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«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»

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Where the two authors differ is in Rowlandson’s refusal of relations with her captors, and Radisson’s acceptance of them. Following his adoption, however, Radisson discovers that becoming a Mohawk is not as simple as stating that he is of their nation.

“War was an integral part of the ritual of mourning in Iroquois societies” (translation mine). Radisson’s narrative reminds us of the significant role played by the distinct practices of various Native American communities: Rowlandson was captured by Algonquians and her treatment as a slave, albeit one with a particular political importance, was in keeping with Algonquian customs.

Thus, Radisson’s integration into Mohawk society proceeds in stages as he slowly acquires familiarity with their customs, enabling him to behave in a fashion that convinces his new family and his new nation of his successful conversion. Unlike Champlain and other earlier French explorers, Radisson’s status in the Mohawk community does not rely on the mechanisms of “fictive kinship” as it is generally understood by anthropologists and sociologists. Where Champlain distributed gifts to the Native Americans he met, casting himself as a symbolic father, his relation of these encounters indicates that he focused on the utility of his gift-giving as a social convention that could be used to loosen tongues, encourage trade, or even form a political alliance (see, for example, Champlain Works 3.43-5, 96-101).130 For Radisson, his Mohawk family is his family. Champlain treats kinship as a tactic, a tool that has its uses, but requires little by way of future commitment; for Radisson, kinship means that he has to transform his identity completely, taking a new set of customs as his own, and with them a new set of social obligations.

Ultimately these obligations prove more difficult to negotiate than Radisson can handle.

He strives to become an exemplary member of Mohawk society, proudly insisting that he be allowed to join a war party with his adoptive brother and several other young Mohawk men, but this expedition ends up forcing Radisson to confront a deep-seated ambivalence about his identification with the Mohawks. While the group is hunting for beavers, they I should note that Garrad reads these encounters as evidence that Champlain did not in fact understand the symbolic importance of the gift exchanges and feasts he engaged in (“Champlain and the Odawa” 59I find it difficult to accept, however, that Champlain did not grasp something of the symbolism of these interactions given his extensive and effective use of such customary practices as a means of garnering information and aid from his Native American allies.

meet an Algonquian man who claims to be an ally. He later takes Radisson aside and reveals his desire to return to New France. Radisson tells the Algonquian that he, too, wants to return, though he notes for his readers that he “did not intend it” (13). Radisson then asks the Algonquian whether he loves his own nation; when the man says that he does, Radisson replies that he too loves his own nation–although he does not specify what nation he means. At this point in his narrative it may seem that he in fact means the Mohawks, but when the man reveals his plan to kill the Mohawks and flee to New France, Radisson “[a]t last … consent[s], considering [that] they were mortal enemies to [his] country, [and] that [they] had cut the throats of so many of [his] relations.” At the very moment, though, when they are to carry out their plan, Radisson tells the reader that he “was loathsome to do them mischief that never did [him] any,” but then “for the above said reasons” he takes a hatchet and murders the Mohawks anyway (13).

It would be tempting to attribute these reversals to a simple survival instinct, and thus to argue that kin relations are in fact less important for Radisson than for Rowlandson, were it not for his repeated insistence upon the terms of kinship as a way to make sense of his experience. This passage shows Radisson trying to balance his social debts to two different kin groups, calculating whether the blood of his (French) relations demands that he spill the blood of his (Mohawk) relations, a situation that captures perfectly the intractability of kinship and exposes the instability of identity itself. What it reveals, in other words, is the threat of social disintegration lurking in the heart of social order. This is the threat that caused Rowlandson and Mather to close off any possibility of relations between the Anglo-American colonists and their Native American counterparts as well as their reciprocal insistence upon the fundamental link between family, kin, and nation.

What Radisson’s captivity shows us, however, is his continued commitment to thinking through kinship as a means of relating to the Mohawks, and thus the possibility for developing relations between nations.


Radisson’s willingness to accommodate to a Native American way-of-life proves a source of greater conflict than that which Rowlandson experiences, yet it provides the basis for his successful career as an international merchant. Of course, such an ability to work with members of other national communities is not without its costs: throughout his life Radisson was cast under a veil of suspicion, falling out of favor with the Governor of New France; then with the colonial authorities in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and, later, being forced to shuttle between England and France during the building tensions before the outbreak of King William’s War. In the end, however, Radisson’s success as a merchant relies precisely upon his ability to cast himself as kin to people from a wide range of nations, both European and Native American, and to negotiate the conflicting demands that those relations produce.

Radisson’s “Fifth Voyage,” the account of a trading mission to Hudson’s Bay that he undertook on behalf of France in 1682, gives us a good sense of how the responsibility to commercial and royal patrons complicates the negotiation of social debts with which Radisson so visibly struggled during his captivity. Yet, this narrative also shows us a more mature Radisson, capable of rising to the challenge posed by his ever-changing circumstances. This maturity comes across most clearly in the formal and stylistic qualities of the “Fifth Voyage.” Where the captivity narrative offers us an impressionistic series of events with a minimum of obvious authorial intrusion, the “Fifth Voyage” is an insistently self-conscious text, marked by a careful use of prolepsis to control the disclosure of information to his readers, creating a sense of suspense, and by its more argumentative tone, indicative of the more active role that Radisson takes in shaping the events of this narrative.

