Saturday, March 4, 2017

Studying Native Americans in the Northeast

A-wun-ne-wa-be, Bird of Thunder 1845

Native Americans and American History 
by Francis Flavin - US National Park Service

Native Americans in the Northeast 

There are many good histories discussing Indians of northeastern America. James Axtell’s The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985) is a thoughtful, provocative study that employs ethnohistorical methods to examine relations between the Indians and the colonial French and English. Colin Calloway’s New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997) is a thoughtful thematic overview of Indian history through the eighteenth century, and in Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), Karen Ordahl Kupperman surveys the complexities of the tentative give-and-take relations between Indians and Europeans along the east coast. Helen Rountree’s Pocahontas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990) is an ethnohistorical survey of the Powhatan Indians, that, unlike many books on eastern Indians, surveys the history of the tribe from the time of early contact through twentieth century.

Focusing principally on Puritan-Indian relations in the seventeenth century are Alden Vaughan’s The New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1965) and Douglas Edward Leach’s Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip’s War (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1958). Vaughan argues that conflict among groups was to be expected and that the Puritan Indian policy was relatively just; Leach, however, disagrees. Jill Lepore’s The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998) looks at how memories of the conflict hardened racial divisions and shaped the identities of Indians and Whites alike. John Demos’s The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (New York: Knopf, 1994) examines the life of Eunice Williams, the daughter of a Puritan minister, who, after being captured by French and Indians, refused repatriation efforts and ultimately married a Catholic Mohawk.

At the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, there was an Indian uprising against the British. Francis Parkman writes about A Pontiac’s Rebellion” in his two-volume classic The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War After the Conquest of Canada, revised ed. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1870). Parkman, one of America’s greatest narrative historians, provides a gripping account, though some find his prose condescending at times. A more up-to-date scholarly account can be found in Gregory Evan Dowd’s War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). Richard White’s The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991) argues that Indians existed in a cultural, political, and economic “middle ground” between rival British, French, and American imperial powers. White’s book is lengthy and intended for academics, and it is one of the most significant books on the subject.

The Iroquois were the dominant Indians in the northeast, and there are several first-rate Iroquois histories. Anthony F. C. Wallace’s The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1970) is a classic ethnohistorical study of the Seneca Indians (an Iroquoian tribe), the challenges posed them by White contact, and their subsequent renaissance in the nineteenth century. Another excellent study of Iroquois history and culture is Daniel K. Richter’s The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992). The captivity narrative of Mary Jemison, who was abducted by the Iroquois in 1758 as a teenager, provides a sympathetic insider’s view of Iroquois life in the eighteenth century. This easy-to-read account is available as A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, ed., June Namias (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992).

Tecumseh, a Shawnee Indian who lived in what is now Ohio and Indiana, is one of America’s most famous native leaders. Several biographies examine Tecumseh’s life and a pan-Indian resistance movement he orchestrated, including John Sugden’s recent Tecumseh: A Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc. 1997), and R. David Edmunds’s more concise Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984).