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Pacifists Making Guns: The Galton Family and Britain’s Industrial Revolution

EVT 547
May 1
7:30 pm
Status: No Registration Required
The biggest gun-making firm in 18th-century Britain was owned by a Quaker family, the Galtons. They were major suppliers of guns to the slave trade in West Africa, the East India Company, settlers and trading companies in North America, and the British government, which was at war almost constantly from 1688 to 1815. But a core principle of the Quaker faith is belief in the un-Christian nature of war; Quakers do not participate in war or war training. From the 17th century, they were a persecuted minority because they refused to swear loyalty to the king or to arm themselves in the defense of his realm. So how do we explain the Galtons and other Quakers’ quiet tolerance of their business? For nearly a century, their livelihood attracted no critical notice in their church. Then, suddenly, in 1795, the Religious Society of Friends threatened to excommunicate them unless they left the arms trade. What changed? Why did the Galtons’ gun manufacturing suddenly become a scandal? Had guns changed? Had Quakerism changed? And what was the result? Was Samuel Galton excommunicated? Priya Satia’s talk will reveal how difficult it was in 18th-century British industrial society to extricate oneself entirely from participating in warfare, regardless of principles. War was integral to the Industrial Revolution.

Priya Satia, Professory of History, Stanford

Priya Satia is the author of Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain’s Covert Empire in the Middle East, which received the American Historical Association’s Herbert Baxter Adams Prize. Her second book, Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution, will be published in April 2018. Her work has also appeared in numerous academic journals and edited collections and in popular media such as The Nation, the Financial Times, Slate, India’s Tribune, and CNN.com.
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