Evan Haefeli, Kevin Sweeney. Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield. Native Americans of the Northeast: Culture, History, and the Contemporary Series. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. Illustrations, maps. xv + 376 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55849-503-6; $37.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-55849-419-0.
Donna Merwick. The Shame and the Sorrow: Dutch Amerindian Encounters in New Netherland. Early American Studies Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006. Maps. ix + 332 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-3928-7.
Paul Otto. The Dutch-Munsee Encounter: The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Hudson Valley. European Expansion & Global Interaction Series. New York: Berghahn Books, 2006. Illustrations, maps. xv + 225 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57181-672-6.
Reviewed by Nancy Hagedorn (SUNY-Fredonia)
Published on H-Atlantic (July, 2010)
Commissioned by W. Douglas Catterall
Atlantic History and the Reconceptualization of European-Native Relations in the Colonial Northeast
As Atlantic history has emerged as a legitimate and popular alternative to older, more traditional forms of imperial and colonial history during the past twenty years, it has influenced the conceptualization, study, and interpretation of virtually all aspects of the early modern history of the regions and peoples surrounding the Atlantic basin. Alison Games has recently noted that "Atlantic perspectives deepen our understanding of transformations over a period of several centuries, cast old problems in an entirely new light, and illuminate connections hitherto obscured." The three works under review here, considered collectively, illustrate some of the recent trends in Atlantic history and history more generally as they apply to cultural interaction in early northeastern North America. Specifically, they illustrate the benefits of the intersection of Atlantic history with the new frontier history and cultural history, and their combined approaches and perspectives signal the emergence of a new, more richly textured and realistic image of early America and its peoples.
While this review essay is not the place to trace in detail the nature and consequences of these developments, it nevertheless seems appropriate to highlight several trends that have had an obvious impact on these recent reinterpretations of the early history of intercultural relations in the colonial Northeast, the common focus of the three works under review. Although Atlantic history has attracted its share of both critics and supporters, the latter of whom rarely agree completely on its definition and contours, several tendencies in Atlantic studies have emerged as common characteristics of the field: Atlantic history demands that even seemingly local, small-scale events and developments be placed within broader transatlantic and transnational contexts; Atlantic history encourages explicitly comparative approaches and discourages uncritical notions of nationalism and exceptionalism; Atlantic history highlights the confrontations and connections between peoples who inhabited the regions bordering the Atlantic; and Atlantic history encourages consideration of any phenomenon or development from multiple perspectives--ideally with some sense of balance and impartiality.
All of these trends are evident in the three works by Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, Donna Merwick, and Paul Otto under consideration here. At the same time, collectively, they reflect broader developments within the discipline of history during the past several decades. Therefore, these works also indicate how Atlantic history has intersected with these discipline-wide trends to significantly reshape well-established fields, such as Colonial U.S. history. One of the most significant disciplinary developments in early American history over the past forty years has been the recognition that any serious consideration of empire or imperial politics, not to mention colonization itself, must take into account cultural interaction between Europeans and the native inhabitants of the "New World." Historians' perspectives on those interactions and their emphases have altered considerably as this realization has taken hold. For many scholars, the focus has shifted from merely trying to recreate native participants' autonomous agency to highlighting the often peaceful coexistence, if not cooperation, of colonists and indigenous peoples. Increasingly they offer multilayered and finely detailed depictions of intercultural contact. In the process, a new Atlantic frontier history is emerging that has redrawn frontiers as zones of cultural interaction rather than as lines of control separating disparate, monolithic groups facing off against one another. In this new early American narrative of intercultural contact, the groups confronting each other reveal within themselves ever-shifting arrays of relationships and identities. This new frontier history increasingly recognizes the importance of and potential for both violence and peaceful coexistence in early America and examines their consequences. In the process, a much more chaotic and realistic--and less exceptional--early America has emerged, where the significance of these contradictory forces in explaining both individual actions and imperial developments is apparent. These interpretive changes have gained momentum in the last ten years in part due to the denationalization of North American colonization narratives. They have also arisen--at least in part--as a result of the influence of Atlantic and transnational history, and these trends are evident in the three works under consideration.
In Captors and Captives, Haefeli and Sweeney focus attention on the Deerfield raid of 1704. They see it as a window through which to examine the history of native, French, and English peoples in the early Northeast--as have others before them. Haefeli and Sweeney's approach is different, however, in that they situate the raid in a context "both broader and narrower than that of previous accounts" (p. 3). Instead of focusing on monolithic, presumably homogenous, national and ethnic groups, they choose to look at individuals. Their choice permits them to provide a much more complex and nuanced interpretation of the raid and its meaning for those swept up in it. While influenced by Richard White's notion of a "middle ground" (The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 ), they argue that such a stable situation did not exist in early eighteenth-century New England. Allegiances and motivations were mixed and when Europeans and natives did cross boundaries and cooperate with each other, the middle grounds thus created existed chiefly between individuals and very real barriers remained, particularly between native and English peoples (p. 3).
