+ Note on these notes
I began this project for selfish reasons, thinking that having to post these notes would help me to be thorough in my preparation for oral exams, but hopefully you will find them useful as well. The "In Briefs", are my summary sound-bytes, condensed, without judgment, and mainly focused on the author’s argument and contribution with reference to their key evidence. Some summaries are a bit circular, which may reflect the author’s uncertainty or the fact that it was the tenth one written that day. I tried to write these summaries in my own words, which could help you understand a book you have already read even if my use of language is sometimes less specific than that of the author. The “Questions" are rather blunt and they suggest one of the primary goals of the author’s inquiry. The “Quotes,” usually 3 or 4 selected sentences, should be read with due caution. They are not intended to reveal the argument so much as indicators of the author’s style, analytical methods, and often really interesting details that will encourage you to read the book in full. Lastly, the “Conversations" are books that came before and after publication; and the connections I make are not always ones that the authors always made themselves even though the overlap can be quite substantial.
+ 1967, Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
In Brief: Bailyn traces the many intellectual sources of the American Revolution, but he emphasizes the Whig tradition as what united and gave coherence to the rebellion’s ideology. The colonists learned from England’s earlier Whigs who had fought back against a tyrannical monarch. Thus the colonists did not take any perceived threat to their liberty lightly. This fear of tyranny displaced all other concerns, even if the rebelling colonists did not necessarily believe in an absolute democracy either. Rather than focus on the Enlightenment, Bailyn argues that historians need to pay close attention to the Whig tradition, and the fact that colonists did experience an actual loss of liberty in the years leading up to the revolution. They fought to preserve and protect, rather than create liberty. Over time this conflict became unavoidable as the colonists simultaneously planned their rebellion and the British had to react.
Questions: At what point did the American Revolution become an unavoidable ideological war?
Quotes: “The colonists believed they saw emerging from the welter of events during the decade after the Stamp Act a pattern whose meaning was unmistakable.” (94) “But the eighteenth century was an age of ideology; the beliefs and fears expressed on one side of the Revolutionary controversy were as sincere as those expressed on the other.” (158) “In its place had come the sense, premised on the assumption that the ultimate sovereignty–ultimate yet still real and effective–rested with the people, that it was not only conceivable but in certain circumstances salutary to divide and distribute the attributes of governmental sovereignty among different levels of institutions.” (228)
Conversations: Wood, Radicalism of the American Revolution; Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government; Greene, Peripheries and Centers
+ 1970, Kenneth A. Lockridge, A New England Town, The First Hundred Years: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636-1736
In Brief: Lockridge shows how a Puritan utopian vision was implemented in Dedham and later unraveled over the course of its first century. The community functioned as a relatively united group centered around the church, actively excluding people, shaping the development of the town through gradual allotment, and harassing the neighboring Indians. The high and exclusionary ideals of the community ultimately led to the end of this utopian vision as individual rights gained importance in the colony. Giving its outlying land to create buffer towns may have distanced Dedham residents from Indians, but these new towns quickly gained momentum that pulled people away from Dedham’s center and distant farmers sought their own representation and also, their own churches. Town meetings rather than the selectmen meetings started to make more important decisions, as political power became more egalitarian, politics also became more divisive. The other issue was that by the 18th century land was no longer abundant and the relative equality in terms of landownership could no longer continue at the same time that the farmland itself began to wear out. Increasingly the question was not immigration, but emigration.
Questions: How did a Puritan utopian community come apart? How did declining economic opportunities on the land translate in community politics?
Quotes: “The slow process of allotment enabled the town to enforce its social priorities with precision, while the common fields brought men into continual contact with one another and kept the village from disintegrating into isolated farms out in the countryside.” (12-13) “Their aim was to assert in yet another way the combined opposition of the peripheral areas to the continuing control of town policy by the village, and perhaps to nag the village into granting them independence.” (109) “The jousting in the public courts which had replaced that tradition demonstrated an every-man-for-himself equalitarianism that was nothing if not aggressive.” (145)
Conversations: Farragher, Sugar Creek; Cronon, Changes on the Land
+ 1974, Peter Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1650 through the Stono Rebellion
In Brief: From the beginning of colonial South Carolina’s history, planters from Barbados relied on slave labor to produce cash crops. Wood argues that it was West African experience with rice cultivation that enabled its cultivation in the tidewater. Slaves developed their own informal economy, and prior to the fears of conspiracy that emerged in 1712, they hunted with guns as well. In 1715 hundreds of black soldiers fought alongside white colonists, in part because there were so few white people in the colony. Around this time a clear black majority emerged at the same moment that plantation agriculture spread in the colony, and the intense work regime meant that birth rates were low and slaves had to be imported from Africa. The Stono Rebellion happened in response both to the development of a system of slavery that further limited the lives of enslaved people and the possibility of neighboring Spanish Florida offering support to runaway slaves. Following the uprising, planters temporarily stopped importing slaves while increasing patrols and other restrictions on the lives of their slaves. Even though enslaved Africans constituted a majority of the colony’s population they faced severe repression in the years leading up to the American Revolution, yet simultaneously their vast numbers and oppressive surroundings led them to develop a distinct culture and an informal economy, that was hidden but no less vital.
Questions: How did a black majority shape the history of colonial South Carolina?
Quotes: “In the establishment of rice cultivation, as in numerous other areas, historians have ignored the possibility that Afro-Americans could have contributed anything more than menial labor to South Carolina’s early development.” (62) “Gullah might be described as an early, localized, and intensified form of an accommodation process between separate speech traditions that has not yet run its course in this country.” (191) “Although no single runaway posed a threat to the slave system, scores of absentees constituted not simply a minor nuisance and ominous reminder but a potential nucleus for more concerted acts of rebellion.”(268)
Conversations: Berlin, Many Thousands Gone; Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll; Penningroth, The Claims of Kinfolk; Carney, Black Rice
+ 1975, David Brion Davis, Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823
In Brief: Antislavery sentiment, the idea that slavery was a real problem for society, came alongside the American Revolution (and other revolutions), not simply because of the contradictions that came with Thomas Jefferson shouting liberty, but because of broader changes in religion, the economy, and every other aspect of society. In other words, neither slavery nor anti-slavery ideas can be understood in a vacuum. While both proponents and opponents referred to race in their debate over slavery, race does not explain the motivations of either side. Once slavery was identified as a problem, one of the issues was the centrality of slavery to the economy, not only to those politically powerful slaveholders but to the nation’s economy. Yet Davis shows how Quaker activists, themselves transformed into American capitalists, could use their own economic interests and their need to appear moral in the face of their reliance on wage labor to lead the fight against slavery. Economic interests may explain much of the support for slavery, but they can also explain much of its opposition from other white Americans. The ideals themselves originated out of a complex nexus, in turn shaping society and institutions, including the slow absorption of anti-slavery doctrine into the laws themselves. The fight over slavery had diverse origins, and this also meant that the fight over slavery while centered on emancipation, represented a broader battle over the meaning of democracy.
Questions: What are the social and intellectual origins of anti-slavery activism?
