“Chief Princes and Owners of All”

Craig Yirush

in Native Claims

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199794850
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919291 | DOI:
“Chief Princes and Owners of All”

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New scholarship on the intellectual justifications of European expansion has brought the question of the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas to the center of early modern historical scholarship. But this scholarship has, for the most part, ignored the ideas of the indigenous peoples themselves. Yet in these encounters, Native Americans were not merely passive objects of European discourses. Rather, they responded to European claims with their own conceptions of law, property, and political authority. This paper uncovers these indigenous norms by looking at a little-studied legal genre: the appeals made by Native Americans to the British Crown in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These appeals show that they were aware of (and able to exploit) the complicated politics of the British Atlantic world for their own ends, turning the Crown against the settlers in ways they hoped would preserve their rights, and in the process becoming trans-Atlantic political actors. Focusing on three such appeals —the Narragansetts’ in the mid-seventeenth-century; the Mohegans’ which spanned the first three quarters of the eighteenth; and the Mashpee’s on the eve of the American Revolution— this paper explores the way that these Native peoples in eastern North America were able to resist the depredations of the settlers by appealing to royal authority, in the process articulating a powerful conception of their legal status in a world transformed by the arrival of the English.

Keywords: Narragansett; Mohegan; Mashpee; Miantonomo; Uncas; Oweneco; William Bollan; native appeals; indigenous rights; federalism

Chapter.  11268 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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