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Atlantic History Continental America
by
Kathleen DuVal

Introduction

Traditionally, early American history was limited to the thirteen British colonies that rebelled and became the original United States. Increasingly, historians have expanded the study of early America to “continental America,” all of the land and peoples that eventually formed the United States. Rather than ignore these places and peoples until the United States expanded west in the 19th century, historians of continental America include most of North America (and even Alaska and Hawaii) from the beginning. Expanding the land under consideration has led to a recognition that native peoples remained the majority of the population and controlled the vast majority of the continent well past the American Revolution. This expansion also recognizes the important roles French, Spanish, and other non-British colonizers played in this history, both in their own right and as they interacted with British colonies. Yet this expansion has its own intellectual difficulties—it creates a new teleology to focus on the places that became the United States in later periods. Recognizing this potential pitfall and the fact that little of the present-day United States border had relevance in the colonial period, historians of continental America generally draw on and include the histories of northern Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean where relevant. Although most general works on colonial America now incorporate continentalism at least to some extent, the historiography of the American Revolution and the early American republic has been slower to embrace the continent. Histories of the revolutionary period still generally focus on the thirteen rebellious colonies, and most histories of the early republic still see the continent solely from the perspective of the United States as it expanded west. Still, recent scholarship suggests that the continent is beginning to play a larger role in these later periods as well. Obviously, many entries in this bibliography deal with the North American continent; this entry focuses on historians who explicitly embrace continentalism and those works that stress themes such as Indian power, which continentalism has brought to the fore.

General Overviews

Most of these works discuss the philosophy behind studying the continent as a whole. Taylor 2001 gives a thorough narrative of the colonial period, whereas Calloway 1997 is focused on how interactions between Indians and Europeans changed the continent. Axtell 1992, Crosby 1986, Mancall and Merrell 2007, Smolenski and Humphrey 2005, and the “Continental Possessions” 2004 special issue cover longer time periods (beyond the American Revolution) but are more selective in subject matter.

  • Axtell, James. Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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    Axtell’s engaging essay collection explores Indian–European interactions in a variety of circumstances, showing Indians’ centrality to early American history.

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  • Calloway, Colin G. New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

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    Sweeping synthesis of Indian–European interactions across the continent.

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  • “Panel I: Continental Possessions.” Special issue, Journal of the Early Republic 24.2 (2004): 159–188.

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    Articles by Alan Taylor, Andrés Reséndez, Elizabeth Fenn, and James Brooks discuss the ways in which historians are centering early American history on the entire continent of North America, not looking outward from the British mainland colonies.

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  • Crosby, Alfred W. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

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    Shows how diseases, plants, and animals brought from Europe and Africa dramatically changed lives and landscapes in the Americas. Pays little attention to how people responded to the changes, a subject that can be found in other works.

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  • Mancall, Peter C., and James H. Merrell, eds. American Encounters: Natives and Newcomers from European Contact to Indian Removal, 1500–1850. New York: Routledge, 2007.

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    Reprints important recent articles on encounters among Indians, Europeans, and Africans across the continent. Authors include Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Brett Rushforth, Neal Salisbury, Timothy Shannon, David Silverman, Daniel Vickers, and Bruce White.

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  • Mapp, Paul. “Imperial History from Atlantic, Continental, and Pacific Perspectives.” William and Mary Quarterly 63 (2006): 713–724.

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    Very useful essay that shows the limitations of Atlantic history for encompassing the colonial period and reflects on its overlap and lack thereof with a continental approach and the history of the early modern Pacific.

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  • Smolenski, John, and Thomas J. Humphrey, eds. New World Orders: Violence, Sanction, and Authority in the Colonial Americas. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

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    A broadly comparative set of essays on the theme of violence and order across British, Spanish, Dutch, and French colonies. Authors include Cynthia Radding on northwestern Mexico, Ann Twinam on race in the Spanish Empire, and Cecile Vidal on slavery in Louisiana.

