Factors of Formation: The Context of Settler Colonization in the United States and French Algeria

Scott Keys

Final Paper

Factors of Formation: The Context of Settler Colonization in the United States and French Algeria


Lorenzo Veracini, in his study Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview, argued that colonial and settler colonial forms are antithetical and should be regarded as discrete types.[1] The historiography of colonialism has traditionally conflated the two forms, all but obscuring critical differences between them. As A. LeFevre recently argued, however, “Settler colonialism is a distinct imperial formation” in part because the factors that contributed to the development of settler colonies are fundamentally different from non-settler colonies.[2] Settler colonialism, then, is a distinct field, and over the past thirty years scholars have done much to identify, define, and understand the specific factors that resulted in settler colonial formation. As is true with all historiographical debates, however, there is no unifying definition of settler colonialism that satisfies everyone. As Ashley Sanders observed, some scholars see exploitation as the essence of settler colonization, while others focus on “the perception of colonies as exotic lands.” Still others see settler colonies as “Laboratories of modernity” whereby the European metropole “refined its own self-definition(s).”[3] Despite these differences, a number of key factors that contributed to the formation of settler colonies have emerged from these debates; factors that appear in most, if not all, locations where settler colonialism occurred, including those in the US and French Algeria.

The purpose of this paper is to assess some of the leading factors that led to settler colonial formations in both the United States and French Algeria. These include land acquisition and permanent settlement, the removal of indigenous populations through violence, settler colonialism as a structure and not an event, and settler colonial formations emerging from a bottom up process.[4] In the end, this study hopes to broaden our understanding of settler colonialism by providing a more concrete definition of it, and forming a more definitive framework for the field itself.[5]

Settler Colonization: Factors of Formation in the US and French Algeria

Settler colonial formation is a complex process that is a structure—as opposed to a single historical epoch—that grew out of competing interests among various agents including settlers, military personnel, indigenous populations, and the metropole. Historian James Merrell succinctly illuminated many of the aforementioned factors of settler colonization when he argued that, for settler colonials, “native neighbors were good only for obstructing settlement, threatening life and property, and attracting other Indians to the area. Settlers came, not to befriend the natives, but to avoid them—or bury them.”[6] Merrell’s observation underscores that settlers sought property for permanent settlement, that they looked to remove indigenous populations by any means necessary, and that settlers claimed an inherent sovereignty over both the land and its people. These observations accentuate many of the contributing facets of settler colonial formation. The remainder of this paper will assess those facets, and in doing so, this study follows scholars like Ashley Sanders who seek to deepen what is understood about settler colonial formation.

Land Acquisition and the Permanency of the Settler Colonial

Land, in addition to the prospect of increased economic opportunity, is a principle force that compelled the formation of settler colonies. Patrick Wolfe, in his pioneering study Settler Colonialism and Elimination of the Native, recognized the centrality of territorial acquisition when he observed that “territoriality is settler colonialism’s specific, irreducible element.”[7] It is important to note, however, that while settlers forcibly extracted labor from indigenous populations to grow wealthy off of the land’s resources, such was not the chief factor for the initial establishment of settler colonies in both the US and French Algeria. Rather, it was the desire to obtain land and the prospect of permanent settlement.

Given the importance of land, it is not surprising, or in the least bit coincidental, that settlers in both regions developed myths about the land and their relationship with it. Such myths functioned to justify the taking of land, particularly given the presence of indigenous populations, and to ennoble the settler and his efforts. As Historian John Mack Faragher observed of the United States, although a narrative may be a myth or legend, it finds meaning in historical events, and is much less concerned with facts as it is with ideology. As such, the legend of the American frontier, the myth of the untamed West, and ultimately America’s Manifest Destiny, advance “a tale of progress, a justification of violent conquest and untrammeled development.”[8]

The myth of the American west as a frontier reflects the tension between American myth making and indigenous reality. According to Michael Witgen, an assessment of indigenous ceremonies, among other things, revealed that “America was not a wilderness inhabited by wild people, but a human place with a storied past”[9] Similar legends also emerged in French Algeria. According to John Ruedy, colonial mythologies extoled the lore of the hardworking pioneer who tamed the land by his “sheer willpower and brawn.”[10] These myths served to transform the land into a barren and wild space that settlers needed to tame, and they provided the justification for all forms of action, both docile and violent, which resulted in the formation of settler colonies. Nonetheless, they emerged out of the settlers’ intense want for land, a desire for territory that existed before the settler colony formed, and a longing that demanded the land be conceptualized in this way.

Although the want for land is present in both the US and French Algeria, this does not mean that each region followed identical paths: numerous forces acted upon potential settler colonials. For those who settled in America, these factors included the rise of commercial agriculture, political and religious persecution, and rapid population growth. For the French, the monarchs Charles X and Louis-Phillipe saw   the conquest of Algeria as an act that would legitimize the monarchy itself.[11] According to Historian Jennifer Sessions, “from the rubble of absolute monarchy, the regimes of the nineteenth century had to reconstitute and, in the process, reconceive the forms and legitimizing principles of sovereignty citizenship, and political power.”[12] Despite these variables, settlers to both America and Algeria had not only a desire for land, but also no intention of returning to the metropole.

