Indian Trust Funds and the Routes of American Capitalism, 1795-1865


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation reconstructs the financial architecture of indigenous dispossession in the nineteenth-century United States. From the early national period onward, federal treaty commissioners offered trust funds to compensate Native polities for ceded lands. Trust funds retained the bulk of Native wealth in federal hands, thus skewing longstanding economic reciprocities and bilateral diplomacies in the United States’ favor. Federal officials invested the bulk of Indian trust fund wealth in securities that state governments issued to finance infrastructure, such as roads, canals, and railways. By converting indigenous wealth into capital for states, from Alabama and Illinois to Florida and New York, trust funds created vectors of investment that spread Native wealth throughout the country that dispossessed them. Charting these pathways of finance and compelled migration, this dissertation traces the development of a federal policy known as fiduciary colonialism: a form of territorial acquisition carried out by gaining administrative control over indigenous wealth.