American leviathan : empire, nation, and revolutionary frontier /
Patrick Griffin.
1st ed.
New York : Hill and Wang, 2007.
368 p. : ill.
0809095157 (hardcover : alk. paper), 9780809095155 (hardcover : alk. paper)
More Details
New York : Hill and Wang, 2007.
0809095157 (hardcover : alk. paper)
9780809095155 (hardcover : alk. paper)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
Introduction Tom Quick’s Monument  From the Seven Years’ War through the American Revolution and until the Whiskey Rebellion, a frontiersman haunted the American imagination. Growing up on the Pennsylvania frontier as the eldest of ten, Tom Quick was one of those faceless, poorer men squatting or holding small tracts and struggling to achieve competency. Something, however, set him apart from his neighbors: Tom Quick had pledged to exterminate every Indian he came across. Before 1763, he did not seem destined to become an Indian slayer. Like many young boys on the frontier, he hunted, fished, and played with young Delawares in the woods around the cabin his father had built, counting them among his closest friends. That is until the end of the French and Indian War, when a young Delaware shot and scalped his father, stripping him of his silver cuff links and shoe buckles. His father’s murder transformed Tom Quick. “The blood of the whole Indian race,” he reputedly declared, “is not sufficient to atone for the blood of my father.” Tom Quick then promised to kill a hundred Delawares before he died.1 Quick killed Indians hunting, sleeping, eating, and drinking. He shot, tomahawked, stabbed, and bludgeoned Indians. He pushed Indians off of cliffs. He slaughtered them when sober and when drunk. He butchered men, women, and children, as well as whole families. As he put it after he had “dashed out the brains” of an infant, “Nits make lice.” He preyed on some close to his home, including the Delaware who had scalped his father, and ambushed others far away. During the American Revolution, he roamed frontier regions like the Ohio River valley in search of Indians but not as a patriot. Quick refused to join any militia. He would not support the British, either. Disaffected from any cause, he used the chaos of the period as a license to kill. Quick’s reign of terror continued after the United States gained its independence as westerners still struggled with violence. Although proclaimed a monster by officials in these years, in the estimation of common settlers he seemed to stand alone against the indifference of government. In a world of all against all, in which civil society had ceased to exist, only he and his ilk could impose some sort of order. In particular, his unapologetic individualism appeared the only solution to incessant Indian raids. When authorities captured Quick, no jail could hold him because other frontier folks who had lost friends and relatives on the “dark and bloody ground” that the frontier had become came to his rescue. Quick’s spree ended in 1795. As legend had it, he had slaughtered ninety-nine Delawares when he fell ill with—ironically—smallpox. As he lay dying, he pleaded with his family to drag one last Indian before the foot of his bed within rifle range. By 1795, however, few Indians lived on the Pennsylvania frontier. When Quick made his final request, some sense of order had come to the West as the violence and uncertainty that had gripped the region for decades had ended. So, too, had the presence of Indians in places like the Ohio valley. Quick died one Indian short of his grisly goal. After Quick’s death, his legend grew as westerners embellished stories of his vow, his guile, and the many Indians he had killed. The tale began to take even more extraordinary twists. One story that circulated transformed Quick into a deus ex machina, rescuing families under attack from Indians in the nick of time. In one such telling, he arrived breathless to confront and kill a few Indians besieging a house just as the father inside, low on ammunition, was preparing to sacrifice his own children and take his own life rather than see them suffer at the hands of “savages.” Another tale that made the rounds after he had died went something like this: After Quick was buried, a starving Indian came across the grave, dug up the body, and ate the liver. He then died of smallpox, a fitting end for the hundredth victim. Similar legends had whole villages wiped out by the diseased liver. In tales such as these, Quick achieved in death and a time of peace what he could not in life and a period of war. By the early nineteenth century, easterners were reading romanticized accounts of stories like the Quick myth as books and pamphlets appeared cataloging the exploits of frontiersmen. In these years, the ideas of “frontier” and “revolution” enthralled Americans. In many ways, together they epitomized who Americans were, capturing invented notions of collective self carved from memory, shared experience, and circumstance.2 Less than a generation after the Revolution, writers extolled the virtues of the frontier and the critical role of the American Revolution—as well as the violence that was their hallmark—in creating the democratic and civilized man. Writers like James Eldridge Quinlan, who published a popular tract on the Quick myth, conceived of places like the Ohio valley at the time of revolution as American crucibles, regions where broader national dynamics writ small could be observed.3 The Ohio valley continued to fascinate nineteenth-century Americans much as it had less than a generation before when Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin invested in its land, believing like most of their fellow citizens that America’s future lay there. With its promise of land and independence, it still attracted the most mobile men and women from the margins of society in the East, as well as speculators and financiers. Now peaceful, it had been contested country. The Ohio valley had once been home to other immigrants, most notably Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingoes, and it witnessed appalling violence before, during, and after the American Revolution. As Americans as a whole understood, the region and its varied peoples featured in the rise and fall of British empire in America before the war and in the fortunes of the American nation after the war. By the early nineteenth century, in other words, the history of what had been one of Tom Quick’s hunting grounds for many defined the character of American character. With time, Americans elevated the likes of Tom Quick to sacrosanct status. