This chapter examines five disasters that occurred in Britain's American colonies between 1760 and 1780: fires in Boston and Montreal, a massive flood in Virginia, and two unusually severe hurricanes in the British West Indies. It examines the rhetoric and realities of imperial disaster relief in an era most commonly associated with the imperial crisis that ultimately led to the American Revolution. When disaster struck their communities, colonists invoked sensibility, benevolence, and the bonds of empire, exploiting dense networks of transatlantic, intercolonial, and local connections in hopes of obtaining assistance from government officials, merchants, and others. In the decades after Lisbon, Britons on both sides of the Atlantic agreed in seeing disaster relief as benevolence provided to sufferers throughout their far-flung empire, though the performance of benevolence was also a tool of statecraft deployed to mitigate colonial discontent, strengthen the imperial bond, and solidify a shared sense of British national identity.
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