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Empire by Collaboration: Indians, Colonists, and Governments in Colonial Illinois Country.

Empire by Collaboration: Indians, Colonists, and Governments in Colonial Illinois Country. By Robert Michael Morrissey. (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. Pp. x, 326. $45.00.)

In an early endnote, the author of this study writes, "despite its size, importance and curiosity as a part of colonial America and the Atlantic world, Illinois Country still does not earn much attention from many historians." He then goes on to state, "nobody has done more to change this fact than Carl J. Ekberg" (243). What distinguishes Empire by Collaboration: Indians, Colonists, and Governments in Colonial Illinois Country from the works of Ekberg is Robert Michael Morrissey's comprehensive analysis of the colonial Illinois country from the period of pre-European contact until the time of the colony's inclusion in the new American republic.

The Illinois colony developed not because of imperial domination or colonial subterfuge; it prospered because of the pragmatic intercultural collaboration that occurred among the colonists, Amerindians, and imperial governments. According to Morrissey, a distinctive form of colonialism developed at the edge of empire. Illinois colonists and Indians convinced first the imperial government of France and then the government of Great Britain to support their priorities rather than the priorities of their respective home governments. For example, in the 1670s, illegal colonists, Jesuit priests, and the Illinois Indians forced the French government to create a colony of autonomous settlements. In 1717, French authorities established a provincial government, not to satisfy some grand imperial strategy but, as they said, because "we see no possibility of preventing it" (86).

During the following years, this government tolerated what the local colonial inhabitants had established: "an entrepreneurial export economy, an interracial social order, and a legal culture that did not fit the imperial model" (232). At the same time, the Illinois Indians coerced the French government into taking their side in the Fox Wars and the western alliance system, even though this support went against the government's larger imperial plans. The construction of a new Fort de Chartres in the 1750s followed a timeline established by the colonists--not by the French military. When France lost control of the colony at the conclusion of the French and Indian War, the British and Spanish governments tried to divide the colony along the Mississippi River. The local residents saw no utility to this geopolitical boundary. A decade later, the Illinois settlers did not react to the arbitrary military presence in their colony by calling for independence and the end of British control. Instead they asked for the establishment of a republican civil government within the British Empire. In 1774, they rejoiced when they learned about the Quebec Act.

When Ekberg published French Roots in the Illinois Country: The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times [2000], his work was deemed required reading for anyone interested in the history of colonial French settlements in North America. Morrissey's monograph warrants a similar recommendation. Though at times Empire by Collaboration reads like a dissertation, this shortcoming is overshadowed by the scope of the work's analysis and by the author's creative use of documentary, linguistic, and material sources. In sum, Morrissey makes an important contribution to the field of Atlantic history.

W. Jeffrey Welsh

University of Scranton
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Author:Welsh, W. Jeffrey
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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