Date of Award

Spring 5-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)





Committee Chair

Kyle Zelner

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Dr. Andrew Haley

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Heather Stur

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Andrew Wiest

Committee Member 4 Department


Committee Member 5

Allison Abra

Committee Member 5 Department



This project tracks the lives a select group of Philadelphia frontier merchants such as George Morgan, David Franks, and others from 1754-1811. “Trading Identities” traces the trajectory of each man’s economic and political loyalties during the Revolutionary period. By focusing on the men of trading firms operating in Philadelphia, the borderlands and the wider world, it becomes abundantly clear that their identities were shaped and sustained by their commercial concerns—not by any new political ideology at work in this period. They were members not of a British (or even American) Atlantic World, but a profit-driven Atlantic World. The Seven Years’ War destroyed the fur trade, so they turned to land speculation. These merchants looked to the British government for repartitions in the form of land grants. When they were repeatedly denied, the merchants approached the new American government for assistance. However, the unstable American government under the Articles of Confederation also rejected their land claims. Although they all failed in land speculation, the new American economy offered enhanced opportunities for them. Ultimately, these men wanted to gain personal wealth and economic stability above any national loyalty or political ideology. After the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789, the American people still had little or no knowledge what an American was or was supposed to be. It was worse in the backcountry—which as a middle ground had always lacked a clear political identity. Business was their true identity. Ironically, being part of the founding generation of America, these merchants did not develop a true American identity. It was their children’s generation that would cultivate a new American identity and culture.