British Forts and Indian Neighbors
British forts in the colonial American backcountry have long been subjects of American heroic myth. Forts were romanticized as harbingers of European civilization, and the Indians who visited them were envisioned as awestruck, childlike, or scheming. In the last few decades, historians have attacked the persistent notion that Indians were mere supporting participants and have sought to reposition them as full agents in the early American story. However, historians have given little attention to British forts as exceptional contact points in their own rights. This book studies Indian-British interactions near British military and provincial forts, revealing the extent to which Indians defined the fort experience for both natives and newcomers. Indians visited forts as friends, enemies, and neutrals, and, in many cases requested forts from their British allies for their own purposes. They used British forts as trading outposts, news centers, community hubs, diplomatic meeting places, and suppliers of gifts. But even with these advantages, many Indians still resented the outposts. Forts could attract settlers, and often failed to regulate trade and traders sufficiently to please native consumers. Indians did not hesitate to press fort personnel for favors and advantages. In cases where British officers and soldiers failed to impress Indians, or angered them, the results were sometimes violent and extreme. These forts evoke an early American frontier affected as much by Native American culture as by British imperial priorities.
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