3d ser., 72, no. 3 July 2015
By Sarah Barringer Gordon
In unexpected ways, corporate law in the early Republic provided African Americans in religious institutions with rights that they were denied in other venues. As black congregants developed legal expertise, they built powerful and long-lasting churches. Yet these rights were fragile, as the legal rules governing such institutions also sustained dissent and fracture. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was incorporated in Philadelphia in 1796, setting the stage for subsequent battles over legal and spiritual autonomy for black congregations. Such struggles were conducted through legal means. During the two decades following its incorporation, Bethel’s leaders ever more powerfully defended their church against attempts by the central Methodist Church to assert control. In an era when increasing racism and aggression imperiled free blacks, church corporations were uniquely empowered to protect African American religious institutions. Repeated encounters with law produced both victory (over the white Methodist denomination, which was forced to recognize Bethel’s independence) and defeat (at the hands of breakaway Bethel members, who founded another church nearby and who successfully sued Bethel leaders for theft and trespass). The resulting plurality belies a unitary “black church,” even as it serves as evidence of great resilience and creativity.
By Jeffers Lennox
British Nova Scotia in the early eighteenth century had overlapping geographic identities. French officials and settlers called the region Acadia, while Native polities inhabited their homelands as they had for thousands of years. The Mi’kmaq lived in Mi’kma’ki, the Wulstukwiuk and Passamaquoddy were sustained by the Wulstuk River, and the Abenaki Dawnland stretched across what is now Maine. During a period of relative peace from 1726 to 1744, these Native and non-Native groups monitored settlements, movements, and borders to prevent any unacceptable displays of territorial authority. In so doing, they created shared spaces of interaction: economic (fishing and trading), diplomatic (negotiating and gift-giving), and religious (worshipping and communing). Sovereignty remained elusive and European settlements were pales, but exchanges took place at various seasonal or temporary sites that allowed various groups to maintain peace, air grievances, and balance territorial control. These sites were created, supported, and allowed to dissolve as necessary. British officials did not always employ these sites effectively, whereas the French benefited from a longer history of interaction with the Native groups, who remained the dominant force in the region. Imperial claims to sovereignty were tempered locally by officials who recognized that their limited authority was a boon to peace.
Sources and Interpretations
By Daragh Grant
On September 21, 1638, the Mohegans, the Narragansetts, and the English colonists on the Connecticut River reached an agreement at Hartford to settle their affairs following the Pequot War. The original copy of the treaty having been lost, scholars have depended almost exclusively on a copy prepared for the 1705 hearing of the Mohegan land case. However, this document represents only a fragment of the original agreement, leaving out four of the thirteen provisions agreed to by the parties in 1638. The original text of the treaty is reconstructed here by drawing on all of the surviving copies of the agreement: the 1705 copy already familiar to historians, a 1734 copy prepared during a later hearing of the Mohegan land case, and a newly rediscovered copy dating from 1665 and held among the British Library’s Lansdowne Manuscripts. This reconstructed treaty illuminates how indigenous polities and English settlers sought to navigate the jurisdictional politics of early America. Moreover, it presents scholars with an important resource for reconsidering the evolution of Anglo-Indian relations in New England, particularly the breakdown of the relationship between the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Narragansetts in the early 1640s.