Kevin Murphy, SUNY, Stony Brook
MCEAS Consortium Fellow
“Coercion and Sworn Bond in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic”
My dissertation illuminates the social power of swearing oaths. Although oaths remain important in politics and law, we seldom reflect on the social significance and historical origins of this practice. As my dissertation argues, however, during the eighteenth century (and earlier), the social bonds produced by oath-taking (known as sworn bonds) played a central role in the everyday lives and political affairs of British subjects. Analyzing this practice in diverse context across the British Atlantic—from business transactions to fraternal organizations (like the Freemasons)—reveals that sworn bonds were the putative domain of free, white men. However, the social power of oaths came from the widespread belief that they were binding even if taken under duress. Consequently, the use of sworn bonds served both as an effective form of social control and as a potent means of resistance and protest. Situating this phenomenon within a transatlantic context, my research compares how oaths influenced civic life and political contestation in North America, Ireland, and Britain, especially in the era of the American Revolution.