When looking at settler colonialism, no middle passage narrative exists because settlers did not envisage a return to the metropole.[13] Rather, they remained on the land, they took land as they saw “need” of it, they exerted sovereignty over both it and the indigenous population, and the land eventually functioned as a mechanism of self-definition. Sanders observed that “as immigrants and as colonists attempting to assert their right to autonomous government, they need to craft a new identity that (1) sets them apart from indigenes and the metropolitan population, and (2) bridges differences amongst themselves based on class, ethnicity, and nationality.”[14] As land became permanently occupied, however, a push towards the interior of the country naturally occurred: west in the US and south in French Algeria. In both regions, assumptions were made by settler colonial officials that indigenous populations possessed more territory than they needed, and thus “the government concentrated them onto the area of land it thought suitable and took the rest for the purposes of colonization.”[15] In the US, for example, the initial transfer of Native Americans to the Great American Desert, and then subsequent transfers onto smaller and smaller reservations, illustrates this.

In the end, a fundamental factor in settler colonial formation, seen in both the US and French Algeria, is the settlers’ want for land and their intent to remain on it. Indeed, settlers brought with them a “special type of sovereign entitlement,” as Veracini observed, one that convinced them of their right to the lands they claimed and permanently resided upon. But this sovereignty did more than just convince settlers of their right to enjoy the “wilderness” they “found.” This sovereignty concomitantly functioned as a fantasy of violence that settlers repeatedly played out on the bodies of indigenous populations, both physically and as ideological projections.

Transfer, Violence, and Indigenous Populations  

            As Merrill observed, settler colonials regarded indigenous populations as something to be avoided or buried. As settlers claimed more land and developed local polities, indigenous populations became the target of settler violence, at times to the point of genocide. According to Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “the settler goal of seizing and establishing property rights over land and resources required the removal of indigenes, which was accomplished by various forms of direct and indirect violence, including militarized genocide.”[16] Thus, settler colonial violence against indigenous populations so as to remove or transfer them, as Veracini argued, is yet another central factor in settler colonial formation. This involved physical violence—such as forced removal and murder— as well as ideological violence, including the “othering” of indigenous peoples.

According to Veracini, “all settler projects are foundationally premised on fantasies of ultimately ‘cleansing’ the settler body politic of its (indigenous and exogenous) alterities.”[17] Settlers accomplished this process through various forms of transfer, a term Veracini argued is more flexible than removal. He identified a number of strategies settlers employed to bring about their cleansing fantasies, including transfer by assimilation and various forms of narrative transfer like characterizing indigenous populations as “hopelessly backward.”[18] He also identified more violent forms of transfer that settlers levelled against the physical body of indigenous populations; this included necropolitical transfer, which used the military to enact violence, at times to the point of liquidation.[19] Necropolitical transfer can be found in settler colonies in both the US and French Algeria as detailed in the following few examples.

As early as the initial English settlements in the Chesapeake and New England, indigenous populations experienced physical violence as American settlers claimed lands upon which native peoples inhabited.[20] Howard Zinn, in his monograph, A People’s History of the United States, attested to this violence, often senseless and unmitigated, through the conduit of the Pequot War. According to Zinn, “the English developed a tactic of warfare used earlier by Cortes, and later . . . even more systematically: deliberate attacks on noncombatants for the purpose of terrorizing the enemy.”[21] In this account, a coalition of English settlers, in addition to their Native American allies, enacted both physical and psychological violence against the Pequot. As the conflict wore on, Captain John Mason enacted a strategy of massacre that resulted in the burning of Pequot villages and the murder of indigenous people, some even cut to pieces.[22] This early episode of settler colonial violence against indigenous populations supports Paul Spickard’s observation that, “the first fact of the history of American immigration is genocide: the displacement and destruction of the Native peoples of North America.”[23] That fact, as Spickard argued, is the history of American immigration and colonization.

Additional examples of violence against indigenous populations occurred during the American Revolution in places like Kentucky and Georgia, frequently at the hands of American militia. In one episode, in 1782, militia from Kentucky and Pennsylvania murdered unarmed natives of the Delaware tribe and destroyed Shawnee towns; in another, militia from Georgia and South Carolina invaded, for the fourth time, lands held by the Cherokee, laying waste to cabins and cornfields as they went.[24] Although some white settlers acted violently against Native Americans because of racial prejudice, much of the violence between the two resulted over conflicts of land ownership, property rights, and as Patrick Wolfe observed, life itself. “Land is life—or, at least, land is necessary for life. Thus, contests for land can be—indeed, often are—contests for life.”[25] The Americans push into such places as the Wabash and Ohio Valleys, locations that Sanders argued offered Americans strategic military sites and locations for settlement, brought white settlers and native peoples into contact with each other.[26] Such encounters did not always result in violent conflict, supported by the relationships forged in what Richard White has called the Middle Ground. That said, violence frequently occurred, not only because settler colonials claimed a sovereignty over the land and its people, a sovereignty supported by Lockean notions of property, but also because of the settler fantasy to cleanse its “body politic” of indigenous peoples.[27]

Like the United States, violence also characterized settler colonial formation in French Algeria, including during the early stages before the French presence in Algeria constituted a settler colony. As argued by both Sessions and Sanders, Algeria functioned as a stage upon which the French, under Charles X, and later Louis-Phillipe, acted out a script of political legitimization intended to unify the French people. According to Sanders, “timing the Algerian campaign to coincide with upcoming elections, Charles hoped to bolster domestic political support, distract French citizens from their unhappiness, [and] inspire national pride.”[28] Military victory acted as the conduit by which political legitimization could be achieved, and through which France could be reminded that “military glory survived the [French] Revolution.”[29] Perhaps nothing signified the centrality of violence through military action in Algeria better than the artwork displayed in the Constantine Gallery, many of the pieces having been commissioned by Louis-Phillipe, including a triptych depicting the French siege of the Algerian city of Constantine. According to Sessions, “Iconographically, the completed Constantine Gallery glorified both the French colonial project and the military conquest on which it was predicated.”[30] Although the violence depicted in the gallery served to legitimate the French monarchy, albeit not always successfully, it underscored necropolitical transfer as the French forcibly conquered Algeria, its lands, and its people to do with as they wished.

