Friday, July 01, 2011

Gallant Trousers, or the Lack Thereof

In her recent article on the Chickasaw-Creek war of the 1790s ("How the Chickasaws Saved the Cumberland Settlement," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 68 [2009]: 2-20) , Wendy St. Jean noted the close military alliance that grew up between that nation and their white neighbors in the Cumberland settlements (Nashville and environs), which extended to Nashvillians' sending militia and artillery to help defend Chickasaw towns from Creek attack. The alliance had an emotional component, as well: at a July 4th dinner in Nashville, one of the toasts was to "our gallant sans-culotte allies of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations" (p. 13). The toast was a nice play on words: it referred to the breech cloths and leggings that Chickasaw warriors wore in lieu of knee-breeches (or trousers), and also to western white settlers' sympathies for the more radical and ill-clad elements of the French Revolutionary movement, sympathies which some frontiersmen (in Kentucky and western Pennsylvania) expressed by forming Democratic-Republican societies to support the French Republic. One tends to think of the French Revolution as an Atlantic phenomenon, so I was pleasantly surprised to see pro-Revolutionary sentiments expressed in such remote settlements - and used to refer to people who (in the case of the Chickasaws) were fairly staunch opponents of France for most of the eighteenth century.

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