Defining Status and Self in North American Borderlands, 1700s–1900s

Endorsed by the Society for Military History and the Western History Association

Thursday, April 2, 2020, 12:45 PM - 2:15 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Borderlands; Gender and Sexuality; Race


This panel explores the ways in which indigenous and racialized peoples deployed economic, political, and cultural tools from their environments to resist, combat, or leverage their stakes in colonial to antebellum North America. Through individual papers, it will reveal how underrepresented peoples of history, such as indigenous women, native men, Mexican widows, and Black women soldiers encountered the fur trade, European, and U.S. military installations, and utilized them for personal gain, economic mobilization, and political autonomy. We seek to engage specific questions for the state of North American colonial and antebellum pasts, specifically how can a study of North American borderlands illuminate the gendered and/or racial borderlands of individual bodies? How do the histories of individual people define (or muddy) the categories of indigenous and settler under emerging settler colonial regimes?

Papers Presented

Racialized Identities in Militarized Spaces: Gender, Autonomy, and Texas and New Mexico's Military Forts, 1848–1877

In the twenty-first century, the U.S.-Mexico borderlands is a militarized zone. Although this appears to be a recent occurrence, the region has a long history of military presence dating back to the 1846–1848 U.S. Mexico War. In the aftermath of that conflict, Washington established over a hundred military bases from Texas to California. This new geo-political order set in motion forces that allowed African American freedwoman Cathy Williams, who impersonated a male “Buffalo” soldier in the late 1860s, to patrol northern New Mexico Nnēē (Apache) and Diné (Navajo) communities after the Civil War. Concurrently in a different borderlands locale, Mexican widow Simona González de Valdés’s testimony before U.S. officials detailed the raiding of her villa in Bagdad, Tamaulipas, México. According to her, during their rampage black troops from Fort Brown, Texas, stole metals and her “ropa interior” (underwear). While the lives of these women of color collided with the armed forces in distinct areas, they took place in proximity to nineteenth century military bases. My paper offers a new understanding of early militarization by excavating the lives of specific racial and gender minorities in different borderlands locales who exploited military bases for personal gain.

Presented By
Kris Klein Hernández, Bowdoin College

John Galphin: Patriot Heir, Loyalist Accomplice, Mestizo Creek

Scholars of Creek history have long wrestled over how to approach the generation of mestizo Creeks who rose to prominence after the American Revolution. Planters and slaveowners, like their British fathers, men such as Alexander McGillivray often lacked traditional lines of authority and favored new political structures, which reduced village autonomy to increase Creeks’ diplomatic force against the United States. This paper investigates another such man–John Galphin, a rival of McGillivray, whose brief appearance in the historical record contributes to discussions of borderland identity and nation-building. A son of the trader and Patriot Indian commissioner George Galphin, John Galphin partnered with the British renegade William Augustus Bowles to declare an independent state on the Gulf Coast. This territory, which had been “reserved” for Creeks before the Revolution, was now claimed by the United States and Spain as western Georgia and East Florida. Galphin’s partnership with Bowles illustrates his simultaneous enmeshment in the world of British American settler colonialism and in Creek strategies of international diplomacy. Having inherited a portion of his father’s plantation, purchased from a Creek land cession, he now welcomed British loyalists to settle as citizens in Creek territory. Yet he insisted to other Creeks that he was not “the Son of a pidling trader that would Sell my Country for a few Dollars.” Rather, he approached this project as a way for Creeks to “get Clear of the Dificulties we have been in, and to convince the world that we are a free and Independent nation.”

Presented By
Sophie Hunt, Independent scholar

Kinship, Commerce, and Property in Gendered Indigenous Borderlands of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Great Lakes

This paper uses correspondence, ledgers, and legal documents to explore how indigenous women with influential kinship networks used military posts and settlements in the Great Lakes to exert political and economic authority over valuable property during major conflicts, such as the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War. Women such as Molly Brant (Mohawk) and Sally Ainse (Oneida) asserted their own vision of sovereignty for their families and communities at sites such as Fort Niagara, Carleton Island, Michilimackinac, and Detroit. These women worked in borderland regions between imperial powers (such as the English and French, and English and Americans) and self-determining indigenous social formations. These women mobilized a range of strategies at borderland sites during major conflicts between indigenous and EuroAmerican powers, including distributing food and housing to indigenous groups in need and influencing the flow of trade goods to support indigenous conceptions of sovereignty.

Presented By
Emily Macgillivray, Northland College

Session Participants

Presenter: Sophie Hunt, Independent scholar
Sophie B. Hunt is a historian of the United States and Mexico with an emphasis on imperial and Indigenous histories. She received the University of Michigan history department’s Fondiler Dissertation Prize for her 2017 dissertation "Grasping the Gulf: Conquest and Indigenous Power from Florida to Yucatan in the Age of Revolutions.” She is now an independent scholar living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There she has been involved in various types of public history work, including designing and editing a history-related website, working as a guide at a historic site, and creating finding aids for a county historical society.

Commentator: Karl H. Jacoby, Columbia University
Karl Jacoby has devoted his career to understanding the ways in which the making of the United States intertwined with the unmaking of a variety of other societies—from Native American nations to the communities of northern Mexico—and the ecologies upon which they rested. His scholarship is distinguished by its close attention to questions of narrative and storytelling, in-depth micro-historical approach, and border-crossing nature. Jacoby’s published work straddles multiple boundaries—not only the geographic divisions between East and West, and Mexico and the United States, but also the methodological divides between labor history and environmental history, genocide studies and Native American history, and borderlands history and African-American history.

Jacoby received his A.B. in 1987 from Brown University and his Ph.D. in American history in 1997 from Yale University. After a year as a visiting assistant professor at Oberlin College, he returned to Brown as an assistant professor of history in 1999. He was promoted to an associate professor with tenure in 2003 and to full professor in 2009. In the fall of 2012, he moved to Columbia University, where he currently serves as the Allan Nevins Professor of American History. He is the author of three prize-winning books, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (University of California Press, 2003) Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History (Penguin Press, 2008), and The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire (W.W. Norton, 2016).

Presenter: Kris Klein Hernández, Bowdoin College
Kris Klein Hernández is a doctoral candidate in the Department of American Culture and Latinx Studies at the University of Michigan. He obtained his A.B. from Bowdoin College and M.A. from the University of Texas, El Paso. He is also Lead Faculty Liaison to the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship at Bowdoin College. Klein Hernández works on the history of the nineteenth-century U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, and examines the evolution of the martial state, military bases, and the history of interracial tensions between people of color. His dissertation, "Racialized States in the Borderlands: Military Geographies, the México-U.S. Divide, and the Emergence of the Nineteenth-Century Martial State, 1848-1917" has been supported by the SSRC, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Presenter: Emily Macgillivray, Northland College
Emily Macgillivray is an assistant professor of Native American Studies and the faculty director for the Native American Museum at Northland College. She received her PhD in American Culture from the University of Michigan in 2017. Her research focuses on Native American and gender history of the Great Lakes. Her current book project examines the multiple strategies mobilized by Haudeonsaunee and Anishinaabe women in the borderland Great Lakes to become titled property owners during EuroAmerican expansion in the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century. She has received fellowships from the Institute for Humanities at University of Michigan, the American Philosophical Society, and the Newberry Library.