Trade, Land, Power: The Struggle for Eastern North America

Trade, Land, Power: The Struggle for Eastern North America

Trade, Land, Power: The Struggle for Eastern North America

Trade, Land, Power: The Struggle for Eastern North America

Synopsis

In this sweeping collection of essays, one of America's leading colonial historians reinterprets the struggle between Native peoples and Europeans in terms of how each understood the material basis of power.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in eastern North America, Natives and newcomers alike understood the close relationship between political power and control of trade and land, but they did so in very different ways. For Native Americans, trade was a collective act. The alliances that made a people powerful became visible through material exchanges that forged connections among kin groups, villages, and the spirit world. The land itself was often conceived as a participant in these transactions through the blessings it bestowed on those who gave in return. For colonizers, by contrast, power tended to grow from the individual accumulation of goods and landed property more than from collective exchange--from domination more than from alliance. For many decades, an uneasy balance between the two systems of power prevailed.

Tracing the messy process by which global empires and their colonial populations could finally abandon compromise and impose their definitions on the continent, Daniel K. Richter casts penetrating light on the nature of European colonization, the character of Native resistance, and the formative roles that each played in the origins of the United States.

Excerpt

I have long suspected, despite some fine examples to the contrary, that anyone who compiles a volume of his or her own essays is either afflicted by egotism, cursed with hubris, or excused by scholarly venerability. I prefer to believe that none of these conditions apply to me. With respect to the last, however, I must confess to having been at this business for three decades and to turning, at least temporarily, toward new fields of inquiry. So the essays compiled here sum up a phase in my scholarly career. The pieces were written at various times, for various purposes, since 1983. As I composed them, I did not set out to explore any single interpretation but only to pursue my general interest in the interactions of Native people and Europeans in early America in general and in the mid-Atlantic region in particular. As I looked back on them, however, and as I thought about them roughly in the chronological order of the topics they explored, I discovered that three themes forcefully emerged, themes I call trade, land, and power. It seemed useful, then, to gather the essays in one place.

To begin to understand how trade, land, and power entwined, we could do worse than to listen to a man who, in his own eighteenth-century lifetime, stood accused of no small measure of egotism, hubris, and premature old age: Teedyuscung, “King of the Delawares.” It was late July 1756, and Teedyuscung, along with a handful of other Indians and Euro-Americans, was desperately seeking a way out of the bloody violence of what we now call the Seven Years War, violence that he himself, in his frustration with Pennsylvanians, had helped to initiate. At a treaty conference in Easton, Pennsylvania— where the Delaware leader lived up to his reputation for eloquence as well as for bluster, bravado, and, tragically, excessive drinking— he made a rambling speech outlining his credentials and purposes. Asked if he had finished talking, he said “he had for the present,” depending on what the English had to say in return.

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