Boston, Philadelphia, London...Fort Loudon, PA. One of these places is not usually included when imagining the crucial scenes of the American Revolution. In Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the American West, 1765-1776 (W. W. Norton, 2018), Dr. Patrick Spero argues that the early West was just as important to the unfolding American Revolution as events in imperial centers and colonial cities. Spero, Librarian and Director for the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, tells the story of the imperial crisis through several Western characters: Ottawa and pan-Indigenous leader Pontiac, Irish trader and diplomat George Croghan, and settlers James and William Smith, among others. In this narrative driven book, Spero describes how Smith and the so-called Black Boys articulated fears, rooted in anti-Native racism, that predated and motivated arguments for independence on the eastern seaboard years before anyone threw tea in Boston Harbor. When viewed from the West, the American Revolution seems less noble and high minded, and far dirtier, more violent, and perhaps more revolutionary, than the story most Americans know.
Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.