Nov. 4, 2021

214. Weaponizing Settlement in Nova Scotia with Dr. Alexandra Montgomery

214. Weaponizing Settlement in Nova Scotia with Dr. Alexandra Montgomery
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Although you might not realize it, in the years before the American Revolution, Nova Scotia was all the rage. People concocted various schemes to settle it, and the British government saw it as one of the keys to its new vision of empire after the Seven Years War. Nova Scotia has a fascinating, often troubled history. Indigenous peoples and European powers competed for the land, and access to the colony’s lucrative fishing grounds, drawing maps to stake their claims, making war, and in the case of the British, using settlers to box out other competing interests, in a strategy that our guest today calls “weaponized settlement.” On today’s episode, Dr. Alexandra Montgomery joins Jim Ambuske to chat about her research on Nova Scotia as an imperial place, and as a site of land dispossession, in the era of the American Revolution. Montgomery is our Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital History and Cartography of the American Revolution here at the Washington Library. And in addition to telling us about an exciting new digital mapping project we’re working on these days, you’ll also learn about the donair, a Nova Scotian treat that should be on the top of your bucket list. 


Weaponizing Settlement with Dr. Alexandra Montgomery

Interview published: November 4, 2021

Transcript created: November 13, 2021

Host: Jim Ambuske, Center for Digital History, Washington Library at Mount Vernon

Guest: Dr. Alexandra Montgomery, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital History and Cartography of the American Revolution.

Note: This transcript was produced using Descript, an artificial intelligence software. It has been edited to correct errors in the transcription, such as names, but has not been subject to significant clean up.

Jim Ambuske: Ala, we have a lot of important business to talk about today. Of course, Nova Scotia maps, uh, your work on Nova Scotia, your work on maps. The most pressing question I have at the top of our conversation is what is this Nova Scotian delicacy known as a donair. Could you please tell me a little bit more about that? I request elaboration.

Alexandra Montgomery: Well, the donair is I believe the official food of Halifax, Nova Scotia, my hometown, and it's a charming variant of the Euro. So it involves a similar kind of mysterious spinning meat conglomeration that rotates slowly throughout the day that gets cut up, put on a pita with dressings. But the thing that really defines the donair is the donair sauce..

Donair sauce is a sweet sauce made from condensed milk, lemon juice and some kind of witchcraft that makes that taste good as opposed to four or five. And so that's all put together on the PDF. It is a beautiful blend of sweet and savory and salty. It is very comforting, probably one of the top causes of death in the maritime provinces, but it's worth it.

You can get all kinds of donairs. Spin off the lights like donor pizza, uh, donor egg roll. I've seen donair poutine attempted. Um, I've never seen that successfully pulled off. I think that that's too, that's flying too close to the sun, but it is a, is a true delicacy that I highly encourage everyone to try at least once a day.

Jim Ambuske: Well, when I first read you sent, you sent an article over our slack channel about this and I'm reading it and I'm like, how does condense milk work?

Alexandra Montgomery: Don't ask questions.

Jim Ambuske: Apparently it's really good.

Alexandra Montgomery: The key to donairs and especially donair sauce is to think about it as little as possible and just enjoy the process because the more you think about it, the grosser it is, and the less you think about it, the tastier.

Jim Ambuske: So that's like when you get Papa John's pizza and you dip it in that delicious garlic butter sauce, and you think to yourself, this is really poor for my health, but by God, I'm going to do it anyway.

But with condensed milk. Yeah. All right. So we got to get a field trip organized to Nova Scotia when the border opens. Cause I need to try this

Alexandra Montgomery: Nova Scotia tourism should just start paying me.

Jim Ambuske: I can't get over. I mean, I'll eat it because you had me at rotating meat, but, but we'll, we'll power through. Okay. So

Alexandra Montgomery: Take your time. It's all right.

Jim Ambuske: We're going to leave all this in cause it's

okay. I've composed myself now. I'm also very hungry at the moment. So I'm ready to get some good air takeout finish on this point and we'll get to the actual subject of today. But I, when you said that they tried to do an iteration of donor poutine that's that is a bridge too far. I mean, I can just, your [00:03:00] heart's going to explode.

I mean, why would you do that? But why wouldn't you? That's the logical question.

Alexandra Montgomery: It's like Mount Everest it's a rock and you're going to climb it.

Jim Ambuske: Exactly. You're going to, you're going to, and didn't probably die from it. Cause most people don't come back. Well, most people do, but there's a lot of. Much like Mount Everest. Alright. Uh, Nova Scotia is your home province and you've finished a lovely dissertation on Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.

And you're here with us now at the Washington library to work on a map project. We're going to talk about that because it's very exciting, but I want to know more about Nova Scotia. We've just covered the delicacies of Nova Scotia. Uh, and just a clarifying question. They're not Halifax. Scions. What are they?

Alexandra Montgomery: Haligonians

Jim Ambuske: Haligonians. We want to make sure that we get all the terminology correct. As we proceed on through our day. But Nova Scotia was a critical province in the [00:04:00] late Imperial period, at least in terms of years before the American revolution and that it was settled by in part by new Englanders and bastion of loyalism at the aftermath of the American revolution.

