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Indigenous Persistence under American and French Settler Colonialism (AHA 2020)

Posted in Percolating Ideas, and Research

Presentation for the American Historical Association Conference (3-6 January 2020, Philadelphia, PA)


In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, American and French settler colonial metropoles installed new governments, laws, and people in the hereditary lands of Native Americans and autochthonous Algerians, but they never successfully replaced all Indigenous peoples with settlers. Native American treaty council notes, French and American diplomatic and military correspondence, and an Algerian leader’s memoir highlight the ways in which both Constantine, Algeria and the American Northwest Territory became important sites of Indigenous resistance and persistence. A comparative analysis of the origins of the United States and French Algeria from an Indigenous perspective illuminates the essential features of settler colonial states and the roles of Indigenous peoples in shaping their development. In so doing, I argue that settler colonial studies cannot be divorced from Indigenous studies, a point of contention among contemporary scholars.

In this presentation, I will compare and contrast the opportunities, limitations, choices, and effects of Indigenous leaders and their actions during the first decade of settler colonization in the American Midwest (1776-1785) and French Algeria (1827-1836). Computational sentiment and discourse analysis, validated through close reading, highlight both Indigenous and colonial leaders’ views, shifting attitudes, and plans of action. Through case studies of specific Native American and Algerian leaders, I show how Indigenous people fled, fought, aided, and ignored settler colonizers, and in so doing, defined the colonies’ evolution.

Juxtaposing these two case studies of grass-roots settler colonialism decenters the nation and relocates metropolitan officials to the margins in order to focus on the Indigenous and colonial actors who drove and negotiated the settler colonial projects on the ground. Using comparative Indigenous studies as a lens through which to view settler colonialism furthers our understanding of the fundamental processes at work and the shared nature of settler colonialism irrespective of metropolitan base.



            Native leaders and their communities in both the American Midwest and French Algeria compelled colonizers to take seriously indigenous definitions of authority, legitimacy, and sovereignty within the first decade of settler colonization. Both Native Americans and Algerians proceeded to determine who among them held legitimate authority to speak on their behalf. Any unauthorized signatories’ agreements were null and void in Indigenous eyes, forcing the colonizers to renegotiate the terms at a later date with people who had grown increasingly hostile due to the settlers’ militant tactics and treaties conducted in bad faith.

Indigenous political leaders in both North America and Algeria faced complicated choices. The historiography, at least in Native American Studies, has moved beyond the false dichotomy of resistance versus accommodation, but further research is necessary to understand the myriad options, opportunities, and challenges that colonization presented Indigenous leaders, and the ways in which their choices shaped the evolution of settler colonies. Native chiefs and Algerian governors responded to the shifting political landscape with canny creativity to ensure the survival of their people. Their perseverance, regardless of which paths they chose, continued then, and now, to challenge settler colonialism’s “logic of elimination” and therefore must be considered in both the history and theory of settler colonialism.

This study offers an indigenous reading, not only of American, but also French-Algerian settler colonization. It takes seriously Jodi A. Byrd’s contention that “colonization matters” and that “place, land, sovereignty, and memory matter” for Indigenous people in both the past and present.[1] It extends the scholarship of Byrd and Jean M. O’Brien, among other Native American studies scholars, to consider the similarities and differences among Indigenous peoples’ experiences of, and responses to, settler colonialism in and beyond Anglophone colonial contexts. In doing so, it contests the claim that settler colonial scholars “must focus on the settlers, on what they do, and how they think about what they do,” rather than the experiences of Indigenous peoples.[2]

Over the past three decades, scholars have formed a working definition of settler colonialism and its effects on Native populations through studies of various forms of dispossession. In brief, settler colonialism was (and is) a process in which settlers emigrate(d) with the express purposes of territorial occupation and the formation of a new community rather than the extraction of labor or resources, although these may have been or become secondary objectives. Certain policies and characteristics of settler colonies have been examined in detail – land policies, issues of sovereignty, jurisdiction, the role that myths played in legitimizing settler colonialism and creating a settler identity, as well as how metropolitan administrators sought to control both settler and Indigenous populations, even in the most intimate aspects of their lives – sexual partnerships and rearing children. Despite the excellent work of theorists and Native American Studies scholars – Patrick Wolfe, Jodi Byrd, Audra Simpson, Ned Blackhawk, Jean M. O’Brien, Scott Lauria Morgensen, Susan Sleeper Smith, Bethel Saler, and Laurel Clark Shire, to name only a few – settler colonial theory has yet to fully consider and incorporate Indigenous peoples as actors in their own right within its framework.[3]

In this presentation, I will compare and contrast the opportunities, limitations, choices, and effects of Indigenous leaders and their actions during the first decade of settler colonization in the American Midwest (1778-1788) and French Algeria (1827-1836). Juxtaposing these two historical examples of settler colonialism as a grassroots phenomenon decenters the nation and relocates metropolitan officials to the margins in order to focus on the Indigenous and colonial actors who drove and negotiated the settler colonial projects on the ground. Using comparative Indigenous studies as a lens through which to view settler colonialism furthers our understanding of the fundamental processes at work and the shared nature of settler colonialism, irrespective of metropolitan base. Through case studies of specific Native American and Algerian leaders, I show how Indigenous people fled, fought, aided, and ignored settler colonizers, and in so doing, defined the colonies’ evolution.

