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Artifacts of Ambition: How the Seventeenth-Century Middle Class at Port Royal

Foreshadowed the Consumer Revolution (May 2004)

Timothy D. Trussell, B.S., Oregon State University;

M.A., Oregon State University

Chair of Advisory Committee: Dr. David L. Carlson


On June 7th, 1692, a devastating earthquake struck the English colonial trading

city of Port Royal Jamaica, causing two-thirds of the city to sink beneath Kingston

Harbor. This study utilizes artifacts recovered by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology

at Texas A&M University during more than a decade of underwater excavations at Port

Royal, combined with a study of probate inventories and other primary documents. It is

argued that the people of Port Royal were utilizing conspicuous display of luxury items

as a strategy for social and economic advancement, and that the degree of luxury

consumption evident at Port Royal was not matched among comparable wealth groups

in England or the Chesapeake for another twenty to forty years. This study asserts that

particular social contexts and unique historical circumstances at Port Royal facilitated

the early adoption of consumerist behaviors, and that the identification of these factors

provides important insight into the circumstances surrounding the later adoption of

these behaviors throughout the English-colonial world, in the seminal cultural shift

scholars have termed the consumer revolution.

 

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