The Bourgeois Frontier
French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion
By Jay Gitlin
(Yale University Press, Hardcover, 9780300101188, 288pp.)
Publication Date: December 2009
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
Categories: United States - 19th Century/Old West
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 this truly original and broad ranging The Bourgeois Frontier, Jay Gitlin reverses Francis Parkman''s more than century-old assertion that with the defeat of the French in the French and Indian War, the French presence as a power in the Mississippi Valley virtually disappeared because the settlers were simply peasant villagers who were later overwhelmed by George Roger Clark''s conquest of the French in Illinois during the American Revolution and when the United States made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Instead, Gitlin finds that a core of highly successful French fur traders and merchants were already established in St. Louis headed by the powerful Chouteau family and other merchants all along the Mississippi River. Far from succumbing to their American conquerors, they joined them as allies, assisting them in the fur trade, supplying American explorers, frontier forts, and Indian tribes, and in developing new towns. Gitlin not only follows the careers of the remarkable Chouteaus, but of scores of other French merchants who created a ''Creole Crescent'' 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, many of whom owned slaves, sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War, their francophone world came to an end. 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
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
-Alf Andrew Heggoy Prize
“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