The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History

Linda Colley

At the core of the story of Elizabeth Marsh (1735-1785) is the disheartening, if unsurprising, realization that individual lives were as deeply impacted by globalism, commerce and war 300 years ago as they are today. Born in England of mixed racial background, Marsh traveled extensively, accompanying her father, a shipwright, and later her husband, James Crisp, a merchant engaged in both legal and illicit long-distant trade. She traveled across the West Indies, Europe, Africa and India, witnessing major geopolitical developments along the way, including the British Empire’s opening up of a massive transcontinental slave trade. While the writing is a bit dry and history-laden, the story of this little-known woman making sense of a changing, imperialistic world is worth a read.