The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763

The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763

Paul W. Mapp
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807838945_mapp
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  • Book Info
    The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763
    Book Description:

    A truly continental history in both its geographic and political scope,The Elusive West and the Contest for Empireinvestigates eighteenth-century diplomacy involving North America and links geographic ignorance about the American West to Europeans' grand geopolitical designs. Breaking from scholars' traditional focus on the Atlantic world, Paul Mapp demonstrates the centrality of hitherto understudied western regions to early American history.In the first two-thirds of the eighteenth century, imperial officials in London, Paris, or Madrid knew very little about western North America. Yet Europeans' competition to gain access to the Pacific Ocean and control trade to the Far East enhanced the importance of western American territories. Mapp reconstructs French, Spanish, British, and Amerindian ideas about these unknown regions, especially the elusive Northwest Passage, and shows that a Pacific focus is crucial to understanding the causes, course, and consequences of the Seven Years' War.Mapp's work serves as a model for constructing a comprehensive colonial history of the continent. His book transcends artificially imposed boundaries of scholarly inquiry that did not exist in the diverse and interconnected early modern world and relates remote Pacific regions to the Atlantic aspects of the global Seven Years' War.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0098-7
    Subjects: History, Geography

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xvi-xx)
  7. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-26)

    Histories of the Seven Years’ War, especially those written in the United States, often begin with George Washington’s blunderings in the Ohio Valley in 1754. It’s a good place to start. Competing British, French, and Indian claims to lands west of the Appalachians formed one of the principal sources of international tension in the early 1750s, and when Washington’s Virginia Regiment and Indian allies made contact with a larger French and Indian force east of the Forks of the Ohio, the sparks thrown off by the collision helped ignite a global conflagration. Later in life, when immersed in adversity, Washington...

  8. PART I THE SPANISH EMPIRE AND THE ELUSIVE WEST

    • 1 PEOPLES AND TERRAIN, DIFFICULTIES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS
      (pp. 29-68)

      Spain initiated early modern Europe’s engagement with western North American geography, and so it is with the Spanish Empire that a study of the influence of western geographic ideas properly begins. From the vantage point of the early twenty-first century, with the results of the last two and a half centuries of geographic investigation close at hand, it is remarkable how little early- and mid-eighteenth-century Spanish officials knew about the North American continent their empire had been colonizing since 1519. We can more completely and easily understand the effects of their uncertainty if we first pay some attention to the...

    • 2 EXPLOITING INDIGENOUS GEOGRAPHIC UNDERSTANDING
      (pp. 69-98)

      Consideration of the inhibiting effects of western exploratory difficulties and disappointments, of the Far West’s geographic position, and of the competitive allure of other potential targets of investigation yields a fair explanation for the pre-1763 Spanish failure to explore the better part of the North American West. Such consideration leaves open, however, the question of why, if the physical and human geography of the North American West rendered its thorough exploration by Spaniards themselves arduous and unappealing, they could not avail themselves of Indian information, utilizing native geographic knowledge as a substitute for Spanish sails and feet. When Vizcaíno sailed...

  9. PART II SOUTH SEA INTERLUDE

    • 3 THE ALLURING PACIFIC OCEAN
      (pp. 101-121)

      The most celebrated goal of early modern French, British, and Anglo-American western exploration was to find some kind of Northwest Passage to the Pacific. French scouts looking for a river route to the South Sea pushed west of lakes Superior and Winnipeg in the 1730s, 1740s, and 1750s. British ships sought a Northwest Passage from Hudson Bay in the 1740s. Thomas Jefferson, famously, hoped Lewis and Clark would find a passage to India, not the Bitterroot Mountains they actually encountered. The persistence of this quest, long after the hard experience of European explorers had dispelled Columbus’s vision of a short...

    • 4 THE PACIFIC OCEAN AND THE WAR OF THE SPANISH SUCCESSION
      (pp. 122-144)

      On November 16, 1700, Louis XIV proclaimed, in accordance with the will of Charles II of Spain, that Louis’s grandson Philip, duc d’Anjou, would inherit the Spanish throne. The ensuing War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1714) would determine which European powers would profit from the riches of Spanish America. Louis and his ministers hoped that French commercial penetration of the Spanish Empire would make Spanish resources available to French merchants and those merchants’ income available to royal tax collectors. In the years after 1700, the French government directed its diplomatic, military, and commercial policies to this end. William III...