But Nova Scotia, wrongly, I think both of us would agree. It gets ignored quite a bit. In the years before the American revolution. So what's Nova Scotia all about before we get to 1775, what's going on up there. And how does it fit into the Imperial framework and the 18?

Alexandra Montgomery: Yeah, sure. Well, I think that first and foremost, it's important to acknowledge that, um, Nova Scotia and the Canadian maritime provinces are the Homeland of Miꞌkmaq people.

Miꞌkmaqi is the term that gets used to describe a traditional Homeland, which is pretty well contiguous with that. What we think of as the modern province of Nova Scotia pass quality, people were living around in their own with quality day. And what's now sort of the U S Canada border region. Well, Wolastoqiyik also known as malice seat or St. John's people lived in and still live in alert portion of, out of new Brunswick. And I think that it's important to keep foregrounded that what we're talking about is we're talking about an indigenous Homeland, and we're talking about the process of an indigenous Homeland being sort of violently and exploited heavily transformed into Nova Scotia.

I think that it's really important to keep that fact sort of at the top of the conversation because Nova Scotia is really it's. Um, it's a made up concept that gets projected onto this. The term itself comes from a very shockingly short-lived Scottish colonial project and 1630s who has the new Scotland.

That's a project that fails almost as soon as it gets started, they send like a handful of settlers into what was recognized to be French territory. Um, and they sort of get immediately run out, but somehow the names. And the next several hundred years with the process of trying to take this, this idea, this concept in Nova Scotia and make it into something that is more concrete, more actual, more real.

So that's really the process that we're talking about here. So I think that the thing to understand about Nova Scotia is that it is considered to be, and I'm going to talk sort of specifically about the British here. It's considered to be very, very strategically important in a kind of like broad 500 mile view of empire, and it's considered to be extremely strategically important in part because of where it's physically located.

You know, if you bring up a map and you look at it, you can imagine how any ship that's sailing from, uh, the UK to the north American colonies, especially the more Northern north American colonies has to pass by some part of. It's important for that reason, it's considered to be one of these sort of strategic keys to major shipping routes, where if it's occupied by someone who's not friendly to you, it can make your shipping a nightmare.

It's also important because it has a lot of resources that are desired by Imperial planners. First and foremost, among these fish. Very, very rich fishing. Continue to have very, very rich fishing banks until the whole thing kind of went Kerplunk in the nineties. That's a separate conversation, but by major source of protein, especially once we're getting towards the American revolution in this time, period, those bags are important because they provide a large amount of the food that's getting sent to the sugar islands and the slave system in the Caribbean.

A lot of enslaved folks are surviving off of new England fish. It's also important as a source of mask wood for the Navy and for what's referred to sort of vaguely as quote unquote enabled stores. So with an area that has a lot of resources, it's in a strategic location. The other piece of that is that it is not, if you're thinking about a kind of political economy and a way of living.

For Anglo American settlers,Nova Scotia is not a territory that's particularly attracted to that mode of life. It's not a great place if you're kind of like a yeoman farmer. If what you want is kind of like a couple of acres of land to get a competency or whatever the land is very agriculturally poor, whether it's very challenging and it can be difficult.

To kind of create the kind of connections that you need to create a colony in the mode of like Pennsylvania kind of a best poor man's country, kind of a model, which is not to say that it's impossible, but it's not as attractive. Those two factors combined to create a very important place that doesn't have a lot of settlers in it.

Which creates the kind of tension that I've learned my work.

Jim Ambuske: So is one of the reasons of that Nova Scotia sometimes gets overlooked or often overlooked in broader histories of mid to late 18th century, particularly revolutionary era is because a lot of the interest is on the Ohio country and expansion westward.

And then those rich lands, suppose to this agriculturally poor land like Nova Scotia where great fishing, but not a lot, a whole lot else going.

Alexandra Montgomery: Yeah, I think so, because I mean the overall population level remains quite low and it raised quite low to this. I mean, when I talk about historic Nova Scotia, I'm talking about a territory that's larger than the modern province of Nova Scotia.

Jim Ambuske: Yeah. Break that down for us.

Alexandra Montgomery: Yeah. Sure. So, uh, generally when I'm using the term Nova Scotia and I'm talking about this sort of pre-revolutionary revolutionary era period, I'm talking about an amalgam of all of the Canadian maritime provinces. So Nova Scotia, prince Edward islands, New Brunswick, um, as well as a pretty good chunk of Maine, everything sort of eastwards of the Penobscot River was kind of up in the air during this period about whether or not it belonged quote unquote, belonged to the province of Nova Scotia or the column you've name. That's the reason that I'm talking about that even today. I don't think any of those individual units have a population of greater than a million people.

It's been an area of historically low population, and I think that's low settler population. And I think that's a big part of why it tends to be lost. As we all know, the seven years of war transforms north America. New France is at an end, puts native peoples in a very difficult spot, no longer able to balance powers against each other in north America and Nova Scotia and places like west and east Florida are profoundly effected by the British victory in this great war for empire.

Jim Ambuske: How does that affect Nova Scotia? What are the implications of that in the 1750s and 1760s?

Alexandra Montgomery: Sure. Well, it has a tremendous, tremendous impact on Nova Scotia and sort of tell the story. I need to start it a little bit before the outbreak of the seven years' [00:10:00] war in Nova Scotia. First of all, it's one of the places that have in conjunction with the Ohio country, where that war really has its Genesis.