The Formation of a Native American Confederacy in the Ohio Valley

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris brought the American Revolution to an end and proclaimed peace between Great Britain and the United States, but it made no mention of the Native Americans who served on both sides of the war. In fact, Native leaders were not even invited to the negotiation process. In the treaty, Great Britain recognized American independence and sovereignty east of the Mississippi River, south of the Great Lakes, and north of the Spanish Floridas, despite the fact that Indigenous peoples were the true sovereigns of most of the newly acquired territory.[4] As soon as rumors of the treaty reached the Ohio Valley tribes, Native leaders met with British commanders to determine the gossip’s veracity and express their outrage. After centuries of dealings with the Euro-Americans, Native ambassadors were well versed in the language of law and rights, using it to bolster their legal claims to their own lands. Great Britain could not cede what it did not possess.Indigenous headmen declared that they were “a free People subject to no power upon earth – that they were the faithful Allies of the King of England, but not his subjects, that he had no right whatever to grant away to the States of America, their rights or properties without a manifest breach of all Justice and Equity, and they would not submit to it.”[5] It was true that Native leaders had permitted Frenchmen to settle amongst them to trade and allowed the British to use the forts built on Native grounds for the same purpose after the British victory over the French in 1763. However, the Native peoples of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley had never granted “one inch of Land, but what these Forts stood upon,” nor ceded their sovereignty to any foreign power.[6]

In an effort to achieve the Native land cessions necessary to pay off their enormous war debt, the United States government attempted to rapidly negotiate a series of treaties with as many Indigenous communities as possible. To this end, Congress sent commissioners to hold councils with the Haudenosaunee, the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes nations, as well as the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw.[7]  American haste and indifference to the delegates’ legitimacy, jurisdiction, and authorization led to cessions of unrepresented tribes’ land.

Throughout the post-Revolutionary treaty negotiations, Indigenous leaders contested American claims to their lands “by right of conquest” on the grounds that the Americans had not defeated their Native warriors on the field of battle.[8] Nevertheless, on October 22, 1784, Arthur Lee, a Commissioner Plenipotentiary for the United States, signed the second Treaty of Fort Stanwix with the Six Nations, but not as a united confederacy. Rather than recognizing the union, the American Indian Commissioners addressed each nation individually in the treaty. As American allies during the Revolution, the Oneida and Tuscarora were allowed to keep their homelands, while the remaining four tribes suffered punitive land cessions. In return for peace, the signatories agreed to leave hostages with the Americans until they returned prisoners captured during the war and ceded a large portion of their lands, primarily those belonging to the Seneca, to the United States, nearly completing the boundaries of present-day Pennsylvania.[9] This treaty caused so much consternation among the Haudenosaunee that the United States had to renegotiate the terms and relinquish its claims to some of the previously ceded lands at the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794.[10]

Agitation spread from the Haudenosaunee communities westward to the Ohio Valley. As the first treaty negotiated with the post-Revolutionary United States, it set precedent. Both Haudenosaunee and Ohio Valley village chiefs and were furious with the delegates for signing the document without consulting them.  But the pattern continued, as representatives from the Ohio Valley nations signed a similar treaty – the Treaty of Fort McIntosh, the following year without the approval of the confederated chiefs. The delegates to both the Fort Stanwix and McIntosh meetings were instructed to simply listen to the American message and deliver it back to each confederacy’s council without action.[11] However, like their predecessors at Fort Stanwix, Deyonquat, or Half King, of the Wyandot, Captain Pipe of the Delaware, along with several others, signed the treaty under duress.[12] More importantly, most of the chiefs whose lands were ceded in this treaty were not present for the treaty negotiations and had, in fact, refused to attend.[13]

As the Ohio Valley Native communities began to receive news of these two treaties, Congress wasted no time in sending messengers to the remaining Ohio Valley and Great Lakes villages to call them to yet another treaty council meeting. The emissaries demanded the meeting be held within two weeks at the mouth of the Miami River, rather than Detroit, as was customary. In these stipulations, both Congress and the messengers displayed their ignorance of, and disregard for, Native diplomatic customs, governmental procedures, and values. American indecorum, the inclusion of unrepresented tribes’ lands and the lack of authority of the treaties’ signatories necessitated a response.

In September 1785, Native headmen from the Miami, Huron-Wyandot, Odawa, Chippewa, Shawnee, and Potawatomi met in Detroit. Their goal was to craft a formal response on behalf of their confederacy to the United States and to Deyonquat, who had signed the Treaty of Fort McIntosh without the council’s approval. To the United States emissaries and Congress, they stated:

Brethren, We acknowledge the receipt of your messages calling us to the mouth of the big Miamis River on the Ohio to a Treaty to be held there in ten days from this date, when we consider that the important business that has been already transacted with you at Forts Stanwix and McIntosh have not yet had time to be made known and determined upon by the nations concerned in it through this great Country, we cannot help expressing that you have been too precipitate in calling upon us, before the affairs which we are now engaged in and have to settle amongst ourselves are finally settled, and which are essentially necessary to accomplish the desirable End of Peace, and make it permanent. … When our business is fully settled and we are ready to meet you, which we hope will be early next Spring, it will be at such a place as our ancestors formerly met to settle matters tending to their Welfare and Happiness.
–A String of Wampum.[14]

