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Kristofer Ray

In my Office 

Senior Editor, Tennessee Historical Quarterly

Associate Professor of History

Please send all THQ correspondence to:  


PhD University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2003

BA Baylor University, 1994


I am on sabbatical for the Spring 2016 Semester.  If you need to contact me, please email me at

Research Interests:

          I am an historian of the early modern Native South and the Atlantic World.  My current book project, tentatively titled Indians, Europeans, and Empire in the Trans-Appalachian West, 1670-1774, is under contract with the University of Oklahoma Press.  It explores how English Carolinian interest in deerskin trading in the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys, combined with the fear of French expansion into the Illinois country, fueled English efforts to ally with Overhill Cherokees (who maintained a notable presence in all three locations).  In pursuing this alliance Carolinians catalyzed French efforts to solidify their own Indian connections, which touched off a process of contestation along a “corridor” stretching from the Little Tennessee River in Appalachia through the Tennessee Valley to Illinois, the Ohio Valley, and the Wabash Valley.  The corridor became a space in which Cherokees dictated the parameters of European projection and through which they consistently interacted with other indigenous groups.  As they accelerated their interest in trans-Appalachia, Europeans struggled to overcome a dissonance between their visions of empire and the reality of Cherokee mobility and power. 

          The project expands historical understandings of both the Atlantic World and Southeastern Native Studies.  On the one hand, it extends indigenous influence to the highest levels of European empire.  (Because of their mobility Indians pushed imperial powers to develop inter-regional diplomatic initiatives, debates over which took place at the British Board of Trade or with the French Ministre de la Marine.)  On the other hand, mobility in and through the corridor was one way by which Cherokees came to understand themselves.   By emphasizing indigenous rather than European influences this project offers a new direction for Cherokee scholars to consider the critical ideas of identity and sovereignty.

          My next book-length project tackles the construction of a discourse of Indian slavery in British North America, circa 1600-1830.  Using the Chesapeake and Carolinas as its geographic backdrop, it delves into the philosophical, natural right, and just war theories Englishmen invoked when creating seventeenth century Indian labor statutes—particularly in the wake of events such as the Anglo-Powhatan Wars, Bacon’s Rebellion, and the rise of Carolina’s Indian Slave Trade.  Despite the profitability of Indian slavery, by the early eighteenth century British North Americans developed misgivings about the system and its effect on what they considered independent indigenous polities.  In the Revolutionary era Virginia legal thinkers articulated these misgivings through a series of Indian freedom lawsuits.  Their conclusion was that slavery was impossible because indigenous people were inherently free—even if that freedom lay outside the evolving Anglo-American body politic.  The consequence of this legal-philosophical claim was profound: because they were outside American society, Indians could have no rights (and no legal protections) conferred upon them.  It meant that the new Republic could justifiably take their land and employ civilization policies, and ultimately that removal was just. 


Recent Courses Taught:

Colonial America

The American Revolution

The Early American Republic

The South in the Atlantic World, 1540-1763

Indians, Europeans, and Empire in North America, 1670-1763

Indians and Europeans in the Early Modern American Southeast, 1540-1763

The Invasion of America: American Indian History, Pre-Contact to 1800


Selected Recent Publications:

Cherokees, Europeans, and Empire in the Trans-Appalachian West, 1670-1774 (under contract with the University of Oklahoma Press)

Editor, Before the Volunteer State: New Thoughts on Early Tennessee History, 1670-1800 (University of Tennessee Press, 2015)

Middle Tennessee, 1775-1825: Progress and Popular Democracy on the Southwestern Frontier (University of Tennessee Press, 2007)

 “Cherokees, Empire, and the Tennessee Corridor in the British Imagination, 1670-1730,” in Ray, ed., Before The Volunteer State

With Kevin T. Barksdale, “Searching for John Sevier: Myth, Memory, and the History of Early Tennessee History,” in Ray, ed., Before The Volunteer State

“Leadership and Sovereignty in the Revolutionary American Southwest: The State of Franklin as Case Study,” North Carolina Historical Review Vol. XCII #2 (April 2015)

“Indians, Europeans, and the Struggle for Empire in 18th Century North America,” in Antonio Thompson and Christos Frentzos, eds., The Routledge Handbook of U.S. Diplomatic and Military History, Volume 1: Colonial Period to 1877 (Routledge Press, 2014)

"Cherokees and Franco-British Confrontation in the Tennessee Corridor, 1730-1760" Native South Vol. 7 (2014)

"The Republicans are the Nation?  Thomas Jefferson, William Duane, and the Evolution of the Republican Coalition, 1809 -1815," American Nineteenth Century History Vol. 14 #3 (2013)

“Thomas Jefferson and A Summary View of the Rights of British North America,” in Francis Cogliano, ed., A Companion to Thomas Jefferson (Blackwell Publishing, 2012)

“New Directions in Early Tennessee History, 1540-1815” Tennessee Historical Quarterly Vol. 68, #3 (Fall 2010)

“Political Culture and the Origins of a Party System in the Southern Ohio Valley: The Case of Early National Tennessee, 1796-1812,” Ohio Valley History Vol. 4, #4 (Winter 2004)

 “Land Speculation, Popular Democracy and Political Transformation on the Tennessee Frontier, 1780-1800,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly Vol. 61, #3 (Fall 2002)

 Assistant Editor, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Volume 5: May 1812-March 1813 (Princeton University Press, 2009)

Assistant Editor, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Volume 3: August 1810-June 1811 (Princeton University Press, 2006)

Assistant Editor, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Volume 2: November 1809-August 1810 (Princeton University Press, 2005)


In Progress:

Book Chapter:  “‘Our Concerns with Indians are now greatly extended’: Interpreting the Quebec Act from the Ohio Valley, 1763-1774,” in François Furstenberg and Ollivier Hubert, eds., The Quebec Act of 1774: Transnational Contexts, Meanings, and Legacies

Journal Essay: “‘‘The Indians of every denomination were free, and independent of us’: White Southern Explorations of Indigenous Slavery, Freedom, and Society, 1772-1830,” for the forthcoming “Indigenous Histories of the American South during the Long Nineteenth Century” issue of American Nineteenth Century History


Book Reviews in The Journal of American History, The Journal of Early American History, The Journal of Southern History, The Journal of the Early Republic, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Ethnohistory, Florida Historical Quarterly, Georgia Historical Quarterly, North Carolina Historical Review, Ohio Valley History, Agricultural History, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, The Historian, Southern Cultures, and Presidential Studies Quarterly