The Ohio country and Nova Scotia, the two really hotspots in north America in terms of, um, this clash between French and British ambitions that ultimately explode into the war. So the Ohio's country story is pretty well known, especially coming out of a place like Mount Vernon, given George Washington's kind of like interesting relationship to the beginning of that theater of.

Jim Ambuske: You mean when he started a global war

Alexandra Montgomery: I was trying to put a more delicate point on it. But yes, I am of course, referring to the time that George Washington mess around in the woods and started a global war, but had the exact same time as that was happening, there was this increasing standoff in what's known as the Isthmus of Chignecto.

So it's the little strip of land that. The peninsula of Nova Scotia to the mainland of Nova Scotia. So in modern terms is the border between Nova Scotia and new Brunswick where the British and French had forts kind of set up facing each other across this very short stretch of land. Both of them were sort of doing terrible things to the Acadian population to try to get them onside.

Ultimately, this culminates in the deprecation of the entire Acadian population, but this is the other main sort of powder keg of war. But before that, Uh, to the end of the previous war of Austrian succession. So new England troops sort of briefly captured Cape Breton, Fortress of Louisbourg, it gets given back.

But what comes out of that is a very robust and surprisingly well-funded effort to finally transform. Nova Scotia from a place that was really still in the hands of indigenous folks to a lesser extent, Acadians, but very much still a Heartland of the Miꞌkmaqi Heartland of the Wolastoqiyik, the Passamaquoddy and turn that into a loyal white British province.

This was kind of the pet project of the Board of Trade the Earl of Halifax who had a vision of bringing order to the British settler colonies, he sort of looked at them and was like, uh, uh, this is. Disaster. So his plan was to try to, um, impose a sense of order, a sense of control on these colonies. And he starts with Nova Scotia because it's, um, I guess it has less baggage, you know, it doesn't have, um, a civilian government.

It doesn't have any significant white settler population whatsoever. The board of trade is very happy to completely disregard indigenous land. Very happy to completely disregard the presence of Acadians as well, although somewhat lesser extent. And so he comes up with in conjunction with a number of other Imperial officials, eight very sort of ambitious wide reaching plan to use parliamentary money.

This is not a private venture. This is a public governmental venture to locate recruit, import as many settlers as possible. Create new settlements that are designed to either push out overwhelmed. Or isolate existing settlements of French and indigenous populations, and really aggressively transform a Nova Scotia into a white solar colony is happening in the area in the late 1740s and 1750.

That's part of what makes the tension with the French so hot. And it's also what ends up in the founding of the town of Halifax, home of donairs, why it's called Halifax. And it is a town that gets built exclusively with parliamentary money, designed in London. It's just sort of brought overseas and transplanted directly onto the ground.

Jim Ambuske: So it sounds like we've got two things going on here. One, they see it as a quote, unquote, clean slate, or at least a landscape that doesn't have any permanent fixed settlement or land title. And of course we know that's not the case at all. But the other thing here is that there is direct intervention in a sense by the British government in colonization, directing colonization. I mean, a lot of the attention in this period gets focused on the Stamp Act or the Sugar Act or the Declaratory Act and the taxation, but hear we've got a situation it sounds like where the British government has said, all right, we need to better manage empire in some ways. And Halifax. He's the man, who's got a lot of the ideas and view others as well, but he's, he's got several of the ideas to do it. Why focus on what you might call the bookends of empire Nova Scotia, the Canadian Maritimes east and west Florida, as opposed [00:14:00] to permitting white settlers to go west and in the Ohio country. You know why erect that proclamation line of 1763? What's the strategy to push people sort of to the ends, as opposed to let them bulge out in the middle.

Alexandra Montgomery: The proclamation line generally gets talked about as a means of preventing conflict with indigenous people in the terms of the creation of a semi protected indigenous Homeland.

And that gets talked about with greater or lesser cynicism, depending on who's doing the talking, but what is less commented on addressed with the Proclamation Act is that it's equally intended to keep settlers on this. And it kind of funnels settlement into these peripheries, into these bookends, as you just said.

And they're very explicit about this. The Board of Trade is very explicit and in some places they actually say that that's more important than the idea of preventing conflicts with indigenous folks in the Ohio country. Because of course there are Indigenous folks in both of those peripheries, especially in the north.

I mean, the situation in Florida is as complicated because we're sort of at a very beginning of a narrative about the creation of Seminole people at this point, but in the new. Very strong, very robust indigenous nations that are very present the right the heck there. And they are never included in any of these concerns about protecting supposedly protecting rights or properties. In fact, the Board of Trade sends out the circular about identifying Indigenous land claims. That's really directed towards people who are closer to the line and the governor Nova Scotia, it's like, okay, well, I talked to the Mi'kmaq and here are their claims loaded it on the board of trade is like, we didn't mean you, their willingness to completely disregard Indigenous land clamps in Nova Scotia is one of the most continues to be completely breathtaking. To me, it's almost unlike anywhere else in the, in the, in the empire. They're very happy to consider it a settled issue and to make the claim totally erroneous claim that Indigenous folks don't have any rights to the land there.

