Invocations of Indigeneity in the Colonial Red/White/Black Triad

Carsten Junker 1
  • 1 Institute of English and American Studies, TU Dresden, 01062 Dresden, Germany
Carsten Junker

Abstract

This essay takes as its assumptive backdrop the “Red/White/Black demographic triad” in the sense of Stam and Shohat that resulted from the European colonial conquest and settlement of, and the transatlantic enslavement of Africans in, the Americas. It homes in on the ambivalent functions and effects of different evocations of Indigeneity in early abolitionist discourse, considering this very discourse as a specific strand of settler colonial knowledge production during the era of the Enlightenment. While Euro-American abolitionists around 1800 centrally and critically focused on relations between the positions marked by “Black” and “White,” they also made recourse to the position of “Red.” Paradigmatic readings highlight that abolitionists mobilized Red as a trope in contradictory ways according to their argumentative needs, substantiating the hegemonic character of White self-referential knowledge practices in the early US republic and abetting the justification of settler colonialism.

1 The Red/White/Black Triad

How and to what effects did the protagonists of the abolition of the transatlantic apparatus of enslavement refer to Indigeneity? In asking this question, as I do here, I seek to contribute to a growing body of work which relates diverging epistemological frameworks, situated at an interface of oftentimes exclusionary scholarship on anti-Blackness and settler colonialism. Such scholarship seeks to account for the tensions that derive from demographic diversity; it is attentive to analyzing the historically situated production of White hegemony. This essay takes what Robert Stam and Ella Shohat have called a “Red/White/Black demographic triad” (Stam and Shohat 2012, 3) as its assumptive backdrop – a triad they consider constitutive of the Americas and which arguably derived from the European colonial conquest and colonial settlement of the Americas as well as the enslavement of Africans. I propose to concentrate on the ambivalent functions and effects of references to Indigenous peoples (Red) within settler colonial discourse in general and, more specifically, that of early abolition and its knowledge production of Indigeneity, a discourse dominated by Europeans and Americans of European origin (White) who objected to, if not protested against, the enslavement and displacement of Africans (Black) at a time when the US was in its founding stages. 1 White actors in abolitionist discourse were first and foremost self-declared and self-consciously critical of European enslavement practices of Africans. 2 But while late eighteenth century abolitionists focused on relations between the positions marked by Black and White, they also made significant recourse to the symbolic position of Red. They thus tied in abolitionist discourse with contradictory Eurocentric visions from early colonial times onwards, when Indigeneity had conjured up both visionary desires of paradise as well as nightmarish anxieties of life-threatening danger that justified European colonization under the guise of spreading civilization. In scholarship as well as public memory, abolition is still largely considered progressive and liberatory because it operated on the assumption that enslavement, as facilitated by colonization, was part of an apparatus which undermined Enlightenment notions of equality and freedom. However, as the following close readings of select abolitionist interventions show, abolition played an ambivalent role in producing Western colonial knowledge of the Red/White/Black triad.

Certainly, this triad – as useful as it is for heuristic purposes here – lacks nuance. The terms it mobilizes correspond to tropes of color that homogenize various differences within the categories to which they refer. Pointing to a scenario of coercion and inequality, the terms themselves are effects of colonial conquest and enslavement. And yet, or for this reason, they have become pervasive; they mark discursive positions and socioeconomic relations and allow for analyses of such positions and relations. As racializing tropes, the terms are historically situated and therefore semantically unstable. 3 There is a long, contested history of White denoting light-skinned Europeans and Americans – this history eventually, in the seventeenth century, led to a specific understanding of White supremacy in the North American British colonies and the later US (see Horne 2014, 40). Red was not always a racial category associated with Indigeneity. In a treatise first published in 1751 titled “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c,” for instance, Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) labeled European-descended settlers as both “White and Red,” referring to Native Americans as “Tawneys” rather than Red (qtd. in Davis and Mintz 1998, 121). 4 However, by the mid-1720s, Native American groups like the Cherokee in the southeastern part of North America were themselves using the term Red for self-referential purposes in their communication with European colonists (Shoemaker 1997, 627). The term thus emerged out of a colonial setting between Euro-American settlers and Indigenous peoples. The denotation Black has a different history, of course. It lends itself to the paradigm of the Black Atlantic (Gilroy 1993) to conceptualize the legacy of the Middle Passage and the diasporic dispersion of Africans which, in turn, engendered the emergence of racially inflected Blackness as well as the notion of race more generally: “For Europeans, race established a hierarchy of human life […]. For those chained in the lower decks of a slave ship, race was both a death sentence and the language of solidarity” (Hartman 2008, 6).