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Quick tall tale had been rediscovered and had become the subject of popular books and even a play titled Tom Quick, the Avenger; or, One Hundred for One. Its author claimed Quick took his vow to defend the defenseless and out of regard for the memory of a father savagely executed: By the point of the knife in my right, and the deadly bullet in my left; By heaven and all there is in it, by earth and all there is on it; By the love I bore my father, here on his grave I swear eternal vengeance against the whole Indian race. I swear to kill all, to spare none; The old man with the silver hair, The lisping babe without teeth, the mother quick with child, and the maid in the bloom of youth shall die. A voice from my father’s grave cries Revenge! Eternal revenge!4 According to another account, Quick was “the very ideal of strength,” tall, powerful, agile, and bright, an individual untethered from society. He was “rather a rough-looking representative of the early settlers” of the frontier. Standing against the malice of the wealthy, the indifference of government, and savagery, he defined the virtues of the common man. In 1889, Pennsylvanians gathered in his hometown to erect a monument topped with a nine-foot-tall Passaic zinc obelisk dedicated to “the memory of Tom Quick, the Indian slayer, the Avenger of the Delaware.” The unveiling ceremony, which The New York Times covered the following day under the headline “In Honor of Tom Quick,” took place amid fanfare after the erection of a liberty pole and speeches by prominent locals.5 The monument, of course, memorialized a myth, not a man. Yet the men and women gathered to celebrate Tom Quick saw in him all that the American Revolution still meant. Quick epitomized the triumph of civilization and democratic values over savagery. Although he had sacrificed innocents, he did so in the service of a broader white civilization. He was its leading edge, society’s unrefined precursor and necessary evil. Late-nineteenth-century Pennsylvanians were not alone in finding meaning in men like Quick. The historians and cultural icons George Bancroft and Frederick Jackson Turner, who were writing as frontier legend captured the attention of Americans, also believed that the American Revolution fulfilled a destiny and that the frontier created a distinctive people, uncontaminated by the trappings of hereditary power, relentless class conflict, and vexing ethnic questions that dogged the Old World. If the Revolution signaled the arrival of a distinctively conceived nation, the frontier provided the requisite labor. As Turner explained, on this unforgiving line between savagery and civility, men and women developed those traits most closely associated with Americanness. They did so by taming a place and conquering the savage peoples who inhabited it. Better considered a process than a place, the frontier taught settlers the lessons of democracy. Here, out of necessity, they discovered the virtues of self-reliance and freedom from the dictates of government. Fighting Indians and scrambling to survive, in other words, created the conditions for the triumph of popular political participation. The Revolution as event and the frontier as process therefore confirmed America as the exceptional nation that many a century ago—then flush with hope about the place of the United States in the wider world but wary of growing tensions at home—assumed that it was. The legends of men like Quick became the stuff of American myth. By taming a frontier, settlers like him had transformed the way society functioned in the West and, as Turner suggested, in the larger nation as well. “No one can read their petitions,” Turner wrote, “denouncing the control exercised by the wealthy landholders of the coast, appealing to the record of their conquest of the wilderness, and demanding the possession of the lands for which they have fought the Indians, and which they had reduced by their ax to civilization, without recognizing in these frontier communities the cradle of a belligerent democracy.” Here men and women had “turned their backs upon the Atlantic Ocean” and created a “society free from the dominance of ancient forms.” In regions like the Ohio valley, “the struggle for democratic development first revealed itself, and in that area the essential ideas of American democracy had already appeared.”6 Violence on a “fighting frontier” straddling a line separating “civilization and savagery” shaped the culture of the West and by implication the larger nation, and competition molded the character of a people now schooled in “self-sufficiency” and “individualism.”7   Since that time, Tom Quick’s image has suffered some crippling blows. His role as “Indian slayer” now supplants his place as precursor of democracy. In the 1970s, his vow and misdeeds became the subject of a folk song by one of the founding members of Peter, Paul and Mary, characterizing him as the harbinger of a racist dark age. “I feel the old world dying, spread-eagled on the wall,” the lyrics went, as Quick “killed and killed avenging wrong for right.”8 In 1997, after decades of protests, unknown assailants destroyed the monument with sledgehammers, thereby declaring that the fallen Quick now stood for many ills that plagued America. Just as the monument came tumbling down, so, too, did old certainties about the nature of American society. Since Turner’s time, scholars have developed increasingly sophisticated interpretive tools and models of change. Years of professionalization, the insights of new schools of thought, exhaustive investigations of what had been overlooked peoples and areas of inquiry, a renewed appreciation of the power of ideas, and frankly more enlightened attitudes about the darker aspects of the American experience have led to fundamental reconsiderations of revolution and frontier.  