How smoking changed course of American history

Peace and War on the Anglo-Cherokee Frontier, 1756-63
April 12, 2002

At the end of August 1761, a Cherokee and a Scot sat down together to smoke a pipe of peace. The Cherokee was Atakullakulla, or Little Carpenter, a headman of one of the 60 or so villages comprising the powerful Cherokee nation on the South Carolina frontier. The Scot was Lieutenant-Colonel James Grant, British commander in colonial South Carolina, whose army had just burned the crops and houses of 15 of those Cherokee villages. They had come together to negotiate a peace treaty that would end a conflict between the Cherokee and South Carolina that had been brewing since 1756, and that had erupted with fury in 1759. These men engineered a treaty that not only secured an honourable peace for the Cherokee, but that also, with only slight exaggeration, helped change the course of empire in America.

Behind the two men stood dozens of autonomous villages, pro-war headmen, French-allied factions, peaceful communities, European settlers, traders, colonial governments, military superiors and the British Crown. Yet through careful research, John Oliphant manages to portray the manner in which Little Carpenter, Grant and others were able to shape both war and peace. Atakullakulla had no clear mandate to negotiate from his constituents, yet honourable peace terms would enhance his prestige among fellow headmen, quiet the pro-war factions, and bring in trade goods that had been halted. A sympathetic Grant was keen, and ultimately able to ignore demands from colonial officials for a more punitive and destructive expedition against the Cherokee and instead negotiate a lasting peace that would secure the trust of the Cherokees and an alliance with the British empire.

Sifting through the complex labyrinth of wartime diplomacy, Oliphant at once makes a contribution to "middle-ground" studies of Euro-Indian interactions pioneered by Richard White, but also to the "new" imperial history of Britain. Strangely, however, though both these fields have exploded in the past few years, Oliphant's citations remain rooted in an older historiography. Though he has something to say about the more recent work, he instead interjects annoying historiographical challenges to older, more obscure works. His focus on particular individuals, showcasing the role of Atakullakulla, also limits the work. Despite this, Oliphant's careful book should stand as a valuable contribution for some time to come. Though historians will probably take issue with his portrayal of Grant and other middle-ranking British officers as the heroes of the tale for their supposed sympathy with Native American concerns, there is no doubt that their actions irritated provincial officials and settlers eager to acquire more land and were also in line with a long-evolving policy in London. Ultimately, decisions made on the far-flung frontier contributed to a deterioration in relations between the crown and at least South Carolina, raising crucial constitutional questions on the very eve of the imperial crisis.

Michael A. McDonnell is lecturer in American studies, University of Wales, Swansea.

Peace and War on the Anglo-Cherokee Frontier, 1756-63

Author - John Oliphant
ISBN - 0 333 77839 1
Publisher - Palgrave
Price - £47.50
Pages - 288

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