Most importantly, tribal leaders fashioned a collective response that reinforced their values of community- and consensus-based decision-making. The chiefs insisted on communicating the content and import of the previous two treaties before any further action could be taken. Every headman and village, not just those who were directly affected by the treaties’ terms, must understand the American views inscribed in these treaties and what the terms portended. This was no trivial task in a region comprised of hundreds of villages spread across nearly two hundred million acres of land. Still, the chiefs reprimanded the Americans for their haste and insisted that Native leaders must complete their own deliberations first in order to “accomplish the desirable End of Peace, and make it permanent.” For the tribes represented in Detroit, peace was the ultimate goal, but it would be on their, not US, terms. Drawing strength from their alliance, the confederated chiefs refused to recognize or validate the Treaty of Fort McIntosh and forced the United States to renegotiate the terms in 1789.

Through their messages to the United States, the unified Native leaders at Detroit reified the Indigenous political hierarchy through which American Commissioners must operate in order to contract valid treaties. The allied chiefs’ simultaneous message to Wyandot Chief Half King indicated their expectation that all Native headmen, regardless of tribe, village, or clan, would adhere to customary consensus-based decision-making processes. Native leaders successfully nullified the treaties of the mid-1780s through legal arguments backed by their potent allied military force. Since the agreements had not followed proper protocols and were not negotiated with authorized, legitimate representatives, the Ohio Valley confederacy repudiated them. Even the Wyandot and Delaware signatories renounced the Treaty of Fort McIntosh, stating their cooperation was coerced by American threats to destroy their villages if they did not agree to the terms.[15]

Loosely organized in 1783, the ties that bound the Native confederacy in the Ohio Valley became stronger in response to the mid-1780s treaties. As the alliance became more powerful and rallied around a common commitment to resist the imposition of these treaties, it pushed the United States to step back from its rhetoric of conquest and take a more conciliatory tone in treaty negotiations.[16] Nevertheless, in 1790, the United States Secretary at War, Henry Knox, subsequently ordered the commander of the American forces in the west, Josiah Harmar to launch a military assault on the Native villages in the Ohio Valley to induce their compliance. With 1,453 troops comprised mostly of untrained militia and only three hundred trained soldiers, Harmar set out for the Miami towns in late September 1790 and met the worst American military defeat to date.[17] In an attempt to recover from the overwhelming loss and prevent additional Native raids on the frontier settlements, President George Washington promoted Arthur St. Clair to Major General and ordered him to mount another offensive campaign the while Harmar was being tried by court martial to determine his culpability for the dramatic rout of American forces.[18]

St. Clair’s defeat at the hands of Miami Chief Little Turtle and his joint Miami, Shawnee, and Delaware war party the following year dwarfed Harmar’s by comparison. Apart from General St. Clair, only one other officer escaped with his life. More than 800 men of the original 1,669 were killed in battle, more than 1000 people total when women and children are counted in the number.[19] “The retreat in those circumstances,” recounted St. Clair, “was… a very precipitate one; it was, in fact, a flight.”[20]  In St. Clair’s own words, the results of his campaign were devastating. He did not even attempt to put a positive spin on what can hardly be termed a battle.[21] 

Little Turtle’s unquestioned victory over the American forces strengthened the ties of the Native confederacy and gave them additional leverage in treaty negotiations for several years, compelling the United States to work within the constraints of Native diplomatic customs and definitions of sovereignty, authority, and legitimacy.[22] Faced with the decision to either abandon their colonial project and the quickly growing settlements in the borderlands or to commit more resources to their protection, Washington and Congress ultimately chose to defend the settlers. Consequently, the violence of the continued American invasion and conquest cost many more lives. Nevertheless, Native communities from the Ohio Valley survived, persisting into the present – some near their historic homelands, others farther afield on reservations, or “hiding in plain sight”, forcing the United States to contend with their presence.

Options and Opportunities for Local and Exogenous Leaders in French Algeria

         In 1827, a fly swatter launched 600 French warships carrying 34,000 soldiers, bound for Algiers, the capital of Algeria on the North African coast. (Three years later in 1830.) To understand why, we must first return to Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798. To feed his troops, Napoleon bought grain from two Jewish merchants in Algeria but never repaid them. Following Napoleon’s downfall, the next French government under Louis the 18th ignored the previous regime’s debts, and so did the successive regime under King Charles X.

         In 1827, Hussein Dey, the Ottoman governor of Algiers, finally called in the loans of those two Jewish merchants, but the merchants claimed they could not meet their obligations to Hussein until they themselves were repaid by the French. While trying to resolve the issue, Hussein met with French ambassador Pierre Deval, but Deval refused to discuss the matter. The French ambassador told Governor Hussein that “His Most Christian Majesty,” meaning King Charles X, would not stoop to correspond with the Algerian governor. Finally, losing his temper, Hussein struck Deval across the face with his flywhisk.[23]

            News of the mutual insults flew around the Mediterranean, causing international embarrassment for the French government. For a number of reasons, King Charles X could not let the Algerian insult go unanswered. Following the infamous flyswatter incident and the disintegration of relations between France and Algeria, the French army invaded Algeria in June 1830. By July 5th, Governor Hussein surrendered to the French. 

