Statistics in the Hands of an Angry God?
John Graunt’s Observations in Cotton Mather’s New England
By Ted McCormick
Cotton Mather’s reputation as a scientific amateur rests on his unsystematic natural-historical observations, his correspondence with the Royal Society (of which he was the first American-born Fellow), and his defense of smallpox inoculation during the Boston outbreak of 1721. Yet Mather also engaged with another form of science: demographic statistics, particularly the mortality data analyzed by the English tradesman John Graunt in his Natural and Political Observations . . . upon the Bills of Mortality (1662) and the projections of past and future population growth in the work of the political arithmetician William Petty. While Mather’s use of demographic numbers in sermons has been discussed, the pastoral use of mortality data was only one of his demographic concerns. A full examination of these concerns across Mather’s sermons, exegetical works, and correspondence reveals that he also used these numbers in two other ways. First, his reading of metropolitan political arithmetic allowed Mather to participate in a transatlantic anti-deist discourse associated with physico-theology, and thus in an Anglican Enlightenment. Second, by comparing metropolitan findings with his own observations of fertility and mortality in New England, Mather distanced colonial from metropolitan experience, likening New English to biblical demography. Both uses had important eighteenth-century legacies.
“To Extirpate the Indians”:
An Indigenous Consciousness of Genocide in the
Ohio Valley and Lower Great Lakes, 1750s–1810
By Jeffrey Ostler
As European Americans invaded the Ohio Valley and lower Great Lakes region from the 1750s to the 1810s, many Indians feared the very worst. Reports from traders, surveyors, missionaries, non-Indian captives, and government officials show that Indians believed that colonizers intended to “extirpate” or “exterminate” them, words equivalent to the modern-day term genocide. In making this allegation, Indians cited numerous instances of nonnatives’ use of biological warfare and violence against them. Most Indians who adopted this perspective were affiliated with international nativist confederations that directly contested Anglo-American expansion. Indeed, allegations of genocidal intent were an important source of mobilization for these anticolonial movements. But even some native leaders who opposed resistance and advocated diplomacy did so because they thought accommodation was the only way to avoid the genocidal destruction of their communities. Recovering an indigenous consciousness of genocide deepens our understanding of Indians’ thinking about race by highlighting its defensive character, in contrast to the more aggressive and hierarchical racial thinking of Anglo Americans at the time. It also offers new approaches to the stale and often unproductive debate about genocide in American history.
Sources and Interpretations
Capital Generation in the New Nation:
How Stephen Girard Made His First $735,872
By Thomas M. Doerflinger
Stephen Girard was one of the early Republic’s richest and most influential capitalists. Girard’s accounts for the years 1780–1802 were exhaustively analyzed by accountant-turned-historian Jules Boymel, who compiled six notebooks that meticulously map out the commercial activities and financial progress of Girard’s burgeoning business. Published biographies of early American merchants provide only brief, partial glimpses of their subjects’ day-to-day business transactions and overall financial positions; Boymel provides Girard’s complete picture with unmatched breadth and precision. This article alerts historians to the existence of Boymel’s notebooks, explains the conceptual framework of the financial statements he constructed, presents nine tables derived from the notebooks that depict the growth and evolution of Girard’s business, and explicates his extraordinary financial success. This research suggests Girard dramatically expanded his net because of cautious aggressiveness. He accepted the risks involved in shifting from one potentially lucrative trade route to another, but he did so in a prudent, disciplined manner. He kept his business financially simple and narrowly focused; he maintained careful, analytically useful accounts; and he carried low levels of debt.
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