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Early American Places

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Creolization and Contraband

CuraCao in the Early Modern Atlantic World

Linda M. Rupert

When Curaçao came under Dutch control in 1634, the small island off South America's northern coast was isolated and sleepy. The introduction of increased trade (both legal and illegal) led to a dramatic transformation, and Curaçao emerged as a major hub within Caribbean and wider Atlantic networks. It would also become the commercial and administrative seat of the Dutch West India Company in the Americas.

The island's main city, Willemstad, had a non-Dutch majority composed largely of free blacks, urban slaves, and Sephardic Jews, who communicated across ethnic divisions in a new creole language called Papiamentu. For Linda M. Rupert, the emergence of this creole language was one of the two defining phenomena that gave shape to early modern Curaçao. The other was smuggling. Both developments, she argues, were informal adaptations to life in a place that was at once polyglot and regimented. They were the sort of improvisations that occurred wherever expanding European empires thrust different peoples together.

Creolization and Contraband uses the history of Curaçao to develop the first book-length analysis of the relationship between illicit interimperial trade and processes of social, cultural, and linguistic exchange in the early modern world. Rupert argues that by breaking through multiple barriers, smuggling opened particularly rich opportunities for cross-cultural and interethnic interaction. Far from marginal, these extra-official exchanges were the very building blocks of colonial society.

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Everyday Life in the Early English Caribbean

Irish, Africans, and the Construction of Difference

Jenny Shaw

Set along both the physical and social margins of the British Empire in the second half of the seventeenth century, Everyday Life in the Early English Caribbean explores the construction of difference through the everyday life of colonial subjects. Jenny Shaw examines how marginalized colonial subjects—Irish and Africans—contributed to these processes. By emphasizing their everyday experiences Shaw makes clear that each group persisted in its own cultural practices; Irish and Africans also worked within—and challenged—the limits of the colonial regime. Shaw’s research demonstrates the extent to which hierarchies were in flux in the early modern Caribbean, allowing even an outcast servant to rise to the position of island planter, and underscores the fallacy that racial categories of black and white were the sole arbiters of difference in the early English Caribbean.

The everyday lives of Irish and Africans are obscured by sources constructed by elites. Through her research, Jenny Shaw overcomes the constraints such sources impose by pushing methodological boundaries to fill in the gaps, silences, and absences that dominate the historical record. By examining legal statutes, census material, plantation records, travel narratives, depositions, interrogations, and official colonial correspondence, as much for what they omit as for what they include, Everyday Life in the Early English Caribbean uncovers perspectives that would otherwise remain obscured. This book encourages readers to rethink the boundaries of historical research and writing and to think more expansively about questions of race and difference in English slave societies.

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Natchez Country

Indians, Colonists, and the Landscapes of Race in French Louisiana

George Edward Milne

At the dawn of the 1700s the Natchez viewed the first Francophones in the Lower Mississippi Valley as potential inductees to their chiefdom. This mistaken perception lulled them into permitting these outsiders to settle among them. Within two decades conditions in Natchez Country had taken a turn for the worse. The trickle of wayfarers had given way to a torrent of colonists (and their enslaved Africans) who refused to recognize the Natchez’s hierarchy. These newcomers threatened to seize key authority-generating features of Natchez Country: mounds, a plaza, and a temple. This threat inspired these Indians to turn to a recent import—racial categories—to reestablish social order. They began to call themselves “red men” to reunite their polity and to distance themselves from the “blacks” and “whites” into which their neighbors divided themselves. After refashioning their identity, they launched an attack that destroyed the nearby colonial settlements. Their 1729 assault began a two-year war that resulted in the death or enslavement of most of the Natchez people.

In Natchez Country, George Edward Milne provides the most comprehensive history of the Lower Mississippi Valley and the Natchez to date. From La Salle’s first encounter with what would become Louisiana to the ultimate dispersal of the Natchez by the close of the 1730s, Milne also analyzes the ways in which French attitudes about race and slavery influenced native North American Indians in the vicinity of French colonial settlements on the Mississippi River and how Native Americans in turn adopted and resisted colonial ideology.

