Academic journal article Seventeenth-Century News

Jeffrey Glover. Paper Sovereigns: Anglo-Native Treaties and the Law of Nations, 1604-1664

Academic journal article Seventeenth-Century News

Jeffrey Glover. Paper Sovereigns: Anglo-Native Treaties and the Law of Nations, 1604-1664

Article excerpt

Jeffrey Glover. Paper Sovereigns: Anglo-Native Treaties and the Law of Nations, 1604-1664. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. ix + 312 pp. $59.95.

In Paper Sovereigns Jeffrey Glover necessarily acknowledges the obvious fact that settler-instigated treaties tended to work against Native American interests, often with dire consequences. Nevertheless, Glover also finds that not all treaties were so one-sided in their design, instigation and result. During the early decades of European settlements in the New World, many Native Americans actively sought treaties to gain some advantage over their local rivals.

To foster their own agendas, several Native Americans even exploited transatlantic diplomatic channels, where alleged treaties could be internationally contested. This happened, for instance, when Narragansett sachems duplicated land claims based on government-approved treaties made by dissenters Roger Williams and Samuel Groton. In such instances of Native American instigation, tribal interests were not always at the forefront of intention. Sometimes, as Glover observes, "speeches, gestures, x-marks, and pictographs represented individual rather than collective agendas."

Glover offers a deeper understanding of this complex, if often unofficial, interaction in New England by pointing to a shift in the English court's legal notions about treaties in general. Based on Roman precedent, the English court came to view treaties as an oblique means for making sovereign claims to new territories, including any trade conducted therein. "English colonists publicized treaties with Native Americans precisely to advertise this kind of possession," Glover indicates. Theoretically, at least, treaties and treaty-related narratives were designed for an audience and, as such, they served as colonial devices enabling peaceful territorial conquest. This manner of proceeding prevailed until 1664, when the English crown's assumption of imperial authority over the Native peoples of New England made the practice of publishing treaties pointless. …

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