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  • The Mid-Atlantic and Beyond
  • Maxine N. Lurie (bio)
Mark L. Thompson. The Contest for the Delaware Valley: Allegiance, Identity, and Empire in the Seventeenth Century. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013. 288pp. Map, notes, and index. $48.00.
Daniel K. Richter. Trade, Land, Power: The Struggle for Eastern North America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 328pp. Illustrations, maps, notes and index. $45.00 (both cloth and e-book).

The two books under review reflect the emphasis of much recent scholarship in early American history. One examines the Delaware River Valley while facing east, connecting it to the larger Atlantic world, and the other while largely looking west into Indian country. Mark L. Thompson’s study, based on his dissertation at Johns Hopkins University, is the work of a new scholar; while Daniel K. Richter’s is a collection of essays from 1983 to the present, reflecting the long career of this preeminent historian. The Contest for the Delaware Valley is a monograph on the interaction between and conflicting claims of the Dutch, Swedes, English, and Native Americans during the seventeenth century in the mid-Atlantic region. The scope of Trade, Land, Power is much broader, both in terms of geography and chronology, as it ranges from the Atlantic coast into what is now the Midwest; from the Spanish appearance in the Chesapeake in 1561 to the encounter of several Pennsylvania Quakers with Indians in 1804. Thompson ends with the optimistic view that, by 1700, various now-ethnic groups (no longer nations) had learned to peacefully coexist “in harmony and affection” in a region increasingly British. Richter presents a dismal and depressing tale of Native Americans misunderstood and mistreated for more than two centuries. And yet the two books can appropriately be considered together because they both represent the expansion of historical perspectives and what has been learned by historians in recent years. Interestingly, William Penn is an important figure for both authors. For Thompson, his arrival on the scene signifies the transition from one period to another; for Richter, he symbolizes what might have been (peace), even when this is seen as myth, or at least a goal never achieved by Penn’s sons and the settlers of Pennsylvania. [End Page 14] Most of all, though, both authors are discussing the multiple nations and peoples fighting over trade, land, and power in the region.

The dust jacket for Thompson’s book heralds it as “the first major examination of the diverse European efforts to colonize the Delaware Valley.” Many pieces of this story, though, are not new: they appear in the early histories about seventeenth-century Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, as well as of the Dutch, Swedish, and English colonization of North America.1 What is new, however, is his use of the contest over the Delaware River Valley as the organizing principle, along with the formidable linguistic skills of a new generation trained to take a broader perspective. He has used Dutch, Swedish, English, and even German and French sources. These sources enable him to discuss the long conflict in the valley among the various imperial powers as well as between them and the Native Americans of the region. Control in the seventeenth century shifted from one to another, and sometimes back again, seen in three invasions and three peaceful takeovers. In all, ten colonies were involved at one time or another. Thompson is at his best in describing the alternatively cooperating and fighting relationship between the Dutch and Swedes and in explaining the history of New Sweden, both in its European and American contexts. The activities of the Dutch on what they considered the “south” river (the “north river”—now called the Hudson—being where most of their efforts were concentrated), the efforts of the West Indies Company, and the impact of failed Dutch settlements elsewhere (for example, in Brazil) is evaluated. Fur-seeking New England merchants from the New Haven colony make a brief appearance, with the Indians a more constant presence. The reader comes away with a good sense of how tiny and precarious these early settlements were, and how difficult life was for those (especially the Finns) who...


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