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  • Charles Lenox Sargent’s Life of Alexander Smith Imagining Indian Removal in the South Pacific

The Boston sea captain Charles Lenox Sargent’s 1819 novel, The Life of Alexander Smith, retells the founding story of Pitcairn, a small island in the South Pacific settled by H.M.S. Bounty’s mutineers and their Polynesian companions. Sargent’s version of the tale departs significantly from other accounts concurrently circulating in England and America: he eliminates the violence and death reported to have occurred and inserts an idealized narrative of ‘‘Indian’“ (what the narrator calls male Pacific Islanders) removal and population management. The novel has been neglected by scholars of the early United States, perhaps because of its departures from the accepted narrative of Pitcairn history, but in this essay I argue that these deviations are the source of the novel’s value. Sargent’s erasure of violence from the Pitcairn story naturalizes Indian removal policies by reproducing them on a distant island and shows the way forward for American expansionism—into the Pacific—well before the United States extended its legal boundaries to what would become its continental West Coast. Reassessing The Life of Alexander Smith advances our understanding of the relationship between the United States’ treatment of Native Americans and its push into the Pacific; the use of islands as test cases for American political and expansionist experiments; and the ways in which early U.S. literary culture articulated the terms of nascent American imperial aspirations.


expansionism, oceanic studies, Indian removal, Pacific, islands, U.S. imperialism, literary interregnum, treaties, Pitcairn, Bounty mutiny

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“Christian fell a sacrifice to the jealousy of an Otaheitan man, within three or four years after their arrival on the island.—They were accompanied thither by six Otaheitan men, and twelve women; the former were all swept away by desperate contentions between them and the Englishmen, and five of the latter have died at different periods, leaving at present only one man and seven women of the original settlers.’“

—Captain Thomas Staines, after visiting Pitcairn Island on September 17, 1814

‘‘September the 17th, 1814. The whole number of souls on the island at this date, as appears by the records, were one hundred and six, men, women and children.’“

—Charles Lenox Sargent, The Life of Alexander Smith, 1819

Forgetting Pitcairn Island

In 1819 the New England sea captain Charles Lenox Sargent published his first and only novel, The Life of Alexander Smith, Captain of the Island of Pitcairn; one of the mutineers on board his Majesty’s ship Bounty; commanded by Lieut. William Bligh. Written by SMITH Himself, on the above Island, and bringing the accounts from Pitcairn, down to the year 1815. Somehow, despite this catchy title, the novel has failed to capture the attention of historians and literary scholars. The title indicates the notorious events that Sargent hoped would draw publicity to the supposed autobiography, which purports to be the journal of a Bounty mutineer living on Pitcairn, stolen from the island by a Spanish seaman, then inherited by a sailor from Maine and finally purchased by Sargent. But though Sargent’s account adds book-length detail to the fragments of letters, ship logs, and rumors that were circulating in the popular press, it failed to attract enough attention to merit a second printing—very likely because of Sargent’s strange decision to contradict entirely the version of the tale familiar to the public. His contradictions of the accepted narrative, however, make the novel valuable to scholars of the early United States: they provide insight into early American thinking about population management and illuminate the parallels between American expansionism on the continent and imperialism abroad. 1 [End Page 242]

Born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, on April 18, 1778, to Epes and Dorcas Sargent, Charles Lenox Sargent was related to the protofeminist author Judith Sargent Murray, the Federalist politician Winthrop Sargent, and the popular temperance writer Lucius Manlius Sargent, but he did not ascend to the same heights of fame as his relatives. 2 He spent much of his life at sea: he was the first mate on the Eliza, a Boston merchant ship captained by James Odell that was seized by French privateers on February 13, 1798, and ransomed by its owner, Francis Amory. 3 In 1817 he took out a patent for an improved way of making and laying cordage, recorded but did not publish some eyewitness accounts of the fabled Gloucester sea serpent, and published a short treatise about ship signaling techniques. 4 He died in 1820, shortly after the publication of his only novel.

The Life of Alexander Smith’s lack of sales can be explained somewhat straightforwardly. Alexander Smith had been referred to in most contemporary accounts by his real name, John Adams, rather than his pseudonym, Alexander Smith, 5 so Sargent’s audience may not have recognized his novel, listed only as The Life of Alexander Smith in some publication announcements, 6 as a contributor to the Pitcairn archive. Furthermore, the only [End Page 243] review of the novel I could locate made little mention of Pitcairn or the Bounty, but instead emphasized the novel’s first half, which fabricated Smith’s pre-Bounty adventures. 7 Finally, since Sargent died shortly after the novel’s publication, he would have been unable to promote the book personally, either by privately distributing copies or by enhancing his name recognition with further writings.

Though it is easy to understand how early Americans overlooked it, early Americanists’ lack of interest in this fascinating novel, which the literary historian Thomas Philbrick calls ‘‘the most successful extended treatment of nautical subjects in American prose fiction before the appearance of [Cooper’s] The Pilot,” is somewhat more difficult to account for. Historians of Pitcairn Island ignore it altogether, and when literary scholars mention The Life of Alexander Smith, it is usually as an afterthought. Cathy Davidson devotes two sentences of Revolution and the Word to noting that the novel is told from the point of view of a mutineer rather than a captain, as evidence of the populism and republicanism of the early American picaresque novel. Philbrick, despite his praise of the novel, still uses it as a mere appendage to a broader project of redeeming James Fenimore Cooper as a nautical rather than primarily a frontier novelist. Scholars often object to The Life of Alexander Smith’s baldly inaccurate idealizations. Paul Lyons, in a footnote to his study of American Pacificism, disregards the novel as a ‘‘puritanical Americanization of the Bounty story.’“ In Henri Petter’s comprehensive overview of the early American novel, he includes Alexander Smith as an example of the period’s ubiquitous adventure novel, but he regrets that ‘‘the Pitcairn section is rather too loosely utopian.’“ 8 [End Page 244]

Within the very puritanical utopianism of its departure from other contemporaneous accounts, which have led scholars to dismiss The Life of Alexander Smith, lies its value, however; I argue that Sargent’s decision to sanitize the historical record reveals the workings of early U.S. expansionist aspirations. I follow many recent scholars who, in uncovering the inconsistencies within the exceptionalist and nationalist models that used to dominate early American scholarship and seeking to come to terms with what it means to read American history and literature in a global rather than a nationally bordered context, have turned their attention to the workings of U.S. imperialist interests. In her introduction to Cultures of United States Imperialism, Amy Kaplan usefully identifies the object of such scholarship as ‘‘the multiple histories of continental and overseas expansion, conquest, conflict, and resistance which have shaped the cultures of the United States and the cultures of those it has dominated within and beyond its geopolitical borders.’“ In situating the United States within a global context and charting those multiple histories, scholars have considered when the United States could begin to be accurately labeled imperialist and have sought to describe pre-1898 U.S. imperialism. For example, in his 1968 study of U.S. empire, Jack Ericson Eblen draws a distinction between the pre-1898 United States, which internally subjugated any peoples or subcultures that threatened a singular monolithic notion of American nationhood, and the post-1898 United States as an outward-looking subjugator. This model haunts such contemporary works as Literary Cultures and U.S. Imperialism, in which John Carlos Rowe links the ‘‘within’“ and ‘‘beyond’“ of Kaplan’s formulation to show the connections between internal and external imperialism. Andy Doolen, in his charting of the inextricability of the ideology of white supremacy and the practices of U.S. imperialism, examines the ‘‘ambiguous and terrifying process of power consolidation across borders rather than derived from a single geographic place.’“ By staging a scene of American-style internal imperialism outside the political borders of the United States, The Life of Alexander Smith exemplifies the geographically diffuse process Doolen has identified. I follow these scholars’ interest in the workings of American empire by uncovering the ways in which The Life of Alexander Smith unsettles what Rowe calls ‘‘the shifting boundary between internal and external forms of imperialism.’“ The novel exemplifies the coordination between the two. 9 [End Page 245]

