J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, July 07, 2014

Meanwhile, to the West

Another new book on Revolutionary-era America actually looks at what else was happening on the continent while Britain’s thirteen colonies along the middle Atlantic coast fought for independence.

Claudio Saunt, author of West of the Revolution: An Uncommon Look at 1776, explained his approach in an article for the Boston Globe:
Spanish soldiers and missionaries were establishing the first permanent European colonies on North America’s Pacific Coast. (Native Americans, who observed Spanish schooners emerge on the horizon as if rising from the depths, called the newcomers “people from under the water.”)

Further north, Russians were seizing control of the Aleutian Islands and would soon push into the Alaskan mainland—territory they would not relinquish until 1867.

In the heart of the continent, Native Americans—who were as numerous as the Colonists then in revolution—sought to exploit the economic and geopolitical tumult engendered by European colonization on the coasts.
Specifically, Saunt wrote, “According to one traditional Lakota history, the Lakota (Sioux) Indians discovered the Black Hills in 1775-1776.” That memory was recorded by American Horse (1840-1908) in 1879—earlier than some Revolutionary traditions in textbooks and histories today.

In a short review for the Globe, Kate Tuttle wrote: “One persistent undercurrent to Saunt’s narrative is how much history hinges on misunderstanding and ignorance, along with greed and fear — not a pretty picture, but a necessary and timely addition to the heroic creation story we celebrate on July 4.” Here are other reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

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