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  • Fort CongareeA Cosmopolitan Outpost on the Rim of Empire
  • James A. Stewart (bio) and Charles R. Cobb (bio)

Fort Congaree, an English outpost built in 1718 on the Carolina frontier, was in use only for about four years (fig. 1). While conceived with defense of the colony in mind, it was planned primarily as a factor for the deerskin trade and for redeveloping an economy devastated by the Yamasee War, which began in 1715. Carolina, founded in 1670, constituted a major extension of the British Empire into southeastern North America. The colony's strategy was distinctive for the relative lack of attention to fortifications, except along the coast as a defense against seaborne incursions from Spanish Florida.1 Not until the Yamasee War did the English feel the need to develop a systematic ring of interior fortifications to protect the colony's coastal settlements. The surprise attack by erstwhile Indian allies of the colony did not change perspectives toward the importance of Indians as trade partners and military allies—it merely altered who was considered friendly and who was not. Following the hostilities, Fort Congaree and other frontier outposts became important venues for the development of an era of renewed relations with Native Americans following the hostilities.

Located about 175 kilometers (108 miles) from Charles Town, the short-lived Fort Congaree became a crossroads for trade and interaction. We have only a modest amount of archaeological data for Fort Congaree. Nevertheless, the historical accounts complemented by archaeological investigations help to illustrate the ways in which small outposts may have become active participants in the so-called Consumer Revolution despite being situated on the rim of empire. As a hub for the deerskin trade, Fort Congaree was regularly visited by Cherokees and other Indigenous groups from the Appalachians and [End Page 29] Piedmont. As the archival record amply demonstrates, the outpost hosted several distinct groups from within the British Empire, including colonial militia, British regulars, enslaved Africans, Jacobite prisoners, and tax scofflaws. The setting and flow of peoples created a local instantiation of the worldwide dimensions of imperialism. We rely on this pluralism to emphasize how frontier forts could play a fundamental role in the emergence of cosmopolitanism in the British Empire.

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Fig. 1.

Fort Congaree and other key installations built in the wake of the Yamasee War.

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the consumer revolution and cosmopolitanism

Archaeological studies of frontier outposts frequently contradict assumptions we might have about an isolated life distant from the hubbub of colonial capitals and towns. Although these forts were often relegated outdated armaments,2 other realms of material culture reflect a strong participation in the broader circulation of contemporary [End Page 30] goods throughout an empire. Michael Coe has documented a wide range of de rigueur accouterments moving toward eighteenth-century Massachusetts frontier forts, even though the transport of goods would have required grueling journeys over challenging terrain with oxen-drawn wagons.3 Archaeology at an earlier seventeenth-century installation on the Hudson River, Fort Orange (in present-day Albany, New York), revealed that Dutch residents also acquired a range of goods representative of contemporary trends in the Netherlands.4 Clothing orders from the presidio in San Francisco, despite being almost 9,500 kilometers (5,900 miles) from Spain, demonstrate a sophisticated acquaintance with the latest styles ushered in by the Bourbon monarchy.5

To some extent, we can attribute the successful percolation of contemporary commodities throughout the eighteenth century to the emergence of the Consumer Revolution.6 This concept has been very useful for archaeological explorations of the rise of a consumer class competitively engaged in social display and emulation, all made possible by large advances in productivity (especially in England).7 The continuing growth of the Consumer Revolution seems to have been particularly successful in spurring a notion of cosmopolitanism outside of the metropole, as advances in logistics and transport facilitated the movement of commodities and finished goods to all corners of the empire.

The notion of "cosmopolitanism" has gained considerable currency in anthropology as a means of explaining many of...


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