Even though the Algerian community was unsuccessful in deterring the conquest of their lands, they persisted. We must not lose sight of this fact. In Algeria, the settler population, though it grew to slightly more than a million people by the 1950s, never outnumbered the native-born Algerians who were finally able to expel the European settlers in their midst in a bloody revolution between 1954 and 1962. The legacy of both French colonialism and the Algerian war for independence continues to influence Algerian politics, society, and its relationship with France.

Despite the efforts of the military, settlers, and metropolitan administrators to exert their will over the territories they desired, Algerians limited, and sometimes enabled, their actions. Europeans on the ground often recognized the mismatch between stated policies and the realities they faced. It took decades of warfare before France could declare Algeria to be “pacified.” Between 1830 and 1848, Abd al Qadir led the resistance movement in the west while Ahmed Bey continued to battle the French and “present every possible obstacle” to their progress in the east until finally capitulating in 1848. In contrast, the story of Yousuf’s cooperation with the French provides a different vantage point from which to view the French conquest. For some, like Yousuf, the French invasion provided new career opportunities and the chance to advance one’s social and political position.Native-born Algerians and other North Africans fled, fought, aided, and ignored settler colonizers, and in so doing, they, knowingly or not, defined the ultimate shape of the colony.

After the Algerians’ defeat in 1830, French military commanders began to explore options for ruling the newly acquired territory and set their sights on the prosperous and fertile lands to the east. [In talk: briefly explain Algeria’s 3 provinces and show map.] Constantine was a fruitful, commercially well-connected, strategically important, and coveted province. From the moment the French military disembarked on Algerian soil, administrators began political and military reconnaissance of the region, sending regular reports back to Paris.[24] After the fall of Algiers, Ahmed Bey, governor of the eastern province of Constantine, retreated to his capital city with Algerian refugees and soldiers. A messenger from the victorious French General reached Ahmed en route. The general offered him the chance to continue as governor, but in service to the French. Ahmed flatly refused. With little choice but to seek alternatives, the French general sought allies among other Algerian leaders to establish indirect French governance and extend French control over a greater part of coastal Algeria.

To augment and legitimize colonial authority, negotiations with Indigenous inhabitants were indispensable. In 1837, Alexis de Tocqueville advised the French government to take advantage of the administrative structures, and people, already in place in Algeria:

In Algeria as elsewhere, the great task of a new government is not to create what does not exist at all, but to use what does exist. …The Arabs name their own leaders; we must preserve this privilege. They have a military and religious aristocracy; we must by no means seek to destroy this, but rather to get hold of it and take part of it into our pay, as the Turks did. It is not only useful to draw upon the Arabs’ political customs, but necessary to modify the rules of their civil law only gradually.14

Rather than following de Tocqueville’s sage advice and working through the tribes and leadership structures that already existed in Algeria, France sought to create an artificial Algerian aristocracy through which France could exert its will. 

The French took advantage of the political ambitions of several local leaders who the French claimed were indigenous and therefore legitimate governors. They even made such claims about an emigré to the territory. This emigré was Yousuf, an interpreter from Tunis and capitaine indigène who aspired to govern Constantine. Yousuf’s language skills, familiarity with the North African coastal region, and association with powerful, well-connected merchants, such as Jacob Lasry, made him an attractive ally for the French. No doubt Yousuf’s desire to usurp Ahmed Bey’s authority in the east made him a convenient one. 9

Yousuf embodied the interconnections of the Mediterranean world, as well as the physical and cultural, even religious, border crossing that such ties within and around the Mediterranean made possible. An ethnic Jew who converted to Islam, Yousuf served as an interpreter for the French army and, later, as captain of an auxiliary cavalry unit that supported the French in Algeria. Yousuf claimed he had been born in Italy, captured by pirates and taken to the court of the Tunisian governor, where he converted to Islam and spent the remainder of his youth.[25] Yousuf’s story is not as unique as one might think. While piracy in early nineteenth-century Mediterranean Sea had declined sharply from its zenith in the previous two centuries, it was not uncommon.[26]

Between 1830 and 1832, Yousuf worked with the French to extract wealth from the local population in Tlemcen to cover the French military’s costs of conquest. Yousuf then returned to the province of Constantine and assisted the French in conquering the city of Bône. For his assistance, the French placed Yousuf in command to hold the city as the military continued its campaign. Yousuf then sought to ingratiate himself with the local population by claiming shared interests. He issued a call to arms through letters to the people of Constantine:

Come to me. I am Muslim, as you are you, and I am removing you from the domination of the French and the tyranny of Ahmed who oppresses you. I have come here only to help you to exterminate all the French and rid you of their presence. Place me at the head and you will see that I know how to achieve my plan.[27]

People who received Yousuf’s message were curious to know who had written them and sent several men to meet with Yousuf. To prove that he was, in fact, a Muslim, Yousuf performed the profession of faith for the men and repeated that his sole wish was to drive out the French. Ahmed also sent along a young man who had a long conversation with Yousuf. The young man asked Yousuf when he intended to carry out his plans to expel the French. Yousuf responded that he could not fulfill his promise yet, as he still needed the French. When the sheikh’s son reported all that he had seen and heard, Ahmed was convinced that Yousuf’s proclaimed objective of removing the French was a ruse to win Algerian support and build an army that he could use to attack Ahmed Bey’s reinforced position in Constantine. If this was the case, the ruse did not work, and the people remained loyal to Ahmed.