Jim Ambuske: It's remarkable because they spend so much time negotiating with the Iroquois. the Haudenosaunee, and other peoples as well. The Cherokee, um, the fact that they run rough shot over native claims in places like Nova Scotia is quite remarkable as you say.

Alexandra Montgomery: No, it's extremely striking. Yeah. Especially the British during this period are kind of [00:16:00] increasingly willing to select a handful of sort of treaty worthy nations.

Like Iroquois, like the Cherokee put them on all their maps make claims to land based on their relationship with those nations. And then pretend as though there are no indigenous people whatsoever to the eastward of that line. So there's that piece of it. So, so just to establish the fact that the line is there just as much to push folks into these bookends.

And the reason for this, I think is a vision of how empire should work, which is this idea of empire as a significantly Bluewater empire. It's an empire that is dominated by the Navy. It is dominated by the export of colonial goods to Heartland of empire in England. It is not one that's based on the series of small holding farms, kind of doing their own thing, uh, is very much based on resource exploitation and on maintaining very strong ties with the Homeland.

And so to that end, the coastal colony, wherever that is much more keeping with that vision of what empire should be than an interior colony. And you see people saying this very [00:17:00] explicitly, they're saying things like, oh, well we can't let them slip away into the heart of empire because then they'll stop buying our stuff.

They'll stop sending us things. They'll get all these big ideas about how they're equal and important independent. The idea is really to try to expand. A coastal vision, a coastal blue water vision of empire by pushing people into these areas that are seen as wrongly seen as being empty that are still available on the coasts, rather than allowing them to go further.

Jim Ambuske: Yeah. When I was reading a couple of your pieces in preparation for our talk today, I came across a citation to a document that I've only seen in transcribed form that "Some Hints", I can't remember the rest of the title, but "Some Hints". And essentially it's saying, if you let them go west, they're going to set up there own manufacturers.

We won't be able to control them. There'll be a self-sufficient and we'll be in trouble from an Imperial standpoint, you got to see the original document in Kew and was super jealous, but it was part of that whole interrogation of empire in this critical moment where they're trying to take this more active role, but they see, and probably they had a pretty good foresight to see that what would happen if, you know, you did let people like the Ohio company do what they wanted to do in the Ohio country and settle, and they're just going to make their own stuff.

And they're not going to have any need for us anymore. We can't let that happen. You use the term in some of your writings, weaponized settlement, which was a new term to me, unpack that for.

Alexandra Montgomery: So the idea with weaponize settlement is it's a term that I use to describe a phenomenon that I see very strongly in sources, especially talking about Nova Scotia, but I see it all over the place as well.

I think that it's something that goes far beyond Nova Scotia, which is this idea that settlers, particularly white Protestant settlers can be strategically deployed in order to make and strengthen geopolitical claims. And I call it weaponize because the way that this gets talked about is in very explicitly military terms.

It's this idea that another way to wrest land away from supposed enemies be they Indigenous be the French, be they Spanish is to deploy our settlers and they will hold that land. They will win that land for us in [00:19:00] a way that's very analogous to battles or seizures or erecting, actual literal forts.

They get talked about the exact same way. So it's this very explicitly military view of what settlers are and what they do and what they're.

Jim Ambuske: That's really clever, I think. And it makes a lot of sense saying, you know, the big buzzword in recent years has been settler colonialism, and it's really hard to say anything new at this point.

One, one professor who shall go unnamed was like we've kind of worn out that terminology. And so let's start thinking about something new, but it sounds like from your weaponize settlement standpoint, then we've got actually a new way to think about this and a new sort of geographic understanding of what they're trying to attempt, as opposed to simply planting yeoman farmers in there and calling it a day.

Alexandra Montgomery: There's very much an Imperial dynamic. That you may not see elsewhere in the north American continent and the way I think about the relationship between weaponize settlement and seller colonialism, because this is a question that I get fairly frequently, as you might imagine, is if settler colonialism is a description of a, of the observable phenomena, the whole like it's, um, it's a process, not an event.

Weaponize settlement is a specific way of understanding how that phenomena could be used for political ends. A war is politics by other means. Settlement is war by other means, which is also politics, where you have a set of, um, Imperial administrators sort of observing the fact that. These colonies in north America, that when you have sort of self reproducing seller populations, they push out indigenous people, they push out rival climates and learn serving that and being like, okay, well let's harness that.

Let's use that to our very specific geopolitical ends. And the other way in which weaponize settlement is quite different from a settler colonialism, is that it's it's, it doesn't care at all about the settler. With seller colonialism and settler colonial studies, it's all about sort of settlers, trying to create a world that centers on themselves at the expense of indigenous populations.

Weaponize settlement does not give two cares about actual sellers and it talks about them in very instrumental ways. They are very willing to put them in situations of extreme, personal danger to actual settlers. That's the way. These planners are thinking about them. They're just sort of thinking about them as warm bodies that will either absorb violence that they don't want to deal with or will sort of expand into territory that they would like to have.

It's a view that is sort of simultaneously like deeply anti-Indigenous. And also dismissive of actual European settlers.

Jim Ambuske: Let's talk about a couple of people. Who've got grand ideas for this place. One of them is Alexander McNutt too. I've encountered in my own work, but he was kind of on the periphery of my work.

