This panoramic account of 1776 chronicles the other revolutions unfolding that year across North America, far beyond the British colonies.
In 1776, Thomas Paine published
, the Continental Congress declared independence, and Washington crossed the Delaware. We are familiar with these famous moments in American history, but we know little about the extraordinary events occurring that same year far beyond the British colonies. In this distinctive history, Claudio Saunt tells an intriguing, largely untold story of an immense and restless continent connected in surprising ways.
In that pivotal year, the Spanish established the first European colony in San Francisco and set off a cataclysm for the region’s native residents. The Russians pushed into Alaska in search of valuable sea otters, devastating local Aleut communities. And the British extended their fur trade from Hudson Bay deep into the continent, sparking an environmental revolution that transformed America’s boreal forests.
While imperial officials in distant Europe maneuvered to control lands they knew almost nothing about, America''s indigenous peoples sought their own advantage. Creek Indians navigated the Caribbean to explore trade with Cuba. The Osages expanded their dominion west of the Mississippi River, overwhelming the small Spanish outposts in the area. And the Sioux advanced across the Dakotas. One traditional Sioux history states that they first seized the Black Hills, the territory they now consider their sacred homeland, in 1776. "Two nations were born that year," Saunt writes. The native one would win its final military victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn one hundred years later.
From the Aleutian Islands to the Gulf Coast and across the oceans to Europe’s imperial capitals, Saunt’s masterfully researched narrative reveals an interconnected web of history that spans not just the forgotten parts of North America but the entire globe.
Richly illustrated, with maps that reenvision a familiar landscape, West of the Revolution explores a turbulent continent in a year of many revolutions.
22 illlustrations, 15 maps
The year 1776 was momentous and, as Saunt’s innovative survey shows, not only for American colonists rebelling against the British Empire. Beyond the Appalachian Mountains, events were in motion that would influence what peoples and powers would control North America. Geographically staged in nine regions of the continent, Saunt’s narratives broadly concern themselves with native peoples’ reactions to territorial expansions by European powers. On the Pacific coast, Russia advanced south from the Aleutian Islands, and Spain probed north from Mexico, with deleterious consequences for indigenous groups. Inland, the Lakota Sioux were migrating toward the Black Hills of modern South Dakota; the Osage of Missouri coped with the Spanish and British presence along the Mississippi River; and in the Southeast, the Creeks strove to obtain Spanish support against Americans expanding from Georgia. Saunt ably integrates local geographical and climatic conditions into the anxieties and actions of imperial officials on the scene while exhibiting insight into the predicaments faced by the pertinent Indian tribes. Taking uncommon perspectives, Saunt’s accounts will fascinate readers interested in the colonial history of North America. --Gilbert Taylor
"An engaging, original, and thought-provoking book on what was happening on the American continent in 1776 outside of our traditional line of sight. The result is a fascinating new look at the most familiar of years."
Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
"A dramatic and compelling new take on the North America of 1776. With careful research and in evocative writing, Saunt brilliantly recovers the cultural diversity and many possibilities of a continent dominated by native peoples and coveted by several empires."
Alan Taylor, author of The Internal Enemy (National Book Award Finalist)
"Move over, Minutemen: teeming with Sioux hunters, Creek farmers, Aleutian traders, Russian trappers, and Spanish missionaries,
West of the Revolution portrays America in 1776 as we’ve never seen it before. In a vivid narrative sweeping from Alaska to Cuba, Claudio Saunt upends the conventional vision of this moment, oriented around a handful of statesmen in Philadelphia. He enriches this history with travel accounts, material culture, and consistent attention to the natural environment. A revelation."
Maya Jasanoff, author of Liberty’s Exiles
"What might the American Revolutionary period look like without the Revolution at its center? Claudio Saunt''s remarkable book asks this counterintuitive question, and the results are revelatory. Its wide-ranging stories of different North American places and peoples are gems of historical investigation; together they reveal a continent gripped by upheaval, freedom struggles, and the search for new meanings."
Pekka Hamalainen, author of The Comanche Empire
"Highly recommended as a balancing tonic to more conventional Revolutionary books."
Bethanne Patrick, Washingtonian
"[A] panoramic view of North America… rife with fascinating facts."
Jacob E. Osterhout, Newsweek
West of the Revolution offers a bold and inclusive narrative… It presents a corrective to the long-reigning popular historical narrative that regarded peoples and places in the West as insignificant in the American story… [it] makes a significant contribution to our understanding of this volatile and formative period in American history."
Doug Kiel, Chicago Tribune
"Saunt spins a tale as compelling and awful as a ghost story. Time and again, encounters that begin with transactions―in furs, crops, or religion―end in exploitation, violence, genocide. The vast, unwieldy continent, in Saunt’s masterful portrait, seems itself to be a symbol of ungovernable resistance― a necessary and timely addition to the heroic creation story we celebrate on July 4."
Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
"This is a history more terrible than wondrous, a necessary counternarrative to our enlightened Revolution… Saunt stretches the scope of his history to provide context and background… He has created a sweeping narrative of noncolonial America in 1776. But he is at his most colorful when he finds individual stories, such as that of the Frenchman floating down the Arkansas River with ‘one severed head and the corpses of two of his companions.’ The strangeness of proto-American history may be found in the details."
Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
"Perceptive and original."
Gerard Helferich, Wall Street Journal
Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times
Ed Herschthal, Christian Science Monitor
"No one who reads it will think of 1776 the same way again."
Claudio Saunt is the Richard B. Russell Professor in American History at the University of Georgia. He is the author of award-winning books, including
A New Order of Things;
Black, White, and Indian; and
West of the Revolution. He lives in Athens, Georgia.