Kathleen DuVal is Professor of History at the University of North Carolina. This interview is based on her new book, Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution (Random House, 2015)
JF: What led you to write Independence Lost?
KD: Colonial American history has broadened dramatically in recent years to cover the entire continent of North America and the French and Spanish colonial efforts as well as the British, yet the historiography of the American Revolution still focuses almost exclusively on the thirteen British colonies that rebelled against the empire. I wanted to tell the story of part of the American Revolution that took place far from Boston and Yorktown but that also affected the war’s outcome and the history of a region that became part of the United States just a few decades later.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Independence Lost?
KD: The Revolutionary War on the Gulf Coast reveals that many people were involved in the war for reasons very different from those of the American rebels. People on the Gulf Coast fought (or tried to stay out of the fighting) to preserve or increase their own independence, which might be personal, as in the case of the slave Petit Jean, or, in the case of American Indians, the independence of their own nations.
JF: Why do we need to read Independence Lost?
KD: We tend, over and over, to hear the same stories of the American Revolution of the thirteen colonies that rebelled, yet there were actually twice as many British colonies in North America, plus Spanish and French colonies, hundreds of American Indian nations, and free and enslaved people of African descent. Their stories are both fascinating and important to the continent’s future, from the Revolution to the present. The fact that many of them lost independence with the rise and expansion of the United States is an important corrective to an overly celebratory view of the American Revolution.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
KD: I have always loved learning about the American past, and what has attracted me most is trying to understand how people who thought of themselves as different from each other (in language, custom, ambition, and other ways) figured out how to get along or failed in the attempt. That interest led me to early American history. For example, in Independence Lost, the Creek Indian leader Alexander McGillivray and local Spanish officials in Pensacola had to work together for their common purpose in preventing American expansion, but they often found that their assumptions about each other and about the continent’s long-term future got in the way.
JF: What is your next project?
KD: I am starting to write about Bernardo de Gálvez, the general who led the Spanish forces against the British during the American Revolution, and his wife, a French Louisianan named Marie Felice de St. Maxent. I think that their lives show us a great deal about how empire worked in the late eighteenth century and how it intersected with the rise of colonial revolutions, from Gálvez’s military education in France and on the Apache frontier, through the years in which both Gálvez and St. Maxent were inspiring leaders to the colonial populations of New Orleans and Mexico City, to accusations late in their lives that they were connected to revolutions in France and Latin America.
JF: Thanks Kathleen!