That shifting boundary between internal and external imperialism appears in The Life of Alexander Smith as not only the elision of the material reality of Pacific Island history, but also the transposition of U.S.-centric concerns onto Oceania. The transnational turn in early Americanist scholarship has been dominated by trans-Atlantic and hemispheric studies, which tend to contextualize U.S. culture vis-à-vis those of Europe, Africa, and the Americas, but some recent work has focused on Asia and the Pacific Islands as what Rob Wilson and Arif Dirlik call ‘‘space of cultural production.’“ As Paul Lyons points out, U.S. perspectives on Oceania have been characterized by ‘‘sanctioned ignorance and rubrics of denial.’“ But though Lyons, Wilson, and Dirlik have succeeded in resuscitating Oceanic history as shaped by Pacific Islanders themselves, my focus is somewhat different: I seek to discover in Sargent’s novel the processes and purposes of the ‘‘sanctioned ignorance’“ Lyons detects. I want to revise the nineteenth-century historian and philosopher Ernest Renan’s claim that ‘‘the nation’“ forms when its citizens forget the originary violence that cleared the way to stability. 10 Sargent’s novel imposes that forgetting of violence onto Pitcairn Island and in the process exposes how the consolidation of national identity is never neatly contained within the borders of the ‘‘nation’“ itself but instead is globally networked and, for the United States, inherently outward-looking and expansionist.

Rather than fictionalize the accounts that ship captains brought back from Pitcairn, which reported that all but one of the original male settlers [End Page 246] of the island had killed one another, Sargent ignored those reports altogether and instead used his fictionalization of Pitcairn history to construct an idealistic retelling of the Anglo-American settlement and occupation of North America. In the novel version, the male inhabitants of Pitcairn, rather than fighting over women and land, survive peacefully, first through racial segregation and then through the complete banishment of all male Polynesians. This departure from his available sources signals Sargent’s promotion of what Michel Foucault would call the population management function of a security society. For Foucault, one tactic for managing a society is manipulating the milieu, the society’s set of circumstances and probabilities, the whole matrix of demographics and atmosphere in which people live and through which everything circulates. 11 Sargent’s fictionalization of the Pitcairn story does just that—manipulates the population of the island to ensure its smooth functioning; Sargent goes back in time imaginatively and has Pitcairners use population management to prevent the social disorder that was reported to have occurred. In the Pitcairn story’s battle over scarce resources, Sargent depicted an analogue of the conflicts erupting throughout the North American continent between Native Americans and white settlers—and he used the Pitcairn story as an opportunity to imagine a resolution to those conflicts: Indian removal. By creating characters who are protected and ultimately benefit from the removal of Polynesian males from Pitcairn, Sargent’s novel represents Indian removal as a necessary and fair alternative to violence, rather than as violence itself. Sargent’s transposition of Native American politics onto a South Pacific island suggest the continuities between white America’s approach to Native Americans and its approach to the inhabitants of Asia and the Pacific Islands—and this transposition shows how early the imagination of American imperialism invaded the Pacific.

Nineteenth-Century Accounts of Pitcairn

Sargent introduced his novel to a public hungry for stories about Pitcairn Island. Throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a mystery gripped both the American and British reading publics: What had happened to the sailors from the famous mutiny on H.M.S. Bounty? Led by master’s mate Fletcher Christian, the Bounty’s crew had in 1789 seized the ship from its captain, William Bligh, out of a combination of exhaustion, exasperation with Bligh’s rule, and enchantment with the island of [End Page 247] Tahiti, where the Bounty had recently stopped. Fourteen of the mutineers were soon captured in Tahiti and ten stood trial in England, but the rest were never heard from again. Decades after the 1789 mutiny, the whereabouts of nine of the mutineers remained unknown.

Accounts of the missing mutineers finally began trickling into the press twenty years later, after American and European ships ultimately discovered the mutineers’ hideout at Pitcairn, a small volcanic island 1,350 miles southeast of Tahiti where the nine mutineers had fled to avoid detection (figure 1). They had brought with them twelve Polynesian women, whose consent to the plan ranged from willing acquiescence to confusion to downright refusal—many had been freely visiting the Englishmen on the ship but were unaware that the ship was leaving Tahiti, never to return. They also brought six Polynesian men, some of whom had been kidnapped and some who were stowaways on the ship. All six would become servants on Pitcairn.

By the time the first American ship made contact with the isolated community in 1808, all the Polynesian men and all but one of the Englishmen had died in the violent conflict that erupted during the first decade of the island’s settlement. The conflict stemmed from the race-based injustices imposed by the mutineers: the English prevented the Polynesian men from owning any land on the island, and whenever one of the white men’s female companions died, the Englishmen would simply replace her with one of the Polynesian men’s companions. Ten years after Pitcairn’s founding, along with seven surviving female settlers and many of the settlers’ children, only one of the original fifteen male settlers was still living, a sailor named John Adams, alias Alexander Smith. 12

Though relatively few Americans or Europeans would physically visit the remote island for the rest of its existence, Pitcairn immediately became subject to an ‘‘invasion’“ of sorts. 13 Because island borders are relatively fixed, they provide ideal test cases for schemes of resource distribution and population management. From Crèvecoeur’s Nantucket in Letters from an American Farmer to Leonora Sansay’s Haiti in Secret History and Melville’s Marquesas in Typee, antebellum American authors have imaginatively [End Page 248]

Figure 1. John Shillibeer, Pitcairns Island, 1817. Shillibeer visited Pitcairn in 1814 aboard the British ship Briton and included this etching in his book, A Narrative of the Briton's Voyage, to Pitcairns Island (London: Law and Whittaker, 1817). Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
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Figure 1.

John Shillibeer, Pitcairns Island, 1817. Shillibeer visited Pitcairn in 1814 aboard the British ship Briton and included this etching in his book, A Narrative of the Briton's Voyage, to Pitcairns Island (London: Law and Whittaker, 1817). Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

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invaded islands, appropriating their histories and projecting American political and social concerns onto them. The small, remote South Pacific island of Pitcairn served as a palimpsest of early nineteenth-century British and American ideas about government, race, gender, and, tying all three together, population management. European and American authors, travelers, missionaries, and philosophers seized on the island as a kind of blank screen onto which they projected their own social and political concerns, revising previously told versions of the island to suit their ideologies. Because accounts of the island’s founding were delivered indirectly, and the public relied on British and American visitors to the island to relay Pitcairners’ accounts, the island’s story has always been the property of foreigners; in other words, the island’s history became a sort of narrative colony well before England officially incorporated the island as a political colony in 1838.

The Life of Alexander Smith is one of the most fascinating of these projections. Sargent’s account departs completely from the many accounts available to the public; in fact, his version specifically claims that the ‘‘true’“ stories circulating in the press had been lies, fabricated by the Pitcairn Islanders to protect the surviving mutineers. Sargent purges his account of the violence and widespread death that marred the island’s history and presents a sanitized version that grafts a narrative of peaceful American-style democracy and harmonious consensual monogamy over actual episodes of racial violence and sexual coercion. After reviewing the sources about Pitcairn available during Sargent’s time and outlining the changes he made to the historical record, I will show how Sargent’s revisions reflect the nascent shift from forceful imperialism to the American expansionist technique whose combination of assimilation and containment of colonized populations attempted to use population management to conceal the violence at its core.

