- Paths to a Middle Ground: The Diplomacy of Natchez, Boukfouka, Nogales, and San Fernando de las Barrancas, 1791–1795, and: Bonapartists in the Borderlands: French Exiles and Refugees on the Gulf Coast, and: Creole America: The West Indies and the Formation of Literature and Culture in the New Republic
Taken together, these three books emphasize the paradoxical conditions of the early American republic. American policymakers and writers were acutely aware of American vulnerability to British, French, and Spanish colonial power. French and Spanish hegemony were in decline by the early nineteenth century, but harassing European navies and colonial officials’ close relationships with Native American peoples were a threat to American interests and self-confidence. On the other hand, such American vulnerability stemmed, ironically, from the national appetite and capacity to expand commerce, borders, and influence, whetted by the prevailing attitude of seizing the opportunity of the moment.
Actually, in the books by Charles Weeks and Rafe Blaufarb, Americans play only a peripheral, though significant, role. Weeks draws on English- and especially Spanish-language documents from archival sources, seventeen of which are included in his book with annotations. [End Page 511] He acknowledges that these documents “represent . . . the perspective of their authors,” but he attempts to recover “through them, the voices of Native Americans, filtered additionally through interpreters and recorders” (279). The book focuses on diplomacy between the Spanish and the Indians of the lower Mississippi Valley, prompted by these parties’ mutual realization that they should try to deter American settlers’ “insatiable appetite for land” after the American Revolution (6).
The first part of Weeks’s book reviews a century of the diplomatic relationships between Spain and Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Cherokee Indians, emphasizing the sophistication, not only of the rituals of European–Indian diplomacy, but also of the relationships those rituals facilitated. As Daniel Richter has also emphasized in his Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Cambridge, MA, 2001), Indians were neither pawns nor predators in their dealings with Europeans, but rather they shared the Spanish capacity for bluff, pragmatism, and realpolitik. In the early 1790s, the governor of the Spanish colonies of Louisiana and West Florida, Francisco Luis Hector, barón de Carondelet, sent Lieutenant Governor Manuel Gayoso de Lemos to secure the Chickasaws’ consent to erect two forts, the first at Nogales (later Vicksburg) and the second at Chickasaw Bluffs (later Memphis).
Evident in the negotiations over these two forts, as discussed in the second part of Paths to a Middle Ground, is the extent of Indians’ control over the protocol of these negotiations and influence on the outcome. To a degree, the Spanish, like the French and the British who preceded them in Louisiana and Florida, recognized the need to accommodate the Indians’ understanding of political terms and gestures. For example, both Europeans and Indians used the terms father and children to characterize the different European and Indian roles. Initially Europeans tended to assume that the shared use of these terms meant the Indians accepted European authority. But according to Weeks, in matrilineal Indian culture, a father’s main role was not leadership but generosity. Thus Indians and Europeans understood the European practice of gift-giving differently: For Indians, Europeans’ gifts were crucial to maintain the cross-cultural relationship shaped by the diplomatic language in use. European lavishness is suggested in the text of a 1792 treaty, which stated, “[Governor Gayoso] hands over at the present time to the mentioned Chiefs the keys to these royal warehouses in which the goods are [stored] so that they may take from them whatever they wish to satisfy themselves” [End...