History Department
History Department

IHS Workshop: “'not a strangr nor a foriner': Indians, the British Empire, and the Law in the Early Southeast” by Bradley J. Dixon, University of Texas at Austin (New Work in Progress Series)

Wed, January 24, 2018 | GAR 4.100

3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

In 1705, a headman of the tributary Chowan Indians wrote to North Carolina’s colonial council. The “humble pitison” reminded the council, whose seat stood on the banks of a river and in a precinct that bore the name of his people, and in a land he had defended, that “he is not a strangr nor a foriner but in his one Netev ples.” The Chowans’ story, their very existence—paying tribute, defending the colony, petitioning the government, taking their neighbors to court—seem to defy just about everything historians say about British imperialism, especially in the American South, so much so that their world appears to be part of a “lost” empire. They were Indians with a place in the colonial world, not outside it. Their lives—and the lives of many others like them throughout the South—present another face of British imperialism and Indian politics.
Distilling some of the main arguments of my dissertation, as well as drawing on material from chapters four and five, this essay explores how tributaries like the Chowans conceived of their legal status and their place in the first British Empire, and challenges received models of colonial law, politics, and empire. First, I discuss, briefly, the intellectual and practical origins of the tributary system and its place in the legal and political makeup of the empire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Second, I reconsider the categories that tributaries, metropolitan officials and thinkers, as well as English colonists deployed to describe Indian status over time. Third, and finally, I ask why the significance of tributary Indians like the Chowans has been largely ignored in general discussions of the nature of English imperialism, especially as compared with other American empires, notably the Spanish. The Chowans’ experience reveals another side to Anglo-Indian relations, one where the issues of conquest, consent, tribute, and justice—themes more common to Latin American history—were of paramount importance. Indeed, like other Indians facing forms of colonial rule throughout the hemisphere, the Chowans used the law to retain autonomy, elicit colonial protection, while avoiding complete subjection.

Brad Dixon is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Texas at Austin where is writing his dissertation entitled “Republic of Indians: Law, Politics, and Empire in the North American Southeast, 1585-1715.” His work has received support from the Social Science Research Council, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, the John Carter Brown Library, and the North Caroliniana Society. Brad has published book chapters and articles, and has presented at numerous conferences, including as a co-organizer of the “Entangled Histories of the Early Modern British and Iberian Empires” workshop held at UT.

Read more about Brad Dixon and his work at:

James Vaughn
Assistant 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 cmeador@austin.utexas.edu 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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