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On Slavery's Border

Missouri's Small Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865

Diane Mutti Burke

On Slavery’s Border is a bottom-up examination of how slavery and slaveholding were influenced by both the geography and the scale of the slaveholding enterprise. Missouri’s strategic access to important waterways made it a key site at the periphery of the Atlantic world. By the time of statehood in 1821, people were moving there in large numbers, especially from the upper South, hoping to replicate the slave society they’d left behind.
 
Diane Mutti Burke focuses on the Missouri counties located along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to investigate small-scale slavery at the level of the household and neighborhood. She examines such topics as small slaveholders’ child-rearing and fiscal strategies, the economics of slavery, relations between slaves and owners, the challenges faced by slave families, sociability among enslaved and free Missourians within rural neighborhoods, and the disintegration of slavery during the Civil War. Mutti Burke argues that economic and social factors gave Missouri slavery an especially intimate quality. Owners directly oversaw their slaves and lived in close proximity with them, sometimes in the same building. White Missourians believed this made for a milder version of bondage. Some slaves, who expressed fear of being sold further south, seemed to agree.
 
Mutti Burke reveals, however, that while small slaveholding created some advantages for slaves, it also made them more vulnerable to abuse and interference in their personal lives. In a region with easy access to the free states, the perception that slavery was threatened spawned white anxiety, which frequently led to violent reassertions of supremacy.

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Ordinary Lives in the Early Caribbean

Religion, Colonial Competition, and the Politics of Profit

Kristen Block

Kristen Block examines the entangled histories of Spain and England in the Caribbean during the long seventeenth century, focusing on colonialism's two main goals: the search for profit and the call to Christian dominance.

Using the stories of ordinary people, Block illustrates how engaging with the powerful rhetoric and rituals of Christianity was central to survival. Isobel Criolla was a runaway slave in Cartagena who successfully lobbied the Spanish governor not to return her to an abusive mistress. Nicolas Burundel was a French Calvinist who served as henchman to the Spanish governor of Jamaica before his arrest by the Inquisition for heresy. Henry Whistler was an English sailor sent to the Caribbean under Oliver Cromwell's plan for holy war against Catholic Spain. Yaff and Nell were slaves who served a Quaker plantation owner, Lewis Morris, in Barbados. Seen from their on-the-ground perspective, the development of modern capitalism, race, and Christianity emerges as a story of negotiation, contingency, humanity, and the quest for community.

Ordinary Lives in the Early Caribbean works in both a comparative and an integrative Atlantic world frame, drawing on archival sources from Spain, England, Barbados, Colombia, and the United States. It pushes the boundaries of how historians read silences in the archive, asking difficult questions about how self-censorship, anxiety, and shame have shaped the historical record. The book also encourages readers to expand their concept of religious history beyond a focus on theology, ideals, and pious exemplars to examine the communal efforts of pirates, smugglers, slaves, and adventurers who together shaped the Caribbean's emerging moral economy.

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Privateers of the Americas

Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic

David Head

Privateers of the Americas examines raids on Spanish shipping conducted from the United States during the early 1800s. These activities were sanctioned by, and conducted on behalf of, republics in Spanish America aspiring to independence from Spain. Among the available histories of privateering, there is no comparable work. Because privateering further complicated international dealings during the already tumultuous Age of Revolution, the book also offers a new perspective on the diplomatic and Atlantic history of the early American republic.Seafarers living in the United States secured commissions from Spanish American nations, attacked Spanish vessels, and returned to sell their captured cargoes (which sometimes included slaves) from bases in Baltimore, New Orleans, and Galveston and on Amelia Island. Privateers sold millions of dollars of goods to untold numbers of ordinary Americans. Their collective enterprise involved more than a hundred vessels and thousands of people—not only ships’ crews but investors, merchants, suppliers, and others. They angered foreign diplomats, worried American officials, and muddied U.S. foreign relations.David Head looks at how Spanish American privateering worked and who engaged in it; how the U.S. government responded; how privateers and their supporters evaded or exploited laws and international relations; what motivated men to choose this line of work; and ultimately, what it meant to them to sail for the new republics of Spanish America. His findings broaden our understanding of the experience of being an American in a wider world.

