Invisible lines define our world. Geopolitically, these artificial divisions mark the boundaries of nations, states, counties, cities, and even private property. In North America, they define us as Canadians, Americans, or Mexicans. They united those within and separate those outside. More subtle invisible lines exist within the structure of society that categorize us by race, social and economic class, education, politics and religious beliefs.
In the Americas, these divisions began during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. As the major European powers colonized the Americas, cartographers produced beautifully illustrated, brightly colored maps, demarcating the boundaries of each claimant's territory in bold outlines. With seemingly scientific precision, they divided the largely unexplored and unsettled areas as if they controlled them as completely as they did their nation-states in the Old World. Yet these maps demarcated only an illusion of imperial control. Instead of borders that clearly separated North American empires from one another, the sparsely settled borderlands at the intersection of European claims became "melting pots" of social and economic cooperation among peoples of various races, nationalities and cultures. Within these pockets of settlement far removed from metropolitan centers of political and economic power, and social control, native peoples and Europeans often cooperated, intermarried, and developed their own unique and independent engines of self-determination to ensure their survival, safety and prosperity.
This dissertation explores the Louisiana-Texas borderlands and the infamous "Neutral Strip," integrating it into the larger diplomatic and political developments of the period between 1721 and 1838. It addresses questions of evolving national identities as Hispanic, French, Native American, African American, and mixed blood peoples cooperated in developing an economic and social system, only to see it destroyed as Anglo-American settlers became numerically dominant and imposed their rigid hierarchical social structure. In doing so, this study attempts to illuminate the true nature of this borderland region within a wider North American perspective.