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The Specter of Peace

Rethinking Violence and Power in the Colonial Atlantic


Edited by Michael Goode and John Smolenski

Specter of Peace advances a novel historical conceptualization of peace as a process of “right ordering” that involved the careful regulation of violence, the legitimation of colonial authority, and the creation of racial and gendered hierarchies. The volume highlights the many paths of peacemaking that otherwise have hitherto gone unexplored in early American and Atlantic World scholarship and challenges historians to take peace as seriously as violence. Early American peacemaking was a productive discourse of moral ordering fundamentally concerned with regulating violence. The historicization of peace, the authors argue, can sharpen our understanding of violence, empire, and the early modern struggle for order and harmony in the colonial Americas and Atlantic World.

Contributors are: Micah Alpaugh, Brendan Gillis, Mark Meuwese, Margot Minardi, Geoffrey Plank, Dylan Ruediger, Cristina Soriano and Wayne E. Lee.


Cristina Soriano


News about the revolutionary events of Haiti in 1791 and the turbulence in the French colonies continuously arrived in the General Captaincy of Venezuela in the last decade of the 18th century, increasing tensions among local whites and people of African descent in the province. Rumors of the revolution, racial hatred, and Caribbean violent wars made the Venezuelan colonial State and the elite suspicious about local people of African descent, not only increasing their fear of them but also undermining a sense of confidence that appeared to have existed before 1791. Colonial officials and the elites responded to “black insurrection” with fear, control, and repression in proportional doses, and people of African descent, on their side, recognized “white fear” and used it to voice their demands, not only for freedom and equality, but also for the improvement of labor conditions. In order to prevent a second Haiti, white elites and colonial authorities showed their willingness to make concessions that could calm the “spirits of blacks” who expressed their discontent in a number of expressions, actions, and uprisings throughout the last decade of the eighteenth century. This paper explores how colonial authorities and white elites employed diverse strategies to maintain peace in Venezuela as a way to offset the possibility of black insurrection during the last years of colonial rule (1798–1810). This was an imperial peace predicated on the attempt to contain the threat of revolutionary violence.


Mark Meuwese

The Dutch attempt to conquer Habsburg Brazil is often characterized as a constant violent conflict. A closer look at episodes of non-violence, restraints, and negotiation between the Dutch and their Iberian opponents reveals that establishing peaceful relations and limiting warfare were also critical factors in the rise and fall of Dutch Brazil. The Dutch West India Company (wic) consistently offered incentives and privileges to Luso-Brazilians and indigenous peoples in order to incorporate them into a Dutch-controlled imperial peace. Additionally, wic and Iberian officials negotiated restraints to spare the valuable sugar mills which were the economic foundation of colonial Brazil. At the same time, the guerilla character of the war often undermined efforts to reduce military violence. The participation of indigenous peoples and black African auxiliaries in the Dutch-Iberian conflict also complicated attempts to establish a stable culture of restraint because Europeans viewed them as barbarians and not as honorable enemies. However, even indigenous-European violence was sometimes effectively brought under control. Finally, during the last five years of the conflict, all sides were too exhausted to sustain the war. Thus, the war for Brazil was decided as much on the battlefield as on the negotiating table.


Micah Alpaugh


Whereas most histories of American pre-revolutionary protest have focused on incidents of violence and intimidation, colonial collective action between 1765–1775 may be more notable for developing new methods of positive peacebuilding. Overwhelmingly avoiding bloodshed, the Sons of Liberty and their successors built an unprecedentedly widespread social movement through developing new forms of associational life, trans-regional correspondence networks, public demonstrations, mutual defense pacts, boycotts and community solidarity. Whereas previously the thirteen colonies jealously guarded their autonomy, maintaining closer relations with Britain than each other, these campaigns brought the diverse regions together in a common cause, developing colonial consensus against British legislation. This chapter’s findings, based upon a broad reading of the era’s newspapers, correspondence and government records, suggest that far from seeking civil war, American protesters adopted contentious tactics with the goal of reestablishing a just peace across the British empire. Only after a decade of largely unsuccessful negotiations with imperial authorities did the Patriot cause turn intensively to militia building, but even then did not move onto war-footing until British provocations forced confrontation. American methods both deeply influenced the eighteenth century’s budding Age of Revolutions around the Atlantic basin, and globally continues to inspire core protest tactics in emerging democracies.