Quotes: “Wholly apart from moral and ideological considerations, it only made sense for Britain to commit herself to the international suppression of the slave trade, the continuation of which could only augment the production of tropical staples, add to the glut outside Napoleon’s domains, and provide neutrals with more goods to smuggle through the British blockade.” (57) “But for Jefferson the scale tipped heavily toward self-preservation, which meant the preservation of a social order based on slavery.” (183) “A slaveholding nation could not serve the world as a model of freedom.” (326)
Conversations: Berlin, Many Thousands Gone; Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom; Foner, Free Labor Free Soil
+ 1975, Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom
In Brief: Morgan focuses on colonial Virginia, especially the 17th century, to explain how African slavery and freedom for white male colonists were mutually constitutive. The English first came to Virginia with expectations of easy riches, and spent their time raiding the Native American communities while refusing to grow corn to feed themselves, and their dreams for wealth were realized in 1617 when they shipped tobacco to England. In the initial boom life was very difficult for nearly everyone, as planters worked their servants much harder than they would have worked in England, and few lived long enough beyond their indenture to accumulate much of anything. After the first tobacco frenzy had settled, Virginians set about actually turning their landscape into a hospitable place, growing more food crops, and in response the mortality rates declined. Planter and speculator control of the best land meant that freemen were pushed to the outer boundaries of the colony, putting them in conflict with the Native Americans who had also been pushed out of the Tidewater. These longer-lived freemen, who needed guns to attack and in turn protect themselves against Indians, could not be simply ignored any longer. Nathaniel Bacon, himself a haughty aristocrat who hated Indians, mobilized many of the freemen in a rebellion against the government and its inability to satisfy their demands against the Indians. African slaves had labored in Virginia since 1619, but the rebellion served as an inflection point in which the reduced mortality rates made ignoring the demands of freeman more dangerous and the benefits of buying slaves for life more profitable. The abuse slaves faced stood in a growing contrast to the exploitation of Englishmen, in part because of freemen’s claims on English law, but also as part of this wider process in which the creation of race helped to make freemen understand themselves as free.
Questions:Why did ideas about liberty expand at the same time as slavery?
Quotes: “How to explain the suicidal impulse that led the hungry English to destroy the corn that might have fed them and to commit atrocities upon the people who grew it?” (75) “Resentment of an alien race might be more powerful than resentment of an upper class.” (269-270) “The substitution of slaves for servants gradually eased and eventually ended the threat that the freedmen posed: as the annual number of imported servants dropped, so did the number of men turning free.” (308)
Conversations: Brown, Good Wives Nasty Wenches; Fields, Racecraft
+ 1983, William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England
In Brief: The ultimate book to assign to undergraduates to help them understand precolonial and colonial uses of the land and how to describe nature's role in history. There was no wilderness when colonists arrived in the New World, as Native Americans had long shaped and interacted with their environment whether through setting fires or hunting. As the number of colonists grew they nonetheless transformed New England’s ecological landscape at the same time that its transformation changed their own ideas about what was possible. Native Americans also participated in this transformation as they engaged in the market economy and began collecting massive numbers of pelts to trade with Europeans. The loss of beavers destroyed many dams and altered streamflows, opening up more land for colonists to settle on. Arriving Europeans not only missed the importance of Indian management, but also Indian patterns of movement as they adjusted to changing seasons and relative abundance or scarcity. Instead these colonists settled on the land and reshaped the plant and animal communities that surrounded them. The effects of deforestation, the introduction of livestock, and European weeds changed the lives of all of New England’s residents.
Questions: How did nature and culture interact during the settling of New England?
Quotes: “Why a tree of a given species grew where it did was the result not only of ecological factors, such as climate, soil, and slope, but of history as well.” (32) “Floods were a dramatic result of deforestation, but they were only the noisy heralds of a much subtler and more important change.” (124) “Quite simply, the colonists’ economic relations of production were ecologically self-destructive.” (169)
Conversations: Silver, A New Face on the Countryside; Dean, With Broadax and Firebrand; Pyne, Fire in America; Judd, Common Land Common People; Foster, Thoreau’s Country
+ 1986, Jack P. Greene, Peripheries and Center: Constitutional Development in the Extended Polities of the British Empire and the United States, 1607-1788
In Brief: Greene studies the long history leading up to the writing of the U.S. Constitution to show how the concepts of centers and peripheries shaped British and American colonial ideas about legitimacy. In this relationship both sides need each other to exercise power and gain consent. The American Revolution was but one example of the periphery revoking its consent; the challenge the drafters of the Constitution faced was finding the right balance between the two. Greene pushes back against the idea that distance alone led to independence, but in the confusion over how laws would be interpreted, the colonies gained power to make important decisions while also claiming their right to assembly. Greene places great emphasis on custom where every time the colonists acquired new rights these became entrenched through custom, making revocation impossible for the British–thus conflicts in Britain itself that displaced kings or otherwise distracted the metropole proved to be crucial moments in which American autonomy developed and could not be easily reversed. In the revolution custom and legal structures worked together to encourage the rebellion. Yet the the issue of peripheries and centers continued in independence. A fear of disorder mediated between fears of a centralized authority. The concept of popular sovereignty served to connect citizens with the state and the nation, however judging by the Civil War the Constitution itself did not resolve the relationship between the periphery and center in any absolute sense.
Questions: How did Americans resolve the conflict between the periphery and center?
Quotes: “Rather, during the last half century of the colonial period, lawyers and judges seem to have applied all kinds of English law–the common law, presettlement statues, and post settlement statues that did and, at least in some instances, did not specifically mention the colonies–as it suited local and temporal needs and conditions.” (27) “Practice to the contrary notwithstanding, no one in power in Britain accepted in theory any limitations upon the authority of Parliament to act in the colonial sphere.” (68) “By locating sovereignty in the people rather than in the government or in some branch thereof, the framers of the Constitution had invented a radical new scheme of governance whereby the basic powers of sovereignty could be divided without dividing sovereignty itself.” (205)
Conversations: Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government; DuVal, Independence Lost
+ 1990, Donna Merwick, Possessing Albany, 1630-1710: The Dutch and English Experiences
In Brief:There were not only important differences between Indians and European colonists over uses and interpretations of land and property, but also substantial differences between the Dutch and English. These changes are evident in the city that became Albany. The Dutch, above all Van Rensselaer the patroon himself, understood the development of the town in terms of its natural geography, especially in its location along the Hudson. As traders the Dutch understood the river as trading river, and they chose to live as close to the river as possible. The river also connected Albany to New Amsterdam (NYC) that made up a single unified world of commerce for most Albany merchants. Though there was some resistance to the English takeover in 1664, the real change occurred as the English emphasis on property became dominant, requiring residents to focus more on the value of owning land than on trade alone. Land became an increasingly valuable form of property, not simply because there were more people but because of the relative importance of landownership in English society. At the same time English mercantile policies increasingly limited, but did not stop Albany residents from engaging directly in global trade.
Questions: How did the different cultures of the Dutch and English affect settlement patterns in North America?
Quotes: “He interpreted the Low Countries in meaningful analogies with North America.” (58) “Over the coming decade, the English instructed the burghers as to the appropriateness of making landownership highly visible.” (201) “They showed this amphibious world because Dutch people had gained a sense of the equal value of land and water; they no longer made the same distinctions as people who had not experienced water in the same way.” (289-290)
Conversations: Cronon, Changes in the Land; Lockridge, A New England Town; Shorto, Island at the Center of the World
+ 1990, Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People
In Brief: Butler breaks down the false label of the Great Awakening–revivalism was one strand among many. Rather than a pure strand of Puritanism, Butler sees great variety in religious life before the revolution. By focusing on this variety, instead of drawing out only the dominant strands, Butler reveals the common practices that transformed American religion, and a common thread of mysticism. Even as state-sponsored churches declined, the new religious groups only increased their claims on authority. In the aftermath of the Revolution, churches made independence into a sacred concept that was also embedded on the landscape. By claiming the Revolution as their own, Christians succeeded in making Christianity into the moral compass of the American republic. Yet the individuality touted by American Christianity rested as much on the quest for absolute authority, power, and intolerance as it did on a bottom-up egalitarianism. This emphasis on authority proved particularly destructive for enslaved people whose African religious system was devastated, laying the groundwork for slaves’ embrace of Christianity even as some of their old symbols persisted.
Questions: Why were Christian passions so high on the eve of the Civil War?