Perhaps Haefeli and Sweeney's greatest contribution is a new understanding of the nature of empires and imperial politics in the early Northeast and, by extension, throughout the Atlantic world. In their account, the colonial empires of France and England become "diaphanous spiderwebs connecting individual places and people" that were "based on networks of relationships and allegiances that ran from London and Versailles into the interior of North America," encompassing (and engulfing) both Europeans and natives (p. 4). Furthermore, by focusing on the individuals, relationships, and events surrounding the relatively minor raid on Deerfield in 1704, they highlight the breadth of these networks and their impact. These webs of connection enabled officials in Paris and London to govern far off and little understood places and peoples while at the same time allowing distant American peoples--both native and colonial--to strengthen and maintain their local communities and identities in a turbulent, ever-changing world. Communities that inhabited the zones of contact called "frontiers" often confronted contradictory forces encouraging both amity and enmity, which sometimes led to the blurring of national and ethnic boundaries and shifting relationships but rarely erased them entirely. Ultimately, Haefeli and Sweeney's practice of the "new frontier history," combined with the tendencies of Atlantic history, results in a conceptual model for intercultural interaction that offers clarity while avoiding oversimplification. It recognizes that at the often violent crossroads along permeable frontiers where disparate groups confronted each other, individuals, communities, and empires were influenced by "what brought them together as well as what drove them apart" (p. 277).
Captors and Captives displays the major characteristics (and benefits) of new work in Atlantic history, which, in this case, flow from Haefli and Sweeney's decision to situate their study of a particular intersection of imperial history, ethnohistory, and frontier history within a broader Atlantic context. First, Haefeli and Sweeney take a "seemingly local, small-scale event" and map it onto a transatlantic and transnational context, in the process exposing and examining previously unknown--or at least unexplored--webs of relationship with constructive results. In addition, their rendering of even the small-scale "events" of individual choices, motivations, and relationships makes them comprehensible in the broader world of the Deerfield raid and associated imperial relations. These efforts yield the truly significant and interpretively potent perspective and conceptual framework noted above. Haefeli and Sweeney's well-researched and thought-provoking retelling of a seemingly well-known and oft-related story precludes the uncritical use of conceptions of nationalism and exceptionalism, while clearly and unambiguously accentuating the confrontations and connections between those who inhabited the region from multiple perspectives with balance and impartiality. Whether consciously or not, Haefeli and Sweeney have produced a work that combines the Atlantic framework with several other approaches such that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. In the final analysis, Captors and Captives exemplifies the gains that Atlantic history can offer scholars of intercultural relations in early America.
Another work that embodies the intersection of the new frontier history and Atlantic history is Otto's The Dutch-Munsee Encounter in America. Otto's book is part of a growing body of work, such as Jaap Jacobs's New Netherland: A Dutch Colony in Seventeenth-Century America (2005) and the essays in Joyce Goodfriend's Revisiting New Netherland: Perspectives on Early Dutch America (2005), that reexamines the often ignored Dutch colony of New Netherland. These new studies highlight the importance of New Netherland to broader discussions of early America and the Atlantic world. Otto's main concern is the relationship between the coastal Algonquian natives of the Hudson Valley, or Munsees, and the Dutch during the first three-quarters of the seventeenth century. In approaching this subject, he explicitly employs Howard Lamar and Leonard Thompson's definition of a "frontier" as a zone of cultural contact, competition, and conflict. In particular, he examines how the Munsee adapted to the new peoples, trade patterns, and political environments created by the arrival of the Dutch in the lower Hudson River Valley. The Munsee lived, according to Otto, "in a society which was dominated politically and economically by Europeans, forcing them to at least accommodate themselves to the Dutch, and at times to modify their cultural practices in order to survive in an increasingly European-dominated context" (p. 176). He sees the frontier not simply as "an open meeting of two cultural groups, but [as] a crosscultural encounter which takes place in the context of real political, economic, religious, and social struggle" (p. 9). These struggles overlapped and centered on sovereignty over territory and sovereignty over cultural development. The Munsee responded to these developments through resistance, accommodation, and acculturation. Ultimately, the Dutch-Munsee encounter "evolved as the motivations behind European colonization and immigration changed over the years and as stimuli from the Native American side of the frontier also changed" (p. 10). It passed through three distinct but related stages--first contact, trade, and settlement--that reflect broader historical changes and help Otto frame and organize his analysis.