In analogy to the concept of the Black Atlantic, Stam and Shohat invoke the Red Atlantic to consider how these paradigms are intertwined with a White Atlantic shaped historically by European colonial conquest and trade – in effect by the displacement and genocide of Native Americans as well as the enslavement and commodification of Africans (Stam and Shohat 2012, 2). While the paradigms of the Red and Black Atlantic mandate an analytical emphasis on numerous converging and diverging points of struggle and resistance and on the agency and strategies of survival of those historically subjected to White rule, the White Atlantic in contrast, as a conceptual frame, requires an analytical perspective on this very rule.

As the following paradigmatic readings of abolitionist material highlight, White abolitionists produced tropes of Red according to their argumentative needs – as “fellow sufferer,” “collaborative damage,” and “enemy” – and thus assigned Indigenous peoples a social and cultural position marked by distance and, generally, inferiority. By connecting phenomena relevant to the symbolic Red and Black Atlantic, White abolitionist discourse, in effect, helped to substantiate the hegemonic character of White self-referential knowledge practices. While the body of writings by White abolitionists took a critical perspective on what might be called White hegemony, their abolitionist archive co-constituted the dominant epistemic order of the White Atlantic, ultimately abetting the justification of settler colonialism.

2 Red as Fellow Sufferer

Within the discursive scenario of the Red/White/Black triad, Thomas Paine (1737–1809) was a prominent and passionate protagonist of freedom from British rule who not only sought to render both the enslavement of Africans scandalous through his outspoken advocacy for abolition but also supported Indigenous liberty, using the “motif of the Indian as ‘exemplar of liberty’ [which] pervades the discursive atmosphere […] of the American Revolution” (Stam and Shohat 2012, 8). In his writing, Paine referred to Native Americans who rightfully defended themselves from unjust colonial conquest. In a pamphlet titled “Public Good,” published during the Revolutionary War in 1780, Paine casts them as model freedom fighters whose example White American settlers should emulate in their struggle to establish a strong central government. In passing, he references a historiographical account which refers critically to the conduct of British settlers in early eighteenth-century Virginia to whom the Crown of England granted a proprietary charter:

Oldmixon’s history of Virginia (in his account of the British empire in America) published in the year 1708, gives a concise progress of the affair. He attributes it to the misconduct, contentions and mismanagement of the proprietors, and their innovations upon the Indians, which had so exasperated them, that they fell on the settlers and destroyed at one time 334 men, women, and children. (Paine 1780, 269–270)

As I suggest, this passage presents us with Paine’s favorable opinion of legitimate Indigenous resistance to the British. It also helps Paine to establish an analogy between the unjust British colonization of Indigenous territory – territory which Native Americans had rightfully defended – and the illegitimate British law to which American colonists were subjected and from which they legitimately liberated themselves. By establishing this analogy, Paine ascribes both Native Americans and colonial settlers a role of victimhood that, in his view, both groups could successfully avert. However, in doing so, he shrouds the inherent violence that settler colonialism exerted over those who inhabited the territory claimed by the settlers.

White colonists readily evoked the topos of Indigenous resistance to British tyranny. We only need to think of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when colonists protested the imposition of tax on tea by the British Parliament by dressing up in what they considered to be Native American garb, boarding vessels and throwing tea into Boston Harbor. This iconography highlights a dynamic in which Whites appropriate notions of Red due to economic and political interests. Adopting supposedly Native American dress, these protesters declared not only themselves but also their imitation of Indigeneity as antithetical to everything British. In doing so, they also reproduced ambivalent notions about Native Americans. While they capitalized upon the assumption that Native Americans could be dangerous warriors to be reckoned with, they also exploited the sentiment that Indigenous groups were rightfully defending their ‘innocence.’ Under the guise of innocent Natives, the colonists claimed a status of victimhood they putatively shared with the Indigenous population.

Colonial writing mobilized precisely this rhetoric of shared victimhood. In “An Oration, Upon the Beauties of Liberty; Or the Essential Rights of the Americans” from 1773, the year of the Boston Tea Party, the author, signing as “A British Bostonian,” complains to the Earl of Dartmouth about the British king’s grievances against both Native Americans and the North American colonists in the case of a British schooner named Gaspee. 5 The author defends the innocence of “Indians out of the woods” (Allen 1773, x), whom the King’s men had incorrectly accused of destroying the ship. Moreover, he indicts the British for violating the colonists’ rights by sending the armed schooner to the colonies “to take away the property of the people [the colonists]” in the first place (Allen 1773, x). This charge of unlawful British transgression establishes an analogy between the victimization of Native Americans and White American colonists’ self-fashioned victimization. The author underlines the latter point when he entertains the possibility of the British Crown subjecting White Americans to what he terms “slavery” (Allen 1773, xiii; original emphasis). Such figurative use of the term slavery was not uncommon in the rhetoric of the American Revolution. While it allowed colonists to occupy a position of Slave, thus detaching it from the racial ascriptions linked to the real-life enslavement of people of African origin, it also pushed enslaved Africans out of the Red/White/Black triad. The “Oration” is primarily interested in pursuing White anti-British interests, and it does so notably by defending Indigenous people against unjust British tyranny, perpetuating the myth of a peaceful coexistence between, if not of fraternization of, White and Red.

3 Red as Collateral Damage

Like Paine’s pamphlet against the British, the “Oration” was in good company, inscribing itself in a tradition of colonial agitation that affirmed peaceful White-Red coexistence. Benjamin Franklin’s “Observations” – mentioned above for its use of the term Tawneys for Native Americans – is noteworthy in this regard, but it frames Indigeneity in divergent ways and to different effect. Franklin’s enthusiastic talk in his pamphlet about “a nation well regulated” (Franklin 1760, 57) is an early manifestation of what has come to be called “biopolitics” (Foucault 2004, 243): Franklin here sketches out a colonial scene inhabited by settlers spanning a (proto-)racialized spectrum of “the lovely White and Red” (Franklin 1760, 57). It is a scene that should, as he argues, eliminate the presence of Africans and the disturbance of Indigenous peoples. Acting as an observer of the demographics in the British colonies, Franklin takes the role of settler advocate who praises the opportunities for new settlers to secure their sustenance by purchasing a piece of land and founding a family. As Franklin highlights, the colonies make a promise of freedom to these settlers, which is a freedom from working for others and a freedom to own property.

Franklin envisions a White colonial space which has no room for Africans or Native Americans. Accordingly, he advocates a stop on the importation of enslaved Africans, not because he finds their enslavement morally indefensible but because he considers their labor too expensive and thus obstructive to the growth of the colonial economy. Franklin’s is thus not an abolitionist argument based on religious or moral-philosophical grounds; rather, it is abolitionist in an economic and proto-racial sense. He insists that the importation of enslaved Africans would cause poor Whites to lose employment and wealthy White families to become idle and unproductive: “the poor are by this means deprived of employment […]. The whites, who have slaves, not laboring, are enfeebled, and therefore not so generally prolific” (Franklin 1760, 55). Moreover, Franklin mobilizes settler anxieties of what would later come to be called ‘miscegenation.’ He admonishes that the continued importation of enslaved Africans would blur the distinction between color-coded groups: “100 years [of] exportation of slaves [from Guinea] has blackened half America” (Franklin 1760, 56; original emphasis).

At the same time, Franklin promotes the exclusion of Indigenous peoples:

Great part of Europe is full settled with husbandmen, manufacturers, &c. and therefore cannot now much increase in people: America is chiefly occupied by Indians, who subsist mostly by hunting. – But as the hunter, of all men, requires the greatest quantity of land from whence to draw his subsistence, (the husbandmen subsisting on much less, the Gardener on still less, and the manufacturer requiring least of all), the Europeans found America as fully settled as it well could be by hunters; yet these having large tracks, were easily prevailed on to part with portions of territory to the new comers, who did not much interfere with the natives in hunting, and furnished them with many things they wanted. (Franklin 1760, 52–53; original emphasis)

Essentially, Franklin admits that persuasion was necessary – hunters had to be prevailed upon to give up land – and interference did take place. Colonial settlers were not to share territory with Native Americans. In this view, settler colonialism had to evolve into a quasi-pastoral scenario for colonizers, thus easing settlers’ anxieties of forceful acts of Indigenous resistance to colonization. And while Franklin indeed acknowledges a need for the displacement of Native Americans, boasting that those “may be properly called Fathers of their Nations” who “remove[] the natives to give [their] own people room” (Franklin 1760, 55; original emphasis), this does not necessarily involve a consideration of the implied forcefulness of the operation. “Remov[al]” becomes a necessary biopolitical maneuver that hazards fatal consequences for Indigenous groups.

Franklin’s “Observations” – which presents us with an argumentatively troubling abolitionist gesture – provides a fitting example for the logic that Vine Deloria, Jr., so succinctly delineates in his essay “The American Revolution and the American Indian.” White notions of liberty were facilitated by the idea of freedom to own property and by implication, the logic according to which “liberty was always a function of economic freedom” (Deloria 1999, 219) legitimized territorial expansion and the annexation and exploitation of lands Indigenous peoples had inhabited prior to colonial settlement. Social tensions among different groups of colonists (to which Franklin points when he differentiates between poor and wealthy White settlers) would be eased and resolved by settler-colonial promises of economic growth. Franklin was much more concerned with bridging differences among colonists than among all residents of the continent. In this logic, Native Americans were framed as collateral damage rather than unintended victims. White advocates of the political principles that would legitimize the American Revolution – such as freedom and self-interest in the name of public interests – knew that damage would occur to innocent parties; however, they believed that damage was justified because their overall gain would outweigh those parties’ loss. Franklin’s use of the word “remov[al]” illustrates his understanding of the fact that force against Indigenous people would not be inadvertent but, in contrast, necessary. White political aspirations thus came at the expense of those excluded from the imagined community of the would-be republic.

4 Red as Enemy

Both Paine and Franklin opposed anti-Black enslavement, albeit for different reasons, and both believed that ending it would enhance the White settler-colonial idea of freedom. But where Franklin evaded the ‘problem’ that the emancipation of the enslaved would create for his imagined community, Paine was, in essence, willing to admit them into this community – if only to prevent them from being instrumentalized by its enemies, British Loyalists. Paine legitimized this idea by framing Black as a potential ally and defining that community against another potential enemy, Red.

In his most prominent abolitionist intervention titled “African Slavery,” written on the brink of the outbreak of the American Revolution and published a year prior to the colonial settlers’ independence from Britain in 1775, Paine paints a violent picture of the colonies. It is neither a place characterized by peaceful coexistence of White alongside Red nor of rightful Indigenous resistance to British rule. Unlike in “Public Good,” in which he sketches a scenario of legitimate defense on the part of Native Americans against an illegitimate British aggressor, he uses this abolitionist tract to highlight that settlers should defend themselves against putative Native American aggression. As he suggests, this can be achieved with the help of the enslaved once they are freed. In consideration of the fact that British Loyalists could promise the enslaved freedom for enlisting them in their cause to thwart American independence, he considers the apparatus of enslavement a powder keg that might eventually pose a threat to the public safety of settler society. He thus argues that it would be useful to incorporate the enslaved, once manumitted, into a future national body politic, and this would also facilitate their defending the nation against putative threats from Native Americans:

The greatest question may be – What should be done with those who are enslaved already? […] Perhaps they might sometime form useful barrier settlements of the frontiers. Thus they may become interested in the public welfare, and assist in promoting it; instead of being dangerous, as now they are, should any enemy [Loyalists] promise them a better condition. (Paine 1775, 55)

Paine here conjoins the rubrics of Black, White, and Red when he considers the emancipation of the enslaved as a project beneficial not only to the freed but even more to the new national body politic keenly interested in warding off potential Indigenous threats. When he envisions freedmen and freedwomen as pioneers who could “form useful barrier settlements of the frontiers” (Paine 1775, 55), he suggests that these settlements would not only be useful for their sustenance but for the protection of broader national interests; they could serve as a bulwark in the event of Red encroachment on the territory which the settlers claim as theirs. In terms of the position of Black, freed slaves are being enlisted within a particular notion of a White state emancipated from British colonial rule that imagines Indigeneity as its constitutive exterior. In contrast to his “Public Good,” Paine does not frame Native Americans as victims of British tyranny, threatened by British attempts to deny them their freedom. Instead, he turns them into full-fledged perpetrators in their own right who threaten the project of (post)colonial nation-building. In other words, Paine sees Native Americans as people with agency: subjects, not objects. The formerly enslaved are supposed to be pushed to the margins of settlement to act as objects – a physical barrier – to prevent Indigenous groups from actively reclaiming their land.