Before Radisson even comes to his récit de voyage as such, he gives us a polemical prologue that frames his narrative as a defense of his actions against charges against him

in the French courts by Lord Preston, Charles II’s “envoy extraordinary” (204):

In the first place, I think myself obliged to vindicate myself from the imputation of inconstancy for acting in this voyage against the English interest, and in the year 1683 against the French interests, for which, if I could not give a very good account, I might justly lie under the sentence of capriciousness and inconstancy. … I have no cause to believe that I in the least deserve to be taxed with lightness or inconstancy for the employments wherein I … engaged, although they were against the interests of the [Hudson’s Bay] Company, for it is sufficiently known that my brother and myself … did all that was possible for persons of courage and honor to perform for the advantage and profit of the said Company [in the past]. (161) In this passage, Radisson expresses his sense of obligation to demonstrate a constancy of allegiance, a sentiment based on the conflation of royal and national identity that remained important to many North American colonists during the seventeenth century.

The problem of shifting and dubious allegiance to “king and country” was hardly a new one, but in Radisson’s case it is complicated by a sense of corporate allegiance to the Hudson’s Bay Company.131 Yet a further wrinkle is Radisson’s insistence that he and his brother-in-law both worked as an extension of the company, a co-identification that seems wholly in keeping with his earlier use of the first person plural to narrate a voyage that only his brother took. This intermingling of family, corporate, royal, and national interests occasionally becomes a problem for Radisson, as when the French Minister Colbert delays Radisson’s employment because his (English) wife remains in England (163). But it also works to his benefit, since he, by employing members of his family— like his nephew, John Baptiste des Groselliers—can expect a greater degree of loyalty, and further their careers at the same time (167). Where Martin Fournier claims that “Radisson … appears … as a wholly ‘modern’ man, mobile and preoccupied with his own self interest” (108), I find Germaine Warkentin’s assessment, that Radisson “speak[s] to us from the centre of a set of verbal stratagems designed to maintain the place of [a rhetorical] ‘I’ within … competing [interest] groups” (“Language” 312), more convincing. Indeed, I would go further than Warkentin and claim that Radisson’s “I” is profoundly determined by his relations to other people.

Of course Radisson’s baldly commercial language here—”advantage,” profit,” and, perhaps most tellingly, “interest”—suggests an impersonal calculation is at work in this As A. J. B. Johnston notes, many of the customs designed to cope with the problem of shifting allegiance, such as loyalty oaths, had their roots in Feudal Europe. These practices remained common in the New World into the seventeenth and even eighteenth century, particularly in areas, like Acadia/Nova Scotia, which changed hands several times over the course of the colonial period.

narrative, yet the account that Radisson gives of his actions demonstrates that this appeal to “interest” serves as a principle of identification rather than a mechanism for distancing himself from personal responsibility to others. It would certainly be possible to see his use of “interest” as the result of a poverty of vocabulary; to say, that is, that Radisson, if not the English and French languages themselves, lacked a way of addressing these complicated issues of identity politics more directly.132 However, the critical reevaluation of structuralist anthropology by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari opens up another possible avenue of interpretation that allows us to see how Radisson’s word choice in fact illuminates a deep relationship between family and commerce.

As Deleuze and Guattari observe, kinship systems are traditionally understood as having a vertical axis, based on lineage, and a horizontal axis, based on alliance (171/146). In many kin systems, the lineal axis is conceptually dominant, with marriage alliances resulting merely in the incorporation of a new member into an existing family tree;

however, in more mercantile societies, alliance is conceptually dominant, serving as the basis of extended consortial arrangements that play a central role in the economic organization of the larger community (see Gaunt 265-7). Deleuze and Guattari go further than their anthropologist counterparts in the economic characterization of the interplay of The discourse of cosmopolitan sophistication that Radisson would need to explain his international profile was not yet open to him, though it would be to later authors such as the Baron Louis de Lahontan who moved between French, Native American, English, and other European communities. The notion of a sensus communis had yet to be articulated by Lord Shaftesbury, and any appeal to disinterest would have been compromised by the competing contemporary senses of that word—the object of disinterest being both something in which one has no interest and something which is contrary to one’s interest. The entry for “disinterest” in the OED lists examples of this first meaning from the 1682 edition of Joseph Glanville’'s Lux orientalis and the 1699 edition of John Norris’ A Collection of Miscellanies and an early example of the second meaning from James Webb’s 1658 translation of the eighth part of La Calprenède’s Hymen's Praeludia or Cléopâtre.

these axes, suggesting that “[f]iliation et alliance sont comme les deux formes d’un capital primitif, capital fixe ou stock filiatif, capital circulant ou blocs mobiles de dettes” (172).133 Working from this analogy, Deleuze and Guattari insist on the importance of alliance as a means of keeping a society politically and economically open (175/148).

Radisson’s own circulation between national communities—French, English, Mohawk, Algonquian, etc.—and the mercantile success he derives from it speak to the deep explanatory power of this analogy. Radisson’s openness to the possibility of kin relations with Native Americans thus translates not only into a form of international relations that would be anathema to his Puritan counterparts, but also into profitable economic relations. If anything, the concept of “interest” serves Radisson as an ethical injunction to avoid harming others, since it encourages him to remain ever-open to the possibility of a strategic alliance: anyone, in theory, might become his kin.

Superficially, Radisson’s use of kin relations to negotiate political and commercial relationships may appear indistinguishable from Champlain’s gift-giving. But we can isolate two features of Radisson’s practice that set it apart from Champlain’s, both of which speak to the lasting influence of Radisson’s captivity. The first is Radisson’s openness to native customs, which goes beyond mere accommodation: while Champlain would meet with his native counterparts and feast with them, he did not absorb their customs in the same way that Radisson did. The second is Radisson’s reluctance to engage in violence, even in those instances where kin relations would seem to demand it.

Champlain happily gave military aid to his native allies, as part of a reciprocal “[F]iliation and alliance are like the two forms of primitive capital: fixed capital or filiative stock, and circulating capital or blocks of debts” (146).

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