Quotes: “They moved toward the exercise of authority, not away from it, and they understood that individual religious observance prospered best in the New World environment through the discipline of coercive institutional authority.” (128) “Paternalism took root not in an absence of authority but in its overweening presence.” (144) “However much evangelicals opposed Unitarian aloofness, Unitarianism kept a crucial elite moored to a Christian dock, no mean accomplishment in decades when enormous numbers of Europeans–including Europeans soon to be revolutionaries–abandoned Christianity altogether.” (221)
Conversations: Brekus, Sarah Osborne’s World, Fisher, Indian Great Awakening, Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll
+ 1990, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale, The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812
In Brief: Ulrich uses Martha Ballard’s diary to tell the history of both Ballard and the new nation, with conflicts over debt, land, rape, or wages. Ballard lives in Hallowell Maine along the Kennebec River, where she worked as a midwife even as a new group of professional doctors usurped some of her clients with whom she bartered or received payment in cash. Midwifery offered women more compensation than much of the other work open to them. As her own children left the household and as she aged, Ballard attempted to rely on servants to help with the chores but found these young women unruly. Ulrich draws out not only the frequent mentions of the weather, but of the unremitting toil that defined Ballard’s life and her contributions to her family and wider community.
Questions: What does the repetitive nature of Ballard’s diary say about the role of women in the early Republic?
Quotes: “Though she lived through a Revolution, she was more a colonial goodwife than a Republican Mother.” (32) “There were really two family economies in the Ballard household, one managed by Martha, the other by Ephraim.” (80) “In their view, the fight against the proprietors was nothing less than an attempt to save the Revolution.” (217)
Conversations: Holt, Making Freedom Pay; Taylor, William Cooper's Town
+ 1991, Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics, 1650-1815
In Brief: White focuses on a moment in time when Algonquians, recently displaced around the Great Lakes, formed a “middle ground” with French imperial officials. The middle ground is not just a place but a network of fluid relationships with their own language rituals and patterns of behavior. The fact that there is weakness within both parties makes this meeting in the middle possible even if it occurs through creative misunderstandings. Indian understandings of kinship and fatherhood helped to form a foundation for the common language the two parties built with each other, with both parties getting things from the other even as this world placed limits on their demands upon each other. The British initially tried to impose their own standards and demands when they took over from the French, but soon learned that their limited power in region would be better used by finding accommodation on the middle ground. However Native Americans saw this middle ground disappear in the wake the War of 1812 and a newly empowered American nation whose settlers chose to hate Indians and had sufficient political and economic power to no longer deal with them on an equal footing.
Questions: What conditions allowed for cultural accommodation?
Quotes: “Long after it ceased to govern the actions of those who actually lived among Indians, the idea of Indians as literally sauvages, or wild men embodying either natural virtue or ferocity, persisted among intellectuals and statesmen in France.” (51) “Striking a balance between love and fear, between gratitude for a father’s kindness, generosity, and mediation and fear of his wrath remained the great practical problem of British Indian policy.” (307) “The middle ground blurred boundaries, and what pure Indian haters sought above all was to keep boundaries intact.” (388)
Conversations: Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance, Taylor, Civil War of 1812
+ 1992, Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution
In Brief:Wood sees the American Revolution upending every aspect of social, political, and intellectual life. He claims that ordinary people gained vast political power to shape society and that the revolution unleashed the forces of capitalism alongside democracy while much of the older hierarchy was obliterated. In part Wood sees the prevalence of land ownership and the lack of an established aristocracy, many of whom left as loyalists, as laying the groundwork for this transformation. Wood still notes divisions but with authority coming from the bottom up this creates a different logic. Yet the Revolutionary leaders also feared the backlash that their ideas had led to an overemphasis on equality at the same time that so much energy was being directed towards the market. While these leaders had entered the war because of Republicanism, they had in fact ended up with Democracy, which served to undermine a social order tied to monarchy, even as enslaved people and women gained little in this era of liberation.
Questions: Why was the American Revolution in fact a radical break?
Quotes: “In the end the disintegration of the traditional eighteenth-century monarchical society of paternal and dependent relationships prepared the way for the emergence of the liberal, democratic, capitalistic world of the early nineteenth century.” (95) “Indeed, many Americans were willing to accept the strong kinglike chief executive created by the Constitution precisely because they expected Washington to be the first President.” (209) “The distinction between gentlemen and commoners did not disappear, but it was buffeted and blurred and was eventually transformed.” (343)
Conversations: Bailyn, Ideological Origins; Rockman, Scraping By
+ 1995, Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic
In Brief: Taylor follows William Cooper, his town, and his children to chart the growth of the nation and the decline of the Federalist elite. While William Cooper initially benefitted from this expansion, he found himself stuck in the middle, lacking the pedigree of a gentleman and attacked as an elite by his townspeople and political enemies. The rising commercial passions and activity undermined the social order of the Federalists despite the fact that they were the ones who laid the groundwork for such commercialism. Cooper meanwhile still sought elite approval and lost sight of his political base in his own county while poor timing and a lack of focus led to a decline in his fortune which his children largely lost. Yet his son James turned these many changes and his own family’s misfortune into a powerful writing style that captured the emotions of frontier life.
Questions: How did the chaos of the frontier shape an American political and economic identity?
Quotes: “But while they were on their way down the social ladder, young William Cooper was on his way up to lay claim to the prize that had eluded them for so long.” (65) “By forsaking maple sugar in favor of potash, Cooper also turned from an egalitarian to a more hierarchical enterprise.” (134) “The spatial remove and the increased scale combined to further the family’s alienation from the common settlers and villagers.” (261)
Conversations: Wood, The Radicalism of the Revolution; Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium; Holton, A Revolution in Favor of Government
+ 1995, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, Women Before the Bar: Gender, Law, and Society in Connecticut, 1639-1789
In Brief: Dayton studies the role of women in the courts of Connecticut up to 1789, who shaped the developing legal system even as they were excluded from being judges or lawyers. While Puritans could limit freedom, they also welcomed women’s testimony in contrast to a growing sense of patriarchy. As the legal system was transformed and put to work in the interests of the economic elites pushing a new commercialism, this also led to making the courts a more male-centered world. This growing exclusion mirrored a more formal economy that rarely credited the contributions of women. The courts themselves also became less community-oriented, women had a harder time using the courts to clear their name in the community while men came to rely on the courts to protect their reputations as businessmen. Though women had not lived in a Puritan paradise prior to the 18th century, its informal economic and legal culture had given women a voice that was heard less and less as the colony adapted more and more English forms of law and commerce.
Questions: How did the decline of Puritanism affect gender roles in the courts and the economy?
Quotes: “As men’s routine economic dealings became more commercial and cash-based, women were largely excluded from the realm of greatly expanded credit relations.” (72) “Far from static, the history of fornication proceedings at the county court level revolved around, first, the suppression and, then, the emergence of the double sexual standard.” (173) “Starting in the early eighteenth century, not only did judges restrict the range of litigable slander, but the populace began to see courts as less and less effective sites for seeking relief for harmful speech.” (327)
Conversations: Block, Rape and Sexual Power; Pagan, Anne Orthwood’s Bastard; Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law
+ 1996, Kathleen M. Brown, Good Wives Nasty Wenches & Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia
In Brief: Brown explores the process by which the category of gender contributed to the creation of race and the hardening of slavery in colonial Virginia. In this process gender also changed, leading to a much more patriarchal society than the one colonists had left in England. Colonists used gender to make sense of their interactions with Indians, focusing on difference, and in turn reaffirming their understanding of their own identity. The labor-intensive needs of tobacco cultivation meant that men and women had to labor in the fields, but with the growth of slavery it increasingly meant that African women would labor in those fields while respectable white women would not, and even white servants would be allowed to distinguish themselves from slaves. African women lived and worked outside the gender ideals of the colonists, contributing to the creation of race and the justification for slavery. Virginians meanwhile passed specific laws to entrench this relationship between race, slavery, and gender, such as the law in which African women held in slavery passed the condition of enslavement to their children. Bacon’s rebellion was not simply a crisis that the planter elites faced, rather all white men felt threatened by the slaves and women that participated in the upheaval, and they worked together to ensure that white patriarchy would be upheld by their guns and the laws of the land.
Questions: How did gender create race and entrench slavery?
