3d ser., 73, no. 4 October 2016
By Christopher Heaney
Grave-opening was a shared European practice of possession and knowledge production in the early Americas, identifying what indigenous peoples believed of the afterlife and what items they valued. If mortuary practices such as interring wealth with the dead were deemed idolatrous, then the disruption and looting of graves and the people who made them was permissible. Nowhere was grave-opening more profitable than in sixteenth-century Peru, where the dispossession of the wealthy and sovereign Inca dead transformed Spanish imperial fortunes. But English cosmographers also explored the conversion of New World interments, seeing correspondences between Tudor reformation of the English afterlife and Spanish efforts in Peru. At Baffin Island, Roanoke, Guiana, and other places, English subjects surveyed the local dead, seeking a Peru of their own. Yet retracing English entanglement with Spanish grave-opening reveals the disentanglement of their colonial models as well. At Jamestown and Plymouth, settlers destroyed elite interments and associated markers of power and historicity; heartbroken indigenous kinspeople punished the English accordingly. Abandoning Peruvian precedent, English promoters of colonization portrayed North America’s Indians and their dead as less sovereign and more diabolical than the Incas, justifying a deeper extirpation of their bodies and history from the land.
By Samuel Fisher
This article explores American colonists’ understanding of the role of native people in the British Empire during the years of the revolutionary crisis, years in which imperial officials sought to centralize “Indian affairs” and win native people as allies. Americans responded by turning George III’s Indian policy against him, claiming he was a tyrant because he preferred Indians to colonists and saw natives as fit instruments to chastise freedom-loving Britons. In making this case, colonists drew on seventeenth-century precedents: the accusation had first been leveled against the Stuarts, and not only in America but in Ireland and Scotland too. The long transatlantic roots of this “fit instruments” argument demonstrate that revolutionary Americans were not inventing new forms of exclusion but rather clinging to old ones. By the time of the imperial crisis, other places in the empire were moving beyond this exclusionary understanding of empire, but Americans embraced it. Acknowledging the Atlantic genealogy of this argument as well as its centrality to the colonists’ case recasts the American Revolution as one outcome of a wider imperial struggle over managing diversity that fundamentally shaped the paths of Ireland, Scotland, and America.
When a ship carrying East India Company tea wrecked on Cape Cod in late 1773, the presence of thousands of pounds of salvaged, untaxed tea created significant divisions among local residents, thus exposing differences of opinion usually concealed by historians’ emphasis on colonial unity in opposition to the Tea Act. Quarrels arose over whether the tea could be sold because it had not been taxed, or if it should be boycotted as a product of the EIC, regardless of its tax status. The conflict affected local politics for months. Townspeople assembled in competing meetings; mobs ransacked homes for concealed tea; other mobs threatened town officials as the militia mustered in their defense; arguments over principles divided residents of Wellfleet and Eastham. These conflicts were initially resolved through traditional means such as mutual concessions and public apologies. But a final resolution could not be reached until all of the combatants accepted the authority of the First Continental Congress about a year after the shipwreck.
By Gabriel Cervantes
Criminal and con man Stephen Burroughs (1765–1840) lived a checkered life, and he drew on his experiences in a popular autobiography, Memoirs of Stephen Burroughs (first published in two volumes in 1798–1804). As scholars have shown, author and narrative reflect postrevolutionary political and economic crises. The perspective of book history reveals another story, one dominated by republication—the practice of bringing already-published material into public view once more and adapting it for a diversity of readers. In composing Memoirs, Burroughs drew from newspaper items and a wide range of British and American poems and poetic extracts circulating in books, periodicals, and poetic collections. Once it was published, the popularity of Memoirs was secured by its many editions. Some of these catered to a demand for cheap entertainment. Others garnered the support of prominent schoolbook author and publisher Caleb Bingham, and proffered moral, affective, and literary guidance. In all these aspects, Burroughs and his Memoirs illuminate the development of early U.S. literature within a local, early national, and transatlantic chamber of echoes.