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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Winter 2017, Vol. 15.1

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“This is that which … they call Wampum”: Europeans Coming to Terms with Native Shell Beads

Paul Otto

The Native American–European encounter created a multitude of opportunities for understanding and misunderstanding. Linguistic and cultural barriers contributed to the complexity of cross-cultural understanding. In the case of tubular shell beads known today as wampum, Europeans sought a suitable term to describe the unfamiliar cultural goods that served Native people in ways unfamiliar to Europeans. The French, Dutch, and English experimented with diverse terms—both Native and European—eventually settling on porcelaine, sewant, and wampum, respectively. In doing so, they drew on their linguistic and cultural backgrounds while coming to terms with the Native American languages they encountered. A study of these cross-cultural interactions reveals the nuances and the limits of European understanding, and it demonstrates the cultural linguistic legacy of European colonization.

Creating an Unfree Hinterland: Merchant Capital, Bound Labor, and Market Production in Eighteenth-century Massachusetts

Jared Ross Hardesty

In the 1720s and 1730s, a number of Boston merchants purchased rural property in the town’s hinterland. In these estates we see the transformative power of capital and slavery in colonial New England. Boston merchants reached into the countryside, purchased already improved land, equipped their farms with the latest agricultural technology, engaged in large-scale production, and employed slave labor to extract the fruits of the land, thus transforming Boston’s hinterland into one of drudgery and unfreedom. By positioning capital and slaves at the center of the New England economy, this study demonstrates there was a visible, albeit limited, slave economy in the middle decades of the eighteenth century that allowed a few wealthy Bostonians to deliberately reshape the countryside using their wealth and bound labor. Merchant capital, in short, had the potential to reconfigure how—and the way historians should think about how—the New England rural economy functioned and its relationship with the wider Atlantic world.

“The Provincials will work like Giants”: British Imperialism, American Colonial Troops, and Trans-Atlantic Labor Economics during the Seven Years’ War

Thomas Agostini

This essay addresses an existing historiographical paradox, explaining why British commanders—who in their correspondence typically dismissed American provincial soldiers as disputatious amateurs—consistently pressed colonial assemblies for extensive numbers of these troops during the Seven Years’ War. Previous scholarship has shown that provincials mutinied more frequently, earned greater pay, and usually served in auxiliary roles while on campaigns—since army officers preferred to reserve their own redcoats for combat. Although the conflict represented the first time that large formations of regulars were deployed in the North American interior, no study has fully explored how economic factors affected attempts to acquire support for such operations. As this paper shows, though imperial administrators failed to anticipate how the relative scarcity and high price of labor and transportation in the colonies would frustrate efforts to replicate standing logistical methods practiced in Europe—where officials simply located and hired adequate numbers of workers locally—they also badly misjudged the wholly unprecedented costs entailed in fielding a large professional army across the Atlantic. Thus, despite provincials’ evident faults, their use conferred a double benefit to the empire: substituting them for hired civilian personnel not only enabled regular units to obtain sufficient levels of local support, but also offset some of the sizable expenses generated by the army, since American legislatures ultimately paid most of the costs of their own troops.

“Of One Hart and One Mind”: Local Institutions and Allegiance during the American Revolution

Christopher F. Minty

This essay examines the dynamic between local institutions and allegiance during the American Revolution. It focuses on how committees of safety and the British army affected colonists’ behavior in Brookhaven, New York. Between 1775 and 1778, these New Yorkers’ allegiances ostensibly shifted as their wartime circumstances changed. In 1775, as Brookhaven’s committee of safety monitored colonists’ behavior, a significant number of its male inhabitants signed the Continental Association. Yet in 1778, surrounded by an intimidating military and political presence, an equally significant number took the oath of allegiance to King George III, including almost all the members of the township’s committee of safety. By comparing the behavior of Brookhaven’s committee of safety and colonists to those in other parts of New York, alongside those in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, this essay concludes that the lived reality of war and local institutions are central to understanding how most people experienced the American Revolution.

“I have had vexation enough to spoil the temper of a saint”: Natalie Delage Sumter’s Catholic Cosmopolitanism in the Early Republic

Mitchell Edward Oxford

Recent scholarship on French Revolutionary refugees to the United States has demonstrated their importance to American politics in the 1790s. But while this literature places these refugees within preexisting networks in the French Atlantic, and within the context of the imperial conflicts of the late eighteenth century, it largely ignores their long-term importance to the nineteenth-century United States. In tracing the life of Natalie Delage Sumter—an aristocratic Frenchwoman who immigrated to the United States in 1793 and married into the prominent Sumter family of South Carolina in 1802—this article points to the ways that former refugees continued to participate in trans-Atlantic networks and retain elements of French culture, even as they embraced a life in the United States. As an adult, Sumter sought to square her aristocratic and royalist past with her life in the United States, primarily through family and faith. Her family ties across the Atlantic world, and her support of the Catholic Church and its nascent institutions in the United States, provided Sumter with economic, ideological, and emotional support and were the basis of her lifelong cosmopolitanism.

Phrenology and the Science of Race in Antebellum America

Susan Branson

This paper highlights the circumstances of the Amistad case to discuss the connection between phrenology and race in antebellum American society. The trial of the Amistad captives in 1840–41 occurred at a time when opinions about racial differences were evolving into scientific theories about racial hierarchies. Phrenology was a popular science disseminated through publications, itinerant practitioners, and visual exhibitions that reinforced long-held beliefs about race. As subjects of phrenological investigation, the African men and children of the Amistad were examined, measured, and assessed within the context of ongoing debates about race and about American slavery.

“Depart from That Retired Circle”: Women’s Support of the Greek War for Independence and Antebellum Reform

Maureen Santelli

The Greek War for Independence generated continuous charitable mobilization by women throughout the United States for almost a decade. Inspired by the beneficence movement, elite and middle-class women from countless benevolent, social, and religious groups of the 1820s organized efforts to provide support for the Greek army and civilians. This popular movement extended benevolent interests in humanitarian and religious purposes, explicitly asking women to enter an international stage of relief and reform. Women devoted themselves to the aid of Greek women and children especially, articulating that the legacy of ancient Greek democracy could be revived if the Greeks defeated the despotic Ottoman Empire. Two decades after the conclusion of the Greek Revolution, Hiram Powers’s famous nude statue, The Greek Slave, arrived in the United States, not only generating intense debate over its subject matter, but also reviving the Greek Revolution in conversation as antebellum reformers compared their own nation’s shortcomings with those of the Ottoman Empire. The Greek cause ultimately made an important impression on the reform groups that matured in the years that followed, contributing an important element to reformist rhetoric in antebellum America.