Quotes:“Although Pocahontas’s transformation and journey to London seemed to affirm the rigidity of the Anglo-Indian cultural divide, it also testified to the permeability of the boundary and the complex identities of those who traversed it.” (45) “The compromise among the colony’s white men was perhaps most visible in the public culture of white male planters, with its legal denial of African and Indian masculinity and unequivocal, although imperfect, exclusion of women.” (140) “Black men and women were ‘ungendered’ by being denied the privileges and forms of honor accorded to respectable white men and women.” (355)
Conversations: Morgan, Laboring Women; McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds; Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage; Barr, Peace Came; Morgan, American Slavery; Block, Rape and Sexual Power
+ 1997, Allen Greer, The People of New France
In Brief: Greer explores the diversity of life in New France. The small population of Frenchmen helps to explain their dependence on Native Americans and also the extent to which cross-cultural interaction occurred. In some ways it was the success and value of New France that led to its conquest by the British.
Questions: What was life like in New France?
Quotes:“Although there was some tendency to cluster around the two cities, settlement always stayed close to the water.” (29-30) “Yet this sort of movement back and forth and along the intercultural frontier zone does seem to have been more prevalent among the Canadian French.” (79) “The Iroquois, Huron, and other Natives resident in the St Lawrence colony certainly suffered as a result of the Conquest; or to put it more accurately, the conclusion of French-English conflict reduced the Natives’ value as military auxiliaries and gave them less bargaining power and room to maneuver.” (118)
Conversations: White, Middle Ground; Taylor, Civil War of 1812, Creighton, Empire of St. Lawrence
+ 1998, Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America
In Brief: Berlin shows the centrality of slavery to North America’s history while also drawing out the dramatic changes that took place within slavery which begins with the charter generation, then plantation generation, and finally revolutionary generations. Many of the early slaves, often creoles, found that the boundaries of slavery were fluid whereas later generations found increasingly hard boundaries with only physical escape as a possibility for ending their enslavement, and through this process the concept of race also reformed into a more restrictive concept. Berlin makes a further distinction between societies with slaves and slave societies where slavery constituted the the central political and economic institution, and there was signification variation within North America in regards to the centrality of slavery. Slaves’ actions, the American revolution, or the Saint Domingue refugees all played a role in either the intensification or weakening of the institution of slavery, and the nature of the work being done or the types of crops harvested helped to determine the routine and culture of slavery in each region.
Questions: How did people change the meaning of slavery?
Quotes: "But the free blacks’ presence and growing numbers subverted the logic of racial slavery in the eye of white and black alike.” (38) “In time, saltwater slaves and their descendants shifted the balance of power, and in the process transformed themselves from Africans to African Americans.” (104) “It was no accident that free people of color expanded their privileges when the danger of slave rebellion was greatest.” (349)
Conversations: Blackburn, American Crucible; Johnson, Soul by Soul
+ 1998, Jill Lepore, The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity
In Brief: Lepore interprets King Philip’s War (1675-1676) as a key moment of consolidation among the English colonists, the early roots of an American nationalism in which English colonists defined themselves in opposition to Native Americans. Though fewer total colonists died in the conflict, many did lose their lives and even more lost their homes, which had been one of the key places, supported by law and custom, where they had affirmed their English identity. The memory of the war not only lived on long after its conclusion, but was actively mobilized by colonists whose uncertain victory was rebuilt on firmer foundations of civilization versus savagery. Colonists drew distinctions to distinguish themselves from Native Americans, allaying their own fears of corruption and elevating their institutions of property and law. Indeed following the war colonists did little to differentiate between Indian nations who served as allies and those who served as enemies. By the time of Indian Removal in the 19th century King Philip’s War was recast as a noble but unavoidable defeat for the Native Americans, suggesting the same outcome for other tribes in the era of Jackson.
Questions: How did warfare with Native Americans create an American identity?
Quotes:“Indeed, it is the central claim of this book that wounds and words–the injuries and their interpretation–cannot be separated, that acts of war generate acts of narration, and that both types of acts are often joined in common purpose: defining the geographical, political, cultural, and sometimes racial and national boundaries between peoples.” (x) “These were not simply material differences, they were cultural, for every English frock coat was stitched with threads of civility, each thatched roof rested on a foundation of property rights, and every cupboard housed a universe of ideas.” (79) “If Barbados and New England tasted of the same cup, so did Virginia.” (168)
Conversations: Silver, Our Savage Neighbors; Lipman, Saltwater Frontier; Merrell, Into the American Woods; Morgan, American Slavery American Freedom; Lipman, Saltwater Frontier
+ 1999, James H. Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier
In Brief: Merrell focuses on the woodsmen of Pennsylvania who served as cultural and political intermediaries between Indians and Europeans. They were the ones who delivered messages, dispelled rumors, and kept the lines of communication open. The actual act of treaty-making was just a final act that obscures the groundwork laid by these mediators. Indians could set many of the terms for treaty negotiations including the language in which they were conducted. European intermediaries often came from the frontier while Christian Indians also served in this middle-ground role, given their understanding of multiple languages and cultures. These negotiators acted in their own interests, seeking payment for their services, and not necessarily believing in cultural harmony even as they expertly navigated that divide, choosing when to misinterpret when that divide seemed too vast. As settlers pressed westward at the same time that these go-betweens disappeared in the 1750s and 1760s violence and fear replaced accommodation, and treaties only became a further expression of such hatred.
Questions: How did Pennsylvania go from having one of the best relationships with Native Americans to one of the worst and most hate filled relationships?
Quotes: “Here we approach the woods’ harsh lesson: the ultimate incompatibility of colonial and native dreams about the continent they shared.” (38) “But another feature of that gap serves as a reminder that, for all they shared, negotiators–like the native American and European colonial societies they served–never shed prevailing ideas about the frontier that divided Indians from colonists, never came together as a distinct group between two worlds, two ways of life.” (102) “Gone by 1750, were the days when Conrad Weiser and Shickellamy could manage most of the business between Pennsylvania and its Indian neighbors; the frontier was becoming too vast, the number of people involved too large, the lines of communication too long, for that.” (221)
Conversations: White, Middle Ground; Silver, Our Savage Neighbors; Grandjean, American Passage
+ 2002, James F. Brooks, Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands
In Brief: Brooks shows how slavery formed the basis of a shared culture and community in the southwestern borderlands which involved the region's many Native American groups, Spaniards, and later the Americans, from the colonial era through Reconstruction. Though each group held different ideas about the meanings of slavery, these converged and changed as the slave-raiding economy only grew. Ironically, the warfare that underlay the trade in captives served to tie these groups together as their captives became family. Slaves often lived difficult and tenuous lives, but they were also incorporated in various ways through laws or metaphors of kinship, which were made real through the children they bore. Spanish introduction of horses further enabled captive raiding while the spread of cattle and sheep as another source of wealth encouraged and complemented the trade in captives. Such an economy served to increase inequality, among the Navajo for example, where only a few of its members held a high proportion of livestock and captives, even as its wider population was also invested in the captive economy. Depending on their circumstances, each group needed captives for different purposes: for their exchange value, for labor, or to incorporate new members into tribes ravaged by disease. Attempts to limit captivity failed, whether it was Spanish, Mexican, or American policy, indeed the post-Civil-War United States government in some ways encouraged slavery by paying ransoms. It was the consolidation of the American economy that spelled the end of the captive trade in the Southwest.
Questions: How did the slave trade serve to both unite and divide the communities of the Southwest?
Quotes: “Native American and Spanish colonial men found that the survival of their communities depended, in part, on their ability to exchange both human and material resources across cultural boundaries.” (30) “Yet the expansion of the borderland economies broadened the role of social marginals like genizaros in mediating between los indios barbarous and the Spanish colony, which would open new negotiating spaces for those peoples so disparaged by the colonial elite.” (138) “In order to gain access to that economy, many more Navajos had an implicit interest in the captive and livestock raiding economy than might ever aspire to be wealthy slaveholders and sheepmen themselves.” (250)
Conversations: Hämäläinen, Comanche Empire; Barr, Peace Came; Hahn, Roots of Southern Populism
+ 2003, Max Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State
In Brief: The Constitution was not simply created by elites in an effort to limit democracy, rather it was part of wider search for an order and structure that could both limit the power of any one faction and react and act as needed. On one level the Constitution was modeled based on patterns of state formation in Europe, but it also had to offer additional protection for personal liberty. Since the meaning of the Constitution has been perpetually debated since its ratification, Edling suggests the value in looking at the debates that led to its ratification. The issue of the military was especially central, and anti-Federalists and Federalists debated whether a standing army would protect or threaten personal liberty. By limiting the size of the military, the drafters gave most people the ability to focus their efforts on commerce even as the military protected the nation and its interests. Likewise the issue of debt was also a question of presenting the United States as a stable place worthy of investment. State-building of course continued after ratification, but it was the Federalists who laid the groundwork for an effective if largely invisible state.