  10. PART III FRANCE AND THE ELUSIVE WEST AFTER THE TREATY OF UTRECHT

    • 5 VISIONS OF WESTERN LOUISIANA
      (pp. 147-165)

      In the history of the United States, and in an account of the agreements ending the Seven Years’ War, Louisiana figures most prominently as the colony France gave away. But before France yielded Louisiana, it had to acquire claims to the great Mississippi Valley—twice. To understand the first of France’s Louisiana cessions, it is necessary to examine the reasons why French officials once found the colony so desirable.

      In 1699, one year after founding the French Compagnie royale de la Mer paci-fique, Pierre Lemoyne d’Iberville’s landing on the Mississippi Delta—followed by his and his brother Jean-Baptiste de Bienville’s...

    • 6 IMPERIAL COMPARISONS
      (pp. 166-193)

      In 1730, a report “Touching upon the Discovery of the Western Sea” appeared as an attachment to a letter from the governor of New France, the marquis de Beauharnois (1726–1747). The report’s author was the French explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye. While serving as commander of French furtrading posts north of Lake Superior in 1728 and 1729, La Vérendrye had been seeking information about western lands and waters from Indians at the French forts. His interlocutors included a former slave of the Assiniboines; Auchagah (also spelled Ochagach), “a savage [Sauvage] of my post”; “a Monsoni...

    • 7 COMMUNICATION AND INTERPRETATION
      (pp. 194-232)

      Eighteenth-century French surveyors triangulated their way across France and China. A French geographer trod the forests of Siberia and sailed the waters of the North Pacific. His brother collected in Saint Petersburg and dispatched to Paris maps of an empire spanning the world’s largest continent. French cartographers produced maps of stunning clarity and precision revealing not only the heart of Gaul but also the reaches of “Tartary.” In North America, in contrast, travel-weary explorers found their westward progress checked short of the South Sea; and, in France, bewigged cartographers pondered western rivers and inland seas whose existence they suspected and...

    • 8 RESTRICTED PATHWAYS
      (pp. 233-258)

      The previous chapter’s discussion of difficulties arising from linguistic, conceptual, and cultural differences gives some sense of how the communication of geographic information could be impeded even when French investigators were speaking with Indians familiar with a region. Often, however, it appears that western Indians were not personally acquainted with the territories French explorers were asking about. Aggravating communicative difficulties, and further limiting the range of French geographic comprehension, were the hostilities among western nations restricting the safe movement of both Frenchmen and Indians.

      These difficulties stand out more sharply when viewed against the backdrop of French cartographers’ experiences in...

  11. PART IV BRITISH PACIFIC VENTURES AND THE EARLY YEARS OF THE SEVEN YEARS’ WAR

    • 9 BRITISH DESIGNS ON THE SPANISH EMPIRE, 1713–1748
      (pp. 261-282)

      La Vérendrye and his compatriots were not alone in their search for a water route to the west, nor was a great river the only form such a passage might take. In 1731—a year after La Vérendrye’s report “Touching upon the Discovery of the Western Sea”—Arthur Dobbs, Ulster landowner and member of the Irish House of Commons, wrote a seventy-page memoir positing the existence of a Northwest Passage from Hudson Bay to the Pacific and encouraging the Hudson’s Bay Company or the British Admiralty to dispatch ships to look for it. Dobbs used different kinds of evidence to...

    • 10 FRENCH REACTIONS TO THE BRITISH SEARCH FOR A NORTHWEST PASSAGE FROM HUDSON BAY AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SEVEN YEARS’ WAR
      (pp. 283-311)

      During and immediately after the War of Jenkins’ Ear and the larger War of the Austrian Succession it joined, British explorers, promoters, and officials sought ways to overcome the physical and diplomatic barriers to British Pacific navigation. French officials observed these British efforts and contemplated their implications. The question raised was how the French Empire would respond to the prospect of its leading rival’s obtaining the South Sea access that the Utrecht settlement and North America’s obstinate impermeability had so far denied to France.¹

      One response was writing. French evaluations of British South Sea and North American probes appear in...