Starting around 1847, after the French had successfully invaded North Algeria, France devised a strategy to move south into the Sahara called pénétration pacifique: the peaceful penetration. The name suggested that the French invasion of the south would be marked by harmony, and that unlike earlier campaigns, the French would rely on nonviolent means to achieve their goals. The appellation however, much like the “frontier” myth, served more to justify French military action in Algeria, and to convince the French people of the rightness of settler colonialism, than it did represent a heartfelt desire among the French to act peacefully. Indeed, the violence that permeated the French conquest of the Tell prior to 1847 set the stage for later actions in the Sahara. According to Benjamin Brower, the years following 1847 “produced some of the greatest revolts and witnessed some of the worst violence of the conquest. In a cruel parody of the ‘pénétration pacifique,’ the Sahara served as the theater of much drama.”[31] In account after account, Brower paints a picture of French military officials looting and pillaging villages, destroying them as they left, and beating, raping, and murdering village inhabitants. Brower argued that, “in one case a women who failed to reveal the location of the silos was beaten and then raped by a dozen soldiers.”[32] Although French soldiers lacked adequate provisions, and thus their need might account for the looting, Brower concluded that within many French soldiers rest a man animated by a devotion to violence. According to Brower, “while this person may lurk in everyone, he was immensely useful to the colonial state,” for that state could summon him as needed, and it did so “with various rites and rituals, perceptions and expectations.”[33]

In both the American and French Algerian contexts, the formation of settler colonies rested on forms of necropolitical transfer that were best executed by men devoted to violence. That said, the violence that settlers enacted on the bodies of indigenous populations had deep roots in another form of violence: “othering.” Unlike the forms of violence spoken of thus far, “othering” is not projected directly onto the body of indigenous peoples. Rather, it serves as a mechanism of power whereby settler colonials regard indigenous populations in such a way that settler colonial actions, violent or otherwise, are justified. Thus, the violence enacted by settler colonials against indigenous populations was committed insomuch as the settlers, as well as the metropole and its citizens, could legitimize those violent acts.

Both settlers and indigenous populations engaged in a process of “othering,” and according to Richard White, once the image of the “other” took root, “the other demanded certain responses regardless of what the Other said or what concessions the Other offered.”[34] In the US, settlers’ “othering” of native populations took numerous forms, yet the ultimate form painted natives as “bloodthirsty savages,” a narrative that served to expunge the real reason why many natives attacked white settlers: natives used war as a means to defend their lands from encroaching settlers. If savagery explained the natives’ inherent lust for blood, it could not, as White also observed, explain why natives targeted Americans specifically, and thus it became necessary for settlers to extend their “othering” by pitching the British as “scalp buyers profiting from the blood of innocents.”[35] By contrast, the French “othered” not Algerians, but rather the Ottoman Empire who, prior to the French conquest, held control over Algeria. For the French, the Ottoman Empire represented an illegitimate rule due to its “Oriental despotism,” and thus its invasion served to liberate Algeria from Ottoman oppression.[36] According to Sessions, “in redefining the invasion as a victory for liberty and the nation, the revolutionaries of 1830 also laid the ideological groundwork for the subsequent conquest and colonization of the former Ottoman regency.”[37] Although images of the other were never wholly absolute, the process of othering, in both contexts, represented a form of ideological violence that shaped other forms of violence that settlers used to develop settler colonies.

According to Adam Barker and Emma Lowman, “settler colonial invasion is a structure, not an event: settler colonialism persists in the ongoing elimination of indigenous populations, and the assertion of state sovereignty and juridical control over the lands.”[38] Settlers transferred indigenous populations in multitudinous ways, and as Barker and Lowman observed, this process often resulted in the elimination of those people. Thus, as has been demonstrated, violence was central to the formation of settler colonies in both the US and Algeria. That said, it is important to attend to another observation made by Barker and Lowman, common among many scholars of settler colonialism, which concerns settler colonial formation as an ongoing process. As both Patrick Wolf and Raphael Lemkin have observed, settler colonialism sought to “erect a new colonial society” on confiscated lands, and settlers moved toward the “dissolution of native societies” through a process of violence and transfer.[39] “Settler colonialism destroys to replace” and because settlers never leave, their presence and the polities they created constituted an invasion, and invasion is a structure.[40] Thus, settler colonies are properly understood as constituting a structure, not a historical event; this was foundational to settler colonial formation.           

