Taming the Territory: Women, Settler Colonialism, and Indian Removal in Florida

TitleTaming the Territory: Women, Settler Colonialism, and Indian Removal in Florida
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsShire, Laurel Clark
DegreePhD Dissertation
Date Published2008
UniversityGeorge Washington University
CityWashington, D.C.
Thesis TypeAmerican Studies

This dissertation examines how women and gender shaped U. S. expansion into Florida in the early nineteenth century. I argue that representations of women shaped national policies in Florida, and that women negotiated with those policies in ways that benefited them and supported national expansion. In the society that Americans hoped to install in Florida, proper domesticity signified their racial and cultural superiority. Thus, white women's household and slave property were integral to Americanizing Florida. In stories about Indian attacks on white homes, military policy, and federal land settlement policies, the presence of women and children signified and guaranteed the need to protect and defend American homes in Florida, which justified and sentimentally reworked Indian removal into a nationalist paternalism. Using social history methods, this dissertation traces individuals and groups over time, while it also pays close attention to cultural representations in order to examine how people changed, and were affected by, discourse. My evidence includes census, land, and court records; correspondence about military and land policy; pamphlets and newspapers; and manuscript letters and diaries. I trace changing representations of Florida in war news, congressional debates, and the press from 1821, when Florida became a U. S. territory, through the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), Florida statehood (1845) and beyond. I also follow individual women in Florida during this period, as they took advantage of government aid and free land programs, demonstrating their importance in the ideological and material aspects of national expansion. Although Florida is rarely included in scholarly discussions of US expansion, this dissertation substantiates that land-grant policies and innovations in women's property law implemented there had long-lasting effects on later westward expansion. Ideologically, the frontier in Florida laid the groundwork for manifest destiny. Practically, the Armed Occupation Act of 1842 presaged the Homestead Act. While women's labor has been recognized as important in frontier communities, the ideological significance of their presence has been under-theorized, particularly in the early nineteenth century. This project intervenes in histories of territorial expansion and of women in the U. S., illuminating how women as historical actors, and how representations of women, shaped Manifest Destiny.

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