The Author’s Corner with Richard Grimes

52796422.jpegRichard Grimes teaches history at La Roche College. This interview is based on his new book, The Western Delaware Indian Nation, 1730–1795: Warriors and Diplomats (Lehigh University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Western Delaware Indian Nation?

RG: My study of the western Delawares came about when I read Michael N. McConnell, A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774. He mentions that during the eighteenth century, the three divisions or phratries (Turtle, Turkey, Wolf) of Delawares  came together in an ethnic sense. McConnell only hinted on this but did not elaborate. This planted the seeds of a potential doctoral dissertation for me as a student and teacher at West Virginia University. However, I wanted to explore this further with regard to a new social order and cultural identity of the people who became the western Delawares of the Ohio Country. I wanted to examine whether they became a distinct nation of Indians.

JF:  In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Western Delaware Indian Nation?

RG: The main argument of my book centers on how certain bands of eastern Delawares migrated west across the Alleghenies throughout the first half of the eighteenth century and re-invented themselves as a people in the Ohio west. I focus on how Delaware people altered their society and developed a political structure to meet the challenges of the Ohio Country with its imperial struggles between France and England and an eventual emerging American nation.

JF: Why do we need to read The Western Delaware Indian Nation?

RG: I think my book offers a different perspective on how American Indians took initiatives to survive in a changing world. The Delawares were not helpless victims but proactive in their response to a European invasion and in determining their own historical trajectory. They also adapted to a changed world. As an example I demonstrate that the western Delawares developed a central governing council to put them on a diplomatic footing with the British and French and later with the United States.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? 

RG: I always loved history. As a young child, I read history books, Classics Illustrated comics, and was a big fan of Hollywood films that dealt with historical epics such as Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and They Died With Their Boots On and John Wayne in The Searchers and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. But I did not enter college until the age of 35–when I decided to change careers and learn to study , research, and write history. I was deeply inspired by my professors at the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, and West Virginia University. I did not enter a classroom as a teacher until the age of 44. I had a lot of catching up to do.

JF: What is your next project?

RG: I have two things in mind. I would like to continue my studies involving Native Americans in colonial America. I am interested in American Indian relationships with George Washington and to explore how these early experiences shaped his American Indian policies as president.

I have also written articles on the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers of the American West. My Master’s thesis focused on the Cheyennes, so I will eventually focus my research and writing on the Cheyenne Indians of the Great Plains. I plan to do a scholarly study of the Dog Soldiers– I am very excited to begin this.

JF: Thanks, Richard!

In Search of Fort Christina

In case you have never heard of Fort Christina, it was built in 1638 by Swedish settlers to the Delaware Valley who settled in and around what today is Wilmington, Delaware.  With the 375th anniversary of the New Sweden Colony upon us, there has been renewed interest in finding the fort.

Harry Themal has it covered at the Wilmington News-Journal.  Here is a taste of his article:

No maps exist of the exact location of the fort, except it was obviously near the Rocks, where the expedition commanded by Dutchman Peter Minuit, ended its voyage from Sweden on March 29, 1638.

Dr. Amandus Johnson, whose 1911 two-volume “The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware” is the definitive history, says the fort was completed in May 1638, two miles from the mouth of the Christina where “nature provided a wharf of stone.” 

“The fort was built in the form of a square, with [four] sharp arrow-like corners, three of which were mounted with artillery. It was built with palisades and earth and was considered to be strong enough to withstand the attach of a very large number of Indians.” 

For that description we must credit Peter Martensson Lindestrom, an engineer who came to New Sweden in 1653 and left when the Dutch took over the settlement. In 1654 he drew maps of the site and the fort along Minquas Kill (the river named for the Minquas Indians), who had established a settlement there. His important drawing was published in his book on American geography and is the frontispiece of Johnson’s book. Minquas Kill is the Christina River. 

An original sketch of the fort also once existed, drawn by Minuit and accompanying his log, deed and treaty with the Lenape Indians, but all disappeared en route to an official of the West India Company.