- New Ways Out:Reaching Beyond the Academy and the Coast
Although Kathleen DuVal's Independence Lost focuses on the Gulf Coast, while Alan Taylor's American Revolutions tackles the entire American Revolution, the two overlap more than enough to merit comparison. Both seek to complicate our collective memory of Patriots fighting Redcoats by also seeking to convey the perspectives of Loyalists, African Americans, women (kindling hopes that the upcoming sestercentennnial will also be a sistercentennnial), and Native Americans. The friendly ghost of Richard White looms over both authors, each of whom responded to his Middle Ground in the title of a previous book, Taylor's Divided Ground and DuVal's Native Ground. Like White, DuVal calls her chapter on the 1780s "Confederacies"; Taylor discusses the same decade under the rubric "Confederations."1
In what may be their two most significant similarities, American Revolutions and Independence Lost emphasize the same region and target the same audience. Publishing with commercial, not academic, presses, both authors seek to reach beyond academia. Yet, unlike most trade books on the American Revolutionary era, both range far beyond "the thirteen colonies," especially to the regions south of Georgia and west of the Appalachian Mountains, on the radical presumption that everybody matters. [End Page 547]
Early Americanists know their period was diverse and syncretic, but few non-specialists do. DuVal helps bridge that gap by pointing out (just to take one example) that the Spaniards in the 1,300-man Spanish army that marched north from New Orleans in September 1779 to attack Baton Rouge and other British towns on the Mississippi were actually outnumbered by Cajun and free black militiamen; Houma, Alabama, and Choctaw warriors; U.S. Whigs; and former residents of West Florida who had fled to Spanish Louisiana after the British empire failed to protect them from assailants like those with whom they now marched.
One of White's central arguments in Middle Ground was that Native Americans, long depicted as merely the victims of white encroachment, were actually forces to be reckoned and negotiated with. In Native Ground, DuVal argued that natives were even more influential than White had realized, and in Independence Lost, she assembles additional evidence for native agency and shares it with a wider audience. Case in point: While even many trade books about the American Revolution note the Indians' anger at the British peace negotiators who blithely signed the entire region east of the Mississippi River over to the United States, DuVal shows that southern Indian leaders took a further, crucial step: They declared the cession void.2
In both of her books, DuVal threads the needle between depicting Native Americans actively trying to shape their own destiny and at the same time acknowledging their ultimate fate. But as is evident from the much darker title of the new volume, her emphasis has shifted, no doubt because her target audience has. Raining on the Fourth of July parade, she points out that the Revolution harmed at least as many people as it helped. Most glaringly, in the Gulf Coast hinterland—the Deep South east of the Mississippi—confederacies of native villages gave way to slavelabor camps. As members of the privileged race, white women benefited from the American Revolution, but as females, they witnessed the spread of English-style coverture to regions where French and Spanish as well as native law had allowed married women to own property. And like all wars, this one churned up a host of deadly diseases.3 [End Page 548]
White and other scholars, most notably Mechal Sobel and Nancy Shoemaker, have demonstrated that early America's panoply of ethnic groups were not as different as most people today imagine, and that is another message DuVal seeks to convey to the general public. Implicitly disputing the concept of race, she notes that the Chickasaws during the Revolutionary War and the United States afterwards both pursued peace with most other nations but alliance with none. And she highlights the striking similarity between Alexander McGillivray's campaign to strengthen the Creek confederacy (vis à vis other nations as well as its own constituent towns) and white Americans' decision to replace the Articles of Confederation...