Settler Colonialism as a Structure

            Understanding settler colonial formation demands that scholars and students alike recognize that those formations constituted a structural process, one that many professionals in the field contend never ended. As already shown, settler acquisition of land and the transfer of indigenous populations was an ongoing process that settler colonials changed to fit their own needs: pénétration pacifique corroborates this. Indeed, as will be shown, histories of settler colonialism must attend not only for those events that followed settlement, but those which preceded it as well. Only a perfunctory understanding of settler colonialism can develop if definitions of settler colonialism fail to account for the structural process by which they formed, as well as the inherent sovereignty over both the land and people that settlers claimed. “Settler sovereignty is characterized by an exclusive interpretation of settler peoplehood,” observed Veracini, “a specific understanding of sovereign capacities and their location, and by the conviction that the settler colonial setting is charged with a special regenerative nature.”[41] Moreover, recognizing settler colonialism as a structure contributes not only to a more accurate understanding of a nation’s history, particularly the US, but it also helps to explain structural ideologies, including those on race and ethnicity in the US. According to Evelyn Glenn, “I believe that a settler colonial structural analysis reveals the underlying systems of beliefs, practices, and institutional systems that undergird and link the racialization and management of Native Americans, blacks, Mexicans and other Latinos, and Chinese and other Asian Americans.”[42] The following briefly assesses these observations.

Settler colonialism in French Algeria constituted a structure in a number of ways and forms, both before and after the French invaded it. For instance, as mentioned previously, political legitimacy functioned as the initial objective of the metropole for invading Algeria yet, over time, the objectives, strategies, and goals—both of the metropole and the military—changed and included civilizing ideologies and the pénétration pacifique. Joshua Schreier recognized this fluctuation in his article “From Mediterranean Merchant to French Civilizer: Jacob Lasry and the Economy of Conquest in Early Colonial Algeria.” According to Schreier, his study “reveals the general disorder of French military goals, strategy, and supply lines during this early period. The conquest emerges not as a brief transition to French rule and a new colonial order but as a bloody, confused, and long process that created a new economic, social, and legal landscape.”[43] The French, including the metropole, the military, and settlers themselves, had no unified strategy or objective for Algeria. The transformation of Algeria as part of the Ottoman Empire, into the settler colony of French Algeria, demanded the negotiation, and renegotiation, of objectives and tactics among many involved parties over a period of time. As Schreier observed, that process was long, confused, and bloody. Moreover, the strategies employed by the French for accomplishing it, as well as justifying it, went through numerous iterations. In this way, settler colonial formation in Algeria can, and should, be understood as a structure, and not a historical event.

If the history following France’s invasion of Algeria evidences settler colonialism as a structure, so too does the history preceding it. The French invaded Algeria in May 1830, yet this invasion was preceded by over 100 years of turmoil in Algeria. Among other things, natural disasters including earthquakes, famines, and epidemics of locusts struck Algeria that killed people, heavily weakened the nation’s grain exports, and caused revolts. Outbreaks of disease, including the plague in January 1784 and again in 1817, wiped out both people and cattle, causing a general panic. Finally, due in large part to actions taken by Napoleon, Franco-Algerian relations became tenuous. In 1797 Napoleon ordered wheat from two Jewish merchants in Algeria for which he never paid, a debt that would directly lead to the fly swatter incident in April 1827 that not only soured relations between the two, but which also led to the French invasion in 1830.[44] It is important to recognize, however, that the French had contemplated invading Algeria prior to 1830 and, once Charles X did attack, he used plans created by Napoleon in 1808.

The plagues, natural disasters, military failures and successes, as well as diplomatic relations that transpired from 1780-1830 all served to weaken both the Ottoman Empire’s power over Algeria and Algeria itself, making the region vulnerable to attack. The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Napoleonic Wars that followed, made the conquest of Algeria appear necessary to French authorities for reasons of political legitimacy, and later as settler colonies formed, for civilizing ideologies. Just as Schreier observed, the period prior to invasion in 1830 emerges as a long and devastating process that laid the groundwork for what would become French Algeria. Without this process, the invasion of Algeria by the French might have never transpired. Thus, the formation of French settler colonies in Algeria rests as much on what transpired before 1830 as it does on what occurred after it, and therefore settler colonial formation in Algeria, as in other locals, is best understood as a structure, not a historical event.[45]

Although it is vital for scholars to recognize settler colonial formation as having occurred as a structure and not as a historical event, it is equally important to acknowledge the consequences of that process. In the US, settler colonial formation begins to evidence Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical concept of structuring structures, especially when considering the development of ideologies of race and gender. According to Evelyn Glenn,

What emerged out of the settler colonial project was a racialized and gendered national identity that normalized male whiteness. Since settlers were exogenous others seeking to claim rights to land and sovereignty over those who already occupied the land, they needed to develop conceptions of indigenous people as lesser beings, unworthy of consideration. They harnessed race and gender to construct a hierarchy of humankind.[46]

The construction of ideologies that pitched indigenous populations as lesser beings, or as the other, has already been touched upon in this study. The point has yet to be made, however, that such ideologies functioned as structures themselves, particularly in the US, and these structures have largely become normative. It has become, “the unstated assumption,” observed Historian Eric Foner, “that ‘white’ is Americans’ normal condition and that ‘race’ is something that applies only to nonwhite minorities.”[47] This ideological structure, resultant from the settler colonial project, itself a structure, meant that nonwhite persons in the US, as well as women, would be regarded by white settlers as inferior. This is underscored, in part, through the denial of citizenship by the US to entire segments of its population, including African and Asian Americans. Beyond that, however, these structures also served to justify settler colonial expansion across the continent. White settlers’ claims to lands in the American Southwest under the banner of Manifest Destiny stress this and, according to Glenn, “in many ways the confrontation between Anglo settlers and Mexicans in the American Southwest was a continuation of U.S. settler colonialism’s restless expansion.”[48] Although it is outside the scope of this paper to fully digest this material, it is necessary for scholars of settler colonialism to recognize that settler colonial formation, itself a structure, served to form structures that shaped the trajectory of nations where settler colonies formed in important and meaningful ways.

