Daniel Ingram. Indians and British Outposts in Eighteenth-Century America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012. xiii + 257 pp. $69.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8130-3797-4.
Reviewed by Bryan Rindfleisch (University of Oklahoma)
Published on H-Empire (August, 2012)
Commissioned by Charles V. Reed
On the Margins of Empire: Indigenous Peoples, Imperial Fortifications, and the British Empire on the North American Periphery during the Eighteenth Century
Daniel Ingram provides an innovative and novel study of “fort-based cultural interactions” between the native peoples of North America and the British soldiers, traders, missionaries, administrators, and settlers who garrisoned these fortifications throughout the eighteenth century (p. 2). Contrary to more recent historical monographs that frame these Indian-British encounters, negotiations, and contestation within the hegemonic context of empire and colonialism, Ingram instead suggests that these forts on the frontiers of the British Empire comprised their “own little worlds” where “local concerns often trumped outside strategies” and imperial objectives (p. 6). While Ingram hardly discounts the importance of empire and colonialism to his study, he stresses that British outposts, despite being the “forerunners of empire” as British officials tried to “impose mastery over a region,” more often than not failed to control imperial peripheries (pp. 2-3). As Ingram explains, British efforts to install order upon imperial frontiers proved primarily a conciliatory process where “mutual understandings, revelatory misunderstandings, brash hauteur, and pragmatic solutions to unforeseen complications” rather than violence undergirded the interactions between British and native peoples at these forts (p. 26).
Yet an even more important contribution is Ingram’s demonstration that native peoples themselves “absorb[ed] forts into their cultural orbits” as a way of “affecting or controlling the terms of the invasion of their countries” (p. 201). As Ingram evinces, native peoples often prescribed how and where British forts were constructed, facilitated the operation and regulation of the fur and commodity trades that passed through these fortifications, agitated for imperial protection and military support from these forts in times of crisis, and supplied the British garrisons with the means to survive on the margins of the empire (primarily through gifts and trade of food). In short, these British outposts hardly constituted the “agents of continental change [as] imagined in American fiction and mythology” (i.e., James Fenimore Cooper) and instead embody the very malleable nature of imperial authority on the imperial frontier where native peoples often dictated the political, military, economic, and cultural relationships fostered with the British at these forts (p. 200).
Ingram offers six case studies of the negotiations, compromises, and contestation between indigenous and British peoples at imperial outposts to illustrate the larger diplomatic, military, economic, and cultural processes that unfolded in the construction and operation of British forts in the eighteenth century. First, Ingram examines the creation of Fort Loudon in Cherokee country from 1756 to 1759 to demonstrate how native individuals, like Old Hop and Little Carpenter of the Overhill Cherokees, utilized a British outpost to their distinct advantage, in essence building a “fort on Cherokee terms” (p. 29). In particular, he reveals that Fort Loudon provided regulation of the deerskin trade while curbing the rampant abuses of traders and the liquor trade, kept lines of commerce open in times of acute crisis, provided Old Hop and Little Carpenter with political prestige among the Cherokees for their diplomatic prowess and access to supplies and trade, and proffered the means for Cherokee peoples to stave off or “regulate [imperial] expansion” (p. 35). Next, Ingram looks at Fort Allen along the Pennsylvania, mid-Atlantic frontier from 1756 to 1761 to evoke how indigenous peoples employed forts as way stations or rest stops in their travels back and forth between Indian country and the British eastern seaboard. Yet as Ingram illustrates, a “constant native presence” in Fort Allen provoked intense anxieties among British personnel who, in their isolation on the imperial periphery, resented the “loitering” of indigenous peoples who consistently congregated at the outpost while consuming its limited resources (p. 70). In contrast to British antipathies, Ingram shows, the Delaware and other mid-Atlantic Indians had incorporated Fort Allen into their existing political economies and expected British “hospitality” according to how indigenous peoples understood that term, which quite literally meant an “‘always open door.”
