Family Strategies, Kinship Networks, and National Identity for Americans Abroad: the Maury Family of Virginia and Liverpool, 1785-1840

Megan R. Brett

Advisor: Cynthia A. Kierner, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Rosemarie Zagarri, Jane Censer

Horizon Hall, #3225
April 11, 2022, 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM


James Maury, the first United States consul in Liverpool, faced a number of challenges during his decades living in England as an American abroad. As consul, he was responsible for protecting American interests, including defending American sailors unfairly impressed into the British navy. As a merchant selling U.S. crops on consignment, he dealt with fluctuations in the market from wars, economic crises, and strange weather. Perhaps his biggest challenge was maintaining his connections to the United States, particularly his family in Virginia, not only for himself but for his five Liverpool-born children. In a time when transatlantic communication could be slow and unreliable, James and his family devoted time and energy to sustaining and creating the family networks that provided them with emotional, financial, and cultural support.

This dissertation investigates the importance of familial and other social networks for Americans abroad in the early national period by examining the experiences of the Maury family of Virginia and Liverpool. The primary node, or point of connection, for the analysis of these networks is James Maury, a merchant in the transatlantic goods trade who served as United States consul to Liverpool from 1790 until 1829. He had ten siblings, two marriages, five children, and a large number of extended relations. Each of these individuals was of course the center of their own networks, yet James left the most robust archival collection of any of his siblings, and he was the only Maury of his generation who left Virginia. This documentary abundance for James and his children, combined with his experiences as an American living abroad for decades, makes him a useful node on whom to center this study.

The dissertation argues that Maury family invested time, energy, and resources into maintaining their family networks because they saw those connections as emotionally, culturally, and economically valuable. It also contends that these networks were a key tool for the Maurys living abroad when constructing their identities as Americans. Through this analysis, the dissertation contributes to our understanding of how Americans abroad created and presented national identities in an era when transatlantic communication was unreliable and when even resident citizens in the United States were uncertain what it might mean to be American.

Each chapter in this dissertation addresses some aspect of family strategies and identity, proceeding in roughly chronological order. The first three chapters cover the period from the American Revolution through the end of the Napoleonic Wars. They discuss the efforts by James and his siblings to create, maintain, and preserve their family networks, with an extended look at the expatriate experience in Liverpool during this period. Chapters four and five shift the focus to the Liverpool-born Maurys as they transitioned from adolescence into adulthood. These chapters examine how these Maurys situated themselves in relation to their family networks and constructions of national identities.