Current Issue Article Abstracts

Summer 2023, Vol. 43.2

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"The Baby of Biological Race": The Issue of Racial Science in Winthrop Jordan's White Over Black
H. Reuben Neptune

Are there currently venerated works of history-writing that, upon closer inspection, should embarrass us for their entanglements with white supremacy? White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550–1812 (1968) by Winthrop Jordan is one such text. A weighty historical study of English and Anglo–American "thoughts and feelings" about people of African descent in the colonies and the early republic, Jordan's book has won great professional acclaim within the North Atlantic for more than half a century. Yet, for all of this reverence, White Over Black betrays a deep and fatal problem and deserves reassessment as a disturbingly retrograde contribution to the historiography on racism. This monumental piece of scholarship advanced an essentialist conception of race as part of nature, as arising from natural distinctions between groups of people. Guilty of what Barbara Fields and Karen Fields have called "racecraft," Jordan put the cart of racial difference before the horse of racism. Indeed, he deliberately challenged the assumptions of contemporary anti-racist scholars who emphasized race as an invention, complaining that they had "thrown out the baby of race with the bathwater of racism." Maintaining that racism followed fundamentally from inherent racial difference, Jordan cast white supremacy, tragically, as an unconscious psychological response to the distinct physiology of Blackness. The result was a teleological narrative of racial domination. Though not intended to apologize for racism, White Over Black did nevertheless (ir)rationalize racism as the fatal product of inescapable biological difference. Carefully and critically read, Jordan's book provides an eloquent (pre)text for considering how a primordialist view of race subverts the project of effective anti-racist history-writing.


John Brown, Filibuster: Republicans, Harpers Ferry, and the Use of Violence, 1855–1860
Daniel J. Burge

Although John Brown has been labelled in many ways, historians have not explored his connection with filibustering. This essay considers John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry within that context, focusing specific attention on how Republicans turned Brown into a filibuster by comparing his actions to William Walker and Narciso López. In the immediate aftermath of Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Republicans faced the charge that they had inspired Brown by their alleged embrace of abolitionism. Republicans countered this by linking Brown to filibustering, arguing that Democrats had only recently championed William Walker. Brown's expedition was unlawful, Republicans argued, but it was no different than Walker's invasion of Nicaragua or López's forays into Cuba. By making this argument, Republicans shifted the blame for Harpers Ferry upon Democrats. In distancing themselves from Brown, however, Republicans demonstrated that they were far from radicals who were secretly bent on subverting the institution of slavery. Indeed, their argument that John Brown was a filibuster helped Republicans legitimize themselves as defenders of law and order, men who firmly rejected the use of armed violence and who would work to make sure that men were prosecuted for leading armed rebellions, whether in the United States or abroad.


Nothingarians: The Fear of the Unchurched in Early National America
Thomas S. Kidd

The term nothingarian suggests an under-studied presence in the history of the early republic: the religiously unaffiliated. Scholars routinely mention the term nothingarian, but few have examined its origins, uses, or significance in American history. Although it seems to have originated much earlier, as a term for members of the little-known Gortonist sect in Rhode Island, "nothingarian" would come to connote the irreligious, ambivalent, or unaffiliated person, one whom pollsters of religion today might call a "none," or a person of no organized religion. The fear of nothingarians was especially acute in the early republic because of the widespread disestablishment of official denominations, rapid spread of settlement on the frontier, and deep uncertainties about American national cohesion after independence. Many observers in early national America feared that disestablishment and religious choice would lead not to massive numbers of conversions, but to masses of indifferent, skeptical, or unaffiliated people. The term nothingarian is important because it was widely used (if poorly defined), and because it reflected widespread fears about preserving religious affiliation and building a new American nation in the absence of state churches or a national establishment.


The Hudson River Valley Loyalists in British North America: Connection, Community, and Continuity
Kieran J. O'Keefe

The American Revolutionary War brought tremendous pain and suffering to Loyalists in New York's Hudson River Valley. They endured violence, persecution, and dislocation. When the war ended, thousands of Loyalists chose to leave their homes for a new life in British North America (Canada). As a civil war, the Revolution attempted to dissolve existing community bonds. But the Hudson Valley Loyalists show that many relationships endured despite the conflict, and that instead these social webs remained central to how they found their way in the postwar British Empire. They settled near one another in exile, assisted each other when applying for postwar compensation, shared similar political philosophies in provincial politics, maintained contact with family in New York, and even intermarried. Individual relationships and community were central to how the Hudson Valley Loyalists rebuilt their lives after a violent civil war. In exile, they created a social web consisting of Loyalists, their children, American citizens, and Late Loyalists, that bound them for several generations.



Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution by Mary Sarah Bilder (review)
Kimberly A. Hamlin


Hessians: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War by Friederike Baer (review)
Brady J. Crytzer


Awkward Rituals: Sensations of Governance in Protestant America by Dana W. Logan (review)
Steven C. Bullock


Almost Dead: Slavery and Social Rebirth in the Black Urban Atlantic, 1680–1807 by Michael Dickinson (review)
Sophie Hess


The Souls of Womenfolk: The Religious Cultures of Enslaved Women in the Lower South by Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh (review)
Katharine Gerbner


Liberty's Chain: Slavery, Abolition, and the Jay Family of New York by David N. Gellman (review)
M. Scott Heerman


The Paradox of Power: Statebuilding in America, 1754–1920 by Ballard C. Campbell (review)
William D. Adler


A Great and Rising Nation: Naval Exploration and Global Empire in the Early US Republic by Michael A. Verney (review)
Heesoo Cho


Yankees in the Indian Ocean: American Commerce and Whaling, 1786–1860 by Jane Hooper (review)
Nancy Shoemaker


Russian Colonization of Alaska: From Heyday to Sale, 1818–1867 by Andrei Valterovich Grinev (review)
Erik Hirschmann


Peace and Friendship: An Alternative History of the American West by Stephen Aron (review)
Eran Zelnik


Paternalism to Partnership: The Administration of Indian Affairs, 1786–2021 by David H. DeJong (review)
Ryan Hall


A Vivifying Spirit: Quaker Practice and Reform in Antebellum America by Janet Moore Lindman (review)
Stephanie J. Richmond


Only the Clothes on Her Back: Clothing and the Hidden History of Power in the Nineteenth-Century United States by Laura F. Edwards (review)
Emily J. Arendt