As has been shown, settler colonialism is a structure. Foundational to it, are settler sovereign claims to the land and the indigenous people who inhabit it, whom settlers transfer though various means, including violent ones, in order to establish a new polity. According to Veracini, “settlers, unlike other migrants, ‘remove’ to establish a better polity, either by setting up an ideal social body or by constituting an exemplary model of social organisation.”[49] Having established this, it is important to conclude by briefly identifying and analyzing the process by which this occurred. Towards that end, this paper adopts, and forwards, Ashley Sander’s bottom-up framework.

Bottoms-Up: The Process of Settler Colonial Formation

In more traditional colonial histories, colonization has generally been depicted as a top-down process where the development of colonial structures and policies resulted largely from decisions made by the metropole. As Veracini argued, however, colonialism and settler colonialism should be understood not only as different, but also as antithetical. Thus, the factors causing settler colonial formation are markedly different from those of non-settler forms: this included the centrality of numerous actors to the development of settler colonial structures and policies outside of the metropole. According to Sanders, “colonization began in both regions [Algeria and the US] before the metropole gave its official assent and was therefore left to acknowledge the colonies and craft legislation ex post facto, which suggests that these settler colonies began from bottom-up impulses and processes, making the actions of the settlers, indigenous people, and the military even more significant.”[50] The following examples, which briefly focus on the military in Algeria and settler colonials in the US, will serve to both illustrate and forward this bottom-up process.

According to Veracini, the settler colonial situation established “a system of relationships comprising three different agencies: the settler colonizer, the indigenous colonized, and a variety of differently categorized exogenous alterities.[51] Although he recognized settler colonials and indigenous populations, his argument tended to forward a top-down process. By contrast, Sanders extended these relationships to include, among others, military personnel, French military personnel in this anecdote,   who made decisions without consulting the metropole, and at times, against the will of the metropole. For example, Sanders noted that military personnel in French Algeria, including Governor General Clauzel and General Monck, habitually violated metropolitan laws, passed “to curb continued land acquisition,” by repeatedly acquiring additional territory.[52] The metropole passed these laws following its initial invasion in 1830, for it had yet to decide the breadth of territory it intended to hold. Nonetheless, “during the first six years of occupation, leading up to and including the first siege of Constantine,” a territory controlled by Ahmed Bey, the French military repeatedly ignored these laws.[53] One instance where the French military defied the will of the metropole occurred in 1836 just after Governor Clauzel took command of the eastern province. Clauzel believed an invasion of Constantine necessary so that the French might establish “absolute domination” of the city.[54] Clauzel, having convinced Prime Minister Adolphe Thiers to move forward with the invasion, prepared for war only to have Thiers replaced with Louis-Mathieu Molé who refused to supply Clauzel with needed troops. According to Sanders, “heedless of the government’s wishes, Clauzel set off for Constantine with approximately 8,600 men in November 1836.”[55] Thus, as this example indicates, the process of settler colonial formation that developed in Algeria resulted as much, if not more, from decisions made outside of the metropole. Indeed, unlike the metropole, whose position of influence was literally an ocean away, military personnel were both present and active in the settler colony.

Like French Algeria, settler colonial formation in the US also resulted from a bottom-up process where, “westerners themselves—white and African American emigrants, French creoles, and Native peoples—determined” the region’s trajectory.[56] As Sander’s work showed, and as Bethel Saler reinforces, “studies in comparative colonialism” reveal the significance of local factors in shaping the “colonial enterprise.”[57] Although many anecdotes could be offered to illustrate this bottom-up process, the failure of the Ohio Company at establishing a utopian vision for the Northwest Territory should suffice. Indeed, their failure underscores that the metropole wielded less control in shaping the development of the region then perhaps they thought or would have liked.

The Ohio Company of Associates, which formed around 1786, established the first authorized American settlement called Marietta in the Northwest Territory, and according to Dorian McGlinchey, “their connection to and affinity with the hierarchy of the new nation was a defining characteristic of the associates.”[58] The men who formed the Ohio Associates saw themselves and their republican values as superior to others who resided in the region, both indigenous and white, and thus they overlaid their standards of civilization directly onto the landscape. In building Marietta, the settlers, “superimposed their identity and beliefs onto the ancient, indigenous culture . . .  and changed its landscape according to their social structure and beliefs.”[59] Through this process, the land itself came to embody all the best virtues that white, republican, landowning gentlemen bestowed upon themselves, and so the land itself would function as a blueprint for future settlement. Despite their efforts, however, a number of circumstances, including war, kept the Ohio Company from fully recognizing their vision for the Northwest Territory. “The inability of the Ohio Company to realize their elaborate vision for the town during the Northwest Indian wars of the 1790s,” observed McGlinchey, “serves as a reminder of how tenuous a grasp the US had on the lands they had assumed premature ownership of.”[60] Indeed, as David Nichols argued, federal officials and the Ohio Associates had to come to terms with the fact that local actors, including militia, white settlers, and indigenous populations, “set the agenda west of the Appalachians.”[61] Based upon the suppositions of the Ohio Company of Associates, this reality evaded both them and the US government.[62]

