a “declaration of independence”?

From David A. Copeland’s Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period (Greenwood, 2000):



16 responses to “a “declaration of independence”?

  1. This strikes me as exceedingly thinly-veiled satire. Is there a non-newspaper source cited?

  2. Or is that what you were pointing out with the question mark…?

    • Dave Mazella

      I’m not as confident about the meaning of this as the editor Copeland, that’s for sure. But yes, the question mark is there because I’m not certain what it means or where it’s directed.

  3. Dave Mazella

    Nope. I was curious, too, but without having access to the rest of the newspaper or other documents, I couldn’t decide whether there was conscious or unconscious parody/mimicry going on, or if indeed it was ridiculing some particular group under the cover of the “Letter” from the Anderscoggin. What’s your sense of its satiric target?

  4. I think it could go either way, actually–a crucial bit of information would be the political affiliation of this particular newspaper printer. I taught a history-writing course last semester where students would write papers based on a packet of sources, and one of the packets was on women’s rights in the 18th century. Needless to say, the differences of opinion in the class with regard to how genuine this or that source was were fairly extreme.

    In this case, I would say that this supposed declaration mirrors Sons of Liberty talking points far too closely to be genuine, and its inclusion as an authentic native document is a sign of some serious wishful thinking on the part of the editor.

  5. Even if it’s not satire, the most likely explanation is that this is just a bit of native-ventriloquism like the Boston Tea Party. The use of Native Americans as rhetorical representatives of British-American grievances against the motherland is very well-documented.

    • Dave Mazella

      The openly violent message of things like the setting on fire of “great canoes” or the “scalping knife” reference makes me think that the satiric reading is correct. But it might just be an open threat directed at the British.

  6. Dave Mazella

    That sounds right to me, though I don’t know how easy it is to uncover those longer-term affiliations for the more obscure papers and their editors.

    Initially, my thought was that some kind of genuine announcement of the Anderscoggin tribe was garbled by an Editor into what sounded like colonial political cliches.

    After I posted it, I noticed how baldly stated everything was, and wondered whether the entire thing was being attributed to the tribe for a particular political purpose. But the meaning of that gesture still seems obscure to me.

    • Was there even such a thing as an “Anderscoggin Tribe”? A cursory search of Google Books reveals only mentions of the river, whose name Wikipedia translates as “river of cliff rock shelters.” I hesitate to accuse the author of fabricating these people, but I would think a tribe inhabiting such a large area would be better-documented.

  7. Dave Mazella

    Well, I picked up real historical references (via Googlebooks) to an Androscoggin tribe in Maine. So that much of it is legit. Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Androscoggin_tribe

    • On the other hand, Early American Newspapers and Imprints produces exactly zero hits for “anderscoggin” or “androscoggin,” except for the supposed declaration, all the way to 1799, and even then the results appear to have to do mostly with the eponymous river.

      • Also, not sure if this is a productive direction of inquiry or not, but it seems like the Androscoggin (though whether they ever called themselves that seems to be a matter of dispute) were totally or almost totally gone from the NH area by the mid-18thc, which might be why they were a convenient name to use here. It also seems doubtful that by 1775 they had anything like the kind of organized and independent political existence that a declaration of this sort would imply.

  8. Dave Mazella

    This kind of problem is why I enjoy using 18c newspapers as sources. The interpretations seem entirely contextual and suppositional. Their empiricism, which is what earlier historians have prized them for, seems like a mirage to me. But I find these kinds of questions about their rhetorical framing really important, and difficult to nail down.

    • Yeah, it’s often hard not to feel like the joke is on you half the time. I’ve seen some astonishingly po-faced uses of obviously tongue-in-cheek sources. Are people just spoiled by the way “A Modest Proposal” beats you over the head with its message?

      • Dave Mazella

        Day 1 one in my satire class on Swift, I tell them that one of the biggest differences between 18c and classroom readings of Swift is the fact that classroom readers know that it was written by Swift, “greatest satirist of the 18th century.” All that retrospective knowledge powerfully shapes expectations, but the readers of a pamphlet or a newspaper may very well have their own immediate or topical clues, but these may still be of limited usefulness about certain intimate jokes. My feeling is that much of the time the indirection and the vagueness of 18c satire about its targets actually makes it more, not less, powerful, and this is the kind of strategy routinely used by pamphleteers and newspaper writers.