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Olwell "Castles in the Sand" in East Florida

2110 Taliaferro Hall
Friday, December 1, 2017 - 4:00 PM

Join the Washington Early American Seminar Series (WEAS) and the Miller Center on Friday, December 1​ to discuss a paper by Robert Olwell (University of Texas at Austin) entitled: "Building Castles in the Sand: In which an Eccentric British Aristocrat Tries to Stem the Tide of Change." 

Olwell's paper explores the impact of British plans for colonial development on East Florida, particularly those of John Perceval, Second Earl of Egmont, who gained control of more than sixty-five thousand acres, Egmont drew up plans for an elaborate “neo-feudal” project that while “romantic,” were, in fact, far from “useless” or purposeless. Egmont acquired his vast American acres to create a refuge where he could preserve a traditional social order and mode of life that he feared was fast disappearing in mid-18th-century Britain. On the sandy soil of his Florida grant he laid elaborate plans to build both literal and ideological “castles” whose walls might provide a bulwark against the rising tide of individualism and self-interest that he felt was sweeping away old England. Ultimately of course, Egmont could not stem the tide of change; his castles crumbled, and his cause was lost. Viewed purely in hindsight, it is easy to dismiss Egmont as a “curious antiquarian;” a Don Quixote tilting hopelessly and foolishly against the windmills of progress. But in his own time, the folly and doom of Egmont’s “romantic projects” may have seemed less obvious or foreordained than it does today. In England during the decade of the 1760s, the old regime, although closely besieged, had not yet surrendered to the forces of liberalism and modernity. Nor did Egmont’s efforts to transplant an old world order to the new world prove entirely fruitless. Upon the ruins of Egmont’s ideological “castles” there grew a new form of the hierarchical social order he once championed. Egmont’s nostalgic British dreams presaged an American nightmare in that they laid a foundation for the expansion of slavery.

Wine and cheese will be served. Please RSVP to millercenter@umd.edu.