Unlike traditional histories of colonization that see colonial formation as a top-down process, settler colonial formation is best understood as resulting from a bottom-up process. The structures and policies that developed resulted less from the will of the metropole, as the French Algerian experience attested, and more from the self-interested decisions made by local agents, including settlers, the military, and indigenous populations. According to Sanders, “The American and French colonial projects could not have gotten off the ground without self-interested men of action who displayed little regard for official policy and who identified themselves with the settler community.”[63] Thus, Veracini may have been too narrow when delineating which relationships were most central to the formation of settler colonies, for his is a top-down view and by far more theoretical than other scholars mentioned in this study. By contrast, Sanders’ study moves beyond Veracini’s theoretical conceptions of settler colonial formation towards a more nuanced and practical understanding of it, an understanding that recognizes the centrality of local actors to settler colonial formation.


James Buss, in his most provocative study, Winning the West with Words: Language and Conquest in the Lower Great Lakes, assesses the ways that language and cultural expressions of language, including paintings, expositions, and local histories, functioned as forms of domination that served to enact literary genocide upon indigenous populations. These narrations created the myth of the noble pioneer whose dedicated efforts tamed an uninhabited frontier destined to be claimed by Americans and their republican institutions. “This study,” argued Buss, “views historical interpretation as more than a simple recounting of the past. It examines how people in the past used historical interpretation as a tool of the colonial project itself.”[64] Buss illuminated the processes by which romantic myths about the American West developed, and how those myths “slipped into the public record,” transforming myth into history.

This study has endeavored to break through the myths that form Buss’ work by assessing the very factors that led to settler colonial formation, both in the US and French Algeria. It has argued that America’s expansion into the west, and France’s conquest of Algeria, resulted from a desire for land that demanded the transfer and, at times, murder of native populations so that new polities could be established. It has demonstrated that settler colonies resulted from a bottom-up process whereby local agents molded and shaped colonial policy, and that this occurred as a structure. Among other things, Buss’ work issued a challenge for scholars of both the US and French Algeria to employ a new language, and to draft a new narrative that accounts for the violent abuses of power wielded by settler colonials against indigenous populations so that settlers’ desire for land could be fulfilled. His work demands that the historiography continue to account for the romantic legends that have structured the histories of the US and French Algeria, and for scholars to see through them and assess them for what they really are: narrations of literary genocide. This study has attempted to do just that.

[1] Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 11-12.

[2] “Oxford Bibliographies: Settler Colonialism,” Tate A. LeFevre, accessed September 27, 2016, www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199766567/obo-9780199766567-0125.xml.

[3] Sanders, Ashley. (2015) Between Two Fires: The Origins of Settler Colonialism in the United States and French Algeria (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://scholarship.claremont.edu/library_staff/32/, 6-7.


[4] As will be shown, even though indigenous populations ultimately lost their land, and at times their lives, uneasy alliances developed between settlers and natives, which served the interests of both parties. Richard White’s “Middle Ground” framework is helpful in understanding this, and one goal of this study is to use that framework to both better understand and support the position that settler colonial formation resulted from a bottom up process.

[5]  This study has employed apparatuses attendant with digital humanities, so as to visualize the material in ways that reveal patterns and connections that offer to deepen our understanding of settler colonial formation.

[6] James Merrell, The Indian’s New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal (New York: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 169.

[7] Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8 (2006): 388.

[8] “The Myth of the Frontier: Progress or Lost Freedom,” John Mack Faragher, accessed September 28, 2016, https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/art-music-and-film/essays/myth-frontier-progress-or-lost-freedom.

[9] Michael Witgen, An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 33.

[10] John Ruedy, Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 72.

[11] Sanders supports this observation. She argued that the initial invasion of Algeria by the French resulted from a desire to legitimize the French monarchy, and not from a desire to form a settler colony. Sanders, 120. That said, the Royal Ordinance of 1834, issued under the reign of Louis-Philippe, created a military colony that significantly transformed Algeria into a settler colony. According to Ruedy, this ordinance functioned as a ‘“birth certificate’ of French Algeria.” Ruedy, 54.

[12] Jennifer Sessions, By Sword and Plow: France and the Conquest if Algeria (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), 2.

[13] Veracini, 97.

[14] Sanders, 28. I used Voyant tools on Sanders’ dissertation as a means to visually assess her work and to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that contributed to settler colonial formation. (http://voyant-tools.org/). These tools enabled me to visualize her work in ways that textual analysis alone could not accomplish, and permitted me to see relationships between those factors more easily and in novel ways. For instance, the Cirrus tool revealed that Sanders used the words land, lands, and territory 361 times, 228 times, and 136 times respectively, indicating that land was central to the settler colonial experience. This supported conclusions I drew from other research I had conducted. Moreover, the Context and Reader tools enabled me to see the specific ways, as well as locations in the paper, that Sanders spoke about land and settler colonial formation. It was through the use of these tools that I came across the content attendant with this footnote, content that deepened my understanding not only of the ways settler colonials acted upon the land, but how the land shaped and formed the settlers themselves. For additional info on how Sanders’ work can better be understood through the use of Voyant tools, click here.