And I've talked before about the Philadelphia company and the, uh, ambitions of, of some folks there. But I was telling you, I was like, I just can't understand what in the heck is going on, but fortunately you do. And Alexander McNutt is that at the heart of this. And he's an Irishman, right. If I remember correct.

Alexandra Montgomery: Yes. He's he's Irish.

Jim Ambuske: Yeah, scotch Irish. And so he's, he's often seen as this ruthless land speculator, who's  simply out for self aggrandizement. You've got a different take. I mean, this guy is, he's a, just a fascinating character. Tell us a little bit about him. Cause you've got a different read on him.

Alexandra Montgomery: Alexander McNutt is one. I mean, not favor, cause I, I want to make it very clear that I do not ignore any of his views. That he's also just an absolute mess of a human being, but he's one of the most fascinating people that I write about. And he's also my dad's favorite character or my dissertation that my dad, uh, is convinced that we are distantly related to him, which is a whole other fun story.

Um, so McNutt is this character. Yeah, he's, he's, he's a sort of Ulster-Scots descent. It's a little bit unclear if he was born in Ireland, he was born in rural Virginia. Other way he does, he kind of grows up in this kind of like quote unquote back country, Virginia context. He ends up in the Militia during the seven years war he's stationed in Nova Scotia.

I just imagine him having some kind of like religious revelation being posted in Nova Scotia because he just becomes obsessed with it. It becomes his life's work and specifically moving. White settlers into Nova Scotia becomes his life's work. And his absolute central motivating obsession. McNutt is a guy I have described him as having a fluid relationship with the truth. I like that line. A lot of the stuff he says, and this is why he's been sort of dismissed out of hand so much. Are just like demonstrably untrue. He makes these insane claims that at one point he's like I've brought 4,000 people into this province at the time that Nova Scotia has a white population of maybe 2000 people after the American revolution, he sort of shows up in Congress and is like, I have the sole right to settle all of the Ohio country and the Susquehanna.

It's like, no, you don't. Why are you saying this? Who even are you you're okay. So he's a very, kind of like tall tale. Larger than life liar, but he has like some surprisingly consistent ideological views that, which I find really fascinating because what he's all about, he's not about personal profit at all. Actually what he's all about is he has this almost like messianic self appointed destiny to be the hero and the, the savior of the small holder white Protestant farmer. He sees himself as the champion of these people and he sees his mission as baking Nova Scotia into a Haven for these types of folks. So with that in mind, he kind of not single-handedly, but he's largely responsible for this boom in Nova Scotia, in the 1760s that centered in specifically Philadelphia, he has some context in Philadelphia..

I'm not sure how he met Ben Franklin. I sort of imagined him just kind of like kicking in his door one day and being like I have this great idea. I need to tell you about, he somehow has context with Benjamin Franklin. He has a variety of contexts in Philadelphia and he gets a large number of people on board.

At which point it sort of takes on a life of its own. And this craze from Nova Scotia and land sweeps through Philadelphia. And at the height of this thing, this is right before the Stamp Act gets signed because there's this sort of like mini crisis where everyone realizes that as soon as the stamp act passes, the cost of their land grants is going to become exponentially higher.

Jim Ambuske: That's one of my favorite parts. Is they are just like applying for grant after grant cause time is running out.

Alexandra Montgomery: Yeah. So there's this like very like down to the wire, you know, it's October 30th, first or October 30th is going to come into effect on November 1st. And of course, Nova Scotia is one of the few places where the stamp act is actually.

But so on that day, on the 30th and on the 31st, well over a million acres, Atlanta is granted that has Alexandria that's name on it. And then there's even more land than that also gets granted at that time. But that's, that's the amount that Alexander mucked up has his fingers in. It's interesting to me because he does have this very consistent view.

He's very against what he sees as exploitative land granting processes sort of sets that up in confrontation with these very sort of manorial quasi, feudal plans for Nova Scotia land. He's constantly petitioning the board of trade to ensure a religious. And to not be tenants, to not be renters to own their landed free hold.

And it becomes an obsession with him to the point that one of my favorite Alexander McNutt moment is he he's disgraced in part because he kind of goes after all of these Nova Scotia, government insiders, who he, he uses it doing terribly nefarious things, which they are in fact doing the other great thing about Alexander McNutt is like, he's crazy, but he's not wrong about that part.

And then he just starts granting other people's lives. So he kind of like shows up in new Dublin township and starts handing out land to settlers that he does not have any claim or right. To at all whatsoever. And so he sort of gets hauled back in front of the Nova Scotia council and they're like, what are you doing?

And he's like, you know, it's, it's my land to give it's for the people kind of.

Jim Ambuske: So walk us through the historians process here, because as we kind of talked about it, when we introduced this gentleman is fascinating, man, a lot of people had dismissed him kind of outright as this grandiose, uh, ridiculous individual. I can't remember the quote that, uh, Bernard Bailyn had of him and in his Voyagers to the West, but it was, it was similarly dismissive and not taking this guy seriously and kind of understand why, as you say, he's got a fluid relationship to the two. So walk us through the process in a reassessing this guy. How do you, when you're going in the archives or you're [00:27:00] reading his stuff, you're reading these petitions, what's going through your mind that helps you see him in a different light, as opposed to what people had seen before.

