Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




British forts in the colonial American backcountry have long been subjects of American heroic myth. Forts were romanticized as harbingers of European civilization, and the Indians who visited them as awestruck, childlike, or scheming. Two centuries of historiography did little to challenge the image of Indians as noble but peripheral figures who were swept aside by the juggernaut of European expansion. In the last few decades, historians have attacked the persistent notion that Indians were supporting participants and sought to reposition them as full agents in the early American story. But in their search for Indian agency, historians have given little attention to British forts as exceptional contact points in their own rights. This dissertation examines five such forts and their surrounding regions as places defined by cultural accommodation and confluence, rather than as outposts of European empire. Studying Indian-British interactions near such forts reveals the remarkable extent to which Indians defined the fort experience for both natives and newcomers. Indians visited forts as friends, enemies, and neutrals. They were nearly always present at or near backcountry forts. In many cases, Indians requested forts from their British allies for their own purposes. They used British forts as trading outposts, news centers, community hubs, diplomatic meeting places, and suppliers of gifts. But even with the advantages that could sometimes accrue from the presence of forts, many Indians still resented them. Forts could attract settlers, and often failed to regulate trade and traders sufficiently to please native consumers. Indians did not hesitate to press fort personnel for favors and advantages. In cases where British officers and soldiers failed to impress Indians, or angered them, the results were sometimes violent and extreme. This study makes a start at seeing forts as places that were at least as much a part of the Native American landscape as they were outposts of European aggression. at Forts Loudoun, Allen, Michilimackinac, Niagara, and Chartres, Indians used their abilities and influence to turn the objectives of the British fort system upside down. as centers of British-Indian cultural confluence, these forts evoke an early America marked by a surprising degree of Indian agency. at these contact points people lived for the moment. The America of the future, marked by Indian dispossession and British-American social dominance, was an outcome few could imagine.



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