The Castorland Journal is a diary, a travel narrative about early New York, a work of autobiography, and a narrative of a dramatic and complex period in American history. In 1792 Parisian businessmen and speculators established the New York Company, one of the most promising French attempts to speculate for American land following the American Revolution. The company's goal was to purchase and settle fertile land in northwestern New York and then resell it to European investors. In 1793, two of the company's representatives, Simon Desjardins and Pierre Pharoux, arrived in New York to begin settlement of a large tract of undeveloped land. The tract, which was named Castorland for its abundant beaver population ("castor" is the French word for beaver), was located in northwestern New York State, along the Black River and in present-day Lewis and Jefferson counties.
John A. Gallucci's edition is the first modern scholarly translation of the account Desjardins and Pharoux wrote of their efforts in Castorland from 1793 to 1797. While the journal can be read as tragedy, it also has many pages of satire and irony. Its descriptions of nature and references to the romantic and the sublime belong to the spirit of eighteenth-century literature. The journal details encounters with Native Americans, the authors' process of surveying the Black River, their contacts with Philip Schuyler and Baron Steuben, their excursions to Philadelphia to confer with Thomas Jefferson, Desjardins' trip to New York City to engage the legal services of Alexander Hamilton or Aaron Burr, the planting of crops, and the frustrations of disease and natural obstacles.
The Castorland Journal is historically significant because it is an especially rich account of land speculation in early America, the displacement of Native Americans, frontier life, and politics and diplomacy in the 1790s. The Cornell edition of the journal features Gallucci's introduction and explanatory footnotes, several appendixes, maps, and illustrations.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 480
Weight: 850 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 35 mm
"Gallucci provides the first published English translation of this important document. . . . This book . . . helps fill a chapter in the story of French emigration to the early republic. His annotations and translation are superb. The many endnotes give full explanations and identifications to the various terms and names that appear in the text. The journal will be of interest mostly to Americanists who study western expansion, land companies, and the early settlement of New York State, but aspects will also interest French historians."-Thomas J. Schaeper, H-France Review (Vol. 11, 2011)
"This handsomely produced volume will prove useful to scholars researching a variety of topic, including the lives of Native people, Franco-American relations, land speculation and development, environmental change, and backcountry social life in the New York-Canadian borderlands during the difficult 1790s. . . . One of the journal's many values as a primary source can be found in its descriptions of the wide range of people that Desjardins encounters. Native people appear frequently . . . [and] the French seem to be everywhere. . . . Finally, readers with an interest in the natural landscape will find detailed descriptions of animal and plant life. Accounts of foodways also abound, including recipes for such items as spruce beer."-Jay Gitlin, New England Quarterly (September 2011)
"By presenting readers with impressions of their travels through the new American nation, Desjardins and Pharoux produced a rich travel narrative and geographical description that belongs in the tradition of such work as J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer and Gilbert Imlay's A Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America. Like those two published works from the late eighteenth century, Castorland Journal, though unpublished in its own time, provides readers with a valuable European perspective on American experiences while it remains sensitive to local and regional experiences in the early Republic. . . . Castorland Journal belongs within the project of Atlantic history that explores the various connections that developed among Europe, Africa, and the Americas over time. The publication contributes to this developing field by bringing to the attention of scholars a source that connects this international perspective to the study of a particular locality and region-upstate New York specifically and the Northern borderlands more generally. . . . Just as Atlantic history effectively counters American exceptionalist narratives of national development, the publication of Castorland Journal will help early Americanists to recognize the ways in which international and regional experiences combined to shape the ideological, social, and economic developments of the early Republic. Although the Castorland experiment failed to attract a large number of settlers and supporters, the experiences of Desjardins, Pharoux, and others, as recounted in their journal, raise important questions about the role of upstate New York in the new American nation. Drawing attention to the significance of these Northern borderlands, the publication of this volume will enable historians to explore in greater detail the story of the Castorland settlement, the nature of French interest in the region, and why that settlement ultimately failed."-Michelle Orihel, Itinerario
"Castorland Journal is especially rich on the interaction of foreign and American land speculators and on the displacement of native peoples. Perceptive, articulate, and frank, the French authors crafted an especially detailed and insightful (and often highly critical) account of their flawed attempt to profit from the rapid expansion of new settlements."-Alan Taylor, University of California, Davis, author of The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution
"Castorland Journal gives a wonderfully vivid portrait of life on the early American frontier. The journal by Simon Desjardins and Pierre Pharoux sheds tremendous insight on the process of land development in the post-Revolutionary period, on European-Indian relations, and on social life in the backcountry more generally. Elegantly written, it focuses on the often-overlooked but critical area of northwest New York on the U.S./Canada borderland."-Francois Furstenberg, University of Montreal, author of In the Name of the Father
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