Historians have long known that the English explorer Martin Frobisher left five men behind on his voyage to Baffin Island in 1576. Those men later vanished from the historical record. But the mystery of their disappearance is only the start of the story. Investigating the texts surrounding Frobisher’s three voyages to Nunavut along with other kinds of evidence, such as folklore and oral history, invests the saga of the five men with different meaning. First, microhistorical analysis can reveal the shifting place of the Arctic in English plans for the Western Hemisphere. Second, the differing stories about what happened to the men serve as a reminder that in this part of the world the fate of Europeans depended on maintaining good relations with local peoples. The Inuit knew how to survive the frigid climate of Nunavut, but the English did not. Lacking the kinds of advantages that the English possessed in other sites of encounter, the newcomers redefined their expectations: the North would be a place to harvest resources and perhaps traverse, but not territory that invited settlement. The Inuit remained the masters of the Arctic.
By Philippe R. Girard and Jean-Louis Donnadieu
The early life of Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture (ca. 1743–1803) was long shrouded in myth, in part because Toussaint (who did not take the name “Louverture” until the Haitian Revolution) gave an account of his youth that suited his political interests more than historical accuracy. Newly exploited French plantation and notarial records help paint a detailed and nuanced portrait of Toussaint’s prerevolutionary life but also lead to more general conclusions about plantation life, the free population of color in Saint Domingue (Haiti), and the nature of the Haitian Revolution. The article first explores Toussaint’s extended kinship network (which included his African-born parents, his surrogate parents, his first wife, Cécile, and his second wife, Suzanne, and many prominent free blacks) and concludes that the revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines had once been the slave of Toussaint’s son-in-law. The circumstances of Toussaint’s enslavement, his owners’ family, and his manumission suggest that Toussaint’s experience of slavery was less traumatic than others’. Finally, the sources reveal the landholdings acquired by Toussaint during his political ascent to have been extensive but not always profitable. Overall, the formative years of Toussaint’s youth underline the complexity of his relationship with the plantation system and help us better understand his political choices when he later ran Saint Domingue as a governor for life.
By Keith Mason
In late 1725 a man named Frank sailed from Nevis, destined for England. A slave accused of participation in an alleged insurrection plot, he was being sheltered temporarily in the household of his aristocratic, absentee owner, Sir William Stapleton. This remarkable incident sheds light on two obscure aspects of early eighteenth-century Caribbean plantation society. First, it reveals a particular variety of absenteeism best characterized as “aristocratic capitalism.” Elite planters, although in the vanguard of commercial development, nevertheless remained wedded to traditional forms of social organization that centered upon the extended, patriarchal household. As a skilled “key slave,” Frank was co-opted into this distinctive “family circle,” which accounts for the considerable efforts taken to shield him from Nevis’s hostile white residents. Second, the story also draws attention to the dilemmas faced by a Caribbean bondsman occupying such a privileged status within the plantation system. It raises questions about how he might have understood his position in this peculiar transatlantic extended household and what might explain his trajectory from his possible participation in the 1725 plot, through his subsequent exile in England and later Antigua, to his decision to flee to Saint Kitts and then Jamaica in 1730. Central to this microhistory, then, is a fraught narrative of the perils of privilege in the midst of patriarchy and exploitation.
By Robert Michael Morrissey
The technique of social network analysis undergirds this exploration of how Frenchmen and Indian women created community through both marriage and godparenthood in the interracial community of Kaskaskia in the Illinois country. Previous scholars have shown the instrumental role that kinship and fictive kinship played in helping Frenchmen enter the Algonquian cultural habitus of the fur trade. But where these scholars focused on key individuals in fur trade communities, this essay uses all extant baptismal and marriage records to reconstruct the entire kinship network in one eighteenth-century bicultural village. The resulting analysis demonstrates that the most important actors in this social network were members of the most well-established agrarian households. Moving away from accepted wisdom about the instrumental functions of kinship within the fur trade, the essay instead suggests that kinship networks oriented Frenchmen, Indian women and their families toward an increasingly French, agrarian cultural habitus. While kinship remained important for constructing identities in Kaskaskia, just as in the larger world of the pays d’en haut fur trade, here kinship bonds functioned to assimilate Indian women as the bicultural trade world became increasingly agrarian, Catholic, and “French.”
The “framing of a new world”:
Sir Balthazar Gerbier’s “Project for Establishing a New State in America,” ca. 1649
By Vera Keller
In his “Project for Establishing a New State in America,” Sir Balthazar Gerbier (1592–1663) composed a constitution for a proposed sovereign American state. Throughout his mercurial international career in art, politics, and “experimental natural philosophy,” Gerbier pursued many projects, including an ephemeral settlement in Guyana (1660). His “Project” relates to and differs from these other ventures. Whereas Gerbier often promised narrow utility and immediate profit, his “Project” addresses the distant future and fundamental social structures. A 1628 plot by Gerbier’s early patron, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592–1628), to found a sovereign American state furnished Gerbier with an opportunity to design on this grander scale. Gerbier communicated a copy of the “Project” to Villiers’s son in 1649, prompted, he explained, by the current distemper in England. He also incorporated a version of it in a lavish 1654 folio illustrating his range of useful “secrets” and skills. Gerbier thus connected the “Project” to his other endeavors, both by including earlier projects within his design for a new state and by setting it amid his secrets. Gerbier’s “Project” helps clarify a continuous spectrum of projects ranging from immediately useful secrets to short-term settlements, long-term institutions, fundamental constitutions, and timeless utopias.