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Slavery, Childhood, and Abolition in Jamaica, 1788?1838

Colleen A. Vasconcellos

This study examines childhood and slavery in Jamaica from the onset of improved conditions for the island’s slaves to the end of all forced or coerced labor throughout the British Caribbean. As Colleen A. Vasconcellos discusses the nature of child development in the plantation complex, she looks at how both colonial Jamaican society and the slave community conceived childhood—and how those ideas changed as the abolitionist movement gained power, the fortunes of planters rose and fell, and the nature of work on Jamaica’s estates evolved from slavery to apprenticeship to free labor.

Vasconcellos explores the experiences of enslaved children through the lenses of family, resistance, race, status, culture, education, and freedom. In the half-century covered by her study, Jamaican planters alternately saw enslaved children as burdens or investments. At the same time, the childhood experience was shaped by the ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse slave community. Vasconcellos adds detail and meaning to these tensions by looking, for instance, at enslaved children of color, legally termed mulattos, who had unique ties to both slave and planter families. In addition, she shows how traditions, beliefs, and practices within the slave community undermined planters’ efforts to ensure a compliant workforce by instilling Christian values in enslaved children. These are just a few of the ways that Vasconcellos reveals an overlooked childhood—one that was often defined by Jamaican planters but always contested and redefined by the slaves themselves.

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Sounds American

National Identity and the Music Cultures of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, 1800–1860

Ann Ostendorf

Sounds American provides new perspectives on the relationship between nationalism and cultural production by examining how Americans grappled with musical diversity in the early national and antebellum eras.

During this period a resounding call to create a distinctively American music culture emerged as a way to bind together the varied, changing, and uncertain components of the new nation. This played out with particular intensity in the lower Mississippi River valley, and New Orleans especially. Ann Ostendorf argues that this region, often considered an exception to the nation—with its distance from the center of power, its non-British colonial past, and its varied population—actually shared characteristics of many other places eventually incorporated into the country, thus making it a useful case study for the creation of American culture.

Ostendorf conjures the territory’s phenomenally diverse “music ways” including grand operas and balls, performances by church choirs and militia bands, and itinerant violin instructors. Music was often associated with “foreigners,” in particular Germans, French, Irish, and Africans. For these outsiders, music helped preserve collective identity. But for critics concerned with developing a national culture, this multitude of influences presented a dilemma that led to an obsessive categorization of music with racial, ethnic, or national markers. Ultimately, the shared experience of categorizing difference and consuming this music became a unifying national phenomenon. Experiencing the unknown became a shared part of the American experience.

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The Year of the Lash

Free People of Color in Cuba and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World

Michele Reid-Vazquez

Michele Reid-Vazquez reveals the untold story of the strategies of negotia­tion used by free blacks in the aftermath of the “Year of the Lash”—a wave of repression in Cuba that had great implications for the Atlantic World in the next two decades.

At dawn on June 29, 1844, a firing squad in Havana executed ten accused ringleaders of the Conspiracy of La Escalera, an alleged plot to abolish slavery and colonial rule in Cuba. The condemned men represented prominent members of Cuba’s free community of African descent, including the acclaimed poet Plácido (Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés). In an effort to foster a white majority and curtail black rebellion, Spanish colonial authorities also banished, imprisoned, and exiled hundreds of free blacks, dismantled the militia of color, and accelerated white immigration projects.

Scholars have debated the existence of the Conspiracy of La Escalera for over a century, yet little is known about how those targeted by the violence responded. Drawing on archival material from Cuba, Mexico, Spain, and the United States, Reid-Vazquez provides a critical window into under­standing how free people of color challenged colonial policies of terror and pursued justice on their own terms using formal and extralegal methods. Whether rooted in Cuba or cast into the Atlantic World, free men and women of African descent stretched and broke colonial expectations of their codes of conduct locally and in exile. Their actions underscored how black agency, albeit fragmented, worked to destabilize repression’s impact.

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