In Otto's account, Dutch-Munsee interactions originated in the vigorous traffic that exchanged shell beads, known as sewant or wampum, and European goods for furs. As this trade developed, it enmeshed both coastal Munsee and inland peoples in a network that stretched from the Great Lakes to the North Sea. In the process, it altered the pattern of everyday life and encouraged further Dutch settlement. The trade prospered through mutual Munsee and Dutch accommodation. On the one hand, the natives increasingly adapted to and adopted Dutch business practices, aspects of material life, and cultural expectations. On the other hand, at the same time, the Dutch found themselves acting as "middlemen in a native system of reciprocity and exchange which had significance beyond the apparently straightforward economic transactions understood by Europeans" (p. 59). The growth of trade also led to a change in the nature and intensity of day-to-day contacts between the Dutch and the Munsee. Trade simultaneously necessitated more permanent settlements and attracted more colonists, which led to increased interactions and competition over land as well as furs and wampum. Ultimately, this intensification of contact led to violent confrontations in a series of Dutch-Munsee wars. By the 1660s, these violent exchanges had culminated in Munsee accommodation to Dutch rule as the natives realized "that military resistance was not an adequate long-term solution to their problems" (p. 134). Still, though the Munsee had "for all intents and purposes already lost political control over the region" by the time the English arrived in 1664, they had not "significantly acculturated" and their culture "maintained continuities from the precontact period" (p. 164).
While Otto's conceptual framework is familiar, his interpretation offers much that is new and fresh. The most obvious way that his analysis differs from other works on the early Northeast and specifically New Netherland is his focus on the understudied coastal Munsee rather than the better-known Iroquois of the interior. Of greater significance, however, and what sets The Dutch-Munsee Encounter in America apart is Otto's assertion that "throughout the northeastern North American colonies, similar patterns of European-Native American relations occurred when and where comparable patterns of European colonization also existed" (p. 179). In fact, while he concentrates on the extremely specific and "local" circumstances of Dutch-Munsee interaction on the lower Hudson, Otto is often at his most effective when he broadens his focus, stepping back to compare events in New Netherland to parallel developments in New England and New France. In a brief afterward, he draws explicit comparisons within the Dutch context between native-European relations and frontiers in New Netherland and those across the Atlantic in the Cape Colony in Africa. Although the latter treatment is much too short to fully satisfy the requirements of a rigorous comparison, the two cases highlight the centrality of an Atlantic undercurrent to understanding regionally lived realities. While some aspects of the New Netherland encounter were intrinsically Dutch in origin, others were shaped by much broader European-native currents and contexts that could be found throughout the Atlantic World. Here again, the benefits of placing the specific and local in a broader transnational and transatlantic context, which yields important correctives to notions of American exceptionalism and illuminates broader comparative perspectives, are apparent. The result is an enlightening and thought-provoking look at cultural interaction and frontiers in the colonial Northeast.
Like Otto's book, Merwick's The Shame and the Sorrow is part of the new body of work on New Netherland, though from a significantly different perspective. Less a product of the intersection of Atlantic history with the new frontier history, her work reflects instead a reframing, perhaps, of an older-style intellectual or cultural history, having more in common with Benjamin Schmidt's account of the role of the Americas in the seventeenth-century Dutch imagination (Innocence Abroad: The Dutch Imagination and the New World, 1570–1670 ). In fact, the subtitle of The Shame and the Sorrow is misleading, since the book tells the reader much less about actual Dutch-Amerindian encounters than about Dutch perceptions of those encounters and their relationship to Dutch imperial ideology. The encounters in question are, in effect, more intellectual than physical in nature. And, while she delineates stages in the development of Dutch-native policies and encounters--first contact, trade, and settlement--similar to those laid out by Otto, Merwick's focus remains quite firmly on the Dutch side of the frontier. She effectively describes the changes in Dutch imperial policies and their effect on Dutch perceptions and treatment of natives in New Netherland, but the reader gains little sense of how the Indians perceived these developments or reacted to them.
According to Merwick, the Dutch who settled New Netherland were fundamentally different from their French and English counterparts in the New World. Drawing on the Dutch heritage as a maritime people and the experiences of the Dutch East India Company in Africa and Asia, the Dutch West India Company that established New Netherland envisioned a non-territorial trade empire in America. In fact, the Dutch were people of the "marge"--a marginal zone between the open sea and the inland landscape that was both a place of residence and a "state of mind" (p. 9). As "alongshore people," the Dutch never intended to establish anything more than a series of shoreside way stations from which to engage in lucrative trade with the native inhabitants (p. 7). They wanted to avoid the need to acquire territory, settle colonists, or administer and defend far-flung territorial possessions. In Merwick's interpretation, as alongshore people, the Dutch traders and officials who first encountered the native inhabitants of the Hudson River Valley were eager to make friends with Indians and establish trade. They readily recognized and accepted indigenous sovereignty and they acquired title to what little territory they required for forts and trading posts by purchasing it from the natives. Unfortunately, to their "shame and sorrow," these early Dutch alongshore people ran afoul of circumstances and the unforeseen consequences of changes in policy back home (p. 267). Initial successes in trade led to expansion of territorial claims, introduction of private traders and patroonships, multiple overlapping sovereignties, and, increasingly, civil and military entanglements. By the early 1640s, the company shareholders in Amsterdam had opened the trade to European newcomers while shoring up their own position by supporting the Mahicans of the upper Hudson against their Mohawk rivals. As a result, the Dutch found themselves deeply and irretrievably embroiled in the ongoing struggle between a variety of native and colonial powers for regional hegemony, culminating for the Dutch in Kieft's War (Otto's 1st Dutch-Munsee War) in the lower Hudson River Valley.
