quite obvious to me that Richard's decision to return home must have been prompted by this ill-considered law.

To me this is a perfect example of the value of historical context to understand our ancestors' actions.