Connected Anticolonialisms: The Sultanate of Mysore and the American Revolution

Surprisingly little research focuses on how the mid to late eighteenth century rise of the British East India Company’s empire in India coincided with the disintegration of British control over what became the United States. The few exceptions, moreover – most notably P.J. Marshall’s Making and Unmaking of Empires: Britain, India, and America c.1750-1783 – also tend to focus on connecting those episodes through a British lens.

Blake Smith adds a new angle to the examination of these simultaneous developments by connecting them through relatively novel perspectives: that of the French Empire, which supported both the American and Indian states that resisted British colonial encroachment during the period, as well as that of the relationship between two polities fighting off metropolitan power: the American colonies and the Indian Sultanate of Mysore. In a recent article for Aeon, the Northwestern University and EHESS (Paris) PhD candidate, whose work focuses on the French East India Company, describes both the American colonists and the Mysorean resistance as “members of a global coalition funded by the French government, which saw both uprisings as a chance to humble Britain” in the wake of French defeat in the Seven Years’ War.

This was not lost on the Americans, Smith writes. They had cheered the growth of British power in India and the goods it brought to their ports, but lamented that the empire prevented them from trading there of their own accord – the Boston Tea Party was, in part, a protest not just against the high prices the East India Company’s monopoly brought with it, but Americans’ inability to launch their own competition. Naturally, they became immersed in the idea of independent American and Indian states alike – and lionized Mysore’s leaders, Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan – until the south Indian state’s ultimate defeat by Britain was sealed. French support for global, anticolonial resistance had plunged it into debt, and funding for Mysore decreased dramatically, despite attempts to revive the relationship on both sides. Tipu Sultan’s state fell in 1799, and soon after the new United States became too immersed in its own colonization of the North American interior to thrill to anticolonial activities elsewhere.

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