“In the Service of the Crown ever since I came into this Province”: The Life and Times of Cadwallader Colden

80140100162200LOn December 8, 1747, Gov. George Clinton (1686–1761) told a British statesman that the Assembly of New York “treated the person of the Governor with such contempt of his authority & such disrespect to the noble family where he had his birth that must be of most pernicious example.” He thought he might have to “give it [i.e., his position] up to a Faction.” The extant copy of this letter, held within Clinton’s papers at the William L. Clements Library in Michigan, was written by his most trusted advisor and ally—Cadwallader Colden, the subject of John M. Dixon’s first book, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York, published in 2016 by Cornell University Press.[1]

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Review: Emily Conroy-Krutz, Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic

Emily Conroy-Krutz. Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015.

Christian Imperialism

In February 1812, eight American missionaries—five ordained clergymen and three of their wives—set sail for India as representatives of the recently established American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Though the specifics of their mission were ill defined, and none of the eight lasted long in India, their mission marked the propitious beginnings of the foreign mission movement in America. Over the course of the next four decades, more than one thousand men and women were commissioned by the ABCFM to missionize non-Christian peoples far beyond the borders of the early American republic. In Christian Imperialism, Emily Conroy-Krutz analyzes the experiences of the ABCFM missionaries from roughly 1812 to 1848. She argues, as the title of her book implies, that the missionaries were agents of “Christian Imperialism,” a vision and effort to convert (and civilize) “heathen” peoples around the globe that variously worked in concert with and in contest against other forms of early American imperialism. Continue reading

Review: Alejandra Dubcovsky, Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South

61VAwsW64fL._SL500_Alejandra Dubcovsky’s Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016) is an ambitious book. She analyzes how information was communicated throughout the early South, a region that was without a regular mail system or print culture prior to 1730. The “early South,” as Dubcovsky acknowledges, is an “ambiguous” term (3). Her “early South” includes much of the lands from the Jamestown settlement south, and from the Mississippi River east. The result is a vibrant blend of Native American peoples, Africans, and European interactions that both complicate and enrich her analysis. Her sources include not only English, French, and Spanish, but also a number of Native American sources, including Timucua. She draws not only on written sources, but linguistic and archaeological evidence as well. This interdisciplinary approach allowed for broader inclusion of non-European networks than appears in many studies. Networks, as Dubcovsky defines them, are a “pattern of ties connecting discrete places or peoples”(4) She discusses a number of different types of networks—economic, political, religious, diplomatic, subaltern—but depicts all nodes as uniform in size. While some might take issue with this approach, the uniformness of the nodes makes sense, given the book’s goal of decentralizing European power structures, and does not detract. Continue reading

On The Origins of American Religious Nationalism

triflesRight after I agreed to review Sam Haselby’s The Origins of American Religious Nationalism for the Journal of Religion, Gordon Wood’s review of it appeared in the New York Review of Books. When one of our number gets that kind of exposure with their first book, we should all applaud, but there I was, feeling out-classed before I even opened the book. Now that I’m done with my review, everything about Wood’s makes sense to me—it was big exposure on a big stage for a big book. And I learned something from Wood there, which was to have enough patience with a big book’s faults to appreciate what it’s trying to do. Wood called Origins an “unusual book” with a meandering argument, but nevertheless “a book to be reckoned with.” I have to agree, and (spoiler alert) said as much in my forthcoming JR review. In writing that, though, I realized that if I hadn’t been primed for indulgence by Wood’s review I would have judged Origins more harshly. I think Origins is a good book that’s in too much of a hurry. Without repeating what I’ve written in JR for a religious-studies audience, I want to use this space for something of an historian’s rant about the hurried use of sources in this book. Continue reading

Guest Review: Andrew Lipman, The Saltwater Frontier

In today’s guest post, Marquette University’s Bryan Rindfleisch reviews Andrew Lipman’s The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast (2015).

0d337473867b29df062e5a25056ce87aWhen most people think of European colonization in New England and New Netherland, we think in very terrestrial terms. This familiar narrative includes the fur and wampum trades, treaties and the negotiations over land, and conflicts such as the Pequot War, Kieft’s War, King Philip’s War, and so on. But Andrew Lipman, an assistant professor of history at Barnard College, flips this entire terrestrial story upon its head. He does this with one simple question: “What if we considered this contested region not just as a part of the continent but also as part of the ocean?” In doing so, Lipman recovers the astonishing maritime contexts of seventeenth-century America, where both Indigenous and European peoples encountered, collaborated with, and fought against one another on the water just as much as they did on the land. This, then, is the provocative beginning to Lipman’s Bancroft Prize-winning The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast (Yale University Press, 2015).[1] Continue reading

Revisiting New England’s Legal Development: Review of Chandler, Law and Sexual Misconduct

Chandler CoverBetween 1650 and 1750, the courts of Maine, Rhode Island, and Essex County, Massachusetts heard 1,843 cases concerning sexual misconduct. These suits, which concerned matters including rape, sodomy, adultery, and sex outside of marriage, are the subject of Abby Chandler’s new book, Law and Sexual Misconduct in New England, 1650-1750: Steering Toward England (Ashgate, 2015). By examining three jurisdictions not previously studied by historians of law and sexuality, Chandler complicates standard narratives of the extent to which New Englanders adhered to English law. She also engagingly reconstructs the familial and neighborhood conflicts that shaped individual cases.[1]

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Sailors, States, and the Bureaucracy of Revolution

9780674286153-lgTransatlantic commerce was the defining feature of the eighteenth century’s imperial economy. The ocean was the conduit by which goods, labour, and capital circulated—goods that included sugar and tobacco, labour that included enslaved men and women, capital that included the remarkable oceangoing ships themselves. On transatlantic circulation hung the wealth and fate of empires, and that in turn depended upon ships and those who sailed them. Nathan Perl-Rosenthal’s new book, Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution (which Ben posted about a few weeks ago), does not tell those sailors’ story. Instead, it gives an account of the crucial relationship between sailors and states, and its remaking in the era of Revolution. As the empires and new republics of the North Atlantic world struggled to hold or wrest the reins of commerce, they had to invent new forms of power and identity—forms of power vested, like so much else we could call modern, in paper. Continue reading