What Did Trump Mean by Capitalizing the Word “TRAIL” in a Tweet About Elizabeth Warren?: Some Historical Context

Donald Trump tweeted this today:

Thoughts:

  1.  Trump is definitely worried about Warren’s candidacy.
  2.  Why did Trump capitalize the word “trail?” As an American historian, one thing comes to mind when I see the word “trail” emphasized in a tweet about native Americans.  That is the “Trail of Tears.” Perhaps you are unfamiliar with this tragic event in our history.  Learn more here.
  3.  Andrew Jackson initiated the Trail of Tears.  He believed native Americans were racially inferior and an impediment to the advancement of white settlement across the continent.
  4.  Jackson called Indian removal a “just, humane, liberal policy towards the Indians.”  This reminds me of Trump’s statements about his “humane” border wall. He has said on numerous occasions that the wall will protect both American citizens and the immigrants.
  5.  Jackson understood the removal of these Indian groups in the context of democracy.  In the 1830s, of course, democracy was white.  The white men who voted Jackson into office wanted Indian land.  Jackson heard their voice and gave then what they wanted by forcibly moving native Americans to present-day Oklahoma.
  6. Andrew Jackson’s portrait hangs prominently in Trump’s Oval Office.
  7. Is Trump really smart enough to know that capitalizing the word “trail” would send such a message?  If he is, this is blatantly racist and yet another appeal to one of America’s darkest moments.  (I mention other such appeals in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).  If he does not know what this tweet implies, then it is just another example of the anti-intellectual clown we have in the Oval Office right now–a man who is completely unaware of the national story to which he has entered as president.

The Author’s Corner with Matthew Bahar

Matthew Bahar is an Asstorm of the seasistant Professor of History at Oberlin College. This interview is based on his new book Storm of the Sea: Indians and Empires in the Atlantic’s Age of Sail (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Storm of the Sea: Indians and Empires in the Atlantic’s Age of Sail?

MB: The book emerged from my interest in two of early American history’s most dynamic subfields, Atlantic and American Indian history. When I began to conceptualize this project, practitioners of each didn’t have much to say to one another; Atlanticists saw Indians as terrestrial people and Native Americanists viewed the Atlantic World as a fundamentally European space. I wanted to write a book that explored one principal question: what happens to the “Atlantic World” when we add Indians to it? The answer readers confront as they move through the narrative might surprise them as much as it did me.

The colonial-era Wabanaki seemed like a good case study to explore this question. They’re among the few Native groups in the east who have remained on their ancestral lands near the ocean up to the present. I aimed to figure out why. As I did, I discovered an incredible story that hasn’t received the appreciation it deserves.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Storm of the Sea: Indians and Empires in the Atlantic’s Age of Sail?

MB: In the two centuries after Europeans first arrived in the American Northeast, the Wabanaki Confederacy coalesced around an expansionist and extractive political project designed to establish dominion over the sea and shore of northern New England and French Acadia. Their appropriation and assimilation of sailing technology proved essential to its fortunes.

JF: Why do we need to read Storm of the Sea: Indians and Empires in the Atlantic’s Age of Sail?

MB: It positions Indians where we’re not accustomed to seeing them – aboard prize ships, scrambling up the rigging, working sails, and commanding the helm. We expect to see Europeans there. But readers will quickly encounter them elsewhere, in places and postures equally unexpected.

History books often adopt a narrative trajectory of declension or progress. This is especially true in Native American history. Protagonists and antagonists in these sorts of stories are easy to identity. Storm of the Sea aims to eschew this. I hope readers instead find a more human narrative that recalls the profound contingency of life in colonial America, as the actors themselves would’ve experienced it.

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

MB: I decided on this profession while working for a couple years in an unrelated field after my undergraduate degree. Looking back, I’m glad I spent time outside academia because it gave me the time and space to reflect intentionally on my past learning and future goals. Moving away from the intellectual community of my college years allowed me to cultivate a better appreciation for the spirit of discovery that’s so central to our experiences in the classroom, library, and archive.

I became an American historian in graduate school because America’s indigenous past had captivated me for many years. I grew up very close to an Indian reservation and in some ways encountered Indians the way many American colonists did: often and everywhere. They were people with whom you interacted