Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Joshua Piker

Committee Member

Paul Mapp

Committee Member

Kathleen Bragdon

Committee Member

Jenny Pulsipher


"A Meaningful Subjection: Kingly Government, Coercive Inequality, and Diplomacy in the North American Eastern Woodlands, 1000-1625 A.D.," offers an interpretation of Indigenous-European relationships in eastern North American during first contact and early settlement as significantly informed by an Indigenous political economy of coercive kingship. "A Meaningful Subjection" analyzes underemphasized features of early- historic period Indigenous politics, such as civil jurisdiction over the corporal and capital punishment of thieves, traitors, and adulterers, and contextualize these practices within better understood features of Indigenous economies (such as prestige good inequalities) and politics (such as military command). The primary contribution of this work is to assess the structuring influence coercive, kingly Indigenous regimes exercised upon historical developments such as: the reception of early European explorers; the formation of imperial strategy; the subsistence of early English colonies; the adoption of European material culture by Indigenous rulers; and the creation of diplomatic relationships between settler and Indigenous polities. “A Meaningful Subjection” begins (Chapter 1) with an analysis of our earliest documentary evidence from eastern North America, that produced in the Indigenous- Viking contacts of the eleventh-century. These documents claim that two North American boys, who were kidnapped from the continent and taught to speak Old Norse, attested that they were governed by konungar, or kings. The Viking Age concept of kingship which these boys likely intended to invoke is then surveyed and contrasted with the kingly concept which was next applied to North America—that of the intensely coercive and despotic kingship of Valois France. Moving then across the Atlantic (Chapter 2), the reception of contact reports and their integration into strategic plans for early modern empire are assessed. Here, it is argued that English intellectuals called upon a specific, Latin-derived vocabulary to describe civil authority outside of mass- scale, depersonalized polities: the terminology of petty kingship. This concept, which has been utterly neglected by early modern scholarship, is presented in its complete outline from classical Greece to Tudor England. Chapter 2 concludes with an analysis of how petty kingship was seen as a strategic vulnerability in the political geography of North America, and reveals its keystone function in the development of English prescriptions for vassalizing New World kings into imperial tributaries. The following two chapters return to the eastern woodlands to substantiate the historicity of petty kingdoms in North America and to survey the historical implications of this specific encounter with early English settlers. The first of these (Chapter 3) analyzes early settlement efforts in the Carolina Outer Banks and the Chesapeake, and interprets that region as one in which colonization schemes strategically oriented towards vassalage were overwhelmed by bellicose militarism and greed. Rather than accomplish the conquest of the country gradually, and with the cooperation of friendly vassals as encouraged by imperial strategists, these Englishmen foolishly focused on the interior, a choice that wrought wars of expulsion from coastal kings. Settlement was more easily accomplished in New England, as my final chapter (Chapter 4) demonstrates, where the English at Plymouth were able to rapidly construct diplomatic relationships with Wampanoag petty kings that succeeded at insulating them from expulsion efforts. Where early English colonies planted with relative ease and lack of bloodshed, they did so with the cooperation of coercive, kingly regimes.


© The Author

Available for download on Monday, August 27, 2029