Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
American Passage

American Passage

The Communications Frontier in Early New England

Katherine Grandjean

ISBN 9780674289918

Publication date: 01/05/2015

Request exam copy

New England was built on letters. Its colonists left behind thousands of them, brittle and browning and crammed with curls of purplish script. How they were delivered, though, remains mysterious. We know surprisingly little about the way news and people traveled in early America. No postal service or newspapers existed—not until 1704 would readers be able to glean news from a “public print.” But there was, in early New England, an unseen world of travelers, rumors, movement, and letters. Unearthing that early American communications frontier, American Passage retells the story of English colonization as less orderly and more precarious than the quiet villages of popular imagination.

The English quest to control the northeast entailed a great struggle to control the flow of information. Even when it was meant solely for English eyes, news did not pass solely through English hands. Algonquian messengers carried letters along footpaths, and Dutch ships took them across waterways. Who could travel where, who controlled the routes winding through the woods, who dictated what news might be sent—in Katherine Grandjean’s hands, these questions reveal a new dimension of contest and conquest in the northeast. Gaining control of New England was not solely a matter of consuming territory, of transforming woods into farms. It also meant mastering the lines of communication.

Praise

  • In six chapters covering a century, Grandjean explains the transformation of England’s holdings from a handful of isolated settlements to a connected array of towns by tracing the movement of letters and oral messages over land and water. By doing so, she demonstrates convincingly that information exchange was a crucial element for English expansion. American Passage makes a significant contribution to our understanding of 17th-century New England.

    —Richard D. Brown, coauthor of Taming Lust: Crimes against Nature in the Early Republic

Author

  • Katherine Grandjean is Assistant Professor of History at Wellesley College.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

Recommendations