No Useless Mouth

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: How Native American and Black Revolutionaries Lost the Fight Against Hunger is in production with Cornell University Press, and is Dr. Rachel Herrmann’s first book. It will be published in the autumn of 2019, when it will also be made open access thanks to generous funding from Cardiff University. Herrmann 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. No Useless Mouth 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 formerly enslaved people who migrated out of North America and attempted to prevent hunger in the British Empire became food rioters. These fights against hunger mattered because they were so different from those that preceded and followed them, and because U.S. and British officials misrepresented those battles. Those false histories created pernicious precedents. This book exposes them.