Questions: How did the Federalists’ focus on issues of the military and taxation build an effective model of statehood?
Quotes: "But for all its importance, the Glorious Revolution failed to make liberty safe from the encroachments of executive power." (63) "The notion, expressed in the state bills of rights as well as in Antifederalist amendment proposals, that the American republic could trust its defense solely, or even primarily, to the militia appeared plainly unrealistic and dangerous to the Federalists." (97) "The reason was that the state governments had repeatedly demonstrated their incompetence in this respect." (167)
Conversations: Holton, Unruly Americans; Wood, The Radicalism of the Revolution
+ 2003, John Ruston Pagan, Anne Orthwood’s Bastard: Sex and Law in Early Virginia
In Brief: Childbearing was discouraged for indentured servants in Virginia, having children made it harder for them to work, and unlike with slavery, their children, however tenuous their lives might be, did not inherit servitude for life, only for a set term. Anne Orthwood, an indentured servant, and William Kendall, the nephew of one of Virginia’s elite planters, had sex and she became pregnant, leading to a series of four court cases. The cases contributed to the creation of a new legal regime that differed from English common law and worked to reinforce the power of Virginia elites. This summary need not give away all of the events of Anne and her son’s life, but the court cases revealed the malleability of the law as judges made it conform to the conditions of life in Virginia and the demand for servants. The sale of Orthwood’s indenture that occurred without informing the buyer of her pregnancy was viewed as misleading, and unlike in England the court ruled that sellers would be held responsible for the goods they sold, enabling a greater level of guarantees in such economically vital transactions. Meanwhile the court distinguished between legal and moral guilt, seeing the need to assign paternity in order to protect the entire community from paying for the burden of bastards. Colonial Virginia through its laws and society, moved further and further away from English precedents.
Questions: How did elites and the wide society shape the law in colonial Virginia?
Quotes:“They recognized the importance of maintaining the appearance of fairness and usually dispensed justice impartially, though they missed few chances to nudge the law in directions that coincided with their own economic interests.” (51) “Unencumbered by the technical knowledge possessed by English judges, they devised remedies to fit the circumstances and their own sense of fairness.” (100) “The court implicitly held not only that the 1672 Virginia statute took precedence over the 1601 act of Parliament but also that the colonial measure applied retroactively to servants indentured before its enactment.” (142)
Conversations: Brown, Good Wives; Morgan, Laboring Women; Morgan, American Slavery
+ 2004, Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery
In Brief: Morgan shows how enslaved African women were made to do all kinds of work, which contributed to the creation of race and allowed for the justification of slavery. While she also explores the ways they were required to work in the field alongside men, her focus is on the work they did through reproduction, which in turn shaped the other work they performed and the communities they formed. The system of slavery developed to deny the relationship between a mother and child, while passing on the condition of enslavement. Enslaved women came to be viewed as a source of wealth, and their reproductive potential figured in not only the accounting of slaveholders but also in slaveholders’ hopes for future wealth. Having children born into slavery gave slaveowners a greater sense of control over their slaves while reinforcing the boundaries between free and unfree, white and black. The emphasis on breeding and the deemphasis on motherhood perhaps created race, but it certainly helped to justify slavery and limit apprehension about slaveowners’ lack of humanity. At the same time enslaved African women claimed their identity as women across the Middle Passage and into the Americas, where their experiences in places like South Carolina and Barbados shared important similarities. Yet it was also in the encounters of European men traveling in Africa, in which they described African women as primitive women who felt no pain in childbirth, that slaveowners justified their exploitation of enslaved African women.
Questions: How did the reproductive potential of African women shape the development of slavery?
Quotes: “However, the expectations and experience of reproduction significantly influenced both the violence done to enslaved African women in the Americas and their ability to survive it.” (11) “To be exempted from the field in favor of the house was a fate open to very few enslaved women, particularly in the colonial period, when the luxury of large houses and the niceties of china, silver, and fine furniture were still part of the slaveowners’ imaginary future rather than their tangible present.” (145) “I have argued that to write the history of racial ideology without gender is to omit the most fundamental reality of race as a trope–its heritability.” (197)
Conversations: Brown, Good Wives; Fields, Racecraft; Johnson, Soul by Soul
+ 2005, Fred Anderson, The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War
In Brief: Anderson draws out the motivations behind the Seven Years War. While George Washington was credited with unleashing the war, Anderson shows how Washington’s Native American allies actively sought such a conflict to pit the French against the British in order to regain control of their own land. Meanwhile in the process George Washington and his fellow colonists gained their own identity even as they continued to look towards the western lands. The war left those colonists who lived rather than speculated on the frontier in the center of the conflict. The British response to the war with the Proclamation of 1763 also worked against the interests of men like George Washington who saw those lands as key to reducing his debts, and this land would play an important role for Washington, along with many other colonists, in their later decisions to rebel.
Questions: How did the Seven Years War set the stage for the American Revolution?
Quotes: “Jumonville’s blood had sealed what the Half King intended to be an unbreakable covenant with Washington and the Virginians, and through them with the King of England.” (48) “This level of Indian-hating can only be ascribed to what was now nearly a decade of intermittent warfare, and it was surely no more pronounced among the commanders of the British forces in America than in the white population of the colonies generally.” (238) “It seems clear that Dunmore had thought that doing so would force Washington to reconsider his connection to the intercolonial protest movement, and perhaps to absent himself from the upcoming Congress.” (258)
Conversations: Silver, Our Savage Neighbors; Merrell, Into the American Woods
2005, Stuart, Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier
In Brief: Banner sees a spectrum of coercion in the history of Native land dispossession, as the loss of wildlife and encroaching settlers served to devalue the land. Until the Proclamation of 1763 settlers generally bought their land outright from Native Americans, and British attempts to regulate fraud and protect Indians served to undermine the ability of Native Americans to sell their land to the highest bidder. Still the fact that so many individuals had purchased their land directly from Native Americans meant that these European settlers formed a political force that persisted after the Revolution to make sure that the legality of such exchanges was acknowledged. Yet as these exchanges receded, or were purposely forgotten, the concept of Indians owning clear title receded and settlers looked to the states or the federal government for land grants. The shift towards partial rights of occupancy resulted both from a national amnesia and changing federal laws, which culminated in Indian Removal, and the subsequent history continued to generally follow the law even as it became ever-more coercive.
Questions: How did Indians lose their land? What is the role of law in dispossession?
Quotes: “As the legal system came to express non-Indians’ power over Indians, it nevertheless continued to constrain the way non-Indians acquired Indian land.” (4) “The Six Nations’ land rose in price as it became more valuable to the English, but it was simultaneously becoming less valuable to Six Nations themselves.” (81) “Indian land policy, as it came to be carried out in practice, embodied a compromise between these two views–a compromise between the desires of well-placed easterners and of western settlers, between the force of idealism and the force of self-interest on the frontier.” (149)
Conversations: Block, Rape and Power; Lepore, The Name of War; Merrell, Into the American Woods; Horwtiz, The Transformation of American Law
+ 2007, Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution
In Brief: Holton directs attention away from the authors of the Constitution towards the many constituencies who feared such a document. He also pays close attention to the weaknesses in the economy, the threat of debt and taxation to many farmers, and the speculators in war bonds like Abigail Adams. State-based efforts to pay and enrich the bondholders came at the expense of taxpayers, while the need to pay the military also showed the value in creating a federal treasury. Relying on the states to raise money created problems for both creditors and debtors, even though farmers often made successful claims on their state governments for debtor relief. On the one hand the United States needed to service its debts in order to appear like a safe-enough place for investment that would not respond to every group’s claim on debt relief, but farmers also wanted a more stable economy and artisans wanted a stable currency. While elites tried to temper democracy at every turn, they had to make compromises with the people, just as different regions saw other reasons to support the federal government as a guarantor of investment or as a military force that could preserve the institution of slavery. And the Bill of Rights was the assurance demanded by the Constitution’s detractors.
