Franklin Sammons, University of California, Berkeley
Advisory Council Fellow
“Yazoo’s Settlement: Law, Finance, and the Political Economy of Dispossession”
In 1789 and again in 1795, the state of Georgia sold millions of acres of southeastern Indian land to private land companies—the Yazoo land sales. My dissertation chronicles the Yazoo sales to examine the relationship between borderlands, law, and political economy in the early American republic. I argue that struggles for sovereignty and profit in the southeastern borderlands produced the sales, and that Yazoo’s financial and political dimensions propelled Indian dispossession in the Southeast. Following the American Revolution, southeastern Indians’ resistance to settler territorial expansion precipitated the sale of these lands in forms that derived their value mostly from speculation in the markets they circulated across. Converted into scrip and traded like a financial instrument, these “lands” became enmeshed in northeastern economic institutions, increasing the geographic and social ambit of claims to Indian-owned territory. To capitalize their claims, speculators and their lawyers made arguments in courtrooms that trivialized Indian land rights, while pressing Congress for indemnification purchased at the expense of Indian territory and sovereignty. By vesting a wide-range of people in its financial and political resolution, the Yazoo sales produced a set of overlapping ideas and interests – a shared national project – that culminated in dispossession and removal.