In a hierarchical society, where family, position, and accomplishments determined one’s influence, Ahmed was shocked that the French “entrusted” a man, such as Yousuf, with the tasks they set him. He had no familial connections in Algeria, no wealth, and no influence among the Algerians he sought to lead and rule. Yousuf remained an outsider, unconnected through marriage or familial relationships, of unknown lineage and ignoble position.

And yet, the French accorded Yousuf respect, a military rank, and the opportunity to achieve a status that was not possible through any other means. Is it any wonder that Yousuf not only accommodated the French, but actively manipulated his relationship with the military to advance his career and prospects? The relationship was a mutually beneficial one, as the French gained a loyal commander whose ambition they could exploit in their efforts to gain a foothold in Constantine.

On the other hand, the French had not completely given up on the idea of using Hadj Ahmed Bey as a puppet governor in Constantine. In 1835, after reestablishing his power and overcoming upstart rival leaders who sought to take his place as governor, Ahmed Bey received another letter from the French, offering to recognize him as governor of Constantine, but only if Ahmed agreed to pay a tax and submit himself to French rule. However, Ahmed noted in his memoir that the French capture of Bône, three years earlier completely ruptured any possible relationship between them. From that moment on, he recalled, he had “no other thought than to present the greatest possible obstacles to their subsequent endeavors.”26

In the summer of 1836, rumors of a possible French attack reached Ahmed. He immediately sent spies to Bône to gather more information and set about preparing for the expected assault. In short order, he procured arms, cannons, ammunition, food, and called his troops in from the surrounding area. In addition to his 1500 infantrymen and 5000 cavalrymen, he had 1000 men on guard inside the city walls, comprised of Turks, refugees from the 1830 conquest of Algiers, as well as his own contingent of artillerymen.27 

            As the French set out for Constantine, Ahmed made good on his promise to challenge his enemies at every step.  With his city guard firmly ensconced and well prepared, he set out to harass the soldiers on their miserable march through the mud and snow. By the time the French army arrived at the nearly impregnable city, hundreds of injured and ill soldiers had already been left behind. While the French commander divided his army into two units to attack two city gates, Ahmed, following behind, caught them in a pincer between his artillery firing from the battlements of the city in front of them and his infantry and cavalry behind. Finally admitting defeat, the French commander called for retreat and Ahmed immediately began readying Constantine for the next attack. 28

Meanwhile, French Lieutenant General Thomas Robert Bugeaud concluded the Treaty of Tafna with France’s greatest threat in western Algeria, the Emir, Abd al-Qadir, on May 20, 1837.32 With this treaty, France was freed from fighting a war on two fronts.33 At the same time, the French Governor General sent another entreaty to Ahmed Bey, which he, again, flatly refused. When this news reached Paris, it provided the French Minister of War an excuse to authorize the general’s request to attack the city. By this time, French administrators had begun to support the military’s acquisitive stance in Algeria and moved away from their previous policy of restricted occupation. The second siege of Constantine marked this significant transition.

            Under the direction of General Damrémont, the French military, once again divided itself into two corps upon arrival at the fortified city. Ahmed, believing the same tactic would work a second time, placed the French in a crossfire, but he was wrong. By the time reinforcements reached the city, the French had already breached the city’s one weakness, a gate that was not adequately reinforced.  With the conquest of the fortified city, the French announced their new objective: to conquer the North African coast from Algiers to the border of Tunisia by any means necessary.37

Fearing French brutality following their victory, one of the Algerian commanders began evacuating the city’s inhabitants. They streamed out of another gate and fled to the cliffs of Rhumel, lowering themselves, some successfully, some tragically, down the sheer walls. From his perch on the cliffs at Constantine, French writer Jean-Joseph-François Poujoulat recorded with horror the human toll of the 1837 French conquest of this Algerian stronghold.

I stood on the edge of the terrifying ravines and stared at the sloping peaks over which thousands of men and women, trusting the abyss more than the mercy of the French victors, sought to escape. Their means of salvation were ropes attached to the upper walls of the rocks.  When these ropes broke, human masses could be seen rolling down this immense wall of rock.  It was a veritable cascade of corpses.35

Following the collapse of the Constantinois resistance, thousands of men and women preferred to flee their homes and take their chances with the gorges of Rhumel. Hundreds fell to their deaths when frail ropes snapped, and many more lost everything they had when they abandoned their property to the French, who then declared it vacant and confiscated it for themselves.

Ahmed Bey gathered his family and fled with the rest of his people, but he could not accept defeat. For the next eleven years, he served as traveling military commander, assisting rural communities in fending off French incursions. At last, as an old man worried about his family’s safety, he finally surrendered to the French in 1848.