Alexandra Montgomery: I was introducted to McNutt. My master's thesis was on, what's referred to as the Nova Scotia planters, which is this. Not even after the end of the war, it's sort of 1759 to 1760, where about 8,000 New are brought in to Nova Scotia, largely occupied former Acadian lands. And McNutt kind of first pops up in that context. And so he was sort of in the background of things I was looking at and I read a actually fairly sympathetic account of him in a description of one of the townships that he was involved in promoting for. And the author basically says, you know, he's a mess, and he lies alot, but he did bring some people into the town. So I kind of had that in the back of my head as I started to countering him more and more and more, I guess the aha moment was when I started looking into the, uh, settlement plans for folks that were not the Philadelphia companies, [00:28:00] there was this whole class of either aristocrats or kind of want to be aristocrats who came up with these visions for how they wanted to use land in Nova Scotia to create manners, to create elaborate tendency systems and to try to recreate these kinds of feudal dreams of land use. And I realized that, um, McNutt in all of his kind of like manic glory was responding to an actual phenomena. He has like a thousand memorials to the board of trade. And I started to see how consistent he was in his vision of how land should be used, how the empire should be run. And I saw all of these connections between what he was saying, um, and sort of a larger literature out there about sort of, um, ideological clashes in political economy, a much larger body of literature that goes but much far beyond Nova Scotia, where I kind of started to see him as kind of the extreme, sort of a radical fringe of a very mainstream vision of what the empire should be, that was very central to what becomes the American revolution. So I think that was kind of the turning point for me, was being able to quote him in this larger context and also just give him the chance to be taken seriously on his own terms.

Jim Ambuske: That's one of the fascinating things I always find is when you have characters like McNutt who was seemingly dismissed and outlandish. But then if you take the moment to actually listen to what they're saying, they might have a point in some respects, or at least they are responding to something, as you say, in a much wider context. And they're part of a process that's evolving over time and you can sometimes miss if you're not attentive to it. I mean, one of the folks you brought up or you haven't brought them up yet, but we'll, we'll do so now who's got these grand feudal manorial dreams is the Earl of Egmont. And he's kind of like in a sense, the opposite side of McNutt in terms of his ambitions, but they're all part of the same process. What's his dream

Alexandra Montgomery: Egmont's whole deal. You know, if McNutt has this messianic vision of himself as the champion of, of the small holding process of my farmer there, all of Egmont has this like fantasy of being William the Conquerer. Does that does very explicitly his original dream is that he wants to get a grant for all of what is now Prince Edward island.

He wants all of that. So it's kind of like a proprietary colony. He does not get that grant. Although PEI does get developed in a very tenant landlord direction that really like Egmont ends up getting a grant of 22,000 acres of centered on what is today, reproduce door Harbor had your, and the Eastern shore of Nova Scotia.

He wants to develop. Very explicitly as a feudal Manor, the highest expression of this is he, he has someone go in and, you know, very detailed survey map of the whole episode landholding. And then he goes in and pencil and he, um, sort of sketches out his streams and he writes all of these long marginal notes on this.

This is in the British library and I got to see it in person. And it's very cool and very weird. And all of his marginal notes are all about like, all right, so I'm going to buy up the land into one square mile because that is what William the conqueror did. And that is how he reported those who helped him at the time.

And everyone who gets these grants will be responsible for defense, and then they can delegate it to their own nights or whatever. And it's very, it's very explicitly feudal vision that he's trying to transplant onto the land of Nova Scotia. It's like medieval times before medieval times, you see it, it's kind of his own Ren fair.

Jim Ambuske: That's where the donair comes from is that was going to be the staple food.

Alexandra Montgomery: And like, and the interesting thing about Egmont and I think that this was part of my like, cause I saw it as kind of interesting contract between McNutt and Egmont, but I think that the point where I started to take a little bit more seriously was that the British like Egmont's plans are in many ways, just as ridiculous as McNutt's, but the Nova Scotia government and the border were so onboard. They loved it. You know, his personal lawyer was like also I'm on the Nova Scotia council. And if you look at, um, DeBarre's Atlantic Neptune, there's a whole page, that's just Egmont Harbor. And it gets its own little inset view with very idyllic view of like the process that they're beginning to clear out the area of the Manor house.

And there's like a little as a, like a little rustic cabin. But it would just completely outside any kind of reality in terms of what kinds of, of development or settlement was happening there. It's only there because of the aggressive level of endorsement by the Nova Scotia governance. Well, it's, as far as himself who was also kind of a would-be manner.

Jim Ambuske: Do you think they are also enthusiastic in part because it's an attempt to kind of replicate or preserve the British landed class hierarchical?

Alexandra Montgomery: Yeah, they absolutely, they see it as an opportunity to expand the British traditional aristocratic landholding practices into north America.

Jim Ambuske: Well, you mentioned DeBarre's Atlantic Neptune, and for folks who have not seen that, you may have heard of the Atlantic Neptune is this marvelous four volume Atlas with the fourth volume in two parts.

So it's not five volumes. It's really 4.5 marvelous series of maps based in part on the general survey of north America, which takes place in the aftermath the seven years war in which the British government is trying to map the new empire and to help bring places like Nova Scotia into the Imperial fold.