    • 11 SPANISH REACTIONS TO BRITISH PACIFIC ENCROACHMENTS, 1750–1757
      (pp. 312-329)

      Considerations of European interest in the Pacific, French efforts to comprehend American geography, and French reactions to British Hudson Bay exploration have pointed repeatedly to what—in terms of extent, populousness, wealth, and longevity—was the grandest polity of the early eighteenth-century Americas: the Spanish Empire. Because of its geographic position, lingering power, and manifest potential, rival mid-eighteenth-century French and British statesmen vied to bring Spanish policy in line with their own objectives.¹

      To contemporary French observers, and to later imperial and diplomatic historians, this policy has presented something of a riddle. In particular, Spanish relations with Britain were warmer...

    • 12 FRENCH BORDERLANDS ENCROACHMENTS AND SPANISH NEUTRALITY
      (pp. 330-356)

      This book’s first chapter mentioned the arrival of French traders Jean Chapuis and Louis Feuilli in New Mexico in 1752, their interrogation by Spanish officers, and their subsequent incarceration in Spain. The matter did not end with the traders in jail, moving instead into French and Spanish diplomatic conversations and deliberations. In November 1754, the Spanish Council of the Indies recommended that Ferdinand VI discuss the wayfarers in “official correspondence” with the French court. In January 1755, Don Jaime Masones de Lima, Spain’s ambassador in France, complained to French foreign minister Rouillé about Chapuis and Feuilli. Not only had the...

  12. PART V THE ELUSIVE WEST AND THE OUTCOME OF THE SEVEN YEARS’ WAR

    • 13 FRENCH GEOGRAPHIC CONCEPTIONS AND THE 1762 WESTERN LOUISIANA CESSION
      (pp. 359-386)

      On November 3, 1762, in the waning days of the Seven Years’ War, a beleaguered France ceded the trans-Mississippi remnants of the colony of Louisiana to Spain. This cession has always been something of an enigma; its necessity is not immediately obvious. Spain had not occupied western Louisiana, Britain had not conquered it, and neither was demanding it. Trans-Mississippi Louisiana remained, so far as European diplomacy was concerned, under French dominion, the last piece of a remarkable continental venture.

      From 1524 to 1762, French scouts, missionaries, traders, officials, and settlers had tried to explore North America’s territories, harvest its resources,...

    • 14 SPAIN’S ACCEPTANCE OF TRANS-MISSISSIPPI LOUISIANA
      (pp. 387-412)

      In the closing years of the Seven Years’ War, the unusually forceful and capable Charles III replaced Ferdinand VI as king of Spain. During the same period, an increasingly formidable and menacing Britain challenged Spanish imperial security. Few rulers look with indifference upon a growing threat to their cherished dominions, and Charles found the New World progress of British arms especially alarming because his plans for Spanish national revival depended on more efficient exploitation of Spain’s colonial resources. Losing control or possession of significant portions of the Spanish Empire could handicap the new ruler’s nascent reform efforts. Charles, later immortalized...

    • 15 OLD VISIONS AND NEW OPPORTUNITIES: Britain and the Spanish Empire at the End of the Seven Years’ War
      (pp. 413-428)

      One character making occasional appearances in earlier chapters has been Henry Ellis (1721–1806). Like Arthur Dobbs, Ellis was one of those second-tier figures of eighteenth-century British imperial history who frequently influenced or exemplified important historical developments. In a sparkling 1970 essay, John Shy used Ellis to help illuminate the “spectrum of imperial possibilities” following the Seven Years’ War. In this book, Ellis has spoken confidently of the great islands of necessity existing in the North Pacific. He has participated in the 1746–1747 British expedition in search of a Northwest Passage from Hudson Bay, and his account of the...

  13. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 429-434)

    This study has argued that perceptions of western American geography influenced the course of imperial diplomacy, that ideas about the undiscovered West contributed to the origins, unfolding, and outcome of the mid-eighteenth century’s Great War for Empire. Unease about the implications of British Hudson Bay exploration helped draw France into war with Britain. Spanish concerns about French westward exploration reinforced Spain’s neutral tendencies, keeping the Iberian empire out of the Seven Years’ War until its entry was too late to forestall French defeat or British victory. Increasing French skepticism about the value of the unexplored West and lingering Spanish disquiet...

  14. INDEX
    (pp. 435-455)