Over the same period (1837 to 1848), Abd al-Qadir, the rebel commander in the west extended his authority beyond his province east of Algiers. This expansion meant that French troops would have to cross hostile territory between Algiers and Constantine. In an attempt to remedy this situation, the French sent an army out on an ill-fated mission against Abd al-Qadir’s forces.  After defeating the military contingent, both Abd al-Qadir’s militia and Arab irregulars “descended on French farms in the Mitidja Valley, destroying in a few days the settlement efforts of several years and sending those [settlers who were] fortunate enough to survive fleeing back to Algiers in panic. It was now clear that the policy of restricted occupation … had reached the end of its road. France must evacuate the country or subjugate it completely.”36

So what are we to understand from the stories of these two men? On the one hand, Hadj Ahmed Bey – the son of an Ottoman official and an Algerian woman, a kuluğhlu – rose through the ranks to become governor of Constantine, despite exclusionary Ottoman policies. On the other hand, Yusuf, a Jewish boy, born in Italy, raised in Tunisia, a convert to Islam, who later became a French accomplice in the conquest and colonization of Algeria.  In these two men, we see competing claims to indigeneity and therefore legitimacy.

Ahmed was a threat to both imperial centers for the same reason. He was “too indigenous,” according to Ottoman law and practice in Algeria to be fit to lead. According to the French, he was both too Ottoman and too Algerian. He was strategically well connected to the local population through his mother’s tribe, as well as marriage and political alliances. His careful crafting of an  Algerian identity was the very reason he maintained his title and position six times as long as the average reign of Beys in the preceding 34 years. The solicitations for help and care he received from the Constantinois while he led the Algerian resistance in exile provide further evidence that they, too, saw him as one of their own.

In contrast, Yusuf was an outsider by all measures, save perhaps his conversion to Islam, but he presented himself as valid replacement for Hadj Ahmed Bey. The French willingly consented to Yusuf’s interpretation of legitimacy and provided both financial and military backing in his efforts to overthrow Ahmed. While the Constantinois continued to support their Bey, even in defeat, they gave Yusuf no encouragement. He did not “possess great wealth,” nor did he come from a known, let alone a “noble and grand,” family. He may have truly converted to Islam, but he was not Algerian. The French were forced to contend with a powerful local constituency that was unwilling to accept the colonizers’ definitions of legitimacy. Throughout the mid-nineteenth century, the Constantinois compelled the French to authorize only those leaders who received their approval.

The resistance of leaders like Abd al-Qadir and Ahmed Bey both encouraged and prolonged the French conquest, costing millions of francs and thousands of French and Algerian lives. On the one hand, militant leaders gave Algerians a realistic hope of defeating the French.  On the other, their resistance stiffened the resolve of French military commanders who then convinced Parliament to continue the conquest and colonization efforts that had already begun on the ground. Accommodationist leaders, such as Yousuf, bolstered the French cause and actively aided their subjugation of the Algerian people.

         Following the French conquest of Algiers in 1830, thousands of French and other European settlers flooded across the Mediterranean. Some simply sought a better life for their families. Others came in search of quick profits through land speculation in the wake of the military’s confiscation of Algerian properties. After the conquest of Constantine in 1837, French politicians became convinced that releasing the territories their military held and refusing aid to the settlers would not only cause embarrassment, but would also demonstrate weakness and invite international interference in French affairs. Resolved, Parliament voted to pursue a policy of total war that devasted the Algerian countryside and its people for the next decade.


Between 1778 and 1787, American colonizers pushed into territories northwest of the Ohio River that the American government referred to as “unappropriated” and immediately began the simultaneous processes of raiding, surveying, and settling, despite the fact that the land still belonged to Native American communities who actively managed and inhabited it.[28] French colonizers followed suit in Algeria between 1830 and 1837.[29] In both locations, a number of powerful Native and autochthonous communities resided, and throughout the first two decades of colonization, both the eastern province of Algeria and what is now the American Midwest became important sites of Indigenous resistance and persistence.         

In North America, violent exchanges escalated as increasing numbers of Euro-Americans moved west across the Allegheny Mountains and north over the Ohio River into Native lands. At the same time, the appearance of surveyors signified the American perception of Native lands as the imminent property of the United States. Coercive treaty negotiations with unauthorized representatives of Wabash and Ohio Valley Indigenous communities further strained relations between American settlers, authorities, and Native communities in and near the contested territories.[30] Even as American militias led campaigns against Native villages and settlers flooded into disputed territories, Indigenous leaders fought legal, diplomatic, and military battles to protect their homelands and families. Some maintained ties with Great Britain to acquire arms and ammunition; others forged trade connections with the Spanish in St. Louis and New Orleans to the same ends.[31] Each of the stakeholders in the contest for the Ohio Valley strove to protect their interests against competing claims, even at the cost of their lives.

Likewise, control over Algerian lands was bitterly contested. While the French military sought to extend its reach into the hinterland outside French occupied cities, Algerian resistance fighters took advantage of British interests in North Africa to acquire military supplies for their campaigns. In the eastern province of Constantine, Governor Hadj Ahmed Bey maintained ties to his sovereign, Ottoman Sultan Mahmoud II in an effort to bolster his defenses against French incursions. All the while, French generals disregarded the official policy of restricted occupation and extended France’s claims beyond the initial conquest of Algiers and its surrounding territory. Furious over Ahmed’s staunch refusal to acquiesce to their demands, a small French force under General Bertrand Clauzel launched an ultimately unsuccessful and costly assault on Constantine, Ahmed’s stronghold and capital, in 1836. Following the 1837 Treaty of Tafna with Abd al Qadir, the resistance leader in the west, the French Minister of War finally acceded to General Charles-Marie Denys de Damrémont’s request to attack Constantine again and avenge the previous year’s loss.  With this decision, the metropole finally moved to support its military’s aggressive campaigns of acquisition. Bellicose settlers, military officers, and Indigenous leaders in both the Ohio Valley and Algeria compelled metropolitan administrators to recognize and respond to Indigenous definitions of sovereignty, authority, and legitimacy and develop reactive policies in an attempt to legitimize prior actions over the course of the first decade of settler colonization.

