Review: Adam Jortner, Blood From the Sky

Adam Jortner, Blood from the Sky: Miracles and Politics in the Early American Republic (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017).

JortnerThe role of religion in the early republic has received a fair amount of attention in the recent decades. And though there are competing narratives concerning how ministers and denominations took advantage of the post-revolutionary era—the “Hatchites” arguing that they embraced the democratization and empowered the common man, while the “Butlerites” and “Porterfieldites” emphasizing how leaders capitalized on the fear of  a chaotic society—there has been a general point of agreement: religion and politics now took place within a secularized sphere. Expectations of democratic governance led religionists to frame their arguments in a way to match the new republican age. Politics drove religious belief and practice, and not the other way around. Continue reading

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The Reintegration of South Carolina Loyalists after the Revolutionary War

Rebecca Brannon, From Revolution to Reunion: The Reintegration of the South Carolina Loyalists (University of South Carolina Press, 2016).

51rsxcybgfl-_sx312_bo1204203200_In her award-winning Liberty’s Exiles, Harvard University’s Maya Jasanoff offered a lively account of the Loyalist diaspora, those individuals who left the newly formed United States as a consequence of their Loyalism. In her highly anticipated appendix, Jasanoff stated that over 60,000 Loyalists left in search of a new home—but what of those who stayed? Until recently, the reintegration of some 400,000 Loyalists into American society has been an overlooked topic. As James Madison University’s Rebecca Brannon notes, “Historians of American Loyalism have long favored those who left . . . over those who stayed” (p. 5), and with her well-researched From Revolution to Reunion: The Reintegration of the South Carolina Loyalists (University of South Carolina Press, 2016), Brannon takes a major step to address this obvious historiographical oversight. Continue reading

Review: William Hogeland, Autumn of the Black Snake

William Hogeland, Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion That Opened the West (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2017).

It’s fair to say that military history isn’t known for its commitment to social and political critique—at least not the kind of military history you might find at the airport. Autumn of the Black Snake offers much of what readers might want from that kind of book. It is unashamedly narrative-driven; carefully constructed for maximum tension and dramatic payoff; and there’s a fair amount of blood on the page too. But it is also designed to pose a challenge. Just what kind of entity was the newborn United States? From William Hogeland’s perspective, it was less an asylum of liberty than a super-powered successor to colonial land companies like the one that shaped the young George Washington. Continue reading

Guest Review: Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America

Guest reviewer Adam Pratt is an assistant professor at the University of Scranton. His current manuscript project is titled “The White Man’s Chance: Race and Politics in Pre-Removal Georgia.” He can be reached at adam.pratt@scranton.edu.

David J. Silverman, Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016).

silverman-thundersticksGuns are ever-present in American life. Gun culture, though frequently ridiculed by opponents for its fetishization of firearms, is inescapable in the 21st century. Visual media demonstrates the logical outcome of an individual’s unfettered right to bear arms. AMC’s The Walking Dead places gun violence at the heart of its dystopian, zombie-plagued world, while Zombieland normalized the double-tap, or, the necessity of shooting the undead in the head twice to ensure further reanimation. Although recent Supreme Court decisions have fundamentally altered how most Americans understand the Second Amendment, these legal changes followed a larger, more fundamental shift. Indeed, if the crooning of Johnny Cash in 1958, entreating his listeners to leave their guns at home, did not convince Americans, then what chance do well-reasoned, logical arguments have?

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Guest Review: Never Caught: Ona Judge, the Washingtons, and the Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave

Guest reviewer Shana L. Haines is an Assistant Professor of English at Tidewater Community College in Portsmouth, Virginia. She is currently a Ph.D student in American Studies at William and Mary focusing on Race, Law, and Literature. She has her J.D. from Boston University School of Law and her Masters in British and American Literature from Hunter College.

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught: Ona Judge, the Washingtons, and the Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017).

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-11-19-43-pmOn May 21, 1796, as George and Martha Washington ate their supper in the Philadelphia Executive Mansion, their twenty-two year old house slave, Ona Judge, walked out of the house and into freedom. With the help of the free black community in Philadelphia, Judge made her way to Portsmouth, New Hampshire where the free black community and white supporters provided refuge.

One would expect the fatherly and compassionate George Washington of Hamilton or the stately Washington staring out from Mt. Rushmore over the South Dakota landscape would respond by—well, the Washingtons as slaveholders aren’t a topic that has had entered general discussion in the American collective consciousness. He’s the Revolutionary War hero, the elder statesman, the first President of the United States of America. Through Ona Judge’s story of flight and freedom, however, Dunbar presents us with another Washington; a Washington willing to abuse his office and power to hunt another human being. Even more revealing is how Judge’s enslavement and subsequent flight underscores Martha Washington’s unwavering support of slavery and the outrage that fueled her husband’s pursuit of Judge.
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“In the Service of the Crown ever since I came into this Province”: The Life and Times of Cadwallader Colden

John M. Dixon,  The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016).

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

Alejandra Dubcovsky, Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016).

61VAwsW64fL._SL500_Alejandra Dubcovsky’s Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South 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