As a result, Quick now only haunts the margins of memory. On one level, the reasons why reflect the conflicting ways we now view frontier, revolution, and the nature of American society. More to the point, the fate of Quick is bound up in the ways we have assumed that American exceptionalism is an American taboo, an issue to be ignored, rejected, or condemned, but not explained or dissected. Some argue that, far from central to the American narrative, the American Revolution’s revolutionary character proved limited, not as radical and as far-reaching as the quaint work of earlier scholars had led us to believe. The Revolution settlement may have transformed the fortunes of wealthier white men. Elites ensured, however, that women and blacks saw no change in their servile status. Poorer folks still clung to the edges of society. And Indians entered an even more troubling new period that would consign them to oblivion.9 In many ways, the American Revolution may have amounted to a “failed” revolution.10 Similarly, the “frontier,” that line that historians once regarded as a crucible of American virtues, now looms in our history as an American curse. Around the same time historians began questioning the nature of revolution, they began to recognize the racist implications of viewing American experience as a contest between civility and savagery and in the process lost confidence in frontier as a useful interpretive tool. Those who reluctantly clung to frontier insisted that we view it from the perspective of Indians by facing east from it, not west at it.11 This generation of historians, who have sought to recover the experiences of marginalized peoples, took issue with frontier and the revolutionary nature of the Revolution, in part, to challenge the nation’s mythic exceptionalism, an idea that an earlier generation of scholars had hoisted on the shoulders of infamous characters like Quick. To their eyes, notions of American distinctiveness appeared as flawed explanations of the past or justifications for the inequalities of the present.12 The memory of Quick’s exploits mattered insofar as they defined the pernicious and embarrassing aspects of American history and culture. Or Quick had become irrelevant. Those historians who have recovered the ideas that animated the American Revolution suggest that settlers like him have little to tell us of the meaning of the American Revolution. These scholars, as a rule, do not bridle at the label of exceptionalism. Whether or how America differs from other nations does not capture their attention, and if it does, it occasions little concern. They do not see the American Revolution as a failure; rather, they suggest it succeeded on its own terms. The outcomes of revolution, as well as its radical character, reflected the measured sensibilities of the founders, men who paved the way for democracy and who developed the liberating principles that would one day extend freedom to those excluded at the time of the Revolution. These men of virtue set the terms of debate, and common people emulated them, even to the point perhaps of corrupting the Revolution settlement. The frontier does not figure into this understanding of the American Revolution. In fact, if frontier settlers appear at all, they do so almost as anti-founders, living antitheses of all the founders espoused. If the Revolution failed to live up to its enlightened promise, these types of people—grasping, egalitarian, vice-ridden—not the founders, were to blame.13 Tom Quick’s fortunes, therefore, reflect predominant understandings of frontier and revolution. In the late nineteenth century, as Americans were coming to grips with the effects of industrialization, justifying white conquest of the West, and groping to make sense of America’s role in the world, historians crafted a story of the triumph of white civilization and democratic values. That ground has since shifted, and as it has, we have been engaged in an extended referendum over the founders and their republican experiment, a debate in which the frontier does not feature, or, if it does, only as the epitome of the flawed nature of American society. Tom Quick proved indispensable to one generation, worthy of a monument, and eminently dispensable to another, better condemned and destroyed, or ignored. Almost fittingly, given the assumptions of historians of all stripes today, the demolished monument to Tom Quick’s memory remains in a storage shed, unlikely to be reerected. Quick’s removal from the story of the American Revolution tells us something more. The master narratives we have of the American Revolution fail to contain Tom Quick because they cannot contain him. For one group, frontier settlers matter insofar as they remain victims of elites, resist new class-based forms of domination, contest the market economy, or embody radical principles in the face of conservative backlash. But race hatred places them outside the bounds of the story. Or settlers serve as embarrassing counterexamples to the enlightened principles of the founding and illustrate how little the frontier—and perhaps by extension, common men and women—had to do with revolution. Viewing the settlers’ world in all its complexity, however, would threaten to expose the limitations of master narratives that preclude common people from either playing meaningful roles or playing two distinct roles at once, one of the virtuous settler manipulated by sinister forces, the other of the race-addled Indian slayer. Excerpted from American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier by Patrick Griffin. Copyright © 2007 by Patrick Griffin. Published in April 2007 by Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.       