Questions: How did the economic crises following the revolution lead to the drafting of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?
Quotes: "The states’ attempts to raise the revenue that Congress had requested also provoked some of the most wide-ranging farmers’ revolts in American history.” (65) “In the eyes of many Americans, relief legislation was not only unjust to creditors and bondholders and sinful in the eyes of God but a threat to national security.” (94) “Paine once proposed that any legislator who tried to force creditors to accept paper money should be put to death.” (243)
Conversations: Bailyn, The Ideological Origins; Haselby, The Origins of American Religious Nationalism; Wood, Radicalism of the Revolution; Taylor, Internal Enemy; Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government
+ 2007, Julianna Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands
In Brief: Barr shows how Native Americans in the Texas borderlands controlled the terrain of cross-cultural interactions with the Spanish in the 18th century. The Spanish at first failed to successfully interact with the Caddos, with the Spanish refusing to develop kinship ties, while the Caddos viewed the absence of women in Spanish society with suspicion. Shared ideas about masculinity could only go so far, as peace for tribes like the Comanches or Caddos depended on their understanding of the role and symbolism of women. The Spanish not only came to recognize the need to intermarry, they were also forced to recognize what to them were new meanings of gender. When the more powerful Comanches and Wichitas decided to stop fighting with the Spaniards, they indicated their intention of peace through female intermediaries, and female captives became important to both sides in the ongoing negations over the terms of peace.
Questions:What does the role of gender tell us about the power of Native Americans in 18th century Texas?
Quotes: “Because Europeans and Caddos came to their meetings in Texas with similar rituals for asserting strength in order to garner the respect of other nations, Spaniards and Frenchmen successfully negotiated Caddo ceremonial displays of male prowess and prestige.” (67) “Male-dominated negotiations on battlefields and in council houses might establish a truce, but customary practices involving women proved crucial to maintaining the peace agreements that followed.” (246) “It is not that race was not there–of course it was; it had become a central component of Spanish worldview well before the eighteenth century–but gender prevailed over it, because native controls prevailed over those of Spaniards.” (289)
Conversations: Hämäläinen, Comanche Empire; Brooks, Captives and Cousins; White, Middle Ground
+ 2008, Pekka Hämäläinen, Comanche Empire
In Brief: Hämäläinen argues that beginning around 1750 the Comanches built an empire that lasted for a century as they dominated all other groups within and well beyond their area of primary control, imposing their will, making demands, or gaining tribute whether from the Spanish or other Native American tribes. The origins of their success lay in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and the resulting disbursement of Spanish horses, which the creative and adaptable Comanches learned to use with an unsurpassed level of skill, building up their horses into a substantial base of military and economic strength. Furthermore such horses were a perfect match for the high plains environment that formed the center of Comanche power, providing feed for the horses and hunting grounds for the buffalo. Yet this ecological balance could also work against the Comanches as their growing horse herds competed with buffalo for winter pastures. The Comanches exploited trade to their advantage funneling goods through their empire while holding the upper hand through force if they chose to use it. While occasionally fighting the Spanish or other tribes, their worst loses occurred from diseases that required the Comanches to replenish their populations through incorporating captives. The extensive Comanche raiding into northern Mexico served to create a near wasteland that facilitated the United States’ own victory in Mexico. As drought came to the plains by the mid-1840s the bison suffered, leading to food shortages among the Comanche while simultaneously destroying their trade networks and connections they had built, thus it was these structural difficulties as much as any military prowess on the part of Americans that led to the downfall of the Comanche.
Questions: How did the Comanches sustain their empire?
Quotes:“In the southwest, European imperialism not only stalled in the face of indigenous resistance; it was eclipsed by indigenous imperialism.” (2) “By doing so, Comanches not only won access to food, horses, and guns but also enveloped Comancheria with the kind of political and economic ties that give invading powers staying power.” (101) “Unlike Spanish officials, they lived, traveled, ate, and slept with Comanches, and unlike Spanish merchants, they shared without restraint.” (190) “But it is precisely that paucity of killing that makes the battle such a poignant symbol of Comanches’ collapse, for it underscores the fact that their defeat was not a military but an economic one.” (339)
Conversations: Brooks, Captives and Cousins; Barr, Peace Came
+ 2008, Peter Silver, Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America
In Brief: Silver explores how fear transformed the middle colonies in the three decades leading up to American independence. Hatred and fear came to the front of Pennsylvania politics with the Seven Years War, partly because the Indians themselves worked to mobilize fear as a conscious, and often effective, military strategy. A growing number of colonists opposed Quakers’ longstanding efforts at achieving accommodation and peace with their Indian neighbors, publishing sensational reports of every perceived atrocity. They blamed Indians and Quakers, and later in the revolution they blamed the British and their Indian allies. Such colonists believed that Quakers were actively working against their interests in favor of Native Americans, and yet out of this hatred for Native Americans came a greater tolerance of all Europeans regardless of ethnicity and religion. In other words, such brutal conflict led not only to the creation of a pan-Indian identity, but of a pan-European identity. This hatred, originating out of a sense of vulnerability, ended up being a remarkably powerful and unifying political force.
Questions: How did a diverse group of colonists come to see themselves as unified in their European identity?
Quotes: “And until the eve of the Seven Years’ War, the divisions between Europeans showed every sign of growing steadily more serious.” (31) “It usually had different purposes: to vilify other Europeans–the French at first, and the Quakers–and to assert the existence of a suffering, victimized community.” (74) “This was playing with political fire, and it would help to ensure that the Hudson Valley campaign was fought on two fronts, one in the woods and one on paper.” (245)
Conversations: Merrell, Into The American Woods; Lepore, The Name of War; Anderson, The War That Made America; Morgan, American Slavery American Freedom
+ 2010, Christina Snyder, Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America
In Brief: Before the arrival of Europeans, the Mississippian nations of what is now the southeastern United States gained captives through warfare and used their captives to enhance the material wealth and prestige of chiefs. The arrival of Europeans created a new world of Indian slavery. Devastation from disease increased the importance of using captives to maintain their populations. Yet captive-trading also grew in importance as colonists sought Indian slave labor, and while this process weakened many tribes, for others like the Chickasaws, it served to increase their power, not only relation to other Native Americans but also in relation to the colonists. Following the Yamassee War, the Indian slave trade with the colonists largely ended while the importance of gaining captives for each nation's populations remained. In the following years as conflict with colonists continued, Native Americans began to develop a pan-Indian identity at the same time that they also began to recognize racial slavery. By the beginning of the 19th century Native Americans purchased African slaves while removing the possibility of their slaves' full incorporation into their community through ties of kinship. The Seminoles served as the exception to this process of racialization and yet even the Seminoles found themselves divided by the idea of race at the very moment that their war with the United States required absolute unity.
Questions: How did ideas about race, slavery, and identity change and intersect for Native Americans?
