- The Changing Country of Anthony Casteel: Language, Religion, Geography, Political Loyalty, and Nationality in Mid-Eighteenth Century Nova Scotia
- Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 27, 1998
- pp. 53-74
- View Citation
- Additional Information
The Changing Country of Anthony Casteel: Language, Religion, Geography, Political Loyalty, and Nationality in Mid-Eighteenth Century Nova Scotia GEOFFREY PLANK This essay centers on the story of Anthony Casteel, the sole survivor of a British delegation that left Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1753 to negotiate with a set of local Micmac leaders. (The Micmac were the original inhabitants of the region.) Casteel had volunteered to serve the mission as an interpreter and translate the British agents' messages into French, a language the Micmac leaders understood. After a few days of traveling the delegation was captured by a group of Micmac warriors, who killed everyone in the party except Casteel. The warriors spared the interpreter because he convinced them he was French. Eventually they sent Casteel to the French authorities on Cape Breton Island. Once he was there, fearing punishment for sedition if he was identified as a Frenchman (he had been captured working for the British government), Casteel shifted arguments and successfully convinced the French to treat him as a British subject. The French authorities released him and allowed him to return to Halifax. But when he returned he was not immediately a free man. Casteel faced yet another set of interrogations, to satisfy the British authorities that he had remained loyal to them throughout his ordeal .1 For British subjects, cooperating with the Micmac could be a capital offense.2 As this brief retelling of the story indicates, during his travels Casteel entered into several debates concerning his political loyalty and national 53 54 / PLANK identity.3 The arguments he made, his motives for adopting his various claims, and his strategies for convincing his interrogators, reveal much about competing concepts of cultural and political identity in eighteenth-century eastern North America. He composed arguments for Micmac, French, and British audiences, and his identity was assessed by members of all of these groups. His accounts of his conversations, therefore, provide us with a rare opportunity to compare Micmac, British, and French responses to various issues surrounding group identity.4 A large array of scholars, including literary theorists, political scientists and historians, have examined changing concepts of nationality in the eighteenth century.5 Particularly in the second half of the century, many factors combined to force a re-examination of what it meant to belong to a "national" group. In Europe and the colonial empires, improved communications, the expansion of the press, and the reorganization of the economy to facilitate large-scale manufacturing, agricultural production, and trade, all encouraged a redefinition of group identity. Europe's dominant position in world markets inspired many Europeans and colonists to assume a heightened sense of their own "civilization ." The Europeans' perceived technological superiority contributed to a hardening of racialist ideas.6 But at the same time that they were placing more emphasis on the distinctiveness of Europeans in general, the inhabitants of Europe's rival empires were also defining themselves in opposition to each other. As Linda Colley has argued, "British" identity took shape in the eighteenth century, in part as a way to distinguish the people of Great Britain from the French.7 At the same time that the Europeans were redefining their own nationalities, in some colonized areas indigenous peoples adopted a reverse-image vision of the world, and celebrated their local culture (in the process reinventing it) in order to distinguish themselves from the European colonizers .8 At the same time, many erstwhile colonists began to assert their own distinctiveness; to borrow a word from Benedict Anderson, they "imagined" themselves as members of new nations independent from Europe.9 All of these developments encouraged individuals to recharacterize themselves and redirect their personal loyalties. Among the Europeans and colonists, men and women began to identify with larger cultural communities, blurring regional distinctions and emphasizing a fictive kinship among "subjects" or "citizens" in wide domains.10 In part as a result of this broadening of horizons, "nationality" and "patriotism" became important features of community life, often filling emotional and cultural roles formerly occupied by religion, kinship networks, or other traditional patterns of fealty and obligation. The Changing Country of Anthony Casteel / 55 It may seem odd to examine these developments in the...