History Department
History Department

IHS Workshop: “The Lost British Empire of the Seventeenth-Century American South,” by Bradley Dixon, University of Texas at Austin (New Work in Progress Series)

Wed, January 24, 2018 | GAR 4.100

3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

There were, I argue, two British Empires before the American Revolution. The one is familiar, “Protestant, commercial, maritime, and free,” an empire of settlers that excluded Indians. The other rose and largely fell between 1585 and 1715 and was surprisingly visible in the American South. Indians were part of this other empire as vassals, tributaries, subjects, and slaves. Indians of every condition made their rights one of the empire’s central concerns, exerting political influence, and shaping colonial institutions and law in America. In the Southeast the English bordered the Spanish but were even closer to them intellectually, borrowing ideas and erecting institutions that made this empire of Indians possible. To the people who tried and failed to make it work their British Empire embodied law, challenged Indian slavery, and stood for radically different aims, aspiring to be evangelizing, territorial, tributary, and, to them at least, just.
Distilling some of the arguments of my dissertation, this essay recovers the forgotten British empire of the seventeenth century. First, I show how historians’ comparative methodologies have left this empire submerged. Second, I demonstrate how the sixteenth-century Spanish debate over the nature and rights of the Indians and the justice of their conquest carried on among the English, although historians have often overlooked it. Third, I interrogate in-depth the status of Indians from the mid-to-late-seventeenth century when the Powhatans, Chowans, and other Natives became tributaries to the English Crown and the Apalaches of Florida rejoined the Spanish colonial system after a revolt. Focusing on tribute, law, and justice in Florida, Virginia, and the Carolinas I argue that their formal Indian law and daily practices stood on some shared principles, potentially affording some Indians comparable places within both empires.

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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