While the subject matter of this book is of only peripheral interest to Latin Americanists, they should pay some attention to the techniques displayed therein, for these are likely to be of great service to historians of all fields. Having undertaken a conventional biography of Sir Duncan Sandys, Rabb was struck with the knight’s immersion in mercantile ventures at the end of his life and decided to study the role of all English gentry in Elizabethan and Jacobean capitalism. Before he knew it, he found himself feeding names and data into a computer, as he tried at one end to distinguish among the many John Smiths and William Greens who held stock, and at the other end to make some sense out of the cumulation.
His conclusions are provocative. While “the merchants were clearly the vital driving force behind England’s expansion” (p. 68), the gentry played a crucial role by speculating in the less profitable ventures, which might otherwise have never gotten off the ground. Among the companies in which the gentry formed a remarkably large part of the membership were the Massachusetts Bay (31.6%), New England (83.9%), and Virginia (44.7%) Companies. The Latin Americanist will have a greater professional interest in other companies on this gentry-sponsored list—the Guiana (84.8%) and Providence Island (85.0%) Companies (table, p. 30).
The heart of the book is Rabb’s explanation of his computer techniques and a massive appendix listing the bygone knights and their hopeful investments. Toilers in the Archivo de Indias and throughout the Western Hemisphere may well take notice.