Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Dominion and Civility: English Imperialism and Native America, 1585-1685

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Dominion and Civility: English Imperialism and Native America, 1585-1685

Article excerpt

Dominion and Civility: English Imperialism and Native America, 1585-1685. By Michael Leroy Oberg. (Ithaca, N.Y., and London: Cornell University Press, 1999. Pp. xii, 239. $42.50, ISBN 0-8014-3564-1.)

In 1677 Robert Roule recounted his horror when English women in Marblehead suddenly grabbed the Saco Indian prisoners he was escorting to Boston and beat them to death, decapitated them, and ripped the flesh from their bones (p. 172). Michael Leroy Oberg interprets such violent clashes in terms of the larger, long-standing conflict between the idealistic metropolitans--who advocated intercultural peace and harmony as the surest means of preserving English populations, promoting profitable enterprises, avoiding wasteful wars, securing strategic footholds against England's European rivals, and "civilizing" the Indians--and materialistic colonists. Anglo-Indian warfare could and did ruin imperial plans in the century after Roanoke, and, in Dominion and Civility, Oberg provides a blow-by-blow account of how colonial self-interest prevailed over that of both imperial dreamers and Indian neighbors.

Oberg is no unreconstructed Turnerian; his interpretation of the frontier is informed and nuanced by ethnohistorical perspectives. He is well aware that violent hostility was but one aspect of Anglo-Indian relations, but he reminds us that even the symbiotic accommodation that fostered "middle grounds" (to use Richard White's model) was itself a self-interested response to situations that proved all too temporary and transitory. When demographic changes and population growth in colony after colony made the English colonists desperate for more space, while simultaneously giving them an overwhelming advantage in appropriating Indian homelands, intercultural harmony quickly dissolved to reveal the essential and persistent incompatibility between English and Indian life-ways and land use that distant metropolitans never fully appreciated. …

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