Before examining in detail the liberties Sargent took with the historical record, I would like to briefly trace the publicity swirling around the Pitcairn story at the time of Sargent’s entry into the narrative morass—not to suggest that we can categorize some accounts as ‘‘accurate’“ and Sargent’s novel as ‘‘inaccurate,’“ but rather to examine the range of ideological uses to which Pitcairn was put during this era. Sargent’s exact inspiration remains unknown, but he could have culled details from a great number of sources published as books, mostly in Britain, and excerpted in detail in many American periodicals. The American whaler Topaz landed at Pitcairn in 1808; its captain, Mayhew Folger, interviewed its inhabitants that year, and [End Page 250] the Quarterly Review published a notice of his findings in 1810. 14 Buried in a book review, Folger’s story was little remarked on at first. But when captains Thomas Staines and Philip Pipon of two British naval ships (the Briton and the Tagus, respectively) confirmed and expanded on his account after their rediscovery of Pitcairn in 1814, both British and American popular presses began scrambling to print reports of the remote island. The newspapers retold the history of the Bounty, incorporated excerpts from and summaries of Folger’s, Staines’s, and Pipon’s firsthand accounts, and expounded on the religious and moral significance of the island. The famed Captain Amasa Delano added his remarks about Pitcairn, which he based on a conversation with Folger, in his 1817 Narrative of Voyages and Travels. Next, John Shillibeer, lieutenant on one of the British frigates to land at Pitcairn, published the 1817 Narrative of the Briton’s Voyage to Pitcairn Island. One American reviewer of Shillibeer’s account complains of being misled by the narrative’s title, since only 21 of the book’s 179 pages are actually about Pitcairn; therefore, the reviewer speculates that ‘‘the title of this book must have been selected for the purpose of promoting its sale’“—a testament to the popularity of the Pitcairn story at this time. 15 Shillibeer’s book enjoyed several reprintings in the following years and was translated into Dutch and Italian.

Sargent’s novel departs from his available sources in five areas that I will outline briefly: the nationality of the sole male survivor, John Adams (alias Alexander Smith); the system of government on Pitcairn; the kidnapping of the Polynesian men and women; the violence and near-ubiquitous death during the early years of the island’s settlement; and the meaning of Pitcairn for the Western world. Smith, whom Sargent appropriates as his narrator, appears in every historical account as an Englishman; he was the last surviving English mutineer on Pitcairn, the only male survivor of Pitcairn’s original settlers, and the oldest adult male on the island when the ships stopped [End Page 251] there. The newspaper accounts cast Smith as a kind of benevolent paternalist despot. For example, Staines calls him ‘‘a venerable old man . . . whose exemplary conduct and fatherly care of the whole of the little colony could not but command admiration. The pious manner in which all those born on the island have been reared, the correct sense of religion which has been instilled into their young minds by this old man has given him the preeminence over the whole of them, to whom they look up as the father of the whole and one family.’“ 16 In Staines’s interpretation of island politics, the hoary father cheerily beams down on the grateful subjects onto whom he’s bestowed the English language and the Christian religion and whom he has ultimately ‘‘civilized’“; Staines idealizes a monarchy wherein both the subjects and the ruler benefit from the supposed caretaking of the monarch.

In addition to describing the state they observed when they arrived on Pitcairn, the captains’ accounts that appeared in the newspapers of the time also recount what the islanders told them of their history. The accounts by and large skim over the kidnappings of the Polynesian women and men. Folger says, ‘‘they took wives’“ (‘‘Mutineers,’“ 396, emphasis added), a phrasing that could but does not necessarily imply abduction; in both Staines’s and Shillibeer’s words, the mutineers ‘‘were accompanied by’“ twelve women (ibid., 397), a passive-voice construction that carefully skirts the question of volition. 17 Amasa Delano’s phrasing of the event is also troubling: ‘‘They procured at Otaheite, women to accompany them for wives, and men for [End Page 252] servants, livestock and such other things as they thought necessary.’“ 18 The language of procurement reduces the Polynesian women and men to the status of provisions, ‘‘necessary’“ things; women as wives, men as servants, and animals as livestock parallel one another in the sentence, suggesting the matter-of-fact objectification of all. No question need be given to the women’s or men’s consent any more than the livestock’s.

Regarding the violence that dominated the island’s early years, the ship captains’ accounts varied from one another slightly, often because of the conflicting stories Smith told various captains whose ships visited Pitcairn. Folger, who encountered the island in 1808, relays a simplified, temporally truncated version in which, unprovoked, the Polynesian men kill all but one white man, and on the same night, the Polynesian women avenge their deaths: ‘‘About six years after they landed at this place, their servants attacked and killed all the English excepting the informant [Smith], and he was severely wounded. The same night the Otaheitan widows arose and murdered all their countrymen, leaving Smith with the women and children, where he had resided ever since without being resisted’“ (‘‘Mutineers,’“ 396). Folger’s version, then, emphasizes the loyalty of the Polynesian women under white male rule. The Polynesian men are dangerous, rebelling servants; the women are ‘‘widows’“ whose conjugal ties to the English supersede their national ties to their ‘‘countrymen.’“ One night of murder serves as a hinge between a sort of racial aristocratic colony, in which a group of white men rule over a relatively large community of Polynesians, and a colonial monarchy, in which the sole white man rules over the surviving Polynesians.

Staines, who landed at Pitcairn in 1814, is vague about both the motives behind and culpability for the violence. According to Staines, ‘‘the elder Christian fell a sacrifice to the jealousy of an Otaheitan man, within three or four years after their arrival on the island.—They were accompanied thither by six Otaheitan men, and twelve women; the former were all swept away by desperate contentions between them and the Englishmen, and five of the latter have died at different periods, leaving at present only one man and seven women of the original settlers’“ (‘‘Mutineers,’“ 397). The only motive Staines reports are ‘‘jealousy’“ and ‘‘desperate contentions,’“ which leaves the causes of the conflict rather ambiguous. Staines to some extent [End Page 253] alleviates the burden of culpability from the English by saying the ‘‘Otaheitan men’“ were ‘‘swept away by desperate contentions’“; the contentions themselves, not people, do the sweeping here in a sort of faultless hedge.

Captain Pipon, who was with Staines, emphasizes Fletcher Christian’s failure to lead. Bitter and regretful about his conduct during the mutiny, Christian ‘‘practised the very same kind of conduct toward his companions in guilt which he and they so loudly complained against in their late commander [Bligh]’“ (‘‘Mutineers,’“ 398). Because of ‘‘his oppressive and tyrannical conduct,’“ the mutineers and the Polynesians ‘‘divided into parties, and disputes and affrays and murders were the consequence’“ (ibid.). Pipon uses the words ‘‘ill fated,’“ ‘‘never happy,’“ ‘‘sullen and morose,’“ ‘‘disappointed,’“ ‘‘deluded,’“ and ‘‘miserable’“ to describe Christian (ibid.). In other words, Fletcher Christian got what he deserved; Pipon extracts from the violent tale a moral about individual villainy and hypocritical leadership. Pipon’s account most probably influenced Lord Byron’s 1826 epic verse The Island, which also paints Christian’s death as rightful punishment for the mutineer.