John Wesley (1703–1791), the cofounder of Methodism, wrote an abolitionist treatise that does not reduce the American Red/White/Black triad to matters of Red, White, and Black, but instead opens up the triad to encompass a fourth position, Brown (Muslims). In his Thoughts Upon Slavery from 1774, he establishes a hierarchy of different forms of enslavement to advocate against the enslavement of people of African origin. Structurally, Wesley analogizes the enslavement of Black under the yoke of White with the captivity of White in the hands of both Red – framed as “heathen” and “Pagan” in a maneuver that juxtaposes racial and religious codings – and, to extend the color troping, Brown. He thus mobilizes White anxieties familiar not only from narratives of Native American captivity but also from those popularly known as Barbary captivity. 6 He aims to draw a comparison between the cruel effects of the enslavement of Africans in the Americas and the captivity of White Americans both by Native American and North African captors. Even more, he seeks to conceptualize the enslavement of Africans as more deplorable than the latter two forms of captivity. Directly addressing slave-trade captains, he confronts them with a list of the atrocities they commit when they procure Africans on West African soil and then transport them aboard their ships; he then goes on to compare such practices with Turkish and Algerian activities and those of the “heathens in America”:

You have dragged them who had never done you any wrong, perhaps in chains, from their native shore. You have forced them into your ships like an herd of swine, them who had souls immortal as your own […]. You have carried the survivors into the vilest slavery, never to end but with life: Such slavery as is not found among the Turks and Algiers, no, nor among the heathens in America. (Wesley 1774, 51; original emphasis)

Wesley evokes images provided by narratives of Barbary captivity and Native American captivity to provide a background against which he can reproach slave-trading benefactors for their participation in crimes that he sketches as more abhorrent than those allegedly committed by Muslims or Indigenous peoples. While he considers White captivity to be less grave than anti-Black enslavement, the logic of comparing and contrasting atrocities he applies ignores the violence that White settlers exerted in the project of colonial conquest. Wesley mobilizes an argumentative strategy that provides White with a position of victimhood. While Black is made to inhabit an even more severe position of victimization than White, Red – like Brown – is made to inhabit a position of perpetrator. In this religious version of abolition, Native Americans are framed as unchristian and uncivilized, threatening enemies of Whites. Wesley refuses to acknowledge White colonial dominance over Native Americans, notably exerted here as Christian proselytization (he went to Georgia with the aim of converting Indigenous Americans), to make a case against anti-Black enslavement.

The apparatus of enslavement provided Wesley with a vocabulary he could use to distance his White readers from de facto enslavement practices in the Americas. He could claim that the enslavement regime challenged the integrity of their religious beliefs. Their opposition to it would, in contrast, help them to accrue religious worth; it held out the promise of redeeming them from guilt derived from anti-Black enslavement. However, Wesley did not show Black commodification and Red dispossession as two related manifestations of White hegemony. He addressed one phenomenon (enslavement) and, providing a critique of it, overwrote the other (settler colonialism), thus blocking settler-colonial expansion from historical memory, let alone pondering its moral or religious illegitimacy.

5 Territorial Epistemology

Wesley, like the other writers discussed above, worked toward rendering the enslavement of Africans scandalous by referencing Indigeneity in different discursive registers and for different purposes. In what I have discussed under the rubric of “Red as enemy,” writers repeatedly (re)produced colonialist knowledge about Indigeneity, framing the position of Red as that of an exterior threat at the frontier, while seeking to liberate and incorporate the enslaved into the body politic of the colonies and the early nation. This writing addressed different positions in a White community: it contradicted beneficiaries of enslavement and at the same time made promises of political, economic, moral, and religious self-aggrandizement to those who would enlist in the project of abolition. Yet, although the writing was multidirectional, it served an intramural White discourse. The dynamic of “Red as enemy” was mobilized from within a White knowledge system which Walter Mignolo has termed a “territorial epistemology” (Mignolo 2000, 24–25) intricately bound up with the project of nation building. While the alternative project to which Mignolo points and which he endorses – that of “border epistemology” – encourages and presupposes a critical “awareness of and a sensibility for the colonial difference” (Mignolo 2000, 26), the White hegemonic project of territorial epistemology insists on fortifying epistemic frontiers. Unlike border epistemology would, territorial epistemology does not open up to a reflection on the repercussions of literal and figurative borders. It does not facilitate a critical consideration of histories of violence and structures of conflict and coercion. Territorial epistemology denies options to “think otherwise” (Mignolo 2000, 69). Acting from within a discursive network of territorial epistemology, abolitionists like Wesley reproduced assumptions about Indigenous peoples whose knowledge systems they did not recognize as such, let alone validate. They elicited anxieties of White captivity in self-referential fashion. Their recourse to Red as threat was a crucial strategy for abolition. Abolition here came to serve as a discursive pillar of the Eurocentric apparatus of settler colonialism which it abetted, thus also highlighting the long-lasting and ongoing process of settler colonial invasion as a constitutive “structure not an event” (Wolfe 1999, 2).