We're working on a little project here in conjunction with our friends at the Leventhal map and education center at the Boston public library called Argo American revolutionary [00:33:00]geographies online and Ala, you are our post-doctoral fellow who is spearheading that. Tell us a little bit about Argo and your love affair with maps prior to this particular position.

Alexandra Montgomery: Sure. So Argo is a very, very exciting project. And the vision for Argo is that it's going to be a centralized research portal for digitized maps of the period between about 1750 and 1800. So it's a period that covers some seven years war as well as the American revolution and the period. So immediately afterwards on the idea is that it's going to be bringing together maps that are held by and digitize by many different institutes.

And in addition to being a centralized site where you can kind of locate and look at fun, high resolution, zoomable digitized versions of these maps. It's also going to have a very robust interpretive apparatus to help, uh, public as well as researchers better understand these maps. What we can learn, how these maps work is sources, how they relate to one another.

As well as hopefully be sort of a site for additional research into those maps. So it's a super, super exciting project that I'm very excited to be a part of. I love maps and I'm a very, I'm a very spatial thinker. Generally. What I'm reading sources are primary or secondary. I always have, um, you know, Google maps open in a tab because for me, the way that I can best understand.

The things that are happening is by trying to remain attached to the, the special relationships between spaces. That's always been very central to how I think about things and how I do things. The geographic reality of those spaces, how people move through those spaces, how people move between those spaces is absolutely central in a way that sometimes neglected.

And then as I've moved into the dissertation work. So I made reference to the. Egmont map here. McNutt also made a great map that I often think about and talk about and write about it in conjunction with that Egmont map, where he takes a map of Nova Scotia and he shades in areas that he says he has a right to, and then he sort of marks out in yellow, all of the areas that he sees his knee exploited of land owners.

Like the Earl of Egmont like DeBarre's gets gets it's highlighted on that. And just thinking about the ways in which people were using maps to make arguments for what the empire should be, how lands should be used, how land should be organized during this period. It's easy to look at something like DeBarre's Atlantic Neptune and just be like, oh, look at all these cool maps, coastal maps.

And I'd be like, okay, well now I understand, you know, how people got off point in point. Which they are, but the bar is also, you know, a very specific argument about what those lands should look like, how they should be run. You know, DeBarre, doesn't include any indigenous presence whatsoever in any of his maps of Nova Scotia.

He goes out of his way to actually erase them in some places. And he specifically. Landholding practices that are in line with his own sort of more materialistic cratic visions of how land should be held and how it should be used. And I think attentiveness to that allows us to both have a better understanding of how people were really moving through this space, but also how people were understanding and making arguments about this space.

Jim Ambuske: I think it was all very well said because one of the things that I find interesting is map, you know, maps. Fun to look at. There's no question about that. Colorful, even when they're not colorful, they're, they're very pleasing to look at, but I think it was your advisor, Dan Richter, who said you have to listen to your sources and the same is true with maps.

I think sometimes you get lulled into a false sense of security because maps are neat looking, but those people are trying to tell you something and they're making an argument about something and sitting with that in the context of other sources is. Fun way to unlock and only the landscape of the past.

But then what people are trying to accomplish is Karin Wulf likes to say the context in which decisions are made, it's a great way to think about it. And I think.

Alexandra Montgomery: Yeah, no, I agree. And oftentimes those maps are some of the most powerful expressions of the kinds of arguments that people are making. I think that it's easy to be lulled into that sense, or to be lulled into a sense that they're portraying an objective reality.

When in fact they're some of the most powerful ideological tools of what north America should be during a time when that was very much contested.

More conversations

Jim Ambuske: after the break. Hi friends. Did you know that the center for digital history also produces live stream interviews with some of your favorite authors head over to www dot mountain burn-in dot org slash GW digital talks to watch our past programs and register for upcoming events.

We hope to see you online soon. And now back to the show.

Alexandra Montgomery: Ala, what book are your readhing right now

Jim Ambuske: Sure. So, um, I have two answers to that question. So this sort of a history like academic ebook that I'm reading right now, and I'm actually reading it more for fun than I am for research. Um, is I'm reading Eric Siemens Speaking with the Dead in Early America, just about done that, which I absolutely loved it.

I am a person who has sort of the fascination with ideas about the supernatural historically as well as with currently, and like the role that ghosts play in culture. So I've sort of been doing all of the things that I've. I wanted it to be doing. And I, I, it's been a really fascinating rate. So I've really been enjoying it's beautifully written as well.

The other thing I'm ready right now is I am actually, I am rereading the little house on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which were, um, they were dear favorites of mine as a kid. I was one of those little girls that like was very obsessed with little house on the Prairie, and it's been really interesting to revisit them because I have.

Fully aware of the many, many, many ways in which they're problematic for quite some time, but I haven't actually revisited them since I became an adult with way too many degrees. And it's been, it's been a really striking it's like, it's like, there've been moments where the sort of expressions of a settler colonial again, a romanticized settler colonial viewpoint, or like, so crystallized. And I'm like, I'm going to take that out and use it as like a quote that I can then dissect in farmer boy, where a Alonzo's pie is. Like, you know, never forget that before, you know, America was just a tiny handful of people clinging to the coasts and, you know, we, farmers are the ones that took it and we made it and we took it from the Spaniards cause they were arrogant and the French just wanted furs and it's like such, it's like a parody of it.

