Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Workshop: “Native Waters and Imperial Borderlands: Colonists and Caribs in the Making of the Early Modern Antilles, 1620-1763” by Ernesto Mercado-Montero, University of Texas at Austin (New Work in Progress Series)

Tue, February 13, 2018 | GAR 4.100

2:00 PM - 3:30 PM

This paper is a synthesis of the arguments I am developing in the first two chapters of my dissertation. Here, I examine the construction of the early-modern imperial world in the Windward Islands. This work illuminates how the area between Saint Christopher Island and Spanish Tierra Firme (present-day Venezuela) was an interconnected region under Carib dominion. I contend that after the French and English arrival in the Caribbean in the 1620s, the Windward Islands functioned as a border zone between native and European worlds. The fragmented Antillean geography, the Caribs’ navigation technologies, and colonial dependence on slaves, gave rise to a native power centered on sea marauding, the slave trade, and interimperial contraband. Caribs, British, Dutch, and Spaniards were maritime-oriented powers forging a permeable world of blurred imperial jurisdictions.

By the early 18th century, this zone became an overlapping region of native commercial routes and expanding imperial spaces. The Caribs still controlled the area between the islands of Saint Vincent, Saint Lucie, and Dominica, as well as continental regions. They continued raiding European outposts in the Antilles, enslaved their native enemies, and welcomed African slave maroons in their chiefdoms.

The Caribs developed a complex polity of slave holding, agricultural production, and smuggling. Their islands became independent markets of tobacco, cacao, and slaves, where Europeans, Caribs, and African descendants established links between French, British, Spanish, and Dutch colonial outposts. I illustrate how the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763 represented a point of inflexion for the Carib community. Agreements between the European powers, mutual efforts to undercut smuggling, and the consolidation of the massive plantation system, curtailed the native maritime routes and sovereignty. In sum, this paper illuminates the necessity of incorporating the Caribs as a crucial power in the forging of the early modern Antilles. The notion of borderlands was not limited to the continental inlands. Native conceptions of space and trade permeated the European colonial agendas, creating an archipelago for mutual profit, competition, and opportunity.

Ernesto Mercado-Montero is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Texas at Austin. His academic interests focus on the role of African descendants and Native cultures forging the early modern Caribbean. His dissertation explores the nature of the political alliances, commercial networks, kinship relationships, and patronage systems between Native Caribs, African descendants, and European powers in the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Antilles, and in the Bay of Honduras during the early nineteenth century. Ernesto's dissertation research has been supported The Social Science Research Council, The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, The John Carter Brown Library, The Library Company of Philadelphia, Harvard University’s Center for History and Economics, and The John L. Warfield Center for African & African American Studies, among other institutions.

Read more about Ernesto Mercado-Montero and his work at:

Robert Olwell
Associate Professor of History
University of Texas at Austin

Chair and Coordinator, New Work in Progress Series:
Eyal Wienberg
Ph.D. Candidate in the History Department
University of Texas at Austin

Free and open to the public. Please RSVP to to sign-up to attend and received the pre-circulated paper. Refreshments provided.

View the complete New Work in Progress Series for 2017-2018:

Sponsored by: Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History

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