The recurring instances of early abolitionist discourse that framed “Red as fellow sufferer” or “Red as collateral damage” cannot be considered a matter of border epistemology either, since they did not encourage a critique of the general assumptions on which colonial conquest was based. The spokesmen of these discursive positions did not seek – to take up Mignolo’s paraphrasing of border epistemology – to “move toward ‘another logic’ – in sum, to change the terms, not just the content of the conversation” (Mignolo 2000, 70). Paine’s idealization of Indigenous freedom in his tract “Public Good” evidently shows no willingness to comprehensively engage with Indigenous epistemic orders; instead, it refers to Indigeneity to pursue self-directed goals of emancipation from British rule. While the argumentative pattern of “Red as fellow sufferer” underlines British domination, its vision of a struggle shared by Red and White against British tyranny, in effect, evades any liability for White colonial conquest. Moreover, anti-Black enslavement lent the colonists a vocabulary with which they could critique the patronizing regulations of the British Empire. Ultimately, these rhetorical moves were part of an inner-White discourse that helped the colonists to fortify the literal frontiers of the colonies and the later nation state, and to buttress the figurative epistemic frontiers of a White order of knowledge.

Following an agenda that combines focal points from Black Atlantic and Red Atlantic research paradigms in the interest of a critical stance toward the hegemony of the White Atlantic, it has been my aim to highlight that a purportedly liberationist discourse such as transatlantic abolition could in effect contribute to consolidating White territorial epistemology. In their references to Indigeneity, White abolitionists could draw epistemic boundaries and shield off Indigenous orders of knowledge that might have helped them to interrogate White epistemology critically, even supporting their critique of the anti-Black apparatus of enslavement. In its various guises of referencing Black and Red, the White discourse of abolition – despite its ultimate reference point of freedom – pursued a logic of divide-and-conquer that served White interests. Paradoxically, despite its critique of unfreedom, it played a constitutive part in covering up central tenets of US imperialism such as the “removal” of Indigenous peoples, “frontier violence, government theft, [and] land devastation” (Pease 1993, 25). The discourse of abolition did not critically intervene in such practices. What is thought-provoking about it are the ways in which early abolitionists mobilized ideas about Red, fleshing out and justifying a concept of freedom based on Red extirpation even as they claimed to abhor anti-Black enslavement.

In doing so, they ascribed a surprising degree of agency to Native Americans, who presented a threat all on their own, and not simply as the result of settler-colonial oppression. In all three argumentative framings of Red, Native Americans are portrayed as independent, self-determined agents who act in their own interests. As fellow sufferers, they resist British oppression. As collateral damage, they make a rational choice to give way to the settlers who have an urgent desire for more land; Franklin implies that they prefer the freedom of the wilderness to the negotiations required of cohabitation with settlers. As enemies, they inspire fear and provoke White aggression, which is not wholly ‘successful,’ as evidenced by White captives and the need for the formerly enslaved to guard the frontier.

Abolitionists were creating a new, transatlantic (and quite favorable) definition of White by ostensibly seeking justice and freedom for Black – a project which inspired them to mobilize seemingly contradictory images of Red. In doing so, they emphasized distinctions and binary thinking along racial lines, which undermined their purported commitment to liberty and justice for all. They did not argue against enslavement without validating and perpetuating troubling assumptions not only about Black but also about Red. This had profound consequences for a White American understanding of freedom, which accepted Whiteness as the norm, the baseline, and the main condition for automatic membership in the nation. Those subsumed under the rubric of Black had to earn their membership, if at all, by proving themselves worthy; those denoted by the trope Red were naturally inadmissible, even for Paine. Abolitionists’ use and positioning of Red was not only ambivalent but fraught with implications for subsequent conceptions of White freedom and the nation. An analysis of the ambivalent ways in which knowledge about the Indigenous was framed within the ‘liberationist’ discourse of abolition may help to broaden our understanding of its complicity in settler colonialism and thus to reevaluate the logic of freedom that undergirds White territorial epistemology at large.

