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The Contest for the Delaware Valley

Allegiance, Identity, and Empire in the Seventeenth Century

288 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 1 map

ebook available

American History

  Hardcover / 9780807150580 / June 2013

In the first major examination of the diverse European efforts to colonize the Delaware Valley, Mark L. Thompson offers a bold new interpretation of ethnic and national identities in colonial America. For most of the seventeenth century, the lower Delaware Valley remained a marginal area under no state’s complete control. English, Dutch, and Swedish sources all staked claims to the territory, but none could exclude their rivals for long—in part because Native Americans in the region encouraged the competition. Officials and settlers alike struggled to determine which European nation would possess the territory and what liberties settlers would keep after their own colonies had surrendered.

The resulting struggle for power resonated on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. While the rivalry promoted patriots who trumpeted loyalties to their sovereigns and nations, it also rewarded cosmopolitans who struck deals across imperial, colonial, and ethnic boundaries. Just as often it produced men—such as Henry Hudson, Willem Usselincx, Peter Minuit, and William Penn—who did both.
Ultimately, The Contest for the Delaware Valley shows how colonists, officials, and Native Americans acted and reacted in inventive, surprising ways. Thompson demonstrates that even as colonial spokesmen debated claims and asserted fixed national identities, their allegiances—along with the settlers’—often shifted and changed. Yet colonial competition imposed limits on this fluidity, forcing officials and settlers to choose a side. Offering their allegiances in return for security and freedom, colonial subjects turned loyalty into liberty. Their stories reveal what it meant to belong to a nation in the early modern Atlantic world.

Born in Philadelphia and raised in New Orleans, Mark L. Thompson has taught in Bangkok, Baton Rouge, and Groningen. He currently teaches at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, where he lives with his family.

Praise for The Contest for the Delaware Valley

“The most sophisticated and comprehensive treatment of the Delaware Valley that has been produced in decades.”—Pennsylvania History

“Mark L. Thompson’s The Contest for the Delaware Valley makes a valuable contribution to this literature, using the history of the Delaware Valley to deepen understanding of culture and politics in the early modern Atlantic region.” —Journal of American History

“This thoughtful study demands that we think more carefully about how the nation was asserted and transformed in early modern colonial contexts as polities of varied sorts projected power across the Atlantic. Thompson makes an original and reasoned contribution to a sometimes shrill scholarship on the origins of nationhood.”—American Historical Review

"Thompson captures the ambiguity and multiplicity of personal identities in the polyglot Delaware Valley, while also making a compelling case that nationality mattered a great deal….An important scholarly contribution on more than one level.”—Journal of Interdisciplinary History

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