Columbia at Sea: Early American Voyagers and Imperialism in the Pacific World

This book manuscript argues that U.S. navigators laid the foundations of empire in the Pacific World through a novel integration of trade routes, indigenous partners, and natural resources. In historiographic terms, I demonstrate that the United States was conceived with global ambitions, used free trade to consolidate maritime frontiers, and embarked upon imperialism six decades before Commodore Perry and more than a century prior to the Spanish-American War. The manuscript hinges upon the pioneering but understudied voyages of the fur-trading ship Columbia in the years 1787-93. I reconstruct Columbia’s two expeditions to show how a successful business model inspired a new generation of imitators and innovators in the Pacific. Merchant-captains soon expanded into ancillary trades, such as sandalwood, provisions, and hides, that fueled the expansion of U.S. activities in the great ocean. By the 1820s, American voyagers presided over the collapse of profitable animal and plant species, the market-oriented subversion of native cultures, and the intensification of U.S. national interests throughout the region. In short, Columbia began a wave of expeditions that established American commercial dominance and laid the foundations for territorial empire in the Pacific World.

Manuscript under consideration with the Perspectives in Social and Economic History Series at Routledge Press.


"Aloha, Columbia: Hawaii and the Foundations of American Empire in the Pacific, 1789"

Historians have all but ignored the first American landing in the Hawaiian Islands, performed by the Bostonian merchant ship Columbia, in 1789. This article uses big-data analysis to reconstruct a pivotal moment in U.S. and Pacific histories. I argue that Columbia laid the foundations of American “informal” empire in the islands through a program of commercial, strategic, institutional, and cultural influence.


"Building America's Pacific Empire: Commerce, Entrepreneurs, and Boston, 1787-1790"

This community study uses receipt books to evaluate networks of procurement for the ship Columbia prior to her second expedition in 1790. I argue that Columbia’s owners harnessed, redirected, and adapted Boston’s Atlantic maritime apparatus to support the development of a new commercial sphere in the Pacific. The article also quantifies the economic impact of procurement contracts upon individual households, neighborhoods, and industries, and it concludes that Americans had strong financial motivations to support national expansion in the Pacific World. 


"A Common Denominator: The Materiality of Print Culture in the Pacific China Trade"

The commercial exploitation of the Pacific World developed within the context of the global Enlightenment. Navigators applied a culture or reason, empirical knowledge, and correspondence to comprehend the vast region and its natural resources. The value of logbooks, maps, and letters to navigation may seem "obvious," but close examination reveals the dense interaction of information on their pages. This article considers the material value of paper, ink, books, and related items in the construction of trade routes between the Pacific and Guangzhou.