In the past thirty years, the study of French-Indian relations in the center of North America has emerged as an important field for examining the complex relationships that defined a vast geographical area, including the Great Lakes region, the Illinois Country, the Missouri River Valley, and Upper and Lower Louisiana. For years, no one better represented this emerging area of study than Jacqueline Peterson and Richard White, scholars who identified a world defined by miscegenation between French colonists and the native population, or métissage, and the unique process of cultural accommodation that led to a “middle ground” between French and Algonquians. Building on the research of Peterson, White, and Jay Gitlin, this collection of essays brings together new and established scholars from the United States, Canada, and France, to move beyond the paradigms of the middle ground and métissage. At the same time it seeks to demonstrate the rich variety of encounters that defined French and Indians in the heart of North America from 1630 to 1815. Capturing the complexity and nuance of these relations, the authors examine a number of thematic areas that provide a broader assessment of the historical bridge-building process, including ritual interactions, transatlantic connections, diplomatic relations, and post-New France French-Indian relations.
On one level, Peter Moogk's latest book, La Nouvelle France: The Making of French Canada—A Cultural History, is a candid exploration of the troubled historical relationship that exists between the inhabitants of French- and English- speaking Canada. At the same time, it is a long- overdue study of the colonial social institutions, values, and experiences that shaped modern French Canada. Moogk draws on a rich body of evidence—literature; statistical studies; government, legal, and private documents in France, Britain, and North America— and traces the roots of the Anglo-French cultural struggle to the seventeenth century. In so doing, he discovered a New France vastly different from the one portrayed in popular mythology. French relations with Native Peoples, for instance, were strained. The colony of New France was really no single entity, but rather a chain of loosely aligned outposts stretching from Newfoundland in the east to the Illinois Country in the west.
Moogk also found that many early immigrants to New France were reluctant exiles from their homeland and that a high percentage returned to Europe. Those who stayed, the Acadians and Canadians, were politically conservative and retained Old Régime values: feudal social hierarchies remained strong; one's individualism tended to be familial, not personal; Roman Catholicism molded attitudes and was as important as language in defining Acadian and Canadian identities. It was, Moogk concludes, the pre-French Revolution Bourbon monarchy and its institutions that shaped modern French Canada, in particular the Province of Quebec, and set its people apart from the rest of the nation.
For years, schoolchildren heard the story of Jean Nicolet’s arrival in Wisconsin. But the popularized image of the hapless explorer landing with billowing robe and guns blazing, supposedly believing himself to have found a passage to China, is based on scant evidence—a false narrative perpetuated by fanciful artists’ renditions and repetition.
In more recent decades, historians have pieced together a story that is not only more likely but more complicated and interesting. Patrick Jung synthesizes the research about Nicolet and his superior Samuel de Champlain, whose diplomatic goals in the region are crucial to understanding this much misunderstood journey across the Great Lakes. Additionally, historical details about Franco-Indian relations and the search for the Northwest Passage provide a framework for understanding Nicolet’s famed mission.