Three Lives in an Age of Empire
Latest book, now orderable from Yale University Press
This book tells the unlikely story of the connections in the eighteenth century between a Cherokee warrior in the southern Appalachians, a Raiatean voyager from the Tahitian archipelago, and the British artist who painted them both. It is a story about the globalizing force of the empire that touched them all, but also of the rich diversity of the eighteenth-century world. Told as three loosely linked biographies, the book gives equal weight to each man. It narrates for the first time the whole life of Ostenaco, tracing his emergence as a leading Cherokee warrior, his engagement with colonists throughout his life, and finally his rejection of all imperial politics during the American Revolution. It delves similarly into the full experience of Mai, exploring his youth in Ra‘iatea in the eastern Pacific, his confrontation with war and displacement, his voyage to London in the 1770s, and his return home again with a burning ambition to right past wrongs. Finally, it weaves throughout these biographies the imperial story of Joshua Reynolds, who was born near the bustling English port town of Plymouth, rose to the top echelons of British society and yet maintained always an ambivalence about his nation’s expansionist trajectory. This book shows how Indigenous people pushed back and shaped empire far more than is usually acknowledged. It also reveals how much more conflicted Britons were about empire in this era than credited, even while they witnessed its reach into every corner of the globe. The book is a timely history about Indigenous survival and imperial contingency, written through the portraits of three remarkable individuals.
The cover blurbs:
“Kate Fullagar peers into the soul of the eighteenth century, discovering the shared human challenges that connected three very different men, three faces of the whirling gyre of the British empire. As deep and luminous as a Reynolds portrait, and as wide and wondrous as the Pacific, The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist will astonish.”— Jane Kamensky, author of A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley
“Fullagar does for biography what Reynolds wanted to do for portraiture—have it speak with the authority and humanity of history. But where he failed, Fullagar brilliantly succeeds.”—Peter Brunt, Victoria University of Wellington
“Deftly combining indigenous studies, postcolonial perspectives, cultural history, and visual studies, Kate Fullagar produces a new portrait of Georgian Britain that is both surprising and entirely convincing.”—Douglas Fordham, University of Virginia
“Spanning three land masses and two oceans, The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist exemplifies the very best of the new biography, and is a must read for anyone interested in the cultural history of the British Empire.”— Eliga Gould, author of the Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire
“A deftly‑told story of three inter‑connected but very different lives that challenges many of the clichés about the history of the British empire. Fullagar’s account is subtle, persuasive and humane.”—John Brewer, California Institute of Technology
A History Today podcast on the characters here!
A History Today summation in print (but behind paywall) is here.
An excerpt from Lapham’s Quarterly is here.