Grim Commerce: Scalps, Bounties, and the Transformation of Trophy-Taking in the Early American Northeast, 1450-1770

Author/s: Margaret Haig Roosevelt Sewall Ball, PhD
Availability: Open Access
Type: Dissertation
Year: 2013
Category: History
Institution: University of Colorado

Abstract: Although most historians have evaded its study, postmortem mutilation had an extensive history on both sides of the Atlantic and appears in a startling number of sources. Corporeal trophies communicated a variety of meanings to the people of Early America: mutilating a corpse conveyed affective power, marked physical and cultural boundaries between groups, and conferred spiritual authority. When European and Indian cultures met, these trophies formed an important aspect of their (mis)communication. Certain body parts acquired greater social and economic significance, developing into an exchange of human scalps for monetary rewards with dire implications for intercultural relations in North America. Colonial rewards for Indian scalps fused the "logic of elimination" with targeted violence. Scalp bounties simultaneously constructed racialized enemies and produced whiteness as the unifying principle for people of the British (and later Amercian) empire who emerged from the Seven Years War as "the white people." Nineteenth-century "image-makers" furthered the semiotics of anti-Indian violence that had united white Americans after the Revolution into the language of a new American empire: an empire that defined its boundaries through racialized violence.

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