Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Natchez Country: Indians, Colonists, and the Landscapes of Race in French Louisiana

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Natchez Country: Indians, Colonists, and the Landscapes of Race in French Louisiana

Article excerpt

Natchez Country: Indians, Colonists, and the Landscapes of Race in French Louisiana. By George Edward Milne. Early American Places. (Athens, Ga., and London: University of Georgia Press, 2015. Pp. [xviii], 293. Paper, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-4750-9; cloth, $84.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-4749-3.)

In this latest addition to the University of Georgia Press series Early American Places, George Edward Milne provides a lively reinterpretation of Natchez and French relations. The book starts with two Sun peoples. In the late seventeenth century, French subjects of the Sun King (Louis XIV) began migrating to Louisiana, where they encountered the Theoloels, or the People of the Sun, as the Natchez called themselves. Initially, each group "recognize[d] aspects of their own culture in the other's way of life" (p. 16). Villages and families structured politics and society. Paramount leaders built consensus through theatrical spectacles, religious rituals, and symbolic landscapes to rule ranked communities that included elites, workers, slaves, and immigrants. The Natchez Suns who led the powerful Grand Village at first misperceived the French as one of many subordinate groups.

Despite superficial similarities, differences between the French and the Theoloels quickly emerged in a series of conflicts that scholar John R. Swanton once termed the First, Second, and Third Natchez Wars. Although Milne joins those who have questioned this militaristic terminology, events like the "Natchez Hostage Crisis" (similar to Swanton's First War) provide a recurrent theme of violent conflict in Milne's narrative. A sensationalist introduction begins with the Natchez proudly displaying a row of French heads to Choctaw visitors, and the book concludes with the destruction of the Natchez Grand Village (Swanton's Third War). Milne theorizes that the enslavement and dispersal of the Natchez from their homelands after the war led to the construction of a new racial ideology.

Building on Nancy Shoemaker's argument that Indians made themselves "red," Milne pinpoints the origins of a pan-Indian racialist thinking to Natchez leaders who "use[d] the term 'red men' to unite those villagers who had previously been reluctant to fight against the colony" (p. …

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