Indigenous Revolutions, 1700–1850
This panel expands our conception of early-modern revolutions to include the radical innovations and adaptations made by Indigenous peoples within the American sphere. Because these revolutions were spurred by sociocultural and environmental factors (as opposed to politics more narrowly), historians have typically neglected to identify them in the historical record. Occurring contemporaneously with the American, Haitian, and Mexican wars for independence, and with the European political revolutions of 1848, Indigenous revolutions in this period were, in the first place, about survival and adaptation amid the destructive and ongoing incursions of Euro-American colonialism. This panel addresses Indigenous innovations, accommodations, strategies, and sacrifices across three distinct Indigenous homelands: the Mississippi River Valley, the North American Far West, and the Hawaiian Islands.
In the Native American West, a complex chain of ecological and economic developments (originating as far away as the eastern seaboard) resulted in dramatic reconfigurations in Native communities and subsistence patterns. Virgin soil epidemics forced a number of social and cultural adaptations on Hawai‘i that ultimately resulted in a cultural revolution—the fall of the socio-religious kapu system—for which an unintended consequence was to vault American evangelicals and business interests into positions of considerable and lasting power on the Islands. Similarly, on the American continent, livestock frontiers would come to dominate Native ecologies in the coming decades as the power of New Spain waned and political revolutions erupted.
In the heart of the continent a unique common ground was ultimately destroyed by the ascendance of the American state. Where a diverse set of groups and actors had once utilized shared connections and mutually comprehensible strategies for communication and trade, the Anglo-American population explosion of the late-eighteenth century meant that many ties could now be severed or ignored by white settlers and authorities. Some Native nations responded violently. Others tried unsuccessfully to use or restore the common ground.