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  • Taylor, Alan. American Colonies. New York: Viking, 2001.

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    Detailed, lucid survey of the colonial history of North America, including Alaska and Hawaii.

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Textbooks and Surveys

Increasingly, early American textbooks and surveys include histories of places beyond the British colonies. The books listed here do not simply include other examples but give fairly even treatment to different places and integrate them into a larger narrative of early North America. Jones, et al. 2009, Calloway 2008, Hine and Faragher 2000, and Greer 1997 are comprehensive narratives. DuVal and DuVal 2009, Rushforth and Mapp 2009, and Deverell and Hyde 2000 are collections of primary documents with introductions and other editorial guidance. Milner, et al. 1997 includes an editor’s introduction, historians’ essays, and primary documents.

  • Calloway, Colin G. First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian Survey. 3d ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.

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    Survey text and accompanying documents on American Indians across North America from before colonization to the 21st century.

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  • Deverell, William F., and Anne F. Hyde, eds. The West in the History of the Nation: A Reader. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.

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    Short collection of primary sources on the American West, broadly defined, with connections to the larger narratives of American history.

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  • DuVal, Kathleen, and John DuVal, eds. Interpreting a Continent: Voices from Colonial America. Lantham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.

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    Primary sources from colonial North America defined broadly, with new translations of documents from French, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, German, and Icelandic, in addition to English-language documents.

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  • Greer, Allan. The People of New France. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.

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    Helpful survey of the colonial societies of New France and the Mississippi Valley.

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  • Hine, Robert V., and John Mack Faragher. The American West: A New Interpretive History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

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    Comprehensive narrative history of the American West, with several chapters on the period before 1850. Update of Hine’s The American West: An Interpretive History (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973).

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  • Jones, Jacqueline, et al. Created Equal: A Social and Political History of the United States. Vol. 1, A History of the United States: To 1877. 3d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009.

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    Many US history survey texts are incorporating a broader vision of early America. With Peter Wood as one of its authors, Created Equal does perhaps the best job of integrating stories of diverse American Indian, European, and African peoples together into a cohesive narrative of early North America.

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  • Milner, Clyde A., II, Anne M. Butler, and David Rich Lewis, eds. Major Problems in the History of the American West: Documents and Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

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    Important essays and key primary documents on the American West, with several chapters on the period before 1850.

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  • Rushforth, Brett, and Paul Mapp, eds. Colonial North America and the Atlantic World: A History in Documents. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009.

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    A rich continentally focused collection of documents from colonial America.

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Journals

There is no journal specifically devoted to continental America. Rather, journals that publish on early American history are increasingly including articles on subjects beyond the thirteen colonies. Early American Studies, Common-Place, and William and Mary Quarterly focus on early America from precolonization through the early 1800s. The Journal of the Early Republic deals with the time period between the American Revolution and the Civil War. The subject of the Western Historical Quarterly is the American West in all time periods. Articles on American Indians from precolonization to the present appear in the American Indian Quarterly. Articles in Ethnohistory are by historians and anthropologists studying indigenous peoples, mostly in the Americas.

Primary Sources

In addition to the document collections listed under Textbooks and Surveys, the following works are primary texts in easily accessible publications. They are only a brief entry into the primary sources available on continental North America. The sources were written by Europeans, but ethnohistorical methods allow historians to get some glimpse of Indians’ perspectives and motivations.

Contact and Early Colonization Attempts

This first set of primary texts deals with early contact between Indians and Europeans and Africans. From Spanish explorers and settlers come the Cabeza de Vaca 1999, de Soto 1993, and Hackett 1942 accounts. From the French: Cartier 1993, Greer 2000, Laudonnière 2001, and L’Incarnation 1967. (Accounts of English exploration accounts may be found in other entries in this bibliography.)

  • Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Núñez. Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca: His Account, His Life, and the Expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez. 3 vols. Edited and translated by Rolena Adorno and Patrick Charles Pautz. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

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    Cabeza de Vaca was stranded on the coast of Florida in 1528 and made his way by raft and foot to northern Mexico by 1536. Along the way, he and his three comrades, including the black slave Esteban, were enslaved by some American Indians, were embraced by others as healers and traders, and came to know the 16th-century peoples of the Texas coast better than any other outsiders. Spanish title: Naufragios.

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  • Cartier, Jacques. The Voyages of Jacques Cartier. Edited and translated by Ramsey Cook. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

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    The accounts of Jacques Cartier as he searched for the elusive Northwest Passage in the 1530s.

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  • de Soto, Hernando. The De Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539–1543. 2 vols. Edited by Lawrence A. Clayton, Vernon James Knight Jr., and Edward C. Moore. Various translators. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993.

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    Several chroniclers tell the fascinating and often revolting travails of Hernando de Soto’s expedition as it marched from Tampa Bay to Texas, then fled down the Mississippi River.

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  • Greer, Allan, ed. The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.

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    Excerpts of 17th-century French Jesuit missionaries’ accounts of their interactions with Indians throughout New France and the Mississippi Valley. For a multivolume set of these accounts, including the original French and Latin, see The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610–1791, edited and translated by Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland, OH: Burrows Bros., 1896–1901).

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  • Hackett, Charles W. Revolt of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Otermín’s Attempted Reconquest, 1680–1682. 2 vols. Translated by Charmion Clair Shelby. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1942.

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    Contemporary accounts of how the Indians of the Pueblos expelled the Spanish.

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  • Laudonnière, René Goulaine de. Three Voyages. Edited and translated by Charles E. Bennett. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.

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    French Huguenot René Laudonnière’s account of the 1564 French settlement of Fort Caroline near the present-day northeastern border of Florida and its destruction by the Spanish the following year. Charles Bennett provides a fluid translation of this gripping account. Original French title: L’histoire notable de la Floride située es Indes Occidentales, contenant les trois voyages.

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  • L’Incarnation, Marie de. Word from New France: The Selected Letters of Marie de L’Incarnation. Edited and translated by Joyce Marshall. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1967.

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    Fascinating 17th-century letters by a French Ursuline nun working in a mission in Quebec. French title: Correspondance.

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Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

There are countless sources from the continent for this period, so these only give some highlights. Serra 1955–1966 writes from California, which colonized late. Bougainville 1964 reports on the Seven Years’ War. Lewis and Clark 1997 and Perdue and Green 1995 show how the early republic dealt with its western problems and opportunities, and how the peoples to the west responded. Calloway 1996, Northup 2007, and Chávez 2008 depict mid-19th-century westward expansion, including the expansion of plantation slavery.

  • Bougainville, Louis-Antoine de, Comte. Adventure in the Wilderness: The American Journals of Louis Antoine de Bougainville, 1756–1760. Edited and translated by Edward P. Hamilton. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.

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    Bougainville kept this journal during the Seven Years’ War, while he was serving as the aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Montcalm, the commanding general for New France. Includes fascinating accounts of how the French and Indians cooperated and failed to do so.

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  • Calloway, Colin G., ed. Our Hearts Fell to the Ground: Plains Indian Views of How the West Was Lost. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996.

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    A collection of Plains Indians accounts, including images, from the 18th and 19th centuries, with an insightful introduction analyzing the changes that colonialism brought to the West.

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  • Chávez, Ernesto, ed. The U.S. War with Mexico: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008.

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    Primary sources on the war between the United States and Mexico in the 1840s. The introduction tells the history of the war and puts it in the context of the Americas’ colonial and revolutionary past and their uneasy future.

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  • Lewis, Meriwether, and William Clark. The Journals of Lewis and Clark. Edited by Bernard DeVoto. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

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    Lewis and Clark’s journal of their expedition across the continent from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean at the beginning of the 19th century.

