The Threshold of Manifest Destiny
Gender and National Expansion in FloridaUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Early American Studies
In The Threshold of Manifest Destiny, Laurel Clark Shire illuminates the vital role women played in national expansion and shows how gender ideology was a key mechanism in U.S. settler colonialism.
Among the many contentious frontier zones in nineteenth-century North America, Florida was an early and important borderland where the United States worked out how it would colonize new territories. From 1821, when it acquired Florida from Spain, through the Second Seminole War, and into the 1850s, the federal government relied on women's physical labor to create homes, farms, families, and communities. It also capitalized on the symbolism of white women's presence on the frontier; images of imperiled women presented settlement as the spread of domesticity and civilization and rationalized the violence of territorial expansion as the protection of women and families.
Through careful parsing of previously unexplored military, court, and land records, as well as popular culture sources and native oral tradition, Shire tracks the diverse effects of settler colonialism on free and enslaved blacks and Seminole families. She demonstrates that land-grant policies and innovations in women's property law implemented in Florida had long-lasting effects on American expansion. Ideologically, the frontier in Florida laid the groundwork for Manifest Destiny, while, practically, the Armed Occupation Act of 1842 presaged the Homestead Act.
Note on Terminology
Introduction. Expansionist Domesticity and Settler Colonialism in Florida
PART I. SLAVERY, INDIAN REMOVAL, AND EXPANSIONIST DOMESTICITY
Chapter 1. Property, Settlement, and Slavery
Chapter 2. Innocent Victims of a "Savage" War
Chapter 3. Seminole Resistance
PART II. GENDER AND PROSETTLER Policy
Chapter 4. Turning Sufferers into Settlers
Chapter 5. Gender and Settler Colonialism
Conclusion. The Garden and the Spear
"Providing a rich study of a typically overlooked nineteenth-century frontier zone . . . the work's greatest contribution lies in its substantiation of the critical links between the development of the U.S. South and the U.S. West in the nineteenth century. In doing so, Shire has produced a valuable history of American nation-building that realizes the promise of thinking beyond the boundaries separating southern and western history."—Western Historical Quarterly
"This is clearly the best work to date on the manner in which domesticity justified Manifest Destiny. Shire offers a unique and compelling examination of the role of Southern women in territorial expansion, combined with a first-rate historical analysis of the Seminole and their relationship to native groups elsewhere in the Southwest, placing Florida itself in the larger context of expansion in the early American republic."—Amy Greenberg, Pennsylvania State University
- Winner of the 2017 Florida Historical Society Rembert Patrick Award
- Winner of the 2016 Society for Historians of the Early American Republic Mary Kelley Prize