Alexandra L. Montgomery

Ph.D. Candidate


Projecting Power in the Dawnland: Weaponizing Settlement in the Gulf of Maine World, 1710-1800

Personal Statement:

I study eighteenth-century colonization schemes in the far northeastern coast of North America, a region which is today Maine and the Canadian maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI and was known in various indigenous languages as the Dawnland. Despite the region's coastal location, deep into the eighteenth and even nineteenth century the area had more in common with the trans-Appalachian west than the white settler colonial east: power remained by and large in Native hands, and Europeans were few, far between, and politically unable to assert the kind of sovereignty which they claimed on maps other imperial documents.

It was not, however, from lack of trying on the part of European empires. My project examines efforts—largely British, but some French—to import large numbers of white settlers in an attempt to change the demographic and political realities of the Dawnland. Despite a historiographical narrative that sees settlement—particularly British settlement—as haphazard and with little official support, the projects in the Dawnland were state-sponsored to varying degrees; some were even funded directly by the British Parliament, and reveal a very different way of thinking about the role of settlement in eighteenth-century North American empires.

In the face of Native power and inter- and intra-imperial competition, however, these schemes gained little traction until after the American Revolution. Indeed, tensions between imperial and colonial plans for the region fed into the conflict and helped shape the meaning and location of the modern US-Canada border, while the Loyalists displaced by the war proved to be the key to finally transforming the Dawnland into a bastion of the British Empire. 

My Master's thesis (Dalhousie University 2012) explored New England family migration to Nova Scotia and attempts to transform the colony into a loyal Protestant bulwark in the years before the American Revolution.

In addition to the University of Pennsylvania, my work has been supported by the American Philosophical Society, the New York Public Library, the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.


Early America to 1877; Native American History; Early Modern Empires and Borderlands


Daniel K. Richter (advisor)
Kathleen Brown
Antonio Feros


MA Dalhousie University (2012)
BA Dalhousie University (2010)

Research Interests

Early modern North America, the northeast, Native American history, migration, family history, borderlands, empire, settler colonialism, violence, land speculation.


2016-2017 Elizabeth R. Moran Fellow, American Philosophical Society
2017-2018 Marguerite Bartlett Hamer Dissertation Fellow, McNeil Center for Early American Studies

CV (file)