From here, Ingram examines the economic functions of British fortifications in his study of the Michilimackinac outpost from the 1760s to 1790s, which attracted the Great Lakes Indians who gravitated toward the fort because of the fur trade. Yet rather than focusing on the fur trade itself, Ingram smartly illuminates the interdependence of Indian and British peoples with one another that forts like Michilimackinac facilitated and accentuated throughout the eighteenth century. For native peoples, the outpost served not only as a market outlet for the fur trade, but also as a center for the commodity trade that supplied Indians with metal goods and clothing to augment native ways of life as well as easy access to liquor that English traders deliberately encouraged. For the British, indigenous peoples provided food and other necessary forms of subsistence to sustain forts like Michilimackinac, which proved entirely unable to achieve self-sufficiency, and instead was relegated to dependence on Indian food ways and labor for survival. Through this interdependent relationship, Ingram demonstrates that native peoples hardly succumbed to utter economic dependency that threatened native ways of life; he turns the tables on such an interpretation by positing that the British were the ones incapable of independency. Also, Ingram utilizes Fort Niagara in 1763-64 as evidence of how indigenous peoples, like the Seneca Indians, alternated between violence and diplomacy to counter the hegemonic imposition of order by British forts on the frontiers of empire. While the Seneca attacks on Fort Niagara coincided with Pontiac’s Rebellion to the west, Ingram asserts that this violence constituted more of an assertion of Indian agendas (hostility to settler encroachments, British trade regulations, trader abuses, and severance of Indian wage labor along the Fort Niagara portage) after political means of pursuing indigenous interests failed to garner imperial attentions. Through violence against British fortifications, indigenous peoples attempted to reinvest those outposts with native agendas, which in the case of the Seneca successfully attracted the attention of imperial administrators who negotiated a return of the “status quo antebellum.”
Further, Ingram employs Fort Chartres from 1765 to 1772 in the Illinois country to reveal how native peoples often proved “not cooperative ... [to] British [imperial] ambitions in the American interior” (p. 157). Channeling the work of historian Kathleen DuVal, Ingram depicts the Illinois territory as “native ground” where the British faced the overwhelming dominance of the Illinois Indians who blunted imperial efforts to carve out order on the periphery of empire. Any and all attempts by British personnel to “appear as strong and [as] sound as the fort itself” faltered; they were repeatedly weakened by disease, native hostility, isolation, and internal corruption (p. 157). Consequently, Fort Chartres points to the “inability to impose the idea of British mastery” over indigenous peoples (p. 191). Finally, Ingram draws on the experiences of the Canajoharie Mohawk Indians at Fort Hendrick during the mid- to late eighteenth century to provide a counternarrative to all his other case studies and as a cautionary example of the limits that indigenous peoples faced in thwarting imperial ambitions in North America. In this instance, Canajoharie Mohawk requests for a fort “to protect their town and their families” turned into a permanent occupation of Iroquois lands by the British Army where the Mohawk Indians became part of the empire rather than an ally of it (p. 194). In short, the Canajoharie Mohawks succumbed to the imperial thrust westward despite their efforts to stave off or deflect the expansion of empire. Yet in conclusion, Ingram asserts that the vast majority of indigenous peoples “who interacted with British fort communities resisted the European invasion, using mixtures of accommodation, intimidation, cooperation, and occasional violence” to subvert imperial intrusions (p. 198). This in itself illustrates the highly important insight that the ebb and flow of empire building on the imperial periphery was more than often dictated by the very native populaces that the British Empire attempted to impose control over.
However, despite Ingram’s remarkable contributions to the study of indigenous peoples and empire in North America, he lacks engagement with British imperial history that offers potential Atlantic, and even global, historical connections and parallels between North America, Africa, India, and even Asia. Because the British Empire constituted a global conglomerate in the eighteenth century, it seems more than likely that the intercultural interactions and relations between indigenous peoples and British hegemons were part of a global phenomenon not strictly unique to North America. In this context then, Ingram’s study serves as more a cursory examination of a larger global process that all empires faced in efforts to impose order on their peripheries and control over indigenous populaces who resisted or sought to use the empire for their own interests. While hardly detrimental to Ingram’s overall work and despite his stated intentions of stressing such provincial localism because British forts on the North American periphery constituted “cultural arena[s] separate from their European-colonial world,” this consideration of indigenous-British interactions beyond colonial American borders may offer enlightening new insights as well as exciting opportunities for future historical inquiry (p. 10).
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Bryan Rindfleisch. Review of Ingram, Daniel, Indians and British Outposts in Eighteenth-Century America.
H-Empire, H-Net Reviews.
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