Q&A: Kathleen DuVal, Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the Revolution

Yesterday, Chris Minty reviewed Kathleen DuVal’s latest book, Independence Lost: Lives on the 9781400068951Edge of the Revolution. Today, we continue with an interview with DuVal, who is a Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Junto: Your work has focused on Atlantic perspectives, including that of marginalized voices. What sort of questions inspired Independence Lost? And, what particularly drew you to the Gulf Coast?

DuVal: In teaching the U.S. survey, I had noticed that I taught the colonial period as a broad and diverse history of many peoples and regions, but when I got to the American Revolution, I narrowed the focus to the thirteen colonies in exactly the way I had been telling the students we wouldn’t do. In the course of research for my first book, I had come across the Revolutionary War battles between the British and the Spanish at Pensacola and Mobile, and I thought that telling the stories of the people who experienced that part of the war as well as what happened to them in the war’s aftermath would broaden our understanding of the Revolution in similar ways to the broadening that colonial-era historiography has undergone in recent decades. I wanted to know what various people—European, Native, and African—on this edge of the Revolution thought about the war and what they envisioned for the continent’s future.

Junto: You have some fascinating analysis into the role of European-Native American diplomacy during the American Revolution. At some points, you note parallels between what went on during the Seven Years War, and what happened during the American Revolution. What do you think most shaped Native American views of independence?

DuVal: The idea of independence was already engrained within Native American views of themselves and their polities. The eighteenth-century Chickasaws, for example, didn’t question whether they were a independent nation. What did change in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries was that many of them began to use a European vocabulary of nationhood when they explained themselves to Europeans in defense of their independence.

Junto: You bring in a lot of different voices – Native American, women, slaves, and various groups of Europeans. When writing Independence Lost, what did you find to be the most challenging about bringing in all those different perspectives?

DuVal: The shortage of primary evidence from some of the people was not surprising but was challenging. I was particularly frustrated at my inability to find any evidence about any of the Choctaw or Creek women and children who were in Pensacola at the time of the siege. I know they were there, but I couldn’t find anything about them as individuals. But other primary sources were a wonderful surprise, such as the letters I found from Margaret Pollock to the Spanish governor, at a time when women were not supposed to write such letters—indeed, the governor told her to stop writing him, which, fortunately for us, she did not do.

Junto: This past July, you participated in a panel at SHEAR exploring how a republic becomes an empire. Did this working on this book change the way you think of that process?

DuVal: Yes, absolutely. I already believed that the westward-expanding United States acted in many ways like an empire. What shocked me was the huge number of proposals in the Spanish archives from Americans proposing either to become Spanish subjects or to form new independent states allied with Spain, all of which caused me to see that U.S. national westward expansion was by no means guaranteed (or even likely until at least the 1790s).

Junto: What do you think the most important lesson studying the Gulf Coast can teach us about the American Revolution?

DuVal: Studying this region helps us get beyond the old question of whether people revolted because of ideological or pragmatic reasons. In fact, most people—and definitely most women—didn’t choose war at all. It came to them, and they had to make their way in it the best they could.

Junto: One of your final paragraphs asks the question about whether independence was “gained or lost?” What did American independence mean for some of the groups that lived on the “edge of independence?” In other words, whose independence was it?

DuVal: For many people, empires provided more benefits and more security than the United States would. I think it is important for us to disentangle the concept of the country’s political independence from the multiple and overlapping ways in which people in North America exercised individual and national independence within a network of interdependencies.

Junto: What are you working on now?

DuVal: I am working on what I think will be a joint biography of the Spanish General Bernardo de Gálvez, who led the Spanish forces in New Mexico and in Gulf Coast and Caribbean battles of the Revolution, and his wife, Marie Felice de St. Maxent, who was an important figure in French New Orleans. I think their story will illuminate themes of empire and revolution in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Guest Post: Steven Elliott on Public History at the Morristown National Park

Today’s guest post comes from Steven Elliott, a PhD candidate in American Military History at Temple University. Elliott (@EastJerseySteve) is writing a dissertation about the American War of Independence, tentatively titled “The Highlands War: Soldiers, Civilians, and Landscapes in Revolutionary New Jersey.” He has worked for seven years as a historical interpreter at Morristown National Historical Park in Morristown, New Jersey, which is the subject of this guest post.

“The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation,” Freeman Tilden, NPS


A depiction of the 1780 winter encampment at Morristown, courtesy of Morristown National Historical Park Collection.

Despite Tilden’s call to action, provocative interpretation at many National Parks remains a challenge, especially for Revolution-era sites. As many Americans learn (or re-learn) their history at public history venues, rather than through books or schooling, the Park Service can play an important role in bringing challenging interpretations to popular audiences. Yet, this can be difficult for Revolutionary-era sites, many of which were created to focus on “heroic narratives” emphasizing military campaigns and political leaders. In this post, I reflect on my personal experiences in attempting to challenge visitors’ assumptions about the Revolution, as a seasonal park guide at Morristown National Historical Park in Morristown, NJ.   Continue reading

Guest Post: The Art of Absconding: Slave Fugitivity in the Early Republic

Guest Poster Shaun Wallace (@Shaun_Wallace_) is an Economic and Social Research Council-funded Ph.D. candidate at the University of StirlingHis dissertation examines how reading and writing influenced and aided slave decision-making in the early republic. Shaun holds a B.A. (Hons.) and a MRes. from the University of Stirling and is president of Historical Perspectives, a Glasgow-based historical society run by and for graduate students in the United Kingdom.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 12.43.09 PMA “very ingenious artful fellow” appears a peculiar description of a runaway advertised for recapture. The advertisement, for Harry or Harry Johnstone, featured in Baltimore’s Federal Gazette newspaper, on May 2, 1800, at the request of Nicholas Reynolds, overseer of criminals for Baltimore County. Harry had absconded from Gotham gaol, near Baltimore. Reynolds described Harry as a “tolerable good blacksmith” and a “rough carpenter.” A “very talkative” slave, he was a man of “great address.” On first impression a relatively congenial description; in actuality, Reynolds’s use of the term “artful” condemned the runaway.[1]
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Guest Post: Racial Violence and Black Nationalist Politics

Guest poster Keisha N. Blain (@KeishaBlain) is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Iowa. She is a regular blogger for the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). She is currently completing her first book entitled, Contesting the Global Color Line: Black Women, Nationalist Politics, and Internationalism. This post shares some additional insights into the racial violence Benjamin Park discussed following the Charleston shooting.

Members of the UNIA in Harlem, 1920s. Image: Black Business Network

Members of the UNIA in Harlem, 1920s. Image: Black Business Network

Someone recently asked me why the black women activists I study were so determined to leave the United States. It was a question I had been asked many times before. As I often do, I explained the complex history of black emigration, highlighting how these women’s ideas were reflective of a long tradition of black nationalist and internationalist thought. I acknowledged the romantic utopian nature of these women’s ideas. However, I also addressed the socioeconomic challenges that many of these women endured and explained how the prospect of life in West Africa appeared to be far more appealing—especially during the tumultuous years of the Great Depression and World War II. I spoke about black women’s ties to Africa and the feelings of displacement many of them felt as they longed for a place to truly call home. It was the same feeling of displacement to which the poet Countee Cullen alluded when he asked a simple yet profound question: “What is Africa to me?”

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Guest Review: Keith Grant on Jonathan Den Hartog, Patriotism and Piety

Today’s guest post is a book review from Keith Grant, a PhD candidate in History at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. He is also the co-editor of Borealia, a new group blog on early Canadian history. We strongly encourage everyone to bookmark this new and exciting blog.

Patriotism & Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation, by Jonathan J. Den Hartog. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015. 262 + xii pp. ISBN 9780813936413. $39.50.

PatriotismReligion was an “engine of politics” in the early American republic. Jonathan Den Hartog explains how religion energized (and then, ironically, diverted energy from) Federalist politics, and how the national vision of Federalists changed American religion. He considers northern evangelical Federalists such as John Jay (and his two sons), Caleb Strong, and Elias Boudinot, Unitarian Federalists including John Adams, and Federalists with a southern accent, Henry De Saussure and Charles Pinckney. These individuals are located, through impressive archival research, in a web of interpersonal relationships. Continue reading

The Origins of the American Revolution: Empire

Guest poster Jacqueline Reynoso is a PhD candidate at Cornell University. This is the sixth post in a weeklong roundtable about “The Origins of the American Revolution.” On Monday, Tom Cutterham kicked things off by exhorting historians to stop “separat[ing] economic from constitutional, imperial, political, or even intellectual causes of the revolution.” On Tuesday Jessica Parr raised questions about the convergence of religious and political rhetoric during the Revolution. Mark Boonshoft considered the importance of civil society and associationism. On Thursday, Michael Hattem called for sharper attention to the periodization when discussing the origins and/or causes of the Revolution. In yesterday’s post, Ken Owen argued for using politics as the lens with which to sharpen our focus on the disjunctures of the 1760s and 1770s. Today, the roundtable concludes with Reynoso commenting on alternative vantage points of empire during the American Revolution.

7080030In October of 1780, the governor of Quebec, Frederick Haldimand, warned against changing the laws and regulations of the British colony. It required “but Little Penetration,” he claimed, to reach the sobering conclusion that “had the System of Government Sollicited by the Old Subjects been adopted in Canada, this Colony would in 1775 have become one of the United States of America.” He continued, “Whoever Considers the Number of Old Subjects who in that Year corresponded with and Joined the Rebels, of those who abandoned the defense of Quebec… & of the many others who are now the avowed well wishers of the Revolted Colonies, must feel this Truth.”[1]

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The Origins of the American Revolution: Politics and Politicized Societies

This is the fifth post in a weeklong roundtable about “The Origins of the American Revolution.” On Monday, Tom Cutterham kicked things off by exhorting historians to stop “separat[ing] economic from constitutional, imperial, political, or even intellectual causes of the revolution.” On Tuesday Jessica Parr raised questions about the convergence of religious and political rhetoric during the Revolution. Mark Boonshoft considered the importance of civil society and associationism, and yesterday Michael Hattem called for sharper attention to the periodization of the Revolution. In today’s post, Ken Owen argues for using politics as the lens with which to sharpen our focus on the disjunctures of the 1760s and 1770s. Tomorrow, the roundtable will conclude with a guest post from Jackie Reynoso.

7080030Revolutionary America was a politicized society. All of the most important conflicts of the American Revolution, from the Stamp Act through Independence to the ratification of the Constitution, were sharply divisive events which demanded citizens take sides. Even neutrals were compelled to give outward displays of support to either patriots or loyalists (often both!). There were very little chances to avoid conflict over such weighty issues—they would reshape and redefine friendships, families, and communities. Continue reading