The very survival of Native peoples is, itself an act of resistance that induced the colonizing government and settlers to contend with their presence. Theorists have argued that settler colonies cease to be such once the settlers fully outnumber the Native population; but I contend that this argument misses the significance of settler colonialism.  Settler colonialism does not exist in a vacuum; it requires Indigenous inhabitants to colonize. In our scholarship, Indigenous people cannot simply be the foil to the colonizers; they must be understood as actors in their own right with agency and the power to alter the course of events. If we, as scholars, do not make every attempt to understand and present the stories of Indigenous people, their experiences, perspectives, actions, and agency in their own terms, we re-inscribe the original violence of the conquest through our narratives.

[1] Jodi A Byrd, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism, First Peoples : New Directions Indigenous (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), xiii.

[2] Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 15.

[3] Patrick Wolfe, “Corpus Nullius: The Exception of Indians and Other Aliens in US Constitutional Discourse,” Postcolonial Studies 10, no. 2 (2007): 127–51,; Audra Simpson, “Captivating Eunice: Membership, Colonialism, and Gendered Citizenships of Grief,” Wicazo Sa Review 24, no. 2 (2009): 105–29,; Lisa Ford, Settler Sovereignty: Jurisdiction and Indigenous People in America and Australia, 1788-1836, Harvard Historical Studies 166 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Susan Sleeper-Smith, Indigenous Prosperity and American Conquest: Indian Women of the Ohio River Valley, 1690-1792, 1 edition (Williamsburg, Virginia : Chapel Hill: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press, 2018); Ned Blackhawk, Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Scott Lauria Morgensen, Spaces Between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization, First Peoples : New Directions in Indigenous Studies (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011); Bethel Saler, The Settlers’ Empire: Colonialism and State Formation in America’s Old Northwest, Early American Studies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015); Laurel Clark Shire, “Turning Sufferers into Settlers: Gender, Welfare, and National Expansion in Frontier Florida,” Journal of the Early Republic 33, no. 3 (2013): 489–521,; Jean M. O’Brien, Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Byrd, The Transit of Empire.

[4] Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America, 223–25; Gregory Evans Dowd, A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 93; Colin G. Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities, Cambridge Studies in North American Indian History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 272–80.

[5] Brig. Gen. Allan Maclean to Gen. Frederick Haldimand, Niagara, 18 May 1783, in MPHC, 20: 119. “Your Excellency will look upon this as very strong Language, but it is nevertheless true, and exactly as Translated to me by the Principal Indian Interpreter, it therefore becomes my duty to report it to Your Excellency for Your Information.” (Ibid)

[6] Ibid.

[7] Donald Lee Fixico, ed., Indian Treaties in the United States: An Encyclopedia and Documents Collection (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2018), 85–86. British Brigadier General Allan Maclean tried to reassure his Indigenous allies that “the States of America … never would act so much contrary to their own Interest, as to quarrel with [the Natives] Wantonly, or go to war” with them to exert their perceived right of conquest to their lands. “Such an action would render them infamous to all the World,” Maclean proclaimed. (Brig Gen Allan Maclean to Gen Frederick Haldimand, Niagara, 18 May 1783, in MPHC 20: 120). He was wrong. See also, Josiah Harmar to John Dickinson, Fort McIntosh, 15 January 1785, in Memoirs, Pennsylvania Historical Society 7: 415-416. Delaware Records 1785.

[8] Brig Gen Allan Maclean to Gen Frederick Haldimand, Niagara, 18 May 1783, in MPHC 20: 117-121; “Transactions with Indians at Sandusky,” 26 August – 8 September 1783, in MPHC 20: 174-182; Mc Kee to De Peyster, Sandusky, 8 September 1783, in MPHC, 11: 385-6, Haldimand Papers [B 123 p 406]; Brig Gen Maclean to Gen Frederick Haldimand, Niagara, 27 September 1783, in MPHC 20: 187-188; “Journal of Arthur Lee, Commissioner to treat with Western Indians in 1784,” in The Olden Time, Ed. Neville B. Craig, 2: 340; White, The Middle Ground, 408, 417. “The American republic that claimed to have conquered most of the pays d’en haut [the former French Upper Country] was in fact but one of a group of powers competing for the region. … The theory of conquest foundered on the weakness of the new republic” (White, 417); Taylor, Divided Ground, 111-117; Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country, 277-283; Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land, 112, 121-129.

[9] Andrew R. L Cayton, The Frontier Republic: Ideology and Politics in the Ohio Country, 1780-1825 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1986), 36–37; For the treaty transcript, see “Treaty with the Six Nations, October 22, 1784,” in Francis Paul Prucha, ed., Documents of United States Indian Policy, 3rd ed (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 4–5. For maps and a digital image of the original treaty, see: “Treaty and Land Transaction,” Fort Stanwix, National Park Service, (12 December 2014).