The ship captains were often fascinated by the biracial and multilingual offspring of the mutineers and their Polynesian companions. One English reviewer of Shillibeer’s account calls them ‘‘Anglo-savages.’“ 19 Pipon describes Friday Fletcher October Christian, the son of the mutineer leader Fletcher Christian and his companion, Mauatua, as ‘‘of a brownish cast, but free from that mixture of a reddish tint which prevails on the Pacifick islands’“ (‘‘Mutineers,’“ 397). The article quotes Pipon as being ‘‘ ‘glad to trace in his benevolent countenance all the features of an honest English face’ ‘“ (ibid.). Friday Christian was one of only two men to merit a full-page, hand-drawn portrait in Shillibeer’s account (figure 2). (The other portrait was of ‘‘Patookee, a Friendly Chief in the Island of Nooaheevah.’“)

The accounts’ fascination with the hybridity of the Pitcairners’ racial and linguistic heritage led to a consensus about the significance of Pitcairn for Anglo-European readers. By 1819, the date Sargent published his novel, Pitcairn had been scoped out by the accounts and those who commented on them in periodicals as a site for future evangelism and a base of operations for European Pacific imperialism. As the oft-reprinted commentary from the London Quarterly Review puts it, ‘‘On Pitcairn’s island there are better materials to work upon than Missionaries have yet been so fortunate as to meet with, and the best results may reasonably be expected . . . . The descendants of these people, by keeping up the Otaheitan language, which

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Figure 2. John Shillibeer, Friday Fletcher October Christian, 1817. Shillibeer and other visitors to Pitcairn were fascinated by the inhabitants’ combination of English and Polynesian features. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
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Figure 2.

John Shillibeer, Friday Fletcher October Christian, 1817. Shillibeer and other visitors to Pitcairn were fascinated by the inhabitants’ combination of English and Polynesian features. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

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the present race speak fluently, might be the means of civilizing the multitudes of fine people scattered over the innumerable islands of the Great Pacifick’“ (‘‘Mutineers,’“ 398). The inhabitants of the island, explicitly objectified by being called ‘‘materials’“ rather than people, can serve European Christians as bilingual ambassadors to other Pacific Islands, helping to propel the project of ‘‘civilizing the multitudes.’“ The newspaper reports view Pitcairn as both a target and an agent of empire. 20

Sargent’s American Revision

As an American appropriation of what had been essentially a British story, Sargent’s novel helps us see how the notion of ‘‘empire’“ was developing in the early nineteenth-century United States. Sargent converts a British history into an American utopian projection by making remarkable alterations to the circulating accounts of Pitcairn outlined above. Along the way, Sargent reflects the ways in which early nineteenth-century American expansionism masqueraded, or at least understood itself, as anti-imperial. Alexander Smith represents an early and fascinating literary attempt to distinguish American identity from British—and specifically the American imperial project from British empire.

Through these dramatic alterations, Sargent makes it clear from the [End Page 256] beginning of the novel that he was responding to the contemporary United States as much as to the accounts of Pitcairn circulating in the press, rewriting a history of the United States as much as a history of Pitcairn. Sargent begins his Americanization of the story in the very first sentence of Smith’s narrative: ‘‘I was born in the town of Gloucester, State of Massachusetts’“ (9). Sargent renders Smith a twenty-seven-year-old American who, as he puts it, ‘‘passed myself as an Englishman and only twenty years of age’“ (115–16). Sargent needs Smith to be twenty-seven, rather than the twenty years the historical accounts show, to allow time for the Robinson Crusoe– like adventures that Sargent puts him through before the Bounty’s launch. 21 Of course, Sargent probably transforms his narrator into an American to make his protagonist appeal to an American audience. His strained Americanization of the protagonist echoes John Callander’s silent replacement of some references to ‘‘France’“ with ‘‘England’“ in his 1766 edition of Charles de Brosses’s Terra Australis Cognita, an editorial choice that, as Michelle Burnham points out, reifies the national pride and competitiveness between nations that undergirded the push to explore distant lands. 22 But Sargent does not merely change Smith’s country of birth to glorify the United States; in making Smith an American, Sargent begins to imagine Pitcairn in more American terms, starting with Pitcairn’s government.

Sargent replaces the captains’ accounts of an idealized monarchy with a constitutional utopia. Where little was known about Pitcairn’s initial government, Sargent supplies a retelling of the founding of the United States. In Sargent’s version, Pitcairn loosely follows the United States’ transition from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution: Sargent’s Pitcairn [End Page 257] was at first bound to a loose ‘‘written agreement’“ (133), which was soon supplanted by a more formal ‘‘constitution’“ (190). The constitution imagined by Sargent establishes the terms and duties of major government leaders, voting rights for white males over eighteen, and an electoral college system to be put in place when the voting-eligible population exceeds thirty men.

Like that of the United States, the constitution that Sargent imagines for Pitcairn disenfranchises on the bases of both race and gender. Political agency of any kind for the Polynesian men is not considered or even mentioned as a possibility. Smith further explains, ‘‘The women were to have no voice in the general government . . . . We divided ourselves into two watches, the women taking turns to cook for us, and admitted on a perfect equality with their husbands, excepting the above proviso’“ (134). Since he divides political power (all for men, none for women) and civic duties (surveillance for men, cooking for women) by sex, we may question the grounds of Smith’s assertion of gender equality here. Sargent’s narrative embeds a gender hierarchy within an explicit call for equality by marking female political disenfranchisement and domestic management as a priori, nonnegotiable conditions.

In addition to replacing the historical accounts’ ethno- and theocentric monarchy with a racist and misogynist constitutional republic, Sargent’s novel also represents the forcible kidnappings of the Tahitian women as an unfortunate but necessary first step to the founding of Pitcairn. Sargent, by contrast with the ship captains, has Smith openly acknowledge the deception and force required to ‘‘procure,’“ as Delano had put it, the women. He explains, ‘‘We had each of us a wife on board; neither of them, however, suspecting our intention: and we gave out as an excuse for staying on board, the necessity of preserving the ship, and what remained for her stores, from being plundered by the natives; and that it was also much cooler on board the ship, than on shore’“ (130–31). Though the label wives, of course, implies that the women are willing companions to the mutineers and absolves the men of the charge of rape, Sargent makes Smith frank about the mutineers’ deliberate deception. When the women awake one morning to find themselves at sea, Smith reports, the men must spend a great deal of time ‘‘quieting the fears of our wives, who were much alarmed and affected at leaving their native place’“ (132). Later on the journey, he reports, ‘‘Our wives, it is true, made many lamentations, at leaving the scenes of their youth; but every day they were more reconciled to their fate’“ (137). Ultimately, ‘‘when the deed was done, and they were convinced it was irrevocable, they willingly assisted us to the best of their strength and abilities’“ [End Page 258] (141). Although Sargent has Smith describe the shock and indignation the women experience at their abduction, such indignation is narrated as an unfortunate but inevitable obstacle to the women’s acceptance of their happy fates. Indeed, Sargent represents force as the counterintuitive first step in obtaining consent. As Gillian Brown has shown, Jean-Jacques Rousseau advocated the idea that any withholding of consent by a woman amounts to a coquettish game intended to arouse the pursuing male. 23 Sargent’s novel demonstrates the racialized component that such an idea takes on when transposed onto the Pacific.

