- Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690–1763 by Jeffers Lennox
In Homelands and Empires, Jeffers Lennox tells the important story of the eighteenth-century struggle for control of the Dawnland, today extending through Canada’s Maritime Provinces and the American state of Maine. The Wabanaki nations were among the first in North America to interact with Europeans, beginning in the fifteenth century. But long after imperial expansion intruded westward, the region remained governed by Indigenous polities, even as Britain and France continued to wrestle for possession of it. Lennox argues that the Dawnland region was central to eighteenth-century imperial conflicts and diplomatic negotiations because both Britain and France recognized the strategic value in controlling the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and access to the rich coastal fisheries. However, as his analysis reveals, these imperial claims rested on a shaky geographic understanding of a place the French called Acadia and the British, Nova Scotia. On the maps that diplomats proffered to one another as they argued over its boundaries, Lennox notes, the region “grew and shrank over time, ebbing and flowing like the Fundy tides, often seasonal, fleeting, temporary” (4). And outside of diplomatic salons where maps proclaimed sovereignty, the Wabanaki nations—including the Mi’kmaq, Wulstukwiuk, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot peoples— defended themselves against imperial intrusions into their homelands and insisted that representatives of empire respect Indigenous protocols and laws. Lennox persuasively shows how the Wabanaki nations remained in control of at least most of their lands until 1763, meaning that those graphic assertions of imperial cartographers were more fiction than fact.
Homelands and Empires is an accessible book that builds on other works probing the limits of imperial power, such as Michael Witgen’s An Infinity of Nations and Michael A. McDonnell’s Masters of Empire.1 Lennox shows that the Wabanaki confederacy was as active as the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunees, the Dakotas, and others in protecting their lands and working to ensure their own future. The book is organized chronologically in six lively chapters, covering the period from 1690 to 1763. Lennox successfully weaves complex imperial, settler, and Indigenous histories together while keeping the strands individually coherent. Chapter 1, “Neighbours in the Homeland,” describes the [End Page 149] 1690 English intrusion into Mi’kma’ki. By 1690, the Mi’kmaqs had forged alliance relationships with the French that respected Wabanaki law; as a result the Mi’kmaqs had made room in Mi’kma’ki for a few Acadian settlers and the small French fort of Port Royal. In that year, Port Royal was captured by the British. Returned to the French through the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, the fort was recaptured by Britain in 1710. But though debates over Acadia’s future were front and center at imperial negotiating tables during this period, Lennox demonstrates that the Dawnland “remained firmly under the control of [its] Indigenous inhabitants” (32); neither Britain nor France exercised effective control on the ground beyond the gates of their outposts.
In chapter 2, “Mapping the Spoils of Peace,” Lennox probes the impact that the end of the War of the Spanish Succession had on the region. Though the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht formally handed Acadia to the British, Lennox shows again how imagined this claim really was. He then lays the groundwork for one of the central questions French and British contemporary diplomats continued to debate and one his book explores in subsequent chapters: what exactly were the formal boundaries of Acadia, especially as the Treaty of Utrecht was so vague on the subject? As he shows, however, this imperial exercise had little impact on people in the Dawnland. Instead, the British found they needed their own alliance relationships with the Wabanaki confederacy. This was the diplomacy that really mattered, and it resulted in a peace treaty signed in 1725 in Boston with the southern Wabanaki nations and ratified in 1726 by the...