When, in 1779, American soldiers invaded Iroquoia and set fire to huge amounts of Seneca and Cayuga corn, they created a period of starvation among Britain’s Iroquois allies. No one could prevent this hunger, and only some could endure it. Across the ocean two decades later, another group of Britain’s allies—self-liberated former slaves—viewed hunger differently; they saw it as something they could avoid. These men and women, having escaped to present-day Canada and starved there, and then migrated to a new colony in Sierra Leone, created a government that allowed them to avoid hunger. Between the campaign against the Iroquois and the creation of the colony in Freetown, Sierra Leone, ideas about hunger in the Atlantic World changed. In 1779 hunger was something to withstand, whereas during the 1790s it was something preventable.
No Useless Mouth: Hunger and the Revolutionary Atlantic is under contract with Cornell University Press, and is Dr. Rachel Herrmann’s first book. In it, she argues that people were not useless mouths; from 1763 to 1815 they refused food, ignored hunger, tried to prevent it, and used it to obtain and retain power. It shows how conflicting British ideas of hungry and non-hungry Native Americans resulted in a distinctive food diplomacy driven by Indian customs; how Americans had to replicate this diplomacy in the eighteenth century before circumscribing food aid to Indians during the 1810s; and how former slaves who migrated out of North America and attempted to prevent hunger in the British Empire became food rioters. Perceptions of hunger prevention in the Atlantic World changed over time as a result of British and American interactions with Native Americans, enslaved peoples, and free black colonists.