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  • Sinha, Manisha (2017). The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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Footnotes

1

The terms Red, White, and Black are capitalized throughout to highlight their figurativeness.

2

While abolition as a movement was, crucially, both undergirded and driven by various forms of resistance to enslavement on the part of the enslaved – which recent scholarship has emphasized strongly (see, for example, Cameron 2014; Sinha 2017), it is the central role ascribed to White male actors in the discourse and apparatus of abolition that is of concern here. For the self-aggrandizing effects of these early abolitionists, see Junker 2016, upon which this essay builds its argument, expanding the scope of inquiry to explore the dynamics of self-aggrandizement in more detail with an eye to Indigeneity.

3

This semantic instability extends into academic debates; the tropes are mobilized, for instance, in Wilderson 2010.

4

This final section of Franklin’s “Observations” is cut from the 1760 reprint version of the text from which all other quotes below are taken.

5

The authorship of this text is unclear; Davis (1975, 277n37) attributes it to John Allen (active 1741–1774).

6

For an overview of the genre of Native American captivity narratives, see, for instance, Johnson 2016; for discourses of Barbary captivity, see, for instance, Bekkaoui 2011; Klarer 2020.

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  • Allen, John? (1773). An Oration, Upon the Beauties of Liberty, or The Essential Rights of the Americans […]. Boston, MA: D. Kneeland and N. Davis. <https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N10250.0001.001?view=toc> (May 27, 2019).

  • Bekkaoui, Khalid (2011). White Women Captives in North Africa: Narratives of Enslavement, 1735–1830. Basingstoke and New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Cameron, Christopher (2014). To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press.

  • Davis, David Brion (1975). The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770–1823. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • Davis, David Brion and Steven Mintz, eds. (1998). The Boisterous Sea of Liberty: A Documentary History of America from Discovery through the Civil War. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Deloria, Vine, Jr. (1999). “The American Revolution and the American Indian: Problems in the Recovery of a Usable Past.” Barbara Deloria et al., eds. Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 206–222.

  • Foucault, Michel (2004). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1975–1976. trans. David Macey. London et al.: Penguin.

  • Franklin, Benjamin (1760 [1751]). “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &C. Written in Pensylvania, 1751.” The Interest of Great Britain Considered with Regard to Her Colonies and the Acquisitions of Canada and Guadaloupe. Boston, MA: B. Mecom, 52–57.

  • Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Hartman, Saidiya V. (2008). Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

  • Horne, Gerald (2014). The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. New York, NY: New York University Press.

  • Johnson, Kendall (2016). “Captivity Narratives.” Oxford Bibliographies Online. <doi:10.1093/OBO/9780199827251-0115> (September 14, 2018).

  • Junker, Carsten (2016). Patterns of Positioning: On the Poetics of Early Abolition. Heidelberg: Winter.

  • Klarer, Mario (2020). Mediterranean Slavery and World Literature: Captivity Genres from Cervantes to Rousseau. New York, NY: Routledge.

  • Mignolo, Walter (2000). Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Paine, Thomas (1987 [1775]). “African Slavery in America.” Michael Foot and Isaac Kramnick, eds. Thomas Paine Reader. London et al.: Penguin, 52–56.

  • Paine, Thomas (1995 [1780]). “Public Good.” Eric Forner, ed. Thomas Paine: Collected Writings. New York, NY: Library of America, 253–286.

  • Pease, Donald E. (1993). “New Perspectives on US Culture and Imperialism.” Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease, eds. Cultures of United States Imperialism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 22–37.

  • Shoemaker, Nancy (1997). “How Indians Got to Be Red.” The American Historical Review 102.3, 625–644.

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  • Sinha, Manisha (2017). The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • Stam, Robert and Ella Shohat (2012). Race in Translation: Culture Wars around the Postcolonial Atlantic. New York, NY: New York University Press.

  • Wesley, John (1774). Thoughts Upon Slavery. London, printed: re-printed in Philadelphia, with notes, and sold by Joseph Crukshank.

  • Wilderson III, Frank B. (2010). Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Wolfe, Patrick (1999). Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event. London and New York, NY: Cassell.

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Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik (ZAA) is a peer-reviewed quarterly that reflects the entire spectrum of research on English and American language, literature and culture. Particular attention will be paid to the new literatures in English, the development of linguistic varieties outside of Britain and North America and the relationship between anglophone and neighbouring cultural areas.

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