[15] Ruedy, 71.

[16]Settler Colonialism as Structure: A Framework for Comparative Studies of U.S. Race and Gender Formation,” Evelyn Nakano Glenn, accessed October 13, 2016, file:///C:/Users/scott/Desktop/Digital%20Humanities/Final%20Paper%20Content/Settler%20Colonialism%20as%20Structure.html.

[17] Veracini, 33.

[18] Ibid, 41.

[19] Of the twenty six forms of transfer identified by Veracini, necropolitical transfer was listed first. Although it is unclear why Veracini selected to place this form of transfer first in the list, it is very likely that he did so because this form of transfer is not only physically violent, and therefore easy to see, but also because it was a strategy employed by almost all settler colonials, and this includes those in both the US and French Algeria. That it appears first in the list may well serve to reinforce its primacy among settler colonials in their efforts to transfer indigenous populations.

[20] This does not suggest that indigenous populations were passive or that all American settlers hated native peoples. Indeed, the evidence shows that Americans allied with native people and confederations at various times, although this was often done as a way to forward the interests of American settlers or the US itself. That said, it is the purpose of this study to highlight some of the factors that led to the formation of settler colonies, and because necropolitical transfer was central to that process, the focus of this study is to highlight the violence enacted by settler colonials against indigenous populations.

[21] Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999), 14.

[22] Ibid, 15.

[23] Paul Spickard, Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity (New York: Routledge, 2007,) 25.

[24] David Andrew Nichols, Red Gentlemen and White Savages: Indians, Federalists, and the Search for Order on the American Frontier (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 1. In addition to these examples, Nichols also mentioned acts of violence perpetrated at the hands of such tribes as the Iroquois and Chickasaw against white settlers, and he made an argument that such violent acts, upon close inspection, illustrate the “political social divisions within both white and Indian communities, and the challenges facing leaders within each.” (2) Convincing as his argument is, these episodes also evidence, as even Nichols suggests, a struggle for control of lands in the Trans-Appalachian West that, at least for white settlers, did not include indigenous populations.

[25] Wolfe, 387.

[26] Sanders, 106.

[27] Veracini, 33.

[28] Sanders, 104.

[29] Ibid, 27.

[30] Ibid, 101.

[31] Benjamin C. Brower, A Desert Named Peace: The Violence of France’s Empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844-1802 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 75.

[32] Ibid, 80.

[33] Ibid, 81. Although the French enacted horrific acts of violence against Algerians, much as American settlers did to indigenous populations, so too did Algerians, among others, enact violence against the French, just as native people did to white settlers. Ahmed Bey of Constantine attests to this in his memoir. Ahmed Bey became Bey, or chieftain, of Constantine in 1826 and witnessed firsthand not only the French invasion of Constantine specifically, but their conquest of Algeria broadly. Among other observations, Ahmed Bey accounted for acts of violence against not only the French, but others as well, including one incident in Tunis. According to Ahmed, “All the Arabs around me had suffered great losses and were searching to live as frugally as possible. Upon having learned that wheat was at a modest cost in the regency of Tunis, they asked me to write in their favor so that they could obtain permission to receive provisions.” (22) Upon arrival in Tunis, however, Ahmed’s men enacted a razzia, or raid, and looted deposits of grains that were to feed the eastern side of Tunis. This example is all the more interesting because it parallels the French looting of Algerian villages. Each group’s violence could be justified on grounds of need, yet, as Brower noted of French looters, even Ahmed observed that “several of my [men] would have committed an ill deed without myself having repaired it.” One final observation must be noted, and it has to do with my above claim that Algerians enacted violence. Throughout the memoir, Ahmed was not always clear what ethnicity each person was, and so it was requisite at times to make educated assumptions. Although context helped, I found the network visualization tool Palladio helpful. According to the network, almost all of the Algerians mentioned by Ahmed in his memoir supported him, while almost no Ottomans did, and no Arabs or French did. Thus, when Ahmed spoke of his men committing an ill deed in the above anecdote, I concluded, albeit not with absolute certainty, that his men were likely Algerian given what could be drawn from the network visualization. For more info on into how Palladio informs my understanding of Ahmed Bey’s memoir, click here.

[34] Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, empires, and republics in the Great Lakes region, 1650-1815 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 456.

[35] Ibid, 458.

[36] Sessions, 29. This excuse is rich with irony, for the French, under Charles X and Louis-Phillipe, became far more absolute as monarchs following the invasion of Algeria, thereby becoming what they claimed to be fighting.

[37] Ibid, 65.

[38]Global Social Theory: Settler Colonialism,” Adam Barker and Emma Lowman, accessed October 18, 2016, http://globalsocialtheory.org/concepts/settler-colonialism/l. The italics are my own, not that of the authors.

[39] Wolfe, 388.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Veracini, 54.

[42]Settler Colonialism as Structure: A Framework for Comparative Studies of U.S. Race and Gender Formation,” Evelyn Nakano Glenn, accessed October 18, 2016, file:///C:/Users/scott/Desktop/Digital%20Humanities/Final%20Paper%20Content/Settler%20Colonialism%20as%20Structure.html.