Quotes:“The capture and trade of enemy people was nothing new for Indians, but as they began to participate in a trans-Atlantic economy that placed a high value on slaves, warriors began to take unprecedented numbers of captives.” (48) “In 1799, the Choctaw chiefs began to complain bitterly about an interpret named Cezar, and the nature of their complaints illustrates the centrality of race to Native notions of power and identity.” (193) “The United States failed in its mission to remove all Seminoles but succeeded in producing a racial faultline that stressed Seminole society to the breaking point.” (242)
Conversations: Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance; Brooks, Captives and Cousins; Miles, The Ties That Bind
+ 2011, Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles:American Loyalists in the Revolutionary War
In Brief: Jasanoff takes a close look at the loyalists who made up roughly one forth of the population of colonists. Given their numbers, they represented far more than an elite cross section of American society and Jasanoff also categorizes many Native Americans and enslaved people as loyalists. Such an examination helps to suggest the way that the revolution was a civil war, and the competing and shifting loyalties of all involved. Initially the British defeat was worse for the loyalists who stood to lose their property or their lives, while the British could still cultivate a commercial relationship with the United States, and this did not always serve to endear the loyalists to their empire. The tens of thousands of people who left found refuge in other parts of the British of Empire, where they had a huge effect on each place’s subsequent history–ironically they carried the revolutionary ideals and claims against authority with them. Having seen the devastation possible, these loyalists sought alternative forms of governance that they believed best protected their rights, and they wanted political representation as much as Patrick Henry. However events like Baptist War in Jamaica could be traced back to loyalists baptists who had left North America, thus loyalists worked to further empire only when they saw it as representing their own interests.
Questions: Who were the loyalists? To whom and what ideals were they loyal to? How did they shape the British Empire?
Quotes: “But they carried cultural and political influences too–not least the racial attitudes that accompanied the loyalists’ mass transport of slaves.” (11) “Loyalists thus often went into exile harboring grievances against the very same government they relied on for support.” (57) “The absence of mournful voices in later generations speaks, in its eloquent silence, to the loyalists’ absorption into an empire able to quiet them.” (345)
Conversations: O’Shaugnessy, The Men Who Lost America; DuVal, Independence Lost
+ 2012, Brett Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France
In Brief: Long before the arrival of the French in the Great Lakes region, the Native Americans living there had engaged in wars that brought them captives. Likewise the French also had previous experience with slavery and warfare, and together these practices combined to form a new culture of slavery. The French learned from their Indian allies of the importance of exchanging captives in order to build alliances with Indians, while Indians found themselves enmeshed in a growing economy that created new motivations for slave-raiding that went beyond warfare or the expansion of tribal populations. French reticence over slavery in New France was quickly overcome by the role of slaves in building alliances and in the actual value of the labor performed by slaves. Yet French involvement in slavery could also work against their geographic expansion as the slave raids of their allies fueled anger further west that kept the French at bay. The French also tried to use their experiences with slavery in the West Indies, though they were forced to recognize the political and social ties their Indian slaves represented since they were not so far removed from their point of capture. Slaves could be incorporated into households or sometimes leave slavery altogether, but the violence of their enslavement, including torture, continued even after they had been captured.
Questions: How did Indian slavery inform France’s use of slavery in the Atlantic World?
Quotes: "Yet the Native halter reminds us that slavery took many forms in the early modern Americas, and this variety persisted in both indigenous and colonial settings long after the African slave trade overshadowed other slaving cultures.” (8) "Like dogs, their linguistic equivalents, adopted slaves were thus part of the household but never really part of the family.” (49) " Like Marguerite-Geneviève—a Fox slave serving a French governor who wanted peace with her people—all Fox captives embodied the tensions between mediation and violence that riddled both Algonquian and French societies.” (252)
Conversations:White, Middle Ground; Brooks, Captives and Cousins
+ 2012, Sharon Block, Rape and Sexual Power in Early America
In Brief: Block studies the power relations that inform the changing definitions of rape from 1700 to 1820, both in who can be considered a victim and who can be considered a rapist. The small percentage of cases that made it to trial reveal much about how rape was understood by those in power. More powerful perpetuators converted their coercion into the victim’s consent. With the development of new racist ideologies, black women received no legal recognition as rape victims, most notably because of enslavement, while black men were disproportionally targeted for prosecution and conviction as rapists, further fueling racist tropes. With fears of rape in the American Revolution by British Soldiers, rape also became tied to a political identity that increasingly also linked race and gender to that identity. While women could win legal cases against male rapists and their status as moral guardians reinforced their claims, they were also labeled as seeking such encounters, meaning that their claims of non-consensual relations were not always accepted by the courts. By 1820 women and black men faced severe disadvantages in a legal system that favored rich, white men.
Questions: How did early Americans define rape?
Quotes: "Transferring the victim's story to her family and neighbors also meant that community beliefs about who was or was not capable of rape shaped the ultimate categorization of a sexual act." (13) "In other words, men could commit rape not just as an act of power–they could use their power to define the act." (54) "American patriots proved the need for their independence from Britain through their raped women and, in so doing, gave rape a new prominence as a marker of threats to the American nation.” (230)
Conversations: Brown, Good Wives; Morgan, Laboring Women
+ 2012, Linford D. Fisher, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America
In Brief: Fisher studies several groups of Native Americans living in southern New England and Long Island, from the late 17th century to 1820, who adapted to colonialism by selectively engaging in Christianity. Fisher suggests looking past power imbalances to understand the ways that Native Americans actively chose to engage with these new religious forms rather than thinking of missionaries imposing conversion. Access to religion also meant access to education or to making more effective claims on their land. The First Great Awakening empowered Indians and its anti-authoritarianism message appealed to them as it did to many other people living in North America. While these groups began to move towards Christianity out of period of weakness following the devastation of King Philip’s War, by the second half of the 18th century they moved away from white churches, creating their own churches and in a few cases forming their own Christian Indian settlements in New York. Most Indians did not leave their homelands, having made the accommodations necessary for their continued independence and cultural autonomy.
Questions: How did Native Americans incorporate Christianity into their communities?
Quotes: "King Philip’s War did, however, set into motion a long-term shift in the broader dynamics of Indian-colonist relations in southeastern New England, although these changes unfolded slowly in some areas." (29) "The boisterous singing, extemporaneous preaching, explicit licensing of individual ecstatic religious experience, and overall framing of anti-authoritarianism in favor of individual expression and religious authority are part of what gave the revivals such traction among Indians and whites alike.” (83) "They had found a way to continually and creatively adapt to varying forms of white encroachment and, like members of other New England Indian communities, were still standing strong.”(211)
Conversations: Lipman, Saltwater Frontier; Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith
+ 2013, Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
In Brief: While covering a wider time period, Taylor centers his narrative of slavery in Virginia around the War of 1812 when the fears of white Virginians, the hopes of black Virginians, and the goals of the British military collided. The British understood how enslaved people made excellent guides or provided valuable labor, and finally they understood how arming former slaves could also function as a powerful psychological weapon against a population that had long feared the potential threat within their own plantations. Seeking their freedom, thousands of people escaped from slavery and used long-learned strategies of resistance in the war following a period in which slave patrols and other restrictions had been on the rise. As in the Civil War, enslaved people changed the meaning of the war for all of the parties involved, escalating its stakes while breaking down the pretensions of paternalism. Though the outcome of the war eventually favored the Americans, white Virginians found themselves feeling incredibly vulnerable and upset that more resources had not been directed towards the threat of slave escapes and rebellions. In the aftermath of the war, many of the former slaves who served in the British military received plots of land in Trinidad. Virginia meanwhile circled the wagons around the institution of slavery, finding more and more common bonds with the other slave states and less with the rest of the nation, but above all a loyalty to the defense of slavery. Furthermore they viewed expansion, away from the vulnerable tidewater, as key to protecting slaves from foreign incursions.
Questions: Why did Virginia turn away from the nation it helped to found? How did white Virginians fears shape their actions in the War of 1812 and subsequent ideas about western expansion? How did black Virginians transform the meaning of the war?
