My PhD advisor, Sharon Block (UC Irvine) recently put me in touch with a PhD student at the University of Southern California, Nicholas Gliserman (who, coincidentally, knows UMW’s very own Will Mackintosh from Nick’s undergraduate days in Philadelphia), and after a chat on Skype, we decided our research intersects enough that we should try to put together a panel proposal for AHA 2015. Nick did most of the work, finding a third panelist and commenter, and then doing a fantastic job writing up the full proposal. The panel would feature three papers considering colonial America’s contested spaces, produced by colonizing powers’ efforts to legitimize territorial claims, and the challenges posed by imperial centers’ distance from the lands they claimed, the conflicting assertions of territorial sovereignty by Native peoples, and the movement of migratory resources like fish.
My abstract is pasted below (and if at some point I remember to get everyone’s permission to post individual abstracts and the full proposal, I’ll do so)–it’s an outgrowth of the research I did for “Creating Histories and Recovering Autonomy in the Hudson Valley,” and a product of a bunch of material I thought was interesting but didn’t use. Since I didn’t see it fitting with that project, I only saved a few bits and pieces, rather than everything I ran across, which means I’ll have to reprise some of that research, but at least I know what resources to turn to in that event.
Abstract for “Intersecting Sovereignties in Seventeenth-Century New York:” England’s 1664 conquest of New Netherland initiated a transition in imperial rule that threatened an existing Dutch property regime, providing opportunities for the region’s Indian inhabitants to assert their own persistent claims to New York’s lands. This paper uses deeds, court minutes, and other land records to consider the intersection of native, Dutch, and English notions of sovereignty in early New York. The new English government moved quickly to confirm land titles in its newly acquired territory, a process that in some instances involved multiple parties and spanned several years. Just months after the colony’s surrender, Jeremias van Rensselaer bemoaned the situation in a letter to his brother: “How it will go with our colony, I do not yet know, but I have been summoned by Governor Richard Nicolls to come down to show him our patents and what right we have to the colony.” Less fortunate Dutch colonists lacked van Rensselaer’s patents, and Dutch records often proved spotty, leaving English officials to rely on a combination of written documents and oral tradition provided by both Dutch and English colonists, and the region’s Indian inhabitants. The use of personal accounts to determine the boundaries of parcels and trace their earlier ownership may ultimately have supported a colonial property regime, but claims based on original sales from Indians implicitly legitimized native historical accounts and sovereignty. Moreover, Indians helping confirm those earlier transactions extracted concessions—reserved fishing and hunting rights, buildings to shelter them when they came to trade, requests for regular renewals, and acknowledgements of the historical claims they articulated—that constituted continued use, usufruct bolstering their own territorial claims. New York’s native peoples thus implied that they had yet to relinquish their claims to sovereign territory, even as English officials worked to erase those native claims by rationalizing European titles.