Indians and British Outposts in Eighteenth-Century America

By Holly, Nathaniel F. | South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Indians and British Outposts in Eighteenth-Century America


Holly, Nathaniel F., South Carolina Historical Magazine


Indians and British Outposts in Eighteenth-Century America. By Daniel Ingram. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012. Pp. xiii, 257; $69.95, hardcover; $22.95, paperback.)

In his study of the "little worlds of forts and garrisons" strewn across the North American backcountry, Daniel Ingram seeks to modify broadly held notions about the "heroic" role these supposedly European places played along the eighteenth-century frontier (pp. 5,2). By shifting his gaze away from imperial motivations to focus on the words and actions of Native Americans, Ingram is able to demonstrate that Indians not only "saw forts as Indian-European places," but they also were "important actors in the dramas played out in these centers of cultural confluence" (p. 24). These forts, in other words, were not beachheads of encroaching British imperialism, but rather sites of negotiated power. In fact, Indians often lobbied colonial governments to build forts in or near their territory for both trade and protection.

In order to reach such conclusions, Ingram devotes his analysis to the intensely local circumstances of five scattered "contact points": Fort Loudoun, located in what is now eastern Tennessee; Fort Allen, on the Pennsylvania frontier; Fort Michilimackinac, on the northern Great Lakes; Fort Niagara, on the shore of Lake Ontario; and Fort Chartres, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. While this collection of "fort cultures" undoubtedly illuminates a more "complicated view of empire," it remains unclear why Ingram chose these forts-while they were all occupied by the British-and not others (p. 26). "They are examples," he admits in his introduction, "chosen carefully, but with some randomness" (p. 9). Strange syntax aside, these choices do matter.

In Ingram's initial chapter, his treatment of Fort Loudoun focuses on the relationship between the Overhill Cherokees and the British in Charleston and Williamsburg. By directing most of his analysis toward diplomatic wrangling, Ingram explains how the Overhill Cherokees exerted serious effort in convincing South Carolina to build another fort in Cherokee country. While Fort Prince George, located near Keowee, did much to satisfy the economic and political appetites of Lower Town Cherokees, those in the Overhills felt comparatively unprotected. So led by headmen Old Hop and Little Carpenter, the Overhills made it clear to the governors of South Carolina and Virginia that they needed a fort in exchange for their alliance. This manner of diplomacy eventually led to both Virginia and South Carolina breaking ground on separate forts in the Overhills, each without the other colony's knowledge. Eventually, Old Hop and Little Carpenter convinced colonial officials in Charleston to complete the construction of Fort Loudoun at a site of Cherokee choosing. Of course, the fort attracted more than just a small garrison of soldiers. Soon, colonial settlers began to encroach on Cherokee boundaries and hostilities broke out, leading ultimately to the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1759-1761 and the destruction of Fort Loudon. Throughout its relatively short life, Fort Loudoun was "far from a mere outpost of empire and," as Ingram reveals, "its construction and operation said as much about Cherokee intercultural expectations as it did about provincial objectives" (p. 29). Furthermore, its destruction occurred because the fort did a poor job of satisfying those Cherokee expectations. …

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