Excerpted from American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier by Patrick Griffin
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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2007-01-01:
Griffin's erudite account places ordinary settlers of America's frontier at the center of 18th-century political revolution. The British Empire's hold on the western edge of colonies like Pennsylvania was always tenuous, suggests the University of Virginia's Griffin (The People with No Name). The frontier was beset by violence between Indians and white settlers, and the latter thought Britain appeased the Indians at their expense. These settlers' disgust with the inadequacies of imperial policy, says Griffin, fomented the American Revolution, a titanic political clash that ultimately gave ordinary frontiersmen new rights. But they gained those rights at the expense of Native Americans-whom they identified as irreconcilably other. Tensions continued after the revolution. The fragile new American government was unable to enforce order on the frontier, and settlers in the Ohio valley and other border regions believed the state had to eradicate Indians to secure a stable and safe society. (As Griffin puts it with elegant bluntness, the frontiersmen were building a commonwealth "on the bod[ies] of... dead Indian[s].") Griffin judiciously weaves analysis into riveting stories of riots and unrest, and weds attention to race and marginalized people with traditional political and military history. 8 pages of b&w illus., 3 maps. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Choice on 2008-03-01:
This book represents an ambitious survey of the Ohio River frontier from the 1760s into the 1790s. Griffin (Univ. of Virginia) applies a Hobbesian analysis to his examination of Anglo-American settlement, arguing that English-speaking migrants and the original Native American inhabitants existed equally in a primitive "state of nature" until the mid-1790s. In spite of British authorities' various efforts to tame the region, the later exploits of George Rogers Clark, and developers' settlement schemes in the 1780s, the Ohio River frontier remained almost an anarchistic and ungovernable place filled with violence, sometimes rooted in racism motivated by interaction between the Native Americans and English-speaking settlers. According to Griffin, it was only when the US government sent military troops under General Anthony Wayne, culminating at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, that stability became the norm for the region. Well researched and based on a full survey of the sources, this book will be an important addition to the literature that examines the late-18th-century Ohio River frontier and the conflicts that marked that region. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. L. T. Cummins Austin College
Appeared in Library Journal on 2007-02-01:
In his first book, Griffin (history, Ohio Univ.) explores the nature of the settlers of the western frontier borderlands during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. While Alan Taylor's The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderlands of the American Revolution details the creation of borders between the Indian nations and the English Colonies/American states, Griffin contrasts the formative ideologies of western frontier settlers regarding American Indians with those of the British Empire and the American tidewater revolutionary elite. Frontier corn whiskey culture, partially descended from mid-17th century English revolutionary culture, helped foster an American complex of racial and multicultural relations that lionized even arguably psychotic slayers of Indians, who avenged personal losses and brought a sense of order based on racial divisions to violent new homelands. Recommended for libraries with research interests in civil rights and racial relations in the early American republic.-Nathan E. Bender, Univ. of Idaho, Moscow (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
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Publishers Weekly, January 2007
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Choice, March 2008
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Table of Contents
Introduction : Tom Quick's monumentp. 3
Drawing the line : the ideology of British empire in the American Westp. 19
Crossing the line : the limits of empire in the Westp. 46
Abandoning the line : the failure of empire in the Westp. 72
Revolution and chaos : Lord Dumore's war and the search for orderp. 97
Revolution and uncertainty : the war of independence and self-sovereigntyp. 124
Revolution and violence : warring against Indians and reimagining the Westp. 152
South and north : envisioning commonwealth on the frontierp. 183
West and east : the limits of commonwealth on the frontierp. 212
American leviathan : the covenant for commonwealthp. 240
Epilogue : George Rogers Clark's monumentp. 273
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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