The forced but ultimately welcome abduction depicted by Sargent makes visible the imperial operations at the heart of the mutineers’ flight from justice. As Gayatri Spivak explains, ‘‘Imperialism’s (or globalization’s) image as the establisher of the good society is marked by the espousal of the woman as object of protection from her own kind.’“ Sargent’s version of the women’s abduction makes Spivak’s point quite literally; the Polynesian women’s extrication from their homeland, from their friends and families, is an unpleasant but necessary stepping stone toward ‘‘the good society,’“ and the rest of the novel’s action revolves around the mutineers’ continuing to ‘‘protect’“ the women from their ‘‘own kind.’“ The abduction also reinforces Brian Connolly’s observation that early American depictions of hybridity and transnationality do not necessarily disrupt or challenge traditional racial or national hierarchies. In fact, as he points out, in many cases ‘‘the transnational hybrid reinforces a white, nationalist and imperialist body rather than undermining it.’“ Though Sargent locates Pitcairn’s origins in an amalgam of British, American, and Tahitian, men and women, white and Polynesian, the unequal terms of that mixture bolster rather than overthrow racial and gender hierarchies; Sargent produces a hybridity that confirms rather than challenges essentialist racial practices. 24

Indian Removal in the South Pacific

The workings of Sargent’s imperialist vision, however, are most clearly played out through the mutineers’ management of the Polynesian men who join their party. Sargent uses the word Indian to label the Polynesian males, [End Page 259] a semantic slip that not only suggests his elision of the differences between Pacific Islanders and Native Americans, but also shows the unified approach to the plurality of populations that Anglophones gathered under the term Indian. Using the word Indian to label indigenous Pacific Islanders was a common but not universal practice in Sargent’s time. For example, in his Narrative of the Mutiny on the Bounty (1790), a likely source for Sargent’s depiction of the mutiny, William Bligh frequently refers to islanders as Indians. This usage suggests, first, that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travelers, caught up in the taxonomic trends of naturalists and philosophers, perceived physiological similarities between aboriginals of the Pacific Islands and those of the continental Americas. Second, as Brian Rouleau demonstrates, ‘‘Seafarers, political economists, politicians, and the public sphere within which all circulated long spoke of finding ‘Indians’ abroad as a means to both comprehend and conquer exoticism.’“ In addition to being a handy means of familiarizing the strange and rendering legible the foreign, transcribing ‘‘Indian’“ identity transnationally and globally provided justification for the mistreatment of Pacific ‘‘Indians.’“ 25

Sargent’s adoption of this usage of Indian illuminates the ways in which that justification cut both ways: the elision of Indian and Islander indicates Sargent’s motivation for absolving the Pitcairn story of its worst atrocities—to depict an analogue of gentle, benevolent U.S. expansionism. Sargent’s sources bundled the Polynesian males with the women as useful kidnappees, but according to Sargent’s novel, the mutineers accepted the Polynesian males on board the Bounty out of the kindness of their hearts. After the mutineers had already left Tahiti, Smith explains, ‘‘we picked up a canoe with six men in her, belonging to Otaheite. These men had been at sea six days, and were now almost starved with hunger and cold. We could not well refuse their importunity to be taken on board. They had left Otaheite for a neighbouring island; and having lost sight of the land they were perplexed in their course, and had been paddling about in an uncertain direction ever since. I looked upon it a very unfortunate circumstance, that we should be compelled, as it were, by an unavoidable necessity, to receive these people on board, fearing they would make difficulty with our women, they being also of the lower order of society, even at Otaheite’“ (135). This account, I should mention first, is a complete fabrication—no comparable [End Page 260] narrative was published, before or since, of the men’s being adrift or in need of help. What appeared to be an abduction in every other account becomes a generous favor in Sargent’s novel. Sargent concisely introduces an entire range of compelling reasons that, naturally and through no fault of their own, the mutineers might encounter difficulty with ‘‘the Indians’“ (135): the mutineers did not plan to have the men with them; the men are helpless and aimless, ‘‘paddling about in an uncertain direction’“; the men are aggressive toward women; the men are of a lower class than the mutineers. From a narrative standpoint, Sargent is building suspense for the conflict to come; from an ideological perspective, he establishes conflict as an inevitable result of the inherent initial incongruity between the Polynesians and the whites.

It is interesting to note that Sargent’s ideology of racial inequality, however, does not interfere with his idealistic vision of the relationship between white men and Polynesian women on Pitcairn. In his division between the menacing male and accommodating female Polynesians, Sargent roughly confirms the division Roberto Fernández Retamar has discerned in European perceptions of indigenous cultures, between Carib-cannibal and Arawak-Táıno. In Retamar’s analysis, from the time of Christopher Columbus, European utopian thinking divided inhabitants of the Americas into two groups: on the one hand, the Carib Indian was ‘‘a bestial man situated on the margins of civilization, who must be opposed to the very death’“; on the other is the Táıno Indian, a ‘‘peaceful, meek . . . paradisical inhabitant of a utopic world.’“ 26 Sargent deploys these two figures in tandem: the peaceful and voluntary removal of the dissenting ‘‘bestial’“ element clears the way for lasting utopia that incorporates the remaining ‘‘paradisical’“ assimilators. With this strategy, Sargent uses a concept of inherent racial inequality to construct a whiteness with the prerogative, even the duty, either to accommodate or to destroy other racial groups.

Though the newspaper accounts used similar notions of racial inequality and a comparable fascination with miscegenation to discern an ideal path for Anglo-European empire builders to follow in their civilizing missions through Oceania, Sargent’s version codifies a utopian outcome for the expansionism and internal imperialism the United States was concurrently enacting against Native Americans. The paradoxical attitudes that Sargent’s mutineers take toward the Polynesian men—conciliatory and benevolent yet suspicious and hostile—mirror parallel attitudes of the United States [End Page 261] toward Native Americans. Between 1814 and 1819 (the year Sargent published his novel), the United States proclaimed at least fifty treaties with different Native American tribes, many of them negotiating Indian removal and expansion of U.S. lands. In the treaties the cession of Native American lands to the United States is spoken of in two ways: as a punishment for perceived Native American unruliness, and as a mutually beneficial agreement approved of by all. For example, an 1817 treaty with the Cherokee nation states, ‘‘The United States bind themselves in exchange for the lands ceded in the first and second articles hereof, to give to that part of the Cherokee nation on the Arkansas as much land on said river and White river as they have or may hereafter receive from the Cherokee nation east of the Mississippi, acre for acre, as the just proportion due that part of the nation on the Arkansas agreeably to their numbers.’“ The phrases ‘‘just proportion due’“ and ‘‘acre for acre’“ emphasize fair and equitable exchange, and some form of the word agree is used twelve times in the five-page document—everyone appears to be both consenting and benefiting here. 27

By contrast, an 1814 treaty metes out punishment to the Creeks as a sort of penance for sins: ‘‘an unprovoked, inhuman, and sanguinary war, waged by the hostile Creeks against the United States, hath been repelled, prosecuted and determined, successfully, on the part of the said States, in conformity with principles of national justice and honorable warfare’“; furthermore, ‘‘prior to the conquest of that part of the Creek nation hostile to the United States, numberless aggressions had been committed against the peace, the property, and the lives of citizens of the United States, and those of the Creek nation in amity with her.’“ As an unfortunate and involuntary result, ‘‘The United States demand an equivalent for all expenses incurred in prosecuting the war to its termination, by a cession of all the territory belonging to the Creek nation within the territories of the United States.’“ 28 Under this rhetoric, the noble United States is dragged into an unwanted conflict with an inherently evil adversary and can rectify the situation only by assuming responsibility for Creek lands. Taken as a whole, the series of treaties portrays two seemingly contradictory lines of rhetoric as completely reconcilable: on one hand, the treaties represent the tribes’ cession of land as a punishment for Indian hostilities, and on the other hand, Indian [End Page 262] removal is represented as a mutually agreed-on and fair compromise. In The Life of Alexander Smith, Sargent reflects the U.S. suppression of violent expansionist intent evident in the treaties’ rhetoric by denying the coercion and violence that characterized Pitcairn’s founding.

