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Colonial Ghosts: Mi’kmaq Adoption, Daily Practice & the Alternate Atlantic, 1600-1763


My dissertation analyzes European families who joined Native communities in the seventeenth century in the northeast of North America and explores how the lives of their descendants were shaped by the racial and imperial wars of the eighteenth century. This research elucidates the lived experience of people who moved in between European and Native Worlds, who I describe as “colonial ghosts”. These families disappeared from the colonial archives both because of their absence from the Acadian villages and the limits of imperial reach in the Early Americas. This research revises Acadian historiography and especially models of family genealogy by valorizing lived experience and community belonging over ancestry for these Europeans. The entanglements that caused these Europeans to become invisible in the seventeenth century become visible when their community adoption, language, and fishing practices are revealed. An interdisciplinary approach that draws upon archaeology, court records, and maps, as well as Native American fishing practices reveals the vibrant lives they lived in a Native World and the spaces that existed for people to live at the interstices of empire in the Atlantic World.

These colonial ghosts were “resurrected” in the eighteenth century by the English empire as their descendants faced increasingly rigid racial politics as they were categorized as either ‘White” or “Indian.” As revenants (the French word for ghosts which translates to “the returned”), the descendants of these specters were either still members of the Mi’kmaq community and suffered removal to Indian reservations or were categorized as Acadians and deported from their lands as refugees. The Acadian-Mi’kmaq case study in my dissertation serves as a model of the historical category of “colonial ghosts” in other parts of the Americas and contributes to both the scholarship of colonial empires and native peoples in the Atlantic by combining these fields for the Northeast and revealing the world of white men being adopted into the Mi’kmaq community. Focusing on the lives of white commoners in the early modern Atlantic stands in sharp contrast to recent scholarship which centers on Amerindians and Africans as isolates and thus problematizes the way we think about ethnic boundaries in the early Modern Atlantic.

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