Colonial French history tends to be dominated by North Africa and East Asia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; however, these two volumes represent a growing interest in the North American French colonies of the eighteenth century. Both books are firmly rooted in the Atlantic school of history as New France and Louisiana are examined and defined through links to France. Although Nester’s book title name-checks the rather obsolete term, French and Indian War, in truth it covers the Seven Years’ War in Europe almost as much as North America. Likewise, Greenwald’s study goes further afield than Louisiana travelling to Senegambian outposts and even into the Indian Ocean, using the linking thread of the activities of the Compagnie des Indes. Nester constructs a traditional grand narrative of kings, generals and politicians, which, after a lengthy but well-crafted introduction to the complex geopolitics, proceeds with a chapter per year of the conflict from 1755 to 1763. In contrast, Greenwald describes her work as a microhistory, which uses the memoir of Marc-Antoine Caillot, a junior secretary of the company, to explore corporate-colonial enterprise. In 1717, the French trading company that would become the Compagnie des Indes, secured the monopoly on French tobacco imports and production in Louisiana. The company and its investors believed this opportunity would bring fabulous wealth. Under the leadership of persuasive speculator John Law, the company consolidated with struggling French African trading companies to furnish cheap slaves to transform Louisiana into a tobacco plantation to rival the British in the Chesapeake. The financial bubble burst and John Law removed before this aim was realized, but, after restructuring, the company continued to pursue this goal. Greenwald’s study begins in this post-bubble period during the late 1720s and ends when the company finds its position in Louisiana unprofitable and untenable in the face of attacks by the local Natchez Indians. By following Caillot, the book includes details on many aspects of his journey, starting with the company offices in Paris, the roads to the port towns and the development of Lorient to the outfitting of company vessels, life onboard ship, resupply in Saint-Domingue to name a few; Caillot does not even reach Louisiana until Chapter five. While these details are interesting, this slim volume provides links between these topics rather than covering them in depth. The narrative breaks away from Caillot to foreground the company’s successes in the Indian Ocean so that it can neatly tie up the company’s, and Caillot’s, post-Louisiana endeavours in the more profitable Asian market. The central thesis concerning Louisiana is that company investment was ‘anaemic’, which, combined with settler debt, was a vicious cycle ‘which ultimately hindered the company’s mandate to make Louisiana France’s largest tobacco producer’. There is little engagement with historiography save for challenging an assertion that slave families were well protected in Louisiana and an idea that, as with African slaves, Atlantic crossing was a transformative experience for Europeans. This is done through an examination of ritual extortion/humiliation of passengers by sailors. The study moves concisely through these various subjects and offers intriguing detail of the Compagnie des Indes operations but is a little too specific to a narrow space and time for general interest. For a book concerned with global connections, it is unfortunate that no maps are included and illustrations reproduced too small to view detail. A lack of French interest in America is a theme continued by Nester who skilfully chronicles the myriad factors of rising tensions which caused the Seven Years’ War to spark in the Ohio country and the subsequent fall of New France, France’s most well-developed American colony. Continental relationships and the workings of Louis XV’s government are explored alongside military exploits, which will be fresh to those who have only read Anglophone histories of the war. Unfortunately, there are flaws. Other reviewers have pointed out a lack of engagement with current scholarship, factual errors and a simplification of native people’s involvement in the North American conflict. In methodological terms, Nester does not seek comparison with British efforts in America, which presupposes the loss of New France is attributable to French mistakes rather than British agency. The thrust of Nester’s argument is that despite the myriad of problems faced by New France—a disinterested monarch, population, food and munitions shortages, and endemic corruption—these factors did not cause the loss of the colony. The blame is laid squarely on the French army commander, General Montcalm, and his battlefield decisions. Nester sides with New France’s governor, Vaudreuil, criticizing Montcalm’s reasons for ending his 1757 campaign early without following up his victory at Lake George and pushing on to threaten northern New York. Nester goes further than contemporary critics, questioning Montcalm’s decisions in 1756 and predicting a French victory over the British at Quebec during the summer of 1759 if more aggressive actions were taken. These conclusions are not convincing due to the lack of analysis surrounding them. Few sources are consulted on the tactical situation facing Montcalm and the picture painted by Nester of a dysfunctional infrastructure make it hard to envisage how these theoretical military gains would have changed the outcome of a war in which Britain had invested so much more money, resource and manpower. Despite these criticisms, Nester’s work links America to Europe in a readable way and is a good overall study of the last days of New France from which to begin. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
French History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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