[10] Jack Campisi and William A. Starna, “On the Road to Canandaigua: The Treaty of 1794,” American Indian Quarterly 19, no. 4 (1995): 468–69,; Michael Leroy Oberg, Peacemakers: The Iroquois, the United States, and the Treaty of Canandaigua, 1794 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[11] Indian Council at Detroit, 20 September 1785, in MPHC 11: 465-7.

[12] Other Native delegates included Abraham Kuhn, Ottawerreri, Hobocan, Walendightun, Talapoxie, Wingenu, Packelant, Gingewanno, Waanoos, Konalawassee, Shawnaqum, and Quecookkia. George Rogers Clark, Richard Butler, and Arthur Lee were the American representatives present at the council. (“Treaty of Fort McIntosh, 1785: Articles of Agreement Between the United States and the Indians,” in MPHC, 25: 687-689.)

[13] Sleeper-Smith, Indigenous Prosperity and American Conquest, 216.

[14] Indian Council, Detroit, 20 September 1785, in Michigan Historical Commission, Michigan Historical Collections, vol. 11 (Lansing: The Michigan Historical Commission, 1915), 465–66,

[15] Celia Barnes, Native American Power in the United States, 1783-1795 (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003), 68–71; Stuart Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), 127–29.

[16] Richard White, Middle Ground, 433-443. White argues that this confederacy also came to absorb European alliances toward the end of the 1780s and depended on British aid by the early 1790s. The confederacy pushed for acceptance of the principle of common Native land ownership and for the Ohio River to be the boundary, which they later pushed back to the Muskingum River. This principle meant that land could not be ceded to the Americans unless the confederacy, not an individual leader or community, agreed to the cession.

[17] Nichols, Red Gentlemen & White Savages, 117; R. Douglas Hurt, The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830, A History of the Trans-Appalachian Frontier (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 106–118.

[18] Hurt, The Ohio Frontier; Josiah Harmar and United States, The Proceedings of a Court of Enquiry, Held at the Special Request of Brigadier General Josiah Harmar, to Investigate His Conduct, as Commanding Officer of the Expedition Against the Miami Indians, 1790: The Same Having Been Transmitted by Major General St. Clair, to the Secretary of the United States, for the Department of War. Published by Authority (Philadelphia: Printed by John Fenno, 1791).

[19] Cayton, The Frontier Republic, 38–39; Prucha, The Sword of the Republic, 20–40; Randolph C. Downes, Frontier Ohio, 1788-1803, Ohio Historical Collections, vol 3 (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1935), 9–21; Hinderaker, Elusive Empires, 242–244; Hurt, The Ohio Frontier, 102–118; Thomas Irwin, St. Clair’s Defeat. As Told by an Eye-Witness–from Original Mss, 1902; Winthrop Sargent, Winthrop Sargent’s Diary While with General Arthur St. Clair’s Expedition Against the Indians, 1924; Arthur St. Clair, The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair: Soldier of the Revolutionary War, President of the Continental Congress; and Governor of the North-Western Territory: With His Correspondence and Other Papers (Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1882).

[20] St. Clair to Knox, 9 November 1791, in St. Clair Papers, 2: 264.

[21] St. Clair to Knox, Fort Washington, 9 November 1791, in St. Clair Papers, 2: 262.

[22] White, 454-481; Prucha, Sword of the Republic, 20-27; Hinderaker, Elusive Empires, 243; Patrick Griffin, “Reconsidering the Ideological Origins of Indian Removal: The Case of the Big Bottom ‘Massacre’,” The Center of a Great Empire: The Ohio Country in the Early Republic (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005), 23-29.

[23] Ageron, Modern Algeria, 5–6; Ruedy, Modern Algeria, 40–47; Sessions, By Sword and Plow, 19–28; Lucas-Dubreton and Buckley, The Restoration and the July Monarchy, 155–156; Addi, “Colonial Mythologies: Algeria in the French Imagination,” 96–97.

[24] CAOM, F80 series.

[25] Edmond Jouhaud, Yousouf: Esclave, Mamelouk et General de l’Armee d’Afrique (Paris : Editions Robert Laffont, 1980), 7-12.

[26] “People constituted prime ‘merchandise’ in the early modern maritime political economy. Until the traffic in captive Christians was banned in 1816, Europeans residing in North African states, voluntarily or not, were prized as sources of intelligence and ransom revenue, as mediators and purveyors of desired goods.” Julia Clancy-Smith; A view from the water’s edge: Greater Tunisia, France and the Mediterranean before colonialism, French History, Volume 29, Issue 1, 1 March 2015, Pages 24-30.

[27] Memoir.

[28] Sleeper-Smith, Indigenous Prosperity and American Conquest.

[29] I use the term “colonizers” here to denote those who were to continuing to advance the colonial project. Some were settler-soldiers but not all, so I use the broader term “colonizer” as opposed to “settlers.”

[30] Communities involved in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784): Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), which included the Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Tuscarora. The Treaty of Fort McIntosh (1785) included the Wyandot, Delaware, Chippewa and Ottawa. The Treaty of Fort Finney (1786) included the Shawnee.

[31] Daniel K Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 224; Kathleen DuVal, The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent, Early American Studies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 154.

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