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  • Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave: And Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. Edited by Sue Eakin. Lafayette: University of Louisiana, 2007.

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    Originally published in 1853; many editions available. The harrowing narrative of a free man kidnapped in Washington, D.C., and enslaved on a cotton plantation in Louisiana.

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  • Perdue, Theda, and Michael D. Green, eds. The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1995.

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    Comprehensive collection of documents on the federal removal of the Cherokees in the 1830s. Includes a short history from two leading experts in Cherokee history. Revised in 2005.

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  • Serra, Junípero. Writings. 3 vols. Edited and translated by Antonine Tibesar. Washington, DC: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1955–1966.

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    Letters from Franciscan priest Junípero Serra regarding the founding and maintenance of California’s missions. In Spanish with English translations.

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Continental Indian History

By its nature, studying the entire North American continent in the colonial period involves large numbers of Indians and places where Indians held more power than Europeans. Therefore, Indian groups play prominent roles in almost all relevant works. The subfield of continental Indian history particularly points to examples of histories in which Indians are the main actors and Europeans play only minor roles. Dowd 1992 and Richter 1992 pioneered Indian-centered narratives, and Perdue 1998 puts American Indian women at the center of the story. La Vere 1998 and Smith 2000 discuss Indians in the West. O’Brien 2002 and Piker 2006 study Indians in the “old Southwest,” east of the Mississippi. O’Brien 1997 is an example of this kind of history applied to New England.

  • Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

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    Tells the fascinating and vital story of how some Indians across the eastern half of North America and the Mississippi Valley developed the concept that they were a single race.

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  • La Vere, David. The Caddo Chiefdoms: Caddo Economics and Politics, 700–1835. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

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    Fascinating ethnohistoric study of the Caddo people and their world. Shows how their history as a powerful Mississippian chiefdom informed their reactions to colonialism and allowed them to retain power over their Indian and European neighbors.

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  • O’Brien, Greg. Choctaws in a Revolutionary Age, 1750–1830. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

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    Explores changing ways of establishing and maintaining political power within the Choctaw nation through the stories of two very different chiefs, Taboca and Franchimastabé.

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  • O’Brien, Jean. Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650–1790. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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    Countering the myth that Indians disappeared from the heart of the English colonies, shows how Indians of the praying town of Natick built and maintained their community.

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  • Perdue, Theda. Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700–1835. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

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    Groundbreaking study arguing for the central role of women in Cherokee society, the continuing importance of women’s roles throughout the colonial period, and the diminution of their influence and power in the 19th century.

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  • Piker, Joshua. Okfuskee: A Creek Indian Town in Colonial America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

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    A town-centered study that focuses on one Creek Indian town and its relations with other Creek towns, Indian nations, and European empires.

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  • Richter, Daniel K. The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

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    Beautifully written ethnohistory of the Iroquois League and its relations with Indian and European neighbors.

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  • Smith, F. Todd. The Wichita Indians: Traders of Texas and the Southern Plains, 1540–1845. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000.

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    How the Wichitas merged out of disparate Caddoan groups and conducted trade, diplomacy, and war with their Indian and European neighbors.

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European Empires across the Continent

From the early 16th through early 19th centuries, European empires rivaled for possession of North America. Indeed, the grand story of the continent in this era is European and Indian rivalries for power. Calloway 2006, Elliott 2006, Jennings 1988, Pagden 1995, and Seed 1995 explicitly compare empires. Berlin 1998 and Fenn 2001 analyze particular subjects (slavery and the effects of smallpox, respectively) across more than one empire’s colonies.

The West

Far from the thirteen colonies and from the center of the Spanish Empire, the North American West has received inadequate attention from scholars. Spanish borderlands scholarship of the early 20th century opened the field but tended to be more interested in defending Spaniards’ reputations than in Indian perspectives. Calloway 2003 is an essential survey of the West before the 19th century. Weber 1992 examines the northern Spanish Empire, from California to Florida. Barr 2007, Blackhawk 2006, Brooks 2002, Gutiérrez 1991, Hackel 2005, and Hämäläinen 2008 delve into regions of the West on their own terms. There remain many fertile topics in the long history of this diverse and important place.