In considering Kieft's War, Merwick's primary concern is with the Dutch and how the conflict affected their self-perception, their ensuing dealings with the native inhabitants of the colony, and their subsequent history in New Netherland. Dutch participation in the war violated their own ideals and beliefs as people of the marge, and much of the last half of the book examines the cultural and intellectual consequences of the war for the Dutch. Merwick reframes the entire history of the colony, making Kieft's War the pivotal event, arguing that the terror fomented by the war provoked such widespread criticism of the Dutch West India Company's administration and moral failings that its legacy plagued Petrus Stuyvesant's administration of the colony right up to the arrival of the English in 1664. In the end, Merwick argues, "the Dutch came to realize that, among other things, staying in New Netherland asked for the practices of a military culture that was not theirs" (p. 266). They found that trade empires, like territorial empires, "did not keep themselves. They were kept by the traders' schemes, visions, and greed. As much as empires of dominion, the indigenous peoples kept them" (p. 267). Ultimately, according to Merwick, in "enacting such a culture of dominance, the Dutch acted out a betrayal of ideals and accepted values: betrayal of themselves and others. They reaped the shame and the sorrow" (p. 267). For Merwick, the important Dutch-Amerindian encounters in New Netherland occurred in the hearts and minds of the Dutch themselves.
In many respects, Merwick's book is the odd one out among the books under consideration here, but her work also reveals the influence of Atlantic history and the efficacious intersection of Atlantic history and other recent trends in historical scholarship--in this case the new cultural history. Merwick, like Otto and Haefeli and Sweeney, deals with seemingly local, small-scale events and places them within a broader Atlantic context--in this case that of the Dutch experience in Europe, Africa, and Asia. This broader context and comparison allows her to see hitherto unexplored patterns of thought and policy that a narrower focus on just New Netherland might have obscured. In addition, although Merwick initially asserts the exceptionalism of the Dutch approach and experience as alongshore people of the marge, she ultimately concludes that their experience was not actually terribly different from that of their imperial counterparts, including such trading-post imperialists as the Portuguese; herein lies the shame and the sorrow of her title. In the end, Merwick's treatment of Dutch-native encounters is less overtly "balanced" and less directly concerned with actual physical encounters between natives and Europeans than the other two works under consideration. However, her engagement with the Dutch mentalité of encounter and its role in shaping interactions with native peoples in New Netherland offers interesting and thought-provoking insights into the effects of Atlantic cultural encounters on a society's worldview and perception of itself. Her persuasive case for the significant influence of such changing perceptions on European-native relationships suggests fruitful avenues for future study.
Taken together, these three works by Haefeli and Sweeney, Otto, and Merwick illustrate some of the recent trends in Atlantic history, particularly as applied to cultural interaction in early northeastern North America. While it is not possible to attribute these developments solely to the influence of Atlantic history on the discipline of history, it is impossible to ignore the benefits of the intersection of Atlantic history with the new frontier history and cultural history evident in these three works. Ultimately, Atlantic history clearly reflects developments in transnational and cultural history and vice versa. Together, these combined approaches and perspectives are encouraging the development of a more intricate and subtle, but also more representative, vision of early America--an America that, while not "exceptional," was truly a fascinating place.
. Alison Games, "Atlantic History: Definitions, Challenges, and Opportunities," American Historical Review 111, no. 3 (2006): 741-742.
. For much fuller, explicit treatments of the developments within Atlantic history, see, for example, Games, "Atlantic History," 741-757; Alison Games, Philip J. Stern, Paul W. Mapp, and Peter A. Coclanis, "Forum: Beyond the Atlantic," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 63, no. 4 (2006): 675-742; and Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History: Concept and Contours (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005).
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-atlantic.
Nancy Hagedorn. Review of Haefeli, Evan; Sweeney, Kevin, Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield and
Merwick, Donna, The Shame and the Sorrow: Dutch Amerindian Encounters in New Netherland and
Otto, Paul, The Dutch-Munsee Encounter: The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Hudson Valley.
H-Atlantic, H-Net Reviews.
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