The Bourgeois Frontier


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French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion

Jay Gitlin

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Histories tend to emphasize conquest by Anglo-Americans as the driving force behind the development of the American West. In this fresh interpretation, Jay Gitlin argues that the activities of the French are crucial to understanding the phenomenon of westward expansion.

The Seven Years War brought an end to the French colonial enterprise in North America, but the French in towns such as New Orleans, St. Louis, and Detroit survived the transition to American rule. French traders from Mid-America such as the Chouteaus and Robidouxs of St. Louis then became agents of change in the West, perfecting a strategy of “middle grounding” by pursuing alliances within Indian and Mexican communities in advance of American settlement and re-investing fur trade profits in land, town sites, banks, and transportation. The Bourgeois Frontier provides the missing French connection between the urban Midwest and western expansion.

Jay Gitlin is lecturer, Department of History, Yale University, and associate director of the Howard R. Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders.

"This is one of those rare books that makes immensely important and original arguments of its own while also synthesizing a massive and far-reaching scholarly literature. I cannot overemphasize the importance of such a study."—Peter Kastor, Washington University in St. Louis

"Jay Gitlin's book will expand our knowledge about the American West in various ways. Negotiation, rather than conquest, will be seen as the appropriate framework for understanding the fate of French Creoles in Mid-America. We will also realize the need to explore more closely how families and family businesses shaped western expansion."—Daniel Usner, Vanderbilt

"Jay Gitlin’s comprehensive portrait of mid-America’s Francophone merchants demonstrates their importance as fur traders, town builders and advance agents of American empire.  It adds a valuable new dimension to the story of national expansion and belongs on every western American history bookshelf."—William E. Foley, coauthor of The First Chouteaus:  River Barons of Early St. Louis 

"In The Bourgeois Frontier, Jay Gitlin reverses Francis Parkman's more than century-old assertion that with the defeat of the French in the Seven Years War, the French presence in the Mississippi Valley virtually disappeared. Gitlin not only follows the careers of the remarkable Chouteaus, but of scores of other French merchants from St. Paul and Detroit to New Orleans, all the while preserving their own French culture to the 1840s. But when the French in St. Louis and New Orleans. The great contribution of The Bourgeois Frontier has been to uncover the key role the French played as town builders, merchants, and frontier expansionists in developing the American West. It is time, writes Gitlin, to recognize this other side of our national ancestry and have Uncle Sam make room for Oncle Auguste."—Howard R. Lamar, Yale University, author of The New Encyclopedia of the American West

"The Bourgeois Frontier successfully recreates the French world of the western American borderlands while raising interesting questions about history and memory."—Leslie Choquette, American Historical Review

“Wonderful…beautifully written and impeccably researched...This study is a tour de force.”—American Historical Review

“This book serves as a welcome addition to the literature of the West.”—Missouri Historical Review

"This is a well-researched and well-written book about a colonial culture whose last visible remnant was its elite."—Edward Watts, Indiana Magazine of History

"[Gitlin's] engaging book is largely a success."—Andrew Cayton, Western Historical Quarterly

“…a remarkable book…an incredibly detailed yet easily digestible narrative…a book that will not easily be dissected, will generate debate, and should help inspire scholarship in this area for some time to come.”—Robert Englebert, Social History

Honorable Mention in the Non-Fiction category of the 2009 New England Book Festival sponsored by the Larimar St. Croix Writers Colony, The Hollywood Creative Directory; eDivvy, Shopanista and Westside Websites

Winner of the 2010 Alf Andrew Heggoy Prize for the best book in French colonial history, given by the French Colonial Historical Society
ISBN: 9780300168037
Publication Date: October 26, 2010
290 pages, 6 x 9
29 b/w illus.
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