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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After the Trail

Sioux Shield FP op

Oglala Sioux Shield, ca. 1846

Consider the sixth-grader of 1907. Gertrude F. Greene’s syllabus passed over Plato, sidelined Scottish ballads, and resisted the Alaskan derring-do of The Fur-Seal’s Tooth. At the top of her reading list—first to devour on a snowy winter break from the old Belcher School—she ranked Francis Parkman’s Oregon Trail (1849). In under a century, Parkman had gone from cliffhanger to canon. Why? What might students learn from a 23-year-old romantic historian’s rambles in the Indian country of 1846? Glints of Parkman’s early artistry shone through, but only when you shook up the story a bit. His sketch of life with the Oglala Sioux melded ethnography and emotion, sense and sensation. His Oregon Trail had been greatly curated, edited, and revised in the retelling. And yet Ms. Greene’s sixth-graders missed out on the juicier bits. What Parkman saw (“a strange variety of characters”), what Parkman heard (“harsh and guttaral” dialects), and what Parkman ate (buffalo, fish, dog) on the road filled his private journals, first made available to readers in the 1940s. There, stashed away in the “no-filter” notebooks that Parkman used to piece together his first blockbuster, lay the real adventure. Continue reading

Before the Trail

Francis Parkman's Medicine Chest

Francis Parkman’s Medicine Chest

Pratt must be paid. There was a route to examine one last time, and three shirts to stuff into a knapsack bulging with flannels and history books, powder and shot. The Berkshire Hills trip was a rush job; he needed to return for graduation in late August, 1844. Into the knapsack went a 4” x 2½” dusky-green journal, with shorthand notes in pencil. After a boyhood spent hunting and riding bareback on the Medford frontier, the blue-eyed Harvard senior, 20, knew how to pack for a research errand into the wilderness. Already, he boasted colorful adventures from past summer forays, fine-tuning the field skills that history professor Jared Sparks did not cover in class. Take July 1841: Scaling his first New Hampshire ravine, the rookie historian slipped and swung free, clawing air. As he “shuddered” and clung to the crag, a hard sheaf of pebbles fell, “clattering hundreds of feet” to the sunny gulf below.

 

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Epilogue or Prologue? The Royal Proclamation Turns 250

If you’ve heard of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, it’s probably in the form of the “Proclamation Line,” the imaginary line of masking tape across the Appalachian Mountains dividing English colonists along the coast from native populations in the interior of North America. According to a group of historians gathered at the Old State House in Boston this past Friday, it may have far greater significance. (Or not.)

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