John Nelson was an entrepreneur born in the mid 17th century, a man, in Johnson's words, 'operating ahead of the government and settled society from which he came', one who 'responded to conventions and conditions derived from several different and often competing cultures'. In the case of Nelson, this meant operating in England and France in Europe and in French Canada and New England in America. In several major transactions, he acted as middleman between French Canada and New England. He led an uprising that forced out the Royal Governor of Massachusetts in 1689 and later led an expedition against the French at Port Royal, where he was captured and ultimately landed in the Bastille in Paris. When he was finally released in 1698, he returned to Boston and remained in international trade but no longer had a political role. John Nelson's career exemplifies ways in which the expansion of European empires overwhelmed the local and proprietary rules in effect in colonial America. Johnson's book also provides a way of looking at the continued strong conflict between New England and Acadia about fishing rights in the North Atlantic.
In Johnson's words, 'Nelson's career directs attention beyond social life on the one hand and court politics on the other to individuals whose lives precipitated policy even if they themselves never put it into execution. [Figures like Nelson] were at once the unsung creators and among the numerous victims of Europe's American empires'.