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The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763

Paul W. Mapp

Publication Year: 2013

A truly continental history in both its geographic and political scope, ###The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713@-1763# investigates eighteenth-century diplomacy involving North America and links geographic ignorance about the American West to Europeans' grand geopolitical designs. Breaking from scholars' traditional focus on the Atlantic world, Paul W. Mapp demonstrates the centrality of hitherto understudied western regions to early American history and shows that a Pacific focus is crucial to understanding the causes, course, and consequences of the Seven Years' War.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Though writing a long and complicated book sometimes seems a solitary pursuit, I’ve found, like all the authors I know, that I’ve relied on a great deal of help from a great many people. I owe many thanks. Princeton’s Peter Brown, William Jordan, and Anthony Grafton showed an undergraduate from Oregon what historians could do and be. They inspired me...


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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xx

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pp. 1-26

Histories of the Seven Years’ War, especially those written in the United States, often begin with George Washington’s blunderings in the Ohio Valley in 1754. It’s a good place to start. Competing British, French, and Indian claims to lands west of the Appalachians formed one of the principal sources of international...

Part I: The Spanish Empire and the Elusive West

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1: Peoples and Terrain, Difficulties and Disappointments

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pp. 29-68

Spain initiated early modern Europe’s engagement with western North American geography, and so it is with the Spanish Empire that a study of the influence of western geographic ideas properly begins. From the vantage point of the early twenty-first century, with the results of the last two and a half centuries of geographic...

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2: Exploiting Indigenous Geographic Understanding

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pp. 69-98

Consideration of the inhibiting effects of western exploratory difficulties and disappointments, of the Far West’s geographic position, and of the competitive allure of other potential targets of investigation yields a fair explanation for the pre-1763 Spanish failure to explore the better part of the North American West...

Part II: South Sea Interlude

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3: The Alluring Pacific Ocean

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pp. 101-121

The most celebrated goal of early modern French, British, and Anglo-American western exploration was to find some kind of Northwest Passage to the Pacific. French scouts looking for a river route to the South Sea pushed west of lakes Superior and Winnipeg in the 1730s, 1740s, and 1750s. British ships sought a...

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4: The Pacific Ocean and the War of the Spanish Succession

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pp. 122-144

On November 16, 1700, Louis XIV proclaimed, in accordance with the will of Charles II of Spain, that Louis’s grandson Philip, duc d’Anjou, would inherit the Spanish throne. The ensuing War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1714) would determine which European powers would profit from the riches of Spanish...

Part III: France and the Elusive West After the Treaty of Utrecht

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5: Visions of Western Louisiana

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pp. 147-165

In the history of the United States, and in an account of the agreements ending the Seven Years’ War, Louisiana figures most prominently as the colony France gave away. But before France yielded Louisiana, it had to acquire claims to the great Mississippi Valley—twice. To understand the first of France’s Louisiana...

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6: Imperial Comparisons

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pp. 166-193

In 1730, a report “Touching upon the Discovery of the Western Sea” appeared as an attachment to a letter from the governor of New France, the marquis de Beauharnois (1726–1747). The report’s author was the French explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye. While serving as commander of French fur-trading...

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7: Communication and Interpretation

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pp. 194-232

Eighteenth-century French surveyors triangulated their way across France and China. A French geographer trod the forests of Siberia and sailed the waters of the North Pacific. His brother collected in Saint Petersburg and dispatched to Paris maps of an empire spanning the world’s largest continent. French cartographers...

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8: Restricted Pathways

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pp. 233-258

The previous chapter’s discussion of difficulties arising from linguistic, conceptual, and cultural differences gives some sense of how the communication of geographic information could be impeded even when French investigators were speaking with Indians familiar with a region. Often, however, it appears...

Part IV: British Pacific Ventures and the Early Years of the Seven Years' War

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9: British Designs on the Spanish Empire, 1713–1748

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pp. 261-282

La Vérendrye and his compatriots were not alone in their search for a water route to the west, nor was a great river the only form such a passage might take. In 1731—a year after La Vérendrye’s report “Touching upon the Discovery of the Western Sea”—Arthur Dobbs, Ulster landowner and member of the Irish...

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10: French Reactions to the British Search for a Northwest Passage from Hudson Bay and the Origins of the Seven Years’ War

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pp. 283-311

During and immediately after the War of Jenkins’ Ear and the larger War of the Austrian Succession it joined, British explorers, promoters, and officials sought ways to overcome the physical and diplomatic barriers to British Pacific navigation. French officials observed these British efforts and contemplated their implications...

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11: Spanish Reactions to British Pacific Encroachments, 1750–1757

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pp. 312-329

Considerations of European interest in the Pacific, French efforts to comprehend American geography, and French reactions to British Hudson Bay exploration have pointed repeatedly to what—in terms of extent, populousness, wealth, and longevity—was the grandest polity of the early eighteenth-century...

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12: French Borderlands Encroachments and Spanish Neutrality

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pp. 330-356

This book’s first chapter mentioned the arrival of French traders Jean Chapuis and Louis Feuilli in New Mexico in 1752, their interrogation by Spanish officers, and their subsequent incarceration in Spain. The matter did not end with the traders in jail, moving instead into French and Spanish diplomatic conversations...

Part V: The Elusive West and the Outcome of the Seven Years' War

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13: French Geographic Conceptions and the 1762 Western Louisiana Cession

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pp. 359-386

On November 3, 1762, in the waning days of the Seven Years’ War, a beleaguered France ceded the trans-Mississippi remnants of the colony of Louisiana to Spain. This cession has always been something of an enigma; its necessity is not immediately obvious. Spain had not occupied western Louisiana, Britain had...

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14: Spain’s Acceptance of Trans-Mississippi Louisiana

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pp. 387-412

In the closing years of the Seven Years’ War, the unusually forceful and capable Charles III replaced Ferdinand VI as king of Spain. During the same period, an increasingly formidable and menacing Britain challenged Spanish imperial security. Few rulers look with indifference upon a growing threat to their cherished...

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15: Old Visions and New Opportunities: Britain and the Spanish Empire at the End of the Seven Years’ War

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pp. 413-428

One character making occasional appearances in earlier chapters has been Henry Ellis (1721–1806). Like Arthur Dobbs, Ellis was one of those second-tier figures of eighteenth-century British imperial history who frequently influenced or exemplified important historical developments. In a sparkling 1970...

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pp. 429-434

This study has argued that perceptions of western American geography influenced the course of imperial diplomacy, that ideas about the undiscovered West contributed to the origins, unfolding, and outcome of the mid-eighteenth century’s Great War for Empire. Unease about the implications of British Hudson...


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pp. 435-455

E-ISBN-13: 9781469600987
E-ISBN-10: 1469600986
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469600864
Print-ISBN-10: 1469600862

Page Count: 480
Illustrations: 4 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia