The Problem of Southern Indians’ Allegiance in the American Revolution

So you know what’s hilarious? Trying to revise your dissertation into a book during the semester. I will admit that I am in the middle of editing my worst dissertation chapter, and am yelling out of a metaphorical pit of despair that’s been dug by a combination of bad prose and end-of-the-semester angst. Part of these struggles have to do with the fact that even after writing the chapter, submitting it, and defending it, I’m still not really sure what this chapter’s argument needs to say. This problem is directly tied to the fact that I found (and continue to find) myself befuddled by late-eighteenth-century Southern Indian affairs. So many factions! So much switching of sides! So many different ways I manage to mis-type Scots-Creek go-between Alexander McGillivray’s last name![1] Continue reading

Notes on Thompson, Arendt, and Revolutionary Violence

In the first episode of HBO’s John Adams miniseries there’s a memorable scene (NB: it includes nudity) in which Adams is present at the tarring and feathering of a customs officer at Boston harbour. The purpose of the scene was to frame Adams as an outsider whose firm principles prevent him from ever being an organic leader of the American people—a theme that runs throughout the series. But it also does something else, which is to acknowledge early on that the American Revolution was an affair of violence. In a particularly poignant moment of the scene (2.02-2.07 in the clip), the director even chose to portray slaves in chains, looking on silently at the anger of the American mob. That is, he chose to remind us that violence in colonial and revolutionary America wasn’t just momentary and spectacular, but also pervasive and structural.[1] Continue reading

Was the American Revolution a Civil War?

William Ranney, Battle of Cowpens, 1845, oil, South Carolina State House“Every great revolution is a civil war,” as David Armitage has recently remarked. That insight could change the way we think about the American Revolution. Contemporaries understood it that way—or at least, they did at first. David Ramsay, the first patriot historian of the war, held that the Revolution was “originally a civil war in the estimation of both parties.” Mercy Otis Warren wrote that the fires of civil war were kindled as early as the Boston massacre. But in the narratives of these historians, the moment the United States declared independence was the moment the conflict stopped being a civil war. It was no longer being fought within a single imperial polity. Now it was a war between two nations.[1] Continue reading

Articles of Note: Spring and Summer 2013

Many months ago, I posted the first of what I hoped to be a quarterly series highlighting recent articles I enjoyed, and inviting readers to do the same. Sadly, life got in the way, and so I have a bit to make up. As a recap for this roundup’s purpose: there are so many journals publishing quality articles in the field of early American history that it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep up. So this list serves as a reminder that you need to catch up on new issues, a identify articles I found especially important, as well as a chance to highlight the work of young scholars and friends. Just because an article doesn’t make the list doesn’t mean I didn’t like it—in fact, I am way behind on my own reading—but it is an invitation to list your own favorite recent articles in the comments below.

The following articles were published between March and September, and obviously reflect my own interests and background. Also, remember the fantastic articles in the special WMQ issue on families and the Atlantic world that I highlighted a few months ago. Continue reading

The Abolitionists Go to War: Part 3

Harpers FerryThe final episode of The Abolitionists aired this week on PBS. The entire three-hour documentary is now available online here (Part 3 begins at the 1:40 mark). A full transcript is also available. Kenneth Owen and Jonathan Wilson previously discussed the first two episodes for The Junto. Today, we discuss the final hour.

Jonathan Wilson:

We’ve been fairly hard on The Abolitionists thus far, so I’m happy to say I thought the final chapter of the film is the strongest, both historiographically and dramatically. This episode reflects recent scholarship on slave rebellions, and on John Brown in particular, by meditating in a fairly sophisticated way on the uses and languages of violence.

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