Almost of just how pure and expression is at a very particular vision of what settlers are, what sellers do that it's like, it's very, it's very interesting. It's a very interesting thing to realize that as an adult.

 Who is the author you admire most.

Alexandra Montgomery: At the risk of being slightly pandering, I'm going to say Dan Richter, who was my advisor, but I mean that seriously, you know, I think that he is one of these historical authors that really cares about writing and really cares about creating a book that is just as much a work of writing as it is a work of scholarship, as well as just being kind of as a person, very oriented towards bringing up people around him, which is something that I really, really admire about him.

Jim Ambuske: What is the most exciting document you've found in your research?

Um, okay, so this is another one. I have two answers to a fun answer and a answer that is more oriented towards like, um, something that was actually helpful for my research. So the one that was really helpful for my research is, um, there is this map by Charles Morris, who is a surveyor general of Nova Scotians stuffed in fifties and sixties.

That comes from this weaponize settlement tradition where he actually, he goes in, he, he S he does a very accurate survey and mapping of Acadian settlements, and then he goes back in and he draws in he's a little. Which are all locations where the plan was to strategically deploy Protestant families and the explicit goal of this, if you read.

So the attached materials that comes with this map, this idea that the Protestant families deployed in these areas, we're going to sort of by the strength of their own sort of reproductive and cultural. Would expand from within these Acadian settlements and overwhelm them either by intermarrying with the Acadian women and somehow converting them or just by like kind of crowding them out in a way that they would kind of wither away and then Morris map.

And that was a vision that I knew well from the textual writing about this moment, about this time. But seeing that map where so explicit, it's like, we're going to put them here, here, here, and here. And this is what they're going to do. It was like breathtaking. Like I just stared at it like dumbstruck for like several minutes.

Cause I was like, oh, here's my thesis. Like cool, great. It kind of the more fun things I did a research trip to the UK. I spent a couple days in Wales, mostly, it's just kind of like a vacation tack on, but I was in Bangor and I knew that they had some archival holdings of the university of Bangor there.

So I was like, all right, I'm gonna go check this out and had a very small collection of folks that actually were, um, peripherally involved in picto and, uh, the Philadelphia plantation. There wasn't really anything in there that ultimately made it into the dissertation. But what I did discover is that Edmund Crawley, who was a member of the Nova Scotia council and was involved peripherally in this believed himself to be a prophet who was having messianic dreams.

He, I was reading his letter and it was all about how, you know, I had a dream of a Canary. And what that means is I should invest in the Canary islands instead of like dreams about him predicting how long it would take his kids to like, say all to and from England, it also included was, uh, This poem, which I'm going to read, which is entitled the millennium by Edmund crawler in 1,803 universal harmony will be lion and the lamb will then agree in the most sacred opinion of ISI.

This was written in 1795, and this is his prediction that the world will end in 1803 with the second coming.

Alexandra Montgomery: Well, somebody is a little bit late.

Um, maybe not the most accurate prediction, ultimately, maybe not the most accurate particular

Jim Ambuske: that's a whole other show is millennialism and, uh, prophecies of the return of the king. Um, not Aragorn, but, uh, Jesus Christ.

Alexandra Montgomery: When you ascend to the great library in the sky or the archive, whatever you so prefer, what do you hope people remember most about your work?

Jim Ambuske: Weaponize settlement is really, that's the thing that I would like folks to take away from my work, this idea of the role that the state very broadly under.

The state had in actively promoting settler expansion in a very kind of instrumental and cynical kind of way. I think that a lot of the time when we are talking about European settler expansion, or we're talking about settler colonialism, the emphasis, you know, not incorrectly gets placed on the individual solar panel.

That's kind of like the vision that I think that even historians kind of adhere to , when none of that expansion, none of that man expansion with all of the violence and the dispossession and the disaster that it brought in indigenous people that is not an individualistic project, none of that would have been possible without the buy-in active support and investment of various governmental and quasi governmental bodies.

It's simply wouldn't be possible. And I think that focusing in Nova Scotia, You know, it's, it's very explicit there. It's very, very clear and it's very, very obvious, but I think that that is equally true of places like the Ohio country. I think that without a buy in infrastructurally from governments, from private motivated individuals, from people who saw political advantage in promoting that kind of [00:44:00] settlement, you, the history of north America would have looked extremely different.

And I think that's kind of like the central thing that I'd like, That if I do anything, that's a contribution I would like to make.

Well, you convinced me and I'm going to cite you. So that's one,

Alexandra Montgomery: lots of win for me.

Jim Ambuske: Thanks very much. This has been great.

Alexandra Montgomery: Thanks so much for having me. This is, this has been great.

Alexandra L MontgomeryProfile Photo

Alexandra L Montgomery

Historian and Mount Vernon Postdoctoral Fellow

Alexandra L. Montgomery holds a PhD in early American history from the University of Pennsylvania. Her work focuses on the role of the state and settler colonialism in the eighteenth century, particularly in the far northeast. Currently, she is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital History and Cartography of the American Revolutionary War Era at Mount Vernon, where she is assisting in the creation of a new digital maps portal in collaboration with the Leventhal Map and Education Center.