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Mr Atkinson’s Rum Contract: The Story of a Tangled Inheritance

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This vivid tale of a single family, their lives and loves, set against a panoramic backdrop of war, politics and slavery, offers a uniquely intimate insight into one of the most disturbing chapters in Britain's colonial past. The youngest son in a line of Westmorland tanners, he became a merchant and profiteer, a director of the East India Company, an MP, an Alderman of the City of London, a disappointed lover, a slave owner, and the posthumous initiator of the most almighty family feud. The narrative accordingly now changes gear as Atkinson explores the fallout from Richard’s will on the second and third generations of the Atkinson family. The timing of this book intrigues; had it been published even a month later, I wonder if Atkinson’s publishers would have asked him to address this shameful legacy more directly.

This was an enjoyable read, with the author digging into the archives of his family to paint a portrait of Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. It may sound like a stretch to say that it's given me a new lens with which to view today's turbulent world.

His nickname was born of an outrageously good deal he negotiated for himself in a government contract to provide Jamaican rum for the British army in the American war of independence. Still, the thing that’s most interesting about it is the fact that many of his ancestors were slaveowners, holding significant estates in Jamaica. the subject matter is Georgian-era merchants (an ancestor of the author in particular), early merchant banks, the War of American Independence, slavery, trade, war with France, sugar, slavery, trade, abolition. Indeed reading this today with some current actual controversies in the foreground (eg PPE sourcing, the rich getting richer and lining each others' pockets, government borrowing) are very much retreads of earlier crises (eg provisioning the American war of independence, Rotten Boroughs, government borrowing). Mr Atkinson’s Rum Contract is the story of a morally tangled inheritance, but it is also the story of Richard Atkinson the younger’s obsessive pursuit of Richard Atkinson the elder.

Although there was much too much detailed political scene setting for the Richard Atkinson with the rum contract. It provided insights into the enslaved people's environment, the British abolition campaign, and what happened when the system ended. The author of the Scots ballad “Auld Robin Gray”, which Wordsworth thought one of the best two ballads of the age, Anne was a woman of unusual abilities. Of course a lot of the history most people will know, but what is so interesting is the way well known events interact with the family and the way Atkinson managed to be if not at the centre of major events at least close by and talking to all the people who were.very well written story of the rise of the Richard Atkinson and then the demise of the great fortune he made - as well as a good tale, it is also a portrait of the country at a time of massive change with lots of familiar characters. From the first page you are hooked - both by the link between these two relatives and the extraordinary details of the life led by the earlier historical man. From the author's own investigations into his family history, to getting a new and absolutely unique perspective on history (the American revolution and slavery in particular) I was thrilled. He eventually became an MP and was a highly influential behind the scene fixer in some of the political shenanigans of the 18th century.

I would compare this to Mank the film which at over two hours is rather imposing but if you battle through the first 20 minutes of the latter, so say first 30 odd pages of this tome, you are set fair and onto a damn good thing. A really interesting family history, such a wealth of sources and letters for the prominent members of the family in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Overall I found this book a thought provoking and important addition to my understanding of 18th century Britain and our involvement with slavery and the abolition of what we all now understand was a despicable trade. Leave you with the author's trip to Jamaica and this passage: "appalled to think these people (the slaves) had been the lawful property (italics) of my family.The broad range of the topics covered above makes this a really enlightening and intereresting book, in a way that if one pigeon holed the book into any single themes above would reduce its appeal to the broader population and likely annoy the true specialist in a given theme. Rum’ Atkinson died young, at the height of his powers, leaving a vast inheritance to his many nephews and nieces, as well as the society beauty who had refused his proposal of marriage; 40 years of litigation followed as his heirs wrangled over his legacy. The paperwork that he produced and generated was mind-numbing; it’s no wonder Atkinson had to give up his day job. Remarkables REMARKABLES Intriguing, stunning, or otherwise remarkable books These include fine editions, foreign publications that are exceptional for their interest or production, special editions and some first-rate books from very small publishers.

Rum’ Atkinson died young, at the height of his powers, leaving a vast inheritance to his many nephews and nieces, as well as the society beauty who had refused his proposal of marriage; forty years of litigation followed as his heirs wrangled over his legacy. See our Remarkables Archive for some that are no longer in print, but which we are happy to try to track down.Lightly written - in a good way - makes this a decent page turner going through the various interlocking themes above.

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