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  • Essays on Northeastern North America: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
  • Helen Dewar (bio)
John G. Reid . Essays on Northeastern North America: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. With contributions by Emerson W. Baker University of Toronto Press. xvi, 322. $70.00, $32.00

The recent anniversaries of French establishments in North America at St-Croix, Port-Royal, and Quebec in 1604, 1605, and 1608, respectively, have prompted new scholarship on the events themselves and the personages involved. In Essays on Northeastern North America, John G. Reid takes the first two anniversaries as an opportunity to revisit the complex interactions among French, English, and Aboriginals over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in what is today Nova Scotia and Maine -interactions that he has been studying for almost forty years. [End Page 549]

The collection consists of twelve essays, an introduction, and short epilogue, written between 1976 and 2005. Four of the essays are previously unpublished; two were written with Emerson W. Baker. Arguing that 'a useful starting point is to separate for analytical purposes . . . the closely related processes associated with the colonial, imperial, and aboriginal facts in northeastern North America,' Reid divides the collection accordingly. Although the essays do at times overlap temporally, there is a general chronological progression to the volume.

Carefully written and edited, with the origin of each essay contextualized, this collection amply demonstrates Reid's propensity to complicate our understanding of the actions and words of contemporaries as well as the situations in which they found themselves. Rejecting a structuralist approach, he considers the three parts of the book as processes that were fluid, interactive, contested, and complex. The essays collectively challenge three related components of received historiography: that colonization constituted the main form of 'imperial outreach'; that European hegemony on the continent was inevitable and linearly progressive; and that Aboriginal diplomatic and military power was eclipsed over the seventeenth and into the eighteenth centuries. Instead, 'colonization was an uncertain business. Empire was complex . . . . Aboriginal centrality . . . was long able to survive.'

The introduction presents the collection as an attempt to reconcile study of the European impact on Aboriginal groups and the use of the Atlantic framework, each of which has a considerable historiography. Part 1, 'Colonial Habitation,' examines the fragility of colonization. In 'The Lost Colony of New Scotland and Its Successors, to 1670,' Sir William Alexander's attempts to settle present-day Nova Scotia in the 1620s are compared to those of Pierre du Gua, sieur de Monts before him, and Charles de Menou d'Aulnay afterwards. The application of the term lost colony - or failed colonial enterprise - to all of these ventures raises questions about its usefulness as an organizing concept. If they were the rule rather than the exception, it might be preferable to dispense with the term altogether when comparing them. That said, Reid ably demonstrates the value of focusing on areas without major settlement where colonization was highly uncertain. In the second part, 'Imperial Exchange,' he considers several elements of the imperial presence in North America, both real and imagined. One of the collection's strongest essays, 'Imperialism, Diplomacies, and the Conquest of Port Royal, 1710,' skilfully weaves all three processes together. It argues that the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 marked the beginning, not the culmination, of diplomacy. Negotiation characterized English relations with the Mi'kmaq, Wulstukwiuk, and the Acadians, each with a different approach to diplomacy and the status quo. Part 3, 'Aboriginal Engagement,' furthers this theme of 'negotiated imperialism.' In 'The Sakamow's Discourtesy and [End Page 550] the Governor's Anger,' Reid examines the unusually detailed record of the 1717 English-Aboriginal conference at Arrowsic. Using the tools of diplomatic history, he argues that the outcome was unsuccessful for all concerned and left key issues unclear. A fourth part, 'Commemoration,' less research-based than the rest of the book, consists of reflections on this history and appropriate methods of commemoration. 'Reflections on Seventeenth-Century Acadia' showcases Reid's ability to see events as contemporaries would have seen them. He emphasizes the centrality of Aboriginal actions in seventeenth-century Acadia, arguing that the 1604 and 1605 habitations were 'incidental' to this history and created only a slight shift in French...


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