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Warring for AmericaCultural Contests in the Era of 1812$
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Nicole Eustace and Fredrika J. Teute

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469631516

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469631516.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 24 September 2021

Domestic Fronts in the Era of 1812

Domestic Fronts in the Era of 1812

Slavery, Expansion, and Familial Struggles for Sovereignty in the Early-Nineteenth-Century Choctaw South

(p.386) Domestic Fronts in the Era of 1812
Warring for America

Dawn Peterson

University of North Carolina Press

In 1811, while working as U.S. Indian Agent to the Choctaw nation, a white man named Silas Dinsmoor took guardianship of a ten- or eleven-year-old Choctaw boy named James McDonald. By examining the federal career and household arrangements of this government official and their convergence with the lives of James and his mother Molly McDonald, this essay highlights the central role that race, slavery, and kinship played in both imposing and resisting U.S. imperial rule. It begins by revisiting federal Indian policy and discourses concerning Indian “civilization” to consider the racialized and gendered kinship structures that supported U.S. territorial expansion. It then looks at how Dinsmoor specifically drew upon these same familial arrangements to push for U.S. settlement in the Choctaw nation on both a grand and intimate scale. Dinsmoor was initially invested in federal Indian policies and programs aimed at assimilating Choctaw people and their lands into the U.S. plantation economy by encouraging them to adopt U.S. kinship structures. However, in light of Choctaw responses to his controversial presence in their homelands, the Indian Agent became disillusioned with his work. Presented with an opportunity to “settle” Choctaw lands by establishing a plantation household of his own, Dinsmoor recalibrated his ambitions. Instead of trying to impose U.S. familial values on Choctaw people writ large, he began to acquire Choctaw lands for his own family’s gain, shoring up his claims to Choctaw lands and his sense of spatial mastery through the containment of black and Indian bodies within the space of his own “private” patriarchal household. The essay briefly concludes with the unexpected consequences of Dinsmoor’s actions. When Dinsmoor incorporated a Choctaw youth into his plantation home, he inadvertently supported Molly McDonald’s efforts to use both her son and racial slavery to bolster her own influence on lands coveted by the United States. In the end, Silas Dinsmoor and Molly McDonald’s actions reveal the yawning gap between imperial agendas and colonial realities as Native people found new ways to maintain control over their homelands.

Keywords:   race, slavery, kinship, family structures, federal Indian policy, Silas Dinsmoor, Molly McDonald, James McDonald, Choctaw, patriarchal agrarianism, paternalism, reproductive philanthropy

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