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  • Paper Sovereigns: Anglo-Native Treaties and the Law of Nations, 1604–1664 by Jeffrey Glover
  • David J. Silverman (bio)
Paper Sovereigns: Anglo-Native Treaties and the Law of Nations, 1604–1664
jeffrey glover
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014

Treaties have always been a favorite topic of scholars of Indian-colonial relations, and it is no wonder why. Whereas so many aspects of Indian-colonial exchange have gone undocumented or underdocumented, treaty making has produced an enormous paper trail, rivaled perhaps only by missionary work and trade. Yet the bulk of this scholarship has focused on the conduct of formal diplomacy and the Indian land cessions produced by it, particularly during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This includes the most recent statement on the subject by Colin Calloway, the aptly titled Pen and Ink Witchcraft (2013). Jeffrey Glover’s first book, Paper Sovereigns, makes some important contributions to this literature. First, it calls attention to the earliest English-Indian and, to a lesser extent, Dutch-Indian, treaties in the Chesapeake, New England, and lower Hudson River [End Page 502] Valley during the seventeenth century. Second, it challenges popular conceptions that Europeans’ ethnocentrism made them dismissive of Indian protocols and instead argues that colonists showed respect for and carefully documented Indian ways of marking agreement. Third, it contends that colonial attention to Indian political customs had less to do with cultural relativism and more to do with convincing royal authorities and imperial rivals that indigenous people consented to colonial possession of native land or rights to trade. Finally, it doubles as a survey of Indian ways of diplomacy, though this purpose consistently takes a backseat to questions of colonial concerns and European audiences.

Glover organizes Paper Sovereigns chronologically around several case studies and presents his findings in crystal clear expository prose. It opens with two chapters on events from early Virginia: Christopher Newport’s crowning of Powhatan (or Wuhunsunacawh), and the kidnapping of Pocahontas followed by her marriage to John Rolfe and visit to London. Chapters 3 through 5 shift to the Northeast, examining Plymouth’s production of treaties backed by the threat of gun violence, fur traders’ attempts to claim water rights through Indian commercial alliances, and finally the efforts of Rhode Islanders Roger Williams and Samuel Gorton to gain recognition from London and thwart encroachment by Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut by touting their colony’s friendship with the Narragansetts. Though Glover does not argue that these treaties built on one another through time, the chronological flow carries the reader through the evolving domestic and imperial politics of England that shaped these accounts. He begins with the early seventeenth century when Spain was a threat to England’s overseas colonies, proceeds to the mid-seventeenth century when the English turned their attention to rivalries with the French and Dutch, and ends with factious disputes within the English colonial ranks. Glover sometimes resorts to excessive grandstanding (such as repeatedly announcing “I argue,” “this book will show,” “this chapter considers,” etc.), but the method is effective at keeping the reader on track.

Though some scholars (most famously, Francis Jennings) see treaties as little more than underhanded colonial attempts to swindle Indian land, Glover contends that the English of the 1600s tried to represent Indians speaking for themselves in order to solidify English claims. The English took this approach to appeal to the consensus ad idem deriving from Roman law, which stipulated that treaties should extend from voluntary [End Page 503] agreement between parties. Drawing up accounts reflecting such a meeting of the minds was supposed to legitimize English claims against the Spanish, French, and Dutch, convince London that colonies were expanding with justice to indigenous people, and secure metropolitan approval for heretofore unauthorized colonies like Plymouth and Rhode Island. Glover’s definition of treaty might be too broad for some readers. It includes not only signed or marked statements of diplomatic agreement but colonial-authored accounts of a range of formal and informal political interactions published in such forms as pamphlets, promotional tracts, land deeds, and histories. Glover’s position is that because colonial producers intended these writings to serve as representations of treaties to European audiences, we...


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pp. 502-506
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