Mississippi Valley

The weakness of the French meant that Indians retained power longer in the Mississippi Valley and Canada than on most of the east coast. This relatively weak colonialism provides abundant primary sources for studying a place mainly under Indian control for most of the colonial and early republican periods. Usner 1992 and Hall 1992 pioneered the study of the Mississippi Valley as part of early American history. Eccles 1998 is a survey of French colonies, including those in the Mississippi Valley. Clark 2007 and Kastor 2004 focus on New Orleans and its surrounding communities, whereas Aron 2006, DuVal 2006, and McLaurin 1993 cover areas farther upriver.

The Northeast

These works deal with the borders between the northern thirteen colonies and their European and Indian neighbors. Axtell 1985, Plank 2003, and Van Kirk 1980 look at relations among the French, the British, and northeastern Indians. The Great Lakes region is the subject of Sleeper-Smith 2001 and White 1991. Hinderaker 1997 focuses on competitors for the Ohio Valley. Merritt 2003 and Merwick 2006 look at the middle colonies’ western border. Of course, continental history includes the thirteen colonies, but other entries in this bibliography provide references to those.

The Southeast

Here, the most powerful empires—England, Spain, and France—and some of the strongest Indian nations—Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee—clashed and collaborated economically, diplomatically, and militarily. Gallay 2002 and Weddle 2001 depict eras when Indians held most of the power in the region. Saunt 1999 and Merrell 1989 explore how Indians responded to Europeans’ increasing power. Landers 1999 and McMichael 2008 show how some individuals took advantage of the rivalries. Brown 2007 and Waselkov, et al. 2006 are valuable essay collections whose subjects span multiple empires and Indian nations. Works on the internal history of the thirteen colonies are listed in other entries in this bibliography.

  • Brown, Richmond F., ed. Coastal Encounters: The Transformation of the Gulf South in the Eighteenth Century. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.

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    Fascinating collection of essays on Europeans, Africans, and Indians in the region from Florida to Texas. Includes important essays by Daniel Usner on the significance of the Gulf South in early American history and Amy Turner Bushnell on early Indian impressions of the Spanish and English.

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  • Gallay, Alan. The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670–1717. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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    Shows how the Indian slave trade affected Indian peoples, empires, and the future of slavery in the American South, defined broadly.

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  • Landers, Jane. Black Society in Spanish Florida. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

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    Shows how Floridians of African descent used the Spanish–English rivalry to increase their own power and forge their own community.

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  • McMichael, Andrew. Atlantic Loyalties: Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785–1810. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2008.

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    Traces the surprising comfort of American settlers within the Spanish Empire.

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  • Merrell, James H. The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

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    Innovative study of how coastal Indians responded to their rapid loss of power in the colonial era.

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  • Saunt, Claudio. A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    Traces the 18th-century rise of class distinction, hierarchal politics, and plantation slavery within the Creek nation.

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  • Waselkov, Gregory A., Peter H. Wood, and Tom Hatley, eds. Powhatan’s Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast. Rev. ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

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    Influential collection about southeastern Indians, from Virginia to Louisiana, and their relations with Europeans and Africans. Essays include Amy Turner Bushnell on early Florida, Patricia Galloway on Choctaw–French diplomacy, Vernon Knight on Mississippian mounds, and Peter Wood on demographics.

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  • Weddle, Robert S. The Wreck of the Belle, the Ruin of La Salle. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001.

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    Tells the story of La Salle’s ruin in Texas. See Weddle’s other books for more on French and Spanish colonial efforts in the Gulf.

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LAST MODIFIED: 05/10/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199730414-0015

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