Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Claudio Saunt's "West of the Revolution"

Claudio Saunt is Richard B. Russell Professor in American History, Co-Director of the Center for Virtual History, and Associate Director of the Institute of Native American Studies at the University of Georgia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, and reported the following:
In early June 1776, two men met to discuss the urgent need to blaze a trail to unite several of America’s separate colonies. “It was so necessary and proper,” wrote one of them, “that from that very night we made a pact for the two of us to undertake the journey.” The date of departure was set for the fourth of July.

The colonies were not along the eastern seaboard but in the Spanish Southwest, and the men who planned the journey belonged not to the Sons of Liberty but to the Sons of St. Francis. They were Franciscan missionaries, and their goal was to unite Spain’s tenuous California outposts with New Mexico by way of an overland route.

Though they never reached their intended destination, they nonetheless completed a six-month-long, 1500-mile trek through the American Southwest and became the first Europeans ever to enter the vast region between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada mountains.

On p. 99 of West of the Revolution, the explorers have just reached the foothills of the Rockies. Laboring up an incline, they encounter a Ute man, who would guide them for the next several days and save them from the treacherous ascents, dead-end paths, and dry waterholes that had plagued them over the previous week. Without native assistance, the explorers would never have completed their epic journey, undertaken a quarter century before Lewis and Clark struck out for the Pacific.

Americans are generally unacquainted with the early history of their continent beyond the thirteen British colonies that formed the United States. Yet it is possible to envision early America as stretching from one coast to the other and encompassing all the people who lived there. This exciting prospect reveals vast and unfamiliar lands and multitudes of North Americans whose stories are little-known to us. We have an intimate connection to those lands; we live on them, yet know little about their early history. West of the Revolution explores those lands in the 1770s and invites readers to extend their bounds and discover the continent beyond the thirteen British colonies.
Visit Claudio Saunt's webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue