In the decades that followed the War of 1812, the United States swiftly and effectively established its sovereignty over the western Great Lakes. In the interstices of nation and empire, the political standing of Indians shifted from relatively autonomous subjects in a diffuse English empire to being wards within an exclusive model of statehood promoted through the Northwest Ordinance. The old French fur trade communities, like Michilimackinac, become part of a hierarchically structured antebellum world, with racial identifiers that consigned people of mixed ancestry to the margins of that society. During the last half of the nineteenth century, memories about the interracial nature of fur trade society were submerged, rejected by the prejudices of hypothetically mixing blood. In negotiating the boundaries of this newly emerging world, mixed-ancestry women proved particularly vulnerable. These women had acquired significant economic authority and increased autonomy under the French and British regimes, particularly when they were left fur trade widows. This article examines the pathways that government agents, particularly Indian agents, used to establish U.S. sovereignty in the region and how undercutting female agency became part of that process. This research suggests that some women often successfully responded to those threats while others were less successful. Memories about who these women were and the role that intermarriage played in this colonial world has been both whitened and homogenized by Great Lakes histories.
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Oct 17, 2005
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