The ship captains quoted in the newspapers, then, depicted the forced servitude of the Polynesian men, which Sargent reinterprets as the benevolence of allowing men on the brink of perishing to become servants. This change may at first seem to be a narrative technique designed to endear the mutineers to the reader and make them sympathetic characters—after all, an underlying theme of the novel is the mutineers’ redemption, their turn to more ethical living after the blunders of the mutiny. As Bill Pearson, the New Zealand scholar and one of the few critics to give attention to The Life of Alexander Smith, puts it, the novel intends for its readers to identify with the mutineers and therefore represents the mutineers sympathetically to flatter the reader. 29 In addition to employing classical narrative technique, though, Sargent’s historical alteration also demarcates the operations of American empire. However nonchalantly they mention it, the periodicals’ versions at the very least admit that the mutineers intentionally brought male servants with them. Those versions demonstrate a feeling of entitlement toward the non-Western world; they do not evince the need to explain why or how the Polynesian men were convinced, coaxed, or forced into servitude, but they anticipate that readers will expect and accept a master-servant relationship between white sailors and Polynesian servants. Sargent, on the other hand, reflects the conviction that subduing foreign populations can be a generous act: the Polynesians are literally starving, unable to find their way, aimlessly paddling around an unnavigable sea, set aright by the enlightened, competent white men who are forced by ethical necessity to assist them. The Other, for Sargent, is not merely naturally in a subordinate position and therefore ready to be used for the benefit of Western society, but instead needs to be subordinated for his own good. Sargent shifts details of the Pitcairn story to establish an exceptionalist narrative of American benevolence and benignity.

Sargent also absolves the mutineers of any blame in the conflict between them and the Polynesian men by altering the population data. He populates the island, first of all, with exactly one Tahitian woman for every white man, plus six unattached Tahitian men (whereas the other historical accounts enumerate nine Englishmen, twelve Polynesian women, and six Polynesian [End Page 263] men). In the novel, one day soon after their landing on Pitcairn, the mutineers perform Anglican wedding ceremonies for each of the nine ‘‘husbands and wives’“ (143), thus symbolically sanctifying this population symmetry. According to Smith, ‘‘there seemed no alloy to our pleasure, except the sulky and discontented appearance of the six Indians’“ (ibid.). Smith carefully explains the reasons for this sulkiness: ‘‘Our native men gave us much trouble and uneasiness; nor could we by any acts of kindness conciliate them in any degree. They had been accustomed to living in a promiscuous intercourse with the women at Otaheite; and the restraints they were obliged to submit to, made them very troublesome and ill natured’“ (144– 45). The men, who are already possessed, ‘‘ours,’“ are unhappy not because of the fact that they are the only people on the island not afforded heterosexual companionship nor because they have been forced to the margins of the tiny society, but actually because they long for the ‘‘promiscuous’“ sexual practices the mutineers’ apparently ethical living has forbidden. Since the Polynesian men represent to Smith not only exotic sexual practices but also, numerically, mere population surplus, the blame for their conflict with the mutineers falls squarely on their own backs. The Polynesian men emerge as an irritating barrier to what would otherwise be a harmonious, equitable utopia.

The other inhabitants of Pitcairn soon find the ‘‘discontented’“ behavior of the Polynesian men too much to bear, so the white male Pitcairners strike on a provisional solution that echoes the U.S. policy of Indian removal: ‘‘We voted them out of our society altogether; giving them a portion of land on the eastern end of the island’“ (145). Again, Sargent absolves the mutineers of any injustice by insisting the exiled men were given ‘‘a full share of every thing necessary to their comfort and subsistence’“ (ibid.). Aside from the social isolation, Smith depicts their exile as benevolent and fair. He adds a caveat, though: ‘‘We there placed them with a positive declaration, if they were ever caught beyond the limits prescribed them we should either of us, feel at perfect liberty to shoot them’“ (ibid.). The benignity of race-based colonial control is undergirded in the novel by the perfect operations of a well-managed security society, the optimization of external conditions that reduces the probability of any instability. Policing the borders of the security society involves, on Sargent’s Pitcairn as in the post-Revolutionary United States, the right of white citizens to murder encroaching ‘‘Indians’“ with impunity. Smith explains that the Polynesian men ‘‘were not pleased with this arrangement, as they were lazy indolent men, and had other views in contemplation’“ (ibid.). Again, Sargent is careful to have Smith note that [End Page 264] the Polynesian men react negatively not because of the injustice of the situation, but, instead, owing to their reported failure to conform to Western standards of virtue—here, industry.

The mutineers soon deem the corralling of the Polynesian men into an isolated ghetto or reservation insufficient protection against possible attacks from them, and they begin to devise ways to make Polynesian male removal more complete. The Englishmen ultimately decide to build them a boat, teach them the rudiments of navigation, and push them out to sea. Sargent’s explanation of the mutineers’ decision to float the ‘‘Indians’“ out to sea echoes both the process and justification of Indian removal policies—the idea of the inherent depravity of a marginalized racial group, the perceived threat of the population to be removed, and the possibility of mutual benefit: Sargent’s Smith explains, ‘‘As they were not worthy to live with us, and our lives were in a continual jeopardy from them, this could not be considered cruel, and might turn out fortunately for the Indians’“ (148). As the treaties do, Sargent’s novel seamlessly combines the language of racial and cultural superiority, national security, and humanitarian benevolence. With the Polynesian men entirely gone, the way is finally cleared for complete Pitcairn bliss, and the novel concludes anticlimactically, with details about the landscape and anecdotes about the ultimate harmony and joy of the society thereafter.

It is worth noting that in Sargent’s version of the Pitcairn tale, the whites’ declared right to shoot the Polynesians with impunity is never exercised: it is not necessary to use explicit force when the population is being successfully managed to maximize security and foreclose on any disobedience. Though Pitcairn runs smoothly in the contemporary newspaper stories because all surviving Polynesians submit to the will of the single white ruler (figure 3), Sargent envisions a different but equally disturbing utopia, in which power is more diffuse and peace depends on vigilant population control. Smith is depicted as a good father in Staines’s account, and Fletcher Christian as a bad one in Pipon’s and Byron’s, but in Sargent’s novel Pitcairn’s success depends on the careful management of its population. As Foucault puts it, the emergence of population as a concept changes the family into ‘‘a privileged instrument for the government of the population rather than a chimerical model for good government.’“ 30 Comparing The Life of Alexander Smith’s representation of good government with his sources dramatizes this shift in thinking. This shift can, in turn, help explain why a text with such

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Figure 3. Frederick Beechey’s portrait of Alexander Smith (pseudonym of John Adams), 1831. Beechey’s portrait of Smith appeared in his popular Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s Strait, first published in London in 1831 (Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1832). Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
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Figure 3.

Frederick Beechey’s portrait of Alexander Smith (pseudonym of John Adams), 1831. Beechey’s portrait of Smith appeared in his popular Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s Strait, first published in London in 1831 (Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1832). Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

[End Page 266]

meticulous attention to racial segregation on the one hand still gladly welcomes a multiracial utopia on the other: what matters here is not maintaining the purity of familial bloodlines, but instead managing the circulation and movement of the population as a whole. The islanders establish a constitution that permits the passage of laws and names a hierarchical ruling body led by a president, but the ruler never actually acts or demonstrates power. The officials pass no laws, except those that regulate the male Polynesians. Harmony is achieved in Sargent’s vision not through Christianization and benevolent paternalism, as in the source accounts, but through population management. Pitcairn’s male-to-female ratio, perfectly equalized by the male Polynesians’ isolation and ultimate departure, exemplifies the political project of a security society and mirrors concurrent U.S. attempts to manage the continental population through Indian removal.

