Unless otherwise indicated, all OI books are distributed by The University of North Carolina Press.

Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy

The Lower Mississippi Valley before 1783

Daniel Usner, Jr.

Paper: 978-0-8078-4358-1 ($28.95)

Copyright 1992
University of North Carolina Press

A Prize-Winning Book

  • Jamestown Prize (1990)
  • John H. Dunning Prize, American Historical Association (1993)
  • Choice Outstanding Academic Title (1993)

In this pioneering book Daniel Usner examines the economic and cultural interactions among the Indians, Europeans, and African slaves of colonial Louisiana, including the province of West Florida. Rather than focusing on a single cultural group or on a particular economic activity, this study traces the complex social linkages among Indian villages, colonial plantations, hunting camps, military outposts, and port towns across a large region of pre-cotton South.

Usner begins by providing a chronological overview of events from French settlement of the area in 1699 to Spanish acquisition of West Florida after the Revolution. He then shows how early confrontations and transactions shaped the formation of Louisiana into a distinct colonial region with a social system based on mutual needs of subsistence. Usner's focus on commerce allows him to illuminate the motives in the contest for empire among the French, English, and Spanish, as well as to trace the personal networks of communication and exchange that existed among the territory's inhabitants. By revealing the economic and social world of early Louisianians, he lays the groundwork for a better understanding of later Southern society.

About the Author

David H. Usner, Jr., is professor of history at Vanderbilt University.


This detailed and nuanced account represents the most exciting of historical endeavors. Studying at once the establishment of European empires and the economics of everyday life, Usner delineates with insight and sympathy a common world of African slaves, Indian peoples, and European immigrants in the lower Mississippi valley.

--Richard White

Usner’s pathbreaking study is far more than a social and economic history of early Louisiana, for it also explains how different peoples there interacted and how colonial regions develop a complex, distinctive style of life of their own. . . . Usner has rescued a neglected but crucially important sector of American colonial history—that of French Louisiana before 1783—and made it a part of the mainstream narrative.

--Howard R. Lamar

The book is most interesting in its discussion of how Indians, Africans, and Europeans all contributed knowledge and skills to a common economic community.

--Journal of Social History

Breaks new ground, not only in Louisiana or Mississippi Valley history, but in the evolution of interdisciplinary historical research and writing. Usner skillfully blends perspectives from social history, ethnohistory, environmental history, and the new military history, as well as economics, geography, and other traditional disciplines into a study that will influence the field for many years to come.

--Louisiana History