[43] Joshua Schreier, “From Mediterranean Merchant to French Civilizer: Jacob Lasry and the Economy of Conquest in Early Colonial Algeria,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 44 (2012): 633.

[44] According to Ashley Sanders, “Hussein Dey finally called in the loans of Bacri and Bushnac, [the two Jewish Algerians] but they could not meet their obligation until France paid the remaining 3 million franc debt. French consul Pierre Duval refused to discuss the matter with Hussein Dey and remarked that French King Charles X would not deign to correspond with the dey. Finally losing his temper, Hussein Dey struck Deval with his fly whisk, sparking French outrage.” “Colonialism Through the Veil: Visualizing Algerian History through Time and Space,” Ashley Sanders, accessed October 19, 2016, http://colonialismthroughtheveil.ashleyrsanders.com/visualizing-algerian-history-through-time-space/.

[45] Much of the information attendant with this section came from a timeline generated with the digital tool Timeline JS by Dr. Ashley Sanders. According to the University of Michigan Library, “Timeline.js is an open-source tool that enables you to build visually-rich interactive timelines.” “They can be a great alternative to plain text for telling a story, using rich media and interactive features.” University of Michigan Library. “Digital Humanities: Timelines.” Accessed September 15, 2016. http://guides.lib.umich.edu/c.php?g=283104&p=1886134. Sander’s timeline provided a rich visual resource that enabled me to place the French conquest of Algeria into a larger historical context, and it helped me better understand how settler colonial formations are structures, and not historical events. For additional information on the functions and uses of Timeline JS, click here to access a study I conducted on my own timeline.

[46]Settler Colonialism as Structure: A Framework for Comparative Studies of U.S. Race and Gender Formation,” Evelyn Nakano Glenn, accessed October 19, 2016, file:///C:/Users/scott/Desktop/Digital%20Humanities/Final%20Paper%20Content/Settler%20Colonialism%20as%20Structure.html.

[47] Eric Foner, “Response to Eric Arnesen,” International Labor and Working-Class History, 60, 2001, 59.

[48]Settler Colonialism as Structure: A Framework for Comparative Studies of U.S. Race and Gender Formation,” Evelyn Nakano Glenn, accessed October 19, 2016, file:///C:/Users/scott/Desktop/Digital%20Humanities/Final%20Paper%20Content/Settler%20Colonialism%20as%20Structure.html.

[49] Veracini, 4.

[50] Sanders, 40.

[51] Veracini, 16.

[52] Sanders, 208.

[53] Ibid. I used Voyant tools to help me assess this material. Upon uploading Sanders’ work into Voyant Tools, specifically Cirrus, it became clear that she saw the military as having played a significant role in the development of settler colonies; this is evidenced in that she employed the word 289 times. By contrast, she used the word metropole only seven times. Interestingly, both the context and reader tools reveal that four of the seven times she used the word metropole, she did so alongside the term military, and almost always in the context of highlighting the importance of the military to settler colonial formation. Voyant Tools highlighted that, according to Sanders, settler colonial formation developed from a bottom up process. It revealed that the relationship between the military and the metropole, indigenous populations, and the settler colonial was vital to the formation of settler colonial structures. In the end, the use of Voyant Tools to assess Sanders’ work suggests, among other things, that Veracini may have been too narrow when delineating which relationships were most central to the formation of settler colonies, and that settler colonial formation resulted more from a bottom up process, than from the will of the metropole.

[54] Ibid, 201.

[55] Ibid, 202.

[56] Bethel Saler, The Settlers’ Empire: Colonialism and State Formation in America’s Old Northwest (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2015), 39.

[57] Ibid, 2.

[58] Dorian F. McGlinchey, “A Superior Civilization: Appropriation, Negotiation, and Interaction in the Northwest Territory, 1787-1795,” in The Boundaries Between Us: Natives and Newcomers Along the Frontiers of the Old Northwest Territory, 1750-1850, 118-42. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2006.

[59] Ibid, 124.

[60] McGlinchey, 135.

[61] Nichols, 80

[62] An example of this local agency over the formation of settler colonies is described in Michael Witgen’s study Infinity of Nations. In this book, particularly chapter one, the author forwards the framework of mutual discovery. In the end, he argued that indigenous relationships, including those with other tribes and white settlers, as well as power and social structures were well established by the time Europeans, and then Americans, arrived, even if indigenous society redefined itself in the wake of European settlements. Indigenous society, Witgen argued, was not “the result of a process of discovery and expansion on the part of the French Empire.” By looking at the relationships between French traders on the one hand and Indigenous peoples on the other from the paradigm of discovery, this author highlighted the fallacious narrative that the French presence, and later the American prescience, acted to civilize and bring stability to a nomadic people in need of it. By contrast, this study depicted the processes native peoples used, and had used, to establish a cosmopolitan society built upon their own social, cultural, and political structures. Thus, a major accomplishment of this work is the refashioning of Native American history, one that not only debunks traditional narrations of discovery, but one that also highlights both the agency of indigenous populations at forging their own complex societies, and, as this section has argued, contributed to the formation of settler colonies. Contrary to more traditional histories, Witgen proves not only that indigenous populations wielded great agency for, and on, their own behalf, but also that settlers, both European and American, had to negotiate with, and respond to, that agency.

[63] Sanders, 207.

[64] James Buss, Winning the West with Words: Language and Conquest in the Lower Great Lakes (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011), 4.


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