Abstract

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.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0895
Print ISSN
1543-4273
Pages
pp. 241-268
Launched on MUSE
2014-05-07
Open Access
No
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