Quotes: “The runaways compromised the county’s security by identifying militia weak points and hidden shipping to the British.” (170) “No mere by-product of the British operations in the Chesapeake, the runaways transformed that offensive by becoming essential to its success.” (314) “The Missouri crisis erupted when the Virginians already feared for their diminished place in the nation.” (407)
Conversations: Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery; Silver, Our Savage Neighbors
+ 2013, Catherine A. Brekus, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America
In Brief: Brekus uses the journal of Sarah Osborne to explore the tensions within evangelism in the 18th century and how a changing social and economic world fostered its growth. Evangelism proved particularly empowering for women since they could share their direct relationship with God. Osborne played an important role in spreading evangelism, but her journal reveals the extents to which she constantly battled her own doubts. Rather than presenting a dichotomy between evangelism and the Enlightenment, Brekus shows how evangelism selectively used Enlightenment ideas to create a powerful style of religion. When old-time Puritan ideas appeared under constant attack, individuals like Osborne crafted a new path that offered more satisfying answers in bustling New England. Privileging experience created a more democratic form of religious authority that fit within Enlightenment ideas about individuality while reemphasizing a salvation that stood outside a modernizing world. In turn evangelism could sustain individuals engaging in the market revolution or motivate them to take action as anti-slavery activists.
Questions: How did evangelism empower women in the 18th century? How did the Enlightenment influence the development of evangelism?
Quotes: “Like its liberal counterpart, however, it has endured for more than three centuries because it represented a vector of modernity, a creative response to the transformations that were reshaping everyday life.” (8) “This emphasis on assurance was built on a new epistemology–a new way of thinking about human knowledge–that marked a break with the Puritan tradition.” (97) “Capitalism depended on a commitment to the values of acquisitive individualism, benevolent self-interest, and free choice, and it was these values, not the opportunity to buy and sell commodities, that disturbed people like Sarah Osborn.” (213)
Conversations: Linford, Indian Great Awakening; Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith; Marsden, Jonathan Edwards
+ 2013, Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire
In Brief: O’Shaughnessy uses the biographies of nine British leaders, from kings to generals, to develop a greater sense of contingency around the American Revolution. If errors were made then O’Shaughnessy explains those errors while also acknowledging the moments when they succeeded. Simultaneously he draws out the perspective of the British Empire that this was not the revolution it appeared to be. These leaders faced a series of choices in which responding to every stage of the rebellion led many colonists further away, and military strategy was especially fraught over questions of whether allying with Native Americans or enslaved people would only lead to increased resistance from the colonists. This debate took place, with significant disagreement, among the British leaders themselves, and just as distance from the metropole had contributed to the start of the revolution it also contributed to its defeat. In this process were many changing loyalties and ideas of who rebels were. Yet defeat did not mean the end of the British Empire, as men like Lord Cornwallis went on to successful military careers in other parts of the empire.
Questions: How did the British chose to fight the revolution? Why did the British lose the war? How much did it matter to the British that they lost the American Revolution?
Quotes:“North had tried to please both sides by the threat of force and the incentive of limited concessions in an effort to prevent war.” (57) “Since they were attempting to suppress a rebellion among fellow subjects rather than fight a foreign war, they were wary of using destructive methods that might alienate the majority of the population.” (97-8) “Although African Americans fought on both sides of the conflict, many more joined the British–a conservative estimate suggests at least 20,000 up to as many as 100,000 people, many of whom died from smallpox and other diseases.” (277)
Conversations: Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles; DuVal, Independence Lost
+ 2015, Kathleen DuVal, Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution
In Brief: DuVal redirects the reader’s attention to the Gulf Coast where the American Revolution played out among a huge variety of actors, whether they were enslaved people, American Indians, French, Spanish, or British forces. DuVal places the Creeks as one of the key groups in this story, describing them as loyalists who ultimately undermined British strategy by attacking colonist settlements. Like all loyalists they had their own particular goals rather than any blind loyalty, and in this case saw it as their best effort to retain their land. Yet the British proved to be poor allies in the ensuing war. Many of the people described in this book simply wanted to avoid any conflict, and when they were dragged in they fought back against the group that brought them into the war. Like all wars they fought for their own self-interest, but the reasons that many of the people fought against the British along the Gulf Coast differs dramatically from the traditional narrative. Enslaved people carried vital messages and gained freedom, while a New Orleans merchant who contributed to the rebellion found his family destitute in the aftermath. The loss of competing empires proved uniquely destructive to Native Americans, but American independence also meant a loss of independence for women or black people.
Questions: Who fought for independence in Florida? Did the people who fought for independence benefit from it?
Quotes:“Like many ambitious revolutionaries in the thirteen colonies, Pollock believed that separation from Britain could create a more commercialized society that would liberate his enterprises from imperial restrictions.” (40) “The huge emigration from South Carolina and Georgia helped the rebels gain a popular edge in those colonies but nudged public opinion in the Floridas toward Britain.” (106) “To Spain, inviting American immigration was less politically controversial than undermining the United States by arming Indians or encouraging regions to separate.” (321)
Conversations: Saunt, West of the Revolution; Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles
+ 2015, Andrew Lipman, The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast
In Brief: Historians have long missed the saltwater orientation of the Algonquian tribes along the coast from Plymouth to New Amsterdam. In the first half of the 17th century the Dutch and English discovered that the Natives were often supreme along the coast, their large dugouts and intimate knowledge gave them an edge compared with the newcomers’ large ocean-crossing boats. Many Europeans took captives to use on their ships or bought dugouts to navigate North America’s coastal waters. Both imperial powers became enmeshed and helped to fuel the wampum trade, linking European tools, firearms, beads from shellfish, furs, and enslaved people. The English were more aware and successful in building alliances with Native nations in order to gain access to more wampum or to encroach upon the Dutch. Both European powers, and their Indian allies, engaged in massacres, and tribes consciously rebuilt their forts to more closely resemble European forts and make better use of firearms. By King Philip’s War the Dutch were largely out of the picture, while the wampum trade was in a steep decline, meaning that Native Americans along the coast had less invested in trading with the English and no other imperial power to ally with, making a broader, more pan-Indian uprising possible. More massacres took place, more captives were sent into slavery, and much more land was lost, but by doubling down on their orientation to the sea many Algonquians not only persisted, they became an integral part of the region’s nascent whaling industry. Their decidedly global orientation allowed them to blend old and new ways into a successful model of accommodation and growth.
Questions: How did Algonquians navigate a series of opportunities and defeats during the process of colonization in the 17th century?
Quotes: “Just as Europeans stood awestruck on their decks surveying the mysterious green continent before them, Indians faced an expanding blue horizon.” (8) “Numerous other indigenous communities balanced everyday innovations and traditions and weighed the merits of alliance versus defiance, all the while staying close to the shore for survival.” (189) “American shore whaling, in short, was not a purely colonial invention but the joint creation of two overlapping maritime societies.” (228)
Conversations: Lepore, The Name of War; Fisher, The Indian Great Awakening; Grandjean, American Passage; Hämäläinen, Comanche Empire
+ 2016, Alejandra Dubcovsky, Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South
In Brief: In the early South it was Native American networks that controlled the flow of information across the region. Thus Dubcovsky explains how these networks supplied slaves in South Carolina with knowledge of Spanish support from Florida that sparked the Stono Rebellion. Knowledge was power in this world, and Indians used the news they learned through their networks to receive concessions from the English, Spanish, or from a different tribe. Similarly they could hold their knowledge hostage, only releasing it once they completed a deal. These networks were not always clear-cut and the confusion meant that each group had to interpret information to their own ends. Above all in war, like the Yamassee War, the vulnerability of people, like the English, who relied on these networks, became obvious when the flow of information could be cut off, leading to attempts to develop new networks. While slaves and Indians could use imperial rivalries to their advantage, Dubcobsky’s focus on networks shows a far more decentralized world in which power rested on nodes and networks as much as governors and armies.
Questions: How did the flow of information shape power relations in the early South?
Quotes: “The European items worn by the Edistos were not a sign that these Indians had collaborated with the Spanish but that the Spanish had collaborated with the Edistos.” (63) “African slaves, like Indian leaders, used their role as informers to advance their own interests.” (115) “As the paths and relations that supported any form of movement through Indian country collapsed under the weigh of war, African slaves began to realize the extent of both their dependence on and the limitations of networks defined by the Indian slave trade.” (160)
Conversations: Hudson, Creek Paths; Wood, Black Majority; John, Spreading the News; Grandjean, American Passage