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The Natchez Diaspora: A History of Indigenous Displacement and Survival in the Atlantic World

  • Author(s): Smyth, Edward Glenn
  • Advisor(s): Westerkamp, Marilyn
  • et al.
Abstract

In 1731, the French colonists of Louisiana and their Native American allies defeated the Natchez after a bloody conflict and drove the Natchez survivors from their ancestral homelands. The dissertation responds to the question: what happened to the Natchez survivors after 1731? Instead of thinking about the year 1731 as an end to Natchez history, I argue that the war with the French marked the beginning of a new phase of Natchez history that is best characterized as a diaspora. Indeed, the Natchez established many new communities after 1731: some Natchez eventually settled in colonial South Carolina while others established Natchez communities among the Chickasaws, Cherokees and Creeks. This is the first project to explore Natchez history after the 1730s and it enlarges the temporal scope of Natchez history and its significance to larger colonial processes in the Atlantic World. Through the use of French and English sources, as well as Natchez oral history that I have collected by working with contemporary Natchez communities in Oklahoma and South Carolina, this project examines Natchez communities in an extended Indigenous diasporic network. This network enabled Natchez people to survive multiple colonial displacements and to establish a network of contacts with several different European and Native American populations during the eighteenth century and beyond.

In tracking the diaspora, the dissertation departs from scholarship that focuses on the adaptation of Native American polities, culture, and society in response to European colonialism. Rather than only looking at how Natchez adapted to European colonialism, which clearly had a major impact on Natchez history, this project also examines how Natchez people responded to living with other Native American groups. The diasporic Natchez communities reveal that the Natchez adapted to changes in multiple directions, not just in response to European colonists, but also in response to their interactions with Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees. By examining how each Natchez community integrated themselves into new areas and with new peoples, the dissertation argues that the limited choices that were available to the Natchez were as much conditioned by Native American societies as European colonization.

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