FROM FURS TO FARMS

The Trans­for­ma­tion of the Mis­sis­sippi Val­ley, 1762-1825

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight History -

John Reda, North­ern Illinois Univer­sity Press Soft­cover $38 (212pp), 978-0-87580-499-6

John Reda’s rel­a­tively suc­cinct and pointed his­tory of the white set­tle­ment of the Mis­sis­sippi Val­ley chal­lenges the over­sim­pli­fied and con­ve­nient no­tion of Man­i­fest Des­tiny. Be­fore the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion, be­fore the crowded and vi­o­lent land rush of west­ward ex­pan­sion, the “Illinois Coun­try” of the Up­per Mis­sis­sippi River—what are now the states of Mis­souri and Illinois—was pop­u­lated by sev­eral Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes that ex­isted in rel­a­tive har­mony with for­eign traders. From Furs to Farms ef­fec­tively paints a pic­ture not of an idyl­lic and empty fron­tier wait­ing to be sub­dued, but of a bustling, mul­tira­cial, mul­ti­cul­tural in­ter­na­tional bound­ary eco­nom­i­cally bound by the pow­er­ful fur trade. Af­ter the Louisiana Pur­chase of 1803, how­ever, the Mis­sis­sippi Val­ley econ­omy was slowly re-geared to­ward agri­cul­ture as white Amer­i­can set­tlers sought to take ad­van­tage of the area’s rich ri­par­ian bot­tom­lands.

The tran­si­tion was not ben­e­fi­cial for all. As the book un­equiv­o­cally clar­i­fies, the ex­pan­sion of Amer­i­can sovereignty went hand-in-hand with white supremacy. Not only did the is­sue of slav­ery com­pli­cate the state­hoods of Mis­souri and Illinois, but past di­plo­macy and treaties with Na­tive Amer­i­cans were es­chewed in fa­vor of “In­dian re­moval,” both through con­tin­ued vi­o­lence and through the mass re­lo­ca­tion of tribes that would take place in the Jack­son pres­i­dency.

Like the work of all dili­gent, mind­ful schol­ars, Reda’s ac­count of his­tory is com­plex. Read­ers are reac­quainted with in­trepid Amer­i­can le­gends like Lewis and Clark, yet, at the same time, are re­minded that the Man­i­fest Des­tiny of a nascent em­pire cost other peo­ple their home­land and free­dom. As Reda points out, these po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal in­con­gruities would break open in the Civil War and per­sist well into the fol­low­ing cen­tury.

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