Damming Fish and Indians: Starvation and Dispossession in Colonial Massachusetts

Today’s post in the Roundtable on Food and Hunger in Vast Early America is by Zachary M. Bennett, who is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Connecticut College this autumn. He is a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. His dissertation, “Flowing Power: Rivers, Energy, and the Making of New England,” examines the political ecology of waterpower before the industrial revolution.

Compared to other Native Americans in southern New England, the Ninnimissinuok community of Natick, Massachusetts seemed to have secure footing going into the eighteenth century. Located only fifteen miles outside of Boston on the Charles River, Natick was the largest community of Native American converts to Christianity—or “Praying Indians”—in mainland New England with a population exceeding two hundred persons. These Praying Indians owned their land in corporation to safeguard their enclave against land hungry colonists. To passersby, Natick residents farmed like their English neighbors, dressed like them, and even worshipped like them too. Yet, in contrast to their English neighbors, this community steadily declined over the course of the eighteenth century. Continue reading

Call for Papers: Zones and Lines, Water and Land: New Conversations on Borders

Dates: 22-24 May, 2019
Location: Cardiff University, Wales, United Kingdom

In the early modern world, no less than today, borders were contested spaces that fostered opportunity on one hand and anxiety on the other. New technologies expanded the reach and scale of maritime enterprises and empires even as control of coastlines and blue-water spaces remained elusive. European interest in a path to the “western sea” focused North and South American colonists’ attention westward to what turned out to be the landlocked interior of massive continents governed and defended by Native peoples already there. Marshes and mountains, estuaries and arid zones, lakes, rivers, fisheries, and forests shaped the movement, experiences, and encounters of Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans who lived in or entered particular spaces. Two distinct and usually separate lines of scholarship examine these spaces of border contest: inland “frontier” studies and maritime/Atlantic history. This conference invites participants to continue a conversation about the landed and aquatic frontiers of borderlands and maritime history to investigate in a broadly comparative framework how early modern actors defined, defied, and took advantage of borders, be they on land or on water. The organisers hope attendees will simultaneously consider how a variety of actors imagined, pictured, and mapped these spaces. This event provides a forum to explore topics including, but not limited to, port cities, divided, middle, and Native grounds, saltwater frontiers, migration, diaspora, epistemology, and settler colonialism. The co-organisers are historians of the Atlantic World, but welcome proposals from other geographies and fields. They are delighted that Dr Lissa Wadewitz, author of The Nature of Borders: Salmon, Boundaries, and Bandits on the Salish Sea, will deliver the keynote address. Continue reading

Land and Language Symposium: A Recap

Sequoyah_CharlesBirdKing1830On April 26, Columbia University’s American Studies and Early American History Seminars organized the symposium “Rethinking Land and Language: Dialogues in Early American and Indigenous Studies.” Divided into two roundtables dedicated to land and language, the symposium brought together an array of scholars to discuss how new perspectives in Native American studies might influence work being done across fields in early American history. This post will recap a few of the key themes that emerged from the symposium.* Continue reading