Removal, of course, was not the only proposed or practiced solution to U.S.–Native American conflict during Sargent’s time, and Sargent’s division between the menacing male Polynesians and the helpful contented females allows him to rehearse both models of population management: removal and assimilation. As Karen M. Gagne has put it, ‘‘Indian loving and Indian hating constitute two sides of the same racialization of the indigenous populations of the Americas, as well as two sides in the racialization of the colonizers.’“ 31 Sargent splits Retamar’s Carib-Táıno and Gagne’s Indian loving-hating dichotomies precisely along gender lines. Because of the inherent incongruity between men and women, implied by Sargent’s dismissal of the possibility of full political and economic citizenship for women, the racial divide does not resonate as plangently in the novel between Polynesian women and white men; the Polynesian men alone register as racially Other threats, subject to removal, while the desirable and ultimately docile women emerge as appropriate subjects for assimilation. Thus, Sargent creates representatives of both tools of population management concurrently being deployed on the North American continent.

The Violence of Utopia

The Pitcairn flag imagined by Sargent provides a fitting symbol of this population management model. The assimilated women design and sew it with ‘‘two red and white longitudinal stripes, with a blue union, containing eighteen stars; nine red, and nine white. Its signification was very evident and very appropriate’“ (200). Under the same logic that permitted Sargent [End Page 267] to call the Polynesian men ‘‘Indians,’“ perhaps the red stars are meant to represent the Polynesian women, racially ‘‘red’“ in the same way the men were demarcated ‘‘Indian.’“ Presumably, then, the flag signifies the unity between the white male and the Polynesian female citizens. But what stands out here is Sargent’s revision of the hard population data. Sargent’s fictional, female-sewn flag, with its nine red and nine white stars, reflects Sargent’s imagining a utopian symmetry in numbers—one acquiescent female for every white male.

Essentially, Sargent uses Pitcairn as a laboratory for a historically specific and racialized vision of social engineering. The radical revisions Sargent makes to the historical record not only transpose a myth of American political founding onto the island, but also normalize the U.S. disenfranchisement of Native American tribes by replicating and idealizing it on a remote Pacific island. Furthermore, this transposition and normalization suggests a way forward for U.S. territorial expansion—into the Pacific—well before the United States even annexed the land that would become the American Pacific Coast. Sargent establishes geographical ghettoization and banishment as effective and harmless means of managing populations; whereas miscegenation is permitted with populations that assimilate, the removal of undesirable racial groups is represented as an excusable response to scarce resources (in this case, women). The ship captains and their newspaper commentators nominate Pitcairn as a base for Euro-Christian evangelical imperialism; Sargent, on the other hand, secularizes the Pitcairn story and uses the island as a platform for reconstructing the American founding myth and for recalibrating American security priorities. Sargent’s vision uncovers the gender and racial hierarchies enfolded into conceptually egalitarian Enlightenment political ideals and exemplifies the ways in which national mythmaking can represent a purified democracy by muting the racial and gender domination that enables it. [End Page 268]

Talia Argondezzi
Ursinus College

I am deeply grateful to the many thoughtful readers of earlier drafts of this article, especially Denise Comer, Michael Ennis, James Berkey, Lindsey W. Smith, and Kathleen Millar; my two anonymous reviewers at Early American Studies; and my students, too numerous to name, who proved gentle but incisive workshoppers. Research for this article was made possible by a generous grant from the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University. I also thank the librarians at the Pitcairn Islands Study Center for their hospitality.


1. Charles Lenox Sargent, The Life of Alexander Smith (Boston: Sylvester T. Goss, 1819). In subsequent references, I will cite the novel parenthetically.

2. John Ward Dean, George Folsom, John Gilmary Shea, Henry Reed Stiles, and Henry Barton Dawson, eds., The Historical Magazine and Notes and Queries Concerning the Antiquities, History and Biography of America, vol. 5 (New York: Charles B. Richardson & Co., 1861), 286.

3. Greg H. Williams, The French Assault on American Shipping, 1793–1813: A History and Comprehensive Record of Merchant Marine Losses (Jefferson, N.C.: Mc-Farland, 2009), 129; Joseph E. Garland, The Fish and the Falcon: Gloucester’s Resolute Role in America’s Fight for Freedom (Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2006), 262.

4. Many thanks to the Cape Ann Museum’s archivist, Stephanie Buck, for bringing Sargent’s notebook about the Gloucester sea serpent to my attention. Charles Lenox Sargent, A System of General Signals for Night and Day Whereby Merchant Vessels May Communicate at a Distance by Means of the Common Colours of the Ship, and with Four Lanterns by Night, without Going Out of Their Course (Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1817).

5. Adams’s reasons for assuming a pseudonym when he signed the Bounty ledger remain unknown, but he probably intended to elude detection for some crime. In the interest of simplicity, I will refer to John Adams, alias Alexander Smith, as ‘‘Smith’“ throughout the essay, even though various accounts refer to him by different names, depending on how he identified himself to visiting ships.

6. See, for example, ‘‘List of New Publications,’“ Ladies Port Folio 1, no. 1 (January 1, 1820): 7. The North American Review listed the novel more advantageously as ‘‘The Life of Alexander Smith, Captain of the Island of Pitcairn, one of the mutineers on board Ship Bounty, written by himself ‘“; the novel is listed there under ‘‘Biography’“ rather than ‘‘Miscellaneous,’“ which suggests the magazine considered it nonfiction. ‘‘Quarterly List of American Publications,’“ North American Review and Miscellaneous Journal 1, no. 2 (April 1820): 463.

7. The review, in fact, is titled ‘‘Modern Robinson Crusoe,’“ rather than anything referring to Pitcairn Island or the Bounty mutineers. ‘‘Modern Robinson Crusoe,’“ Ladies’ Literary Cabinet, Being a Repository of Miscellaneous Literary Productions, both Original and Selected in Prose and Verse 1, no. 6 (December 18, 1819): 44–45.

8. Thomas Philbrick, James Fenimore Cooper and the Development of American Sea Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), 35–36. Cathy Davidson, Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 257. Paul Lyons, American Pacificism: Oceania in the U.S. Imagination (New York: Routledge, 2006), 220n14. Henri Petter, The Early American Novel (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1971), 291. Among the historians of Pitcairn who do not mention The Life of Alexander Smith are Robert W. Kirk, Pitcairn Island, the Bounty Mutineers, and Their Descendants: A History (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2008); Trevor Lummis, Pitcairn Island: Life and Death in Eden (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing, 1997); and Robert Nicolson, The Pitcairners (1965; repr., Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1997).

9. Amy Kaplan, ‘‘‘Left Alone with America’: The Absence of Empire in the Study of American Culture,’“ in Kaplan and Donald E. Pease, eds., Cultures of United States Imperialism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 4. Jack Ericson Eblen, The First and Second United States Empires: Governors and Territorial Government, 1784–1912 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968). John Carlos Rowe, Literary Culture and U.S. Imperialism: From the Revolution to World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 15. Andy Doolen, Fugitive Empire: Locating Early American Imperialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), xv; emphases in original.

10. Rob Wilson and Arif Dirlik, eds., Asia/Pacific as Space of Cultural Production (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995). Lyons, American Pacificism, 8. Ernest Renan, ‘‘What Is a Nation?’“ in Homi K. Bhabha, ed., Nation and Narration (New York: Routledge, 1990), 8–22. For other scholars’ provocative work on the interactions between Pacific and United States cultures, see John R. Eperjesi, The Imperialist Imaginary: Visions of Asia and the Pacific in American Culture (Lebanon, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2005), which provides postcolonial readings of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature set in Asia and the Pacific; Jeffrey Geiger, Facing the Pacific: Polynesia and the U.S. Imperial Imagination (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007), which focuses mainly on the early twentieth century; and Arrell Morgan Gibson, Yankees in Paradise: The Pacific Basin Frontier (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993), which charts U.S. economic and military interests in the Pacific.

11. Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977–78, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

12. Pitcairn’s early history is recounted in Kirk, Pitcairn Island, 46–60, and in Andrew Lewis, ‘‘Pitcairn’s Tortured Past: A Legal History,’“ in Dawn Oliver, ed., Justice, Legality and the Rule of Law: Lessons from the Pitcairn Prosecutions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 39–62.

13. Seventh-day Adventist missionaries successfully converted the islanders in the 1880s and 1890s (Lewis, ‘‘Pitcairn’s Tortured Past,’“ 56). Today Pitcairn is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom with a population of less than fifty.

14. ‘‘Art. II. [Rev. of] Voyage de Dentrecasteaux, envoyé à la recherche de La Pérouse, publié par ordre de Sa Majesté l’empereur et roi, sous le Ministère de S. E. le vice-amiral Decrès, comte de l’empire,’“ Quarterly Review 3, no. 5 (February 1810): 21–34. This first report did not attract much attention, perhaps because of the tension mounting between the United States and Great Britain at the time. The notice of Folger’s report that appeared in the Quarterly Review appended this caveat: ‘‘If this interesting relation rested solely on the faith that is due to Americans, with whom, we say it with regret, truth is not always considered as a moral obligation, we should hesitate in giving it this publicity’“ (24).

15. L., ‘‘Art. 4. [Rev. of] A Narrative of the Briton’s Voyage to Pitcairn’s Island, by Lieutenant J. Shillibeer, R.M.,’“ American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review 2, no. 1 (November 1817): 14.

16. ‘‘The Mutineers of the Bounty, from The Quarterly Review,’“ Weekly Recorder 2, no. 50 (July 10, 1816): 397. Originally from the London Quarterly Review, ‘‘The Mutineers of the Bounty’“ was the narrative most frequently reprinted in the United States; it synthesizes and comments on several different sources. It also appeared, under various titles, in the Christian Observer (1815), National Register (June 8, 1816), Religious Intelligencer (June 8, 1816), and Boston Recorder (October 31, 1818). I will cite this article parenthetically hereafter as ‘‘Mutineers.’“ Folger’s, Staines’s, Pipon’s, Shillibeer’s, and Delano’s accounts were available during Sargent’s time in a wide variety of forms, often as separate monographs. In this article I quote from excerpts and summaries published in contemporary U.S. periodicals, since I consider Sargent most likely to have encountered the narratives that way. Though I could not ascertain Sargent’s exact whereabouts while he was researching and writing this novel, since both of his books (The Life of Alexander Smith and the 1817 navigation treatise) were published in Boston, and he was granted a patent in 1817 in Suffolk County, Mass., it is likely Sargent lived in Boston and had access to both the Christian Observer and the Boston Recorder, among other periodicals.

17. See also Lieut. Shillibeer, ‘‘Shillibeer’s Voyage to Pitcairn’s Island,’“ Atheneum; or, Spirit of the English Magazines 2, no. 11 (March 2, 1818): 419.

18. Delano is quoted in ‘‘Inhabitants of Pitcairn’s Island,’“ Christian Disciple 5, no. 12 (December 5, 1817): 358.

19. ‘‘[Review of] A Narrative of the Briton’s Voyage to Pitcairn’s Island by Lieutenant Shillibeer, R.N.’“ Critical Review; or, Annals of Literature 5 (May 1817): 456.

20. My purpose is to compare Sargent’s novel with his likely sources, but I should note that new narratives of the Pitcairn story continued to be published throughout the nineteenth century. Dozens of ships called at Pitcairn in the decades following the publication of The Life of Alexander Smith, and many calls resulted in the publication of notices. Most notably, after being published in the Sydney Gazette in July 1819, an article began circulating in British and American periodicals that retold Pitcairn’s history from the perspective of Teehuteatuaonoa, or ‘‘Jenny,’“ the companion of the mutineer Isaac Martin (sometimes recorded as ‘‘Madden’“). Teehuteatuaonoa had left Pitcairn aboard the American whaler Sultan in 1817. ‘‘Jenny’s Story,’“ as the account became known, is recounted in the third person by an amanuensis and confirms previous accounts, but it includes the original names of the Polynesian Pitcairners. The account ends rather ominously with the amanuensis’s recommendation that Pitcairners be recruited as docile laborers: ‘‘Jenny says they would all like to go to Taheiti or Eimao. We were thinking that they would be a great acquisition at Opunohu alongside of the sugar works, as they have been accustomed to labor, for the Taheitans will not labor for any payment.’“ ‘‘Varieties. Pitcairn’s Island,’“ Atheneum; or, Spirit of the English Magazines 6, no. 11 (March 1, 1820): 442. An extended account, purportedly in Teehuteatuaonoa’s transcribed words, appeared in 1829: ‘‘Pitcairn Island—The Bounty’s Crew,’“ United States Service Magazine, pt. 2 (1829): 589–93. The most popular account of Pitcairn appeared as two chapters in Frederick Beechey’s Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s Strait (Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1832).

21. Before getting to the Bounty and the Pitcairn adventures promised in the novel’s title, Sargent imagines a series of remarkable adventures for Smith: he spends some unsatisfactory time in the British colonial army in Canada; defects to become a professional sailor; is shipwrecked alone on an island in the South Pacific for four years; escapes by building a ship by hand and sailing it to a Dutch-controlled part of Western India; joins a sealing expedition; and is shipwrecked again in the South Pacific, this time with a companion named G. and for only four months. Finally he constructs a ship for the Tla-o-qui-aht chief Wickaninnish but then steals it and returns to England in it. From England he joins the crew of the ill-fated Bounty. As Henri Petter has pointed out, the numbers do not work out: even placing the fictional Smith’s American birth in 1760, Sargent still cannot allot Smith quite enough time for all these adventures. According to the math of Sargent’s novel, Smith would have left the unnamed deserted island in 1788—one year after the actual launching of the Bounty (Petter, Early American Novel, 303n25).

22. Michelle Burnham, ‘‘Trade, Time, and the Calculus of Risk in Early Pacific Travel Writing,’“ Early American Literature 46, no. 3 (2011): 430.

23. Gillian Brown, ‘‘Consent, Coquetry, and Consequences,’“ American Literary History 9, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 625–52.

24. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 291. Brian Connolly, ‘‘Intimate Atlantics: Toward a Critical History of Transnational Early America,’“ Common-Place 11, no. 2 (January 2011): 5,

25. William Bligh, Narrative of the Mutiny of the Bounty, on a Voyage to the South Seas (London: William Smith, 1838), 31, 36, 42, 44, 53. Brian Rouleau, ‘‘Maritime Destiny as Manifest Destiny: American Commercial Expansionism and the Idea of the Indian,’“ Journal of the Early Republic 30, no. 3 (Fall 2010): 411.

26. Roberto Fernández Retamar, Caliban and Other Essays, trans. Edward Baker (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 7, 6.

27. ‘‘Treaty with the Cherokee,’“ July 8, 1817, 7 Stat., 156, Proclamation, December 26, 1817, in Charles J. Kappler, ed., Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904), 2:142.

28. ‘‘Treaty with the Creeks,’“ August 9, 1814, 7 Stat., 120, Proclamation, February 16, 1815, in Kappler, Indian Affairs, 2:107–8.

29. Bill Pearson, Rifled Sanctuaries: Some Views of the Pacific Islands in Western Literature to 1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 40.

30. Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 105.

31. Karen M. Gagne, ‘‘Falling in Love with Indians: The Metaphysics of Becoming America,’“ CR: The New Centennial Review 3, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 207.

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