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Karl Offen

This article explores a multigenerational family letter collection to illustrate the relationship between family biography and Atlantic geographies from the mid eighteenth to the early nineteenth centuries.

Among the 300 documents in the collection, now held by Special Collections at the University of Bristol Library, I focus on some 40 remarkable letters written by an upper middle-class homemaker from Bristol, England, Elizabeth Symons. Most of Elizabeth's letters were sent to her brother, Robert Hodgson, a trader and the British superintendent on the Mosquito Shore in eastern Central America (1768–1775).

Family members collected and preserved the documents to press property claims on the shore following the family's demise in the early nineteenth century. Combining a broad range of domestic and Atlantic themes from the period, the intimate letters provide a rare opportunity to describe how on ordinary Bristolian woman experienced and contributed to transatlantic trade and Atlantic geographies in her everyday life.