Jason Hall reviews Jeffers Lennox, Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690-1763

Jeffers Lennox. Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690-1763 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017).

By Jason Hall

In Homelands and Empires, Jeffers Lennox posits that “[c]ompeting notions of territory and environment, manifested in European ideas of empire and Indigenous protection of homelands, shaped the kinds of military, economic, and cultural interactions that took place in the Northeast” from 1690 to 1763 (13).  Lennox successfully supports this intriguing thesis with nuanced arguments grounded in detailed archival research.  His  book is composed of six chapters that are organized around major geopolitical and military events such as William Phips’ capture of Port Royal (1690), the fall of Port Royal (1710), the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1725-1726, the founding of Halifax (1749), the 1750-1755 boundary negotiations between France and Britain, and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).

homelands and empires

Jeffers Lennox. Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690-1763 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017).

While many historians have structured studies as if imperial projects quickly overshadowed or erased Indigenous homelands in the Northeast, Lennox reveals that Indigenous homelands not only persisted as the dominant geographic entity between 1690 and 1763, they were integral to French and British understandings of the region.  At times, European officials even used the presence of Indigenous homelands to define and defend their imperial claims from rival European nations.  Lennox also shows that during most of this era, the imperial “fictions” that cartographers boldly projected onto maps were barely tangible beyond dilapidated forts and scattered settlements, and Europeans often lacked sufficient geographic knowledge to manifest imperial claims through diplomacy or force.  In contrast, the Mi’kmaq, Wulstukwiuk, Passamaquoddy, and Abenaki knew their homelands intimately.  Their superior geographical knowledge helped them defy imperial expansion and remain the strongest power throughout large tracts of the region.  

This book is one of the best examinations of historical cartography ever written for the Northeast, and the 41 maps reproduced in the text provide a rich visual complement to Lennox’s carefully crafted arguments.  His investigation of the intricate relationships among specific maps and diplomatic negotiations is fascinating.  Moreover, Lennox’s discussion of how French and British popular magazines disseminated geographical knowledge and garnered support for imperial expansion, skillfully situates cartographic projects within a transatlantic context and enriches our understanding of how literate Europeans perceived and manipulated North American geography.

Lennox pays more attention to the British, French, and Mi’kmaq, than to other peoples in the region.  Readers would have especially benefited from further discussion of the Passamaquoddy as the study sometimes leaves them out of analyses and occasionally obscures their homeland’s location.  These small oversights are a reflection of a larger shortcoming of the study – its unequal treatment of Indigenous homelands and people in comparison to European empires and imperialists.

The difficulties of reconstructing Indigenous history through European sources that barely acknowledge the names, let alone the mindset and aspirations of Indigenous people, challenges many historians of the Northeast, including this reviewer.  Lennox takes notable steps toward engaging with Indigenous perspectives in his compelling discussions of diplomatic ceremonies, gift exchanges, and the Peace and Friendship Treaties.  Yet the book does not adequately consider the specific languages and oral traditions that helped the Indigenous peoples of the region define and maintain their deep relationships with homelands over successive generations. The text would have been enhanced by a detailed discussion of how these particular languages and oral traditions conveyed complex geographical and historical knowledge, and functioned as maps of homelands.  There are ample records to support such an inquiry, as well as useful models for incorporating these sources into historical monographs including Trudy Sable and Bernie Francis’ study of Mi’kma’ki, the homeland of the Mi’kmaq.[1]  Moreover, Homelands and Empires would have been strengthened by engaging with works by Andrea Bear Nicholas and Robert Leavitt that focus on topics such as imperial cartography, the Royal Proclamation, and Belcher’s Proclamation.[2]  

Homelands and Empires will be savoured by scholars of the history of northeastern North America, Indigenous-European relations, historical geography, and the history of cartography.  Lennox’s astute appraisals of historic maps and the balance of power among Indigenous and European polities will also appeal to readers interested in Aboriginal law and Indigenous peoples’ struggles against settler colonialism.  This important study will also stimulate the intellectual appetite of established scholars and graduate students.  However, it may also remind them that historians of the Northeast know far more about what happened in imperial outposts and cartographers’ workshops than in Indigenous lodges.

Jason Hall works for the Wolastoqey Nation of New Brunswick.  His article, “Maliseet Cultivation and Climatic Resilience on the Wəlastəkw/St. John River during the Little Ice Age,” received the Canadian Historical Association’s Aboriginal History Studies Group Article Prize for 2016.

Works Cited:

[1] Trudy Sable and Bernie Francis, The Language of this Land, Mi’kma’ki (Sydney, NS: Cape Breton University Press, 2012).

[2] Andrea Bear Nicholas, “Settler Imperialism and the Dispossession of the Maliseet, 1758-1765”, in Shaping an Agenda for Atlantic Canada, John G. Reid & Donald J. Savoie, eds. (Black Point, NS: Fernwood Publishing, 2011), 21-57 and Robert M. Leavitt, Maliseet & Micmac: First Nations of the Maritimes (Fredericton, NB: New Ireland Press, 1995).

About The Acadiensis Blog

The Acadiensis Blog is a place for Atlantic Canadian historians to share their research with both a scholarly and general audience. We welcome submissions on all topics Atlantic Canadian. If you are interested in contributing to the blog, please contact Acadiensis Digital Communications Editor Corey Slumkoski at corey.slumkoski@msvu.ca.
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