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The Specter of Peace

Rethinking Violence and Power in the Colonial Atlantic

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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.

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Brendan Gillis

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British imperial magistrates applied distinct bodies of law in each colonial context. In contrast, a shared set of conventions for lawful government shaped administrative decision making throughout British world. This chapter highlights the importance of a broad and mutable mandate to keep peace for the exercise of power in Britain and its empire during the eighteenth century. It focuses primarily on two case studies. In December 1763, the so-called Paxton Boys massacred fourteen Conestoga Indians, whom the magistrates of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, protected in the town workhouse. Usually addressed as a violent turning point in colonial policy, this incident is indicative of a wider strategy of magisterial improvisation that shaped the development of imperial law. In South Asia, too, the writings of Magistrate Thomas Perry make clear, rhetoric and practices of peace allowed East India Company officials to impose British norms on Indian social and economic life. Perry and other British imperialists used what they saw as the failure of Mughal government to achieve peaceful society to argue for radical reforms to Indian courts, administrative structures, and patterns of landholding. A historiographical emphasis on legal pluralism has called attention to the varied and diverse bodies of law that divided European empires. This essay shifts focus to conventions and practices associated with legal peace. The project of maintaining order through law allowed local agents to improvise policies that constructed imperial sovereignty and jurisdiction through local practice.

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Geoffrey Plank

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Atlantic history in the second half of the eighteenth century has long been associated with war. The Seven Years’ War became a global struggle between 1754 and 1763. The settlement that ended that conflict proved unstable, and soon thereafter the Atlantic was plunged into an Age of Revolution, with violent upheavals in North America, France, and Haiti. These Revolutions in turn lay the groundwork for the Napoleonic Wars, which upset virtually all of Europe and Latin America. Historians have long sought to connect these conflicts using the tools of narrative history. Embedded within the conflicts of this era are stories of peace. In the Ohio River Valley, Enlightenment France, Ireland, Philadelphia, Senegal, Peru, and other places across the Atlantic World, writers, policy-makers, preachers and warriors responded to the bloody politics of the era by imagining peaceful futures. Indigenous Americans, Europeans, colonists, and slaves developed alternative programs to achieve peace. Though they were not always aware of each other, these dreamers and fighters were responding to common problems. This essay asks what we can learn by telling their stories together within a narrative encompassing the Atlantic World.

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Micah Alpaugh

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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.

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Margot Minardi

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This essay examines three central preoccupations of the early American peace movement: its efforts to vanquish outdated “custom” in the name of a republican triumph over a tyrannical past; its engagement with the postmillennialist fervor of the contemporary mission movement alongside its critique of that movement’s evangelical strategy; and its ambivalent rendering of peace as both a longed-for culmination of human history and a dream that existed outside of history. Taken together, these preoccupations reflect the movement’s emergence at a moment when Americans were seeking to make sense of their place in the world and in history. They also show how the peace reform agenda was intertwined with other benevolent enterprises of the day, including campaigns against dueling and slave-trading and missionary endeavors at home and abroad. This essay focuses on the writings of Noah Worcester, a founder of the Massachusetts Peace Society (especially his fictional “Letters of Lillian Ching”), as well as the work of other early American pacifists, in order to show how peace advocates strived to show that peace was achievable via human action in their own time.

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Dylan Ruediger

Chapter 2

This essay shows another, perhaps counterintuitive, result of the history of peace and violence in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Virginia. Ruediger looks as at the Treaty of the Middle Plantation, the agreement that reestablished hierarchical, tributary relations between Virginia’s royal government and multiple Indian nations in the Piedmont region. His essay demonstrates that, contrary to “a historiography that has emphasized the acre-by-acre westward course of empire,” Anglo-American governors extended their reach into the hinterlands tentatively, eschewing violent actions against Indian allies during the half-century after Bacon’s Rebellion. Such a stance served the colonial government, particularly during their long association with the Saponi nation. The Saponis acted as valuable intermediaries during and after the Tuscarora war (1711–15), as Virginia tried to increase its authority in the region by acting as a mediator between warring Siouian and Iroquoian groups. This arrangement served colonial interests, to be sure. But it also served the Saponis as well. In a region of shifting alliances and disagreements about territorial limits and power, their diplomatic usefulness to Virginia’s colonial government afforded them a measure of security. This unequal colonial relationship allowed them to sustain their identity as an independent Indian nation—no mean feat when during an era which saw the destruction of the Susquehannocks and the Tuscarora forced to move north and join the Iroquois Confederacy for their own protection. Virginia’s tributary system created an unsteady peace that managed—but certainly did not end—war in the Piedmont. If it extended Britain’s reach into the North American interior, it also protected Indians within its sphere from the worst effects of European colonization.

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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.

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Cristina Soriano

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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.