Dams that powered grain mills but choked off fish migrations. Cassava bread that replaced wheat. A breakfast that turned into an ambush. The lenses of food and scarcity can transform our views of familiar places in early American history—Massachusetts, Virginia, the Caribbean.
In this Roundtable on Food and Hunger in Vast Early America, co-edited by Rachel Herrmann and Carla Cevasco, three scholars examine how food, the lack of food, and power shaped interactions between people of indigenous American, African, and European descent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In our first post, Zachary Bennett examines the critical role of English dams in the decline of the Ninnimissinuok community in Natick, Massachusetts in the eighteenth century. The next post, by Bertie Mandelblatt, traces French colonial adoption and then rejection of cassava bread in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French Antilles. In the final post, Rachel Winchcombe describes how Indian armed resistance at mealtimes took English invaders by surprise in seventeenth-century Virginia.
Putting food and hunger at the center of the story enables these scholars to reinterpret crucial topics such as indigenous land loss, Caribbean enslavement, and indigenous resistance to colonization. As the field of early American food studies continues to grow, we look forward to seeing how it might transform other fields along the way.