Newcomers and New Borders: Migration, Settlement, and Conflict over Land along the Mississippi River, 1750-1820 Restricted; Files Only

Cors, Alexander Maximilian (Summer 2022)

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This dissertation is a legal geography of settler colonialism in the Mississippi River Valley. It contributes to the contentious debate about rethinking the nation’s foundational narratives by analyzing how ordinary people experienced, adapted to, shaped, or undermined the processes of land claiming, colonization, and state formation in the heart of early America. Newcomers and New Borders: Migration, Settlement, and Conflict over Land, 1750-1820 offers a multi-perspectival bottom-up narrative of a transformative period at the center of the North American continent. My focus on the eighteenth-century Mississippi River Valley connects legal history, borderlands, and Native American history to examine fundamental questions of land ownership and sovereignty in early North America. Through the lens of possession and legal regulations of land tenure, I analyze the experiences of migration, settlement, land claims, and titling common to diverse Euro-American, Indigenous, and African-descent migrants to the Mississippi Valley. Each participated in and shaped the process of property formation, making it a contested and malleable set of practices negotiated through occupation, land grants, and court proceedings. 

Tracing the movements, actions, and claims of these different groups, my dissertation shows that colonizers’ attempts at dispossession of Indigenous lands in the Mississippi Valley were inextricably linked to the desire of white enslavers to expand the region’s plantation economy. I argue that Indigenous leaders and free people of color used relocations and claim-making through colonial legal avenues to obtain and keep land grants throughout the colonial and early national period. While much scholarship focuses on large Indigenous nations and their homelands, my project analyzes how parts of the Shawnee, Delaware, Tunica-Biloxi, and Houma nations relocated to the western shores of the Mississippi. There, they acquired and used Spanish land grants to create property as a means of protecting their land against their Euro-American neighbors. Appealing to Spanish legal codes, men and women of Native and African descent were able to protect their possessions from white squatters or gain freedom and property from white enslavers during the Spanish colonial period (1763-1803) and into the early U.S. period (roughly until the 1810s). 

Table of Contents

Introduction: Re-Writing National Narratives and Historical Memory from the Early Mississippi River Valley

Chapter 1: “Making Louisiana”: Real and Imagined Geographies of Land and Possession in the Mississippi River Valley                                                                          

Chapter 2: Peopling Louisiana: Building New Lives on New Lands    

Chapter 3: Possessing Louisiana: Making “Property” along the Mississippi River, 1750-1820                                                                                        

Chapter 4: Evading Louisiana: Mobility and Movement Beyond Colonial Control            

Chapter 5: Expanding Louisiana: Native Dispossession and the Rise of Racialized Chattel Slavery West of the Mississippi River, 1720-1820                              

Conclusion: Conflict over Land: The Long Shadow of Colonial Louisiana

About this Dissertation

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