Kentucky Early American Seminar

The Kentucky Early American Seminar is a group of historians from various universities in Kentucky and Indiana who meet informally during Spring and Fall semesters to discuss pre-circulated papers on any topic concerning the colonial through the early national period in North America.


All meetings are held at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, Ky., on Fridays, 5 - 6.30pm.  See here fore a map of the campus and driving directions from the west (Louisville) and east (Lexington). Following the discussions, participants usually gather for a social hour/dinner at a local restaurant. Papers are made available for download on this website two weeks in advance (click on the paper title below). Do not cite without the author's permission.

Next Meeting: October 23, 2015!

The Indians of every denomination were free, and independent of us’: White Southern Explorations of Indigenous Slavery, Freedom, and Society, 1772-1830

Kristopher Ray, Dartmouth College and Austin Peay State University

The paper will be pre-circulated via email. Please contact Drs. Ryan or Wood.

In arguing against Indian slavery, plaintiff’s attorneys in the 1772 Virginia General Court case Robin v Hardaway faced a dilemma: how could they condemn slavery while mollifying public conviction that Indian “savagery” made them dangerous to community stability?  Their solution was to insist that Indians lived within independent polities (unlike other enslaved communities), which meant they were both inherently free and outside the evolving Anglo-American body politic.  They were not represented in legislatures, derived no protection from the law, and were subject only to regulation for “cross-cultural diplomacy and trade.”  As such, they could legitimately be deprived of property, happiness, and safety.  Subsequent Virginia Indian freedom cases contributed to this evolving legal discourse, in the process establishing an underpinning for civilization policies as well as removal once “civility” became untenable to Southern whites.  Not coincidentally, this construction occurred at the same moment that antislavery advocates used natural law to justify gradual emancipation and colonization for African slaves.  Discursively, removal and colonization combined to secure white control of the American South.

This essay uses Revolutionary-era freedom lawsuits (along with foundational documents like the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the 1787 US Constitution) to reveal how systematic challenges to indigenous polities were enshrined in Southern legal thought.  Given its simultaneous and overlapping evolution with the antislavery movement, the essay also suggests that understanding nineteenth century Southern legal development requires restoring Indians to a central position.




Dr. Brad Wood (Eastern Kentucky University)

Dr. Kelly Ryan (Indiana University Southeast)

Tony P. Curtis (Kentucky Historical Society)

Dr. Daniel Krebs (University of Louisville)

Dr. Glenn Crothers (University of Louisville)


Next Meetings and Papers

To submit a paper for discussion, please contact Brad Wood or Kelly Ryan. Papers should not exceed fifty pages, including notes, and should include a brief abstract.


Past Papers

March 27, 2015: Dr. Jane Calvert, University of Kentucky: "The Complete Writings and Selected Correspondence of John Dickinson"

February 27, 2015: Dr. Kelly Ryan, Indiana University Southeast: "Perpetrators and Victims:  Women's Experiences of Violence in the Northeast, 1780-1820"

January 23, 2015: Dr. Daniel Krebs, University of Louisville: "Warfare on Distant Shores: Recruitment and Social Composition of the "Hessians" During the American War of Independence"

December 5, 2014: Dr. Brad Wood, Eastern Kentucky University: "The Albemarle Settlements and the Challenge of Isolation (c. 1660-1700)"

November 14, 2014: Jeffery Lewis Stanley, University of Kentucky: “The Language of Race in Old Regime France and Saint-Domingue”

March 29, 2013: Dr. Jacob Lee, Indiana University: In Cahokia's Wake: Middle America from Mississipians to Marquette and Jolliet

February 22, 2013: Dr. Brad Wood, Eastern Kentucky University: Colonial North Carolina and the Limits of the Atlantic World

February 8, 2013: Dr. Kelly Ryan, Indiana University Southeast: Mediating Spousal Abuse in New England, 1760 - 1830

October 19, 2012: Dr. Kristalyn M. Shefveland, University of Southern Indiana: Reversing Their Removal from the Narrative: Native Labor in Virginia

April 20, 2012: Dr. Jane Calvert, University of Kentucky: Thomas Paine, Quakerism, and the Limits of Religious Liberty During the American Revolution

March 30, 2012: Dr. Kris Ray, Austin Peay State University and Senior Editor, Tennessee Historical Quarterly: Cherokees and Franco-British Confrontation in the Tennessee Corridor, 1748-1758

February 21, 2012: Dr. Brad Wood, Eastern Kentucky University: Creating and Contesting Carolina

October 14, 2011: Samantha M. Steele, University of Kentucky: The Captivity of Hannah Duston - Using Literature to Map the Changing Perceptions of Native Americans in New England Society

April 8, 2011: Dr. Brad Wood, Eastern Kentucky University: Thomas Pollock and the Making of an Albemarle Plantation World

March 11, 2011: Dr. Christopher Magra, University of Tennessee: Anti-Impressment Riots and the "Radicalism" of the American Revolution

February 4, 2011: Dr. Daniel Krebs, University of Louisville: Useful Enemies - German Prisoners of War During the American Revolution

September 9, 2011: Dr. Kristopher Ray, Austin Peay State University and Senior Editor, Tennessee Historical Quarterly: Cherokee-British Alliance along the Tennessee River, 1650-1750

November 4, 2011: Dr. Kristalyn M. Sheveland, University of Southern Indiana: "Wholy Subjected?" Anglo-Indian Interaction in Colonial Virginia, 1646-1718

November 14, 2014: Jeffery Lewis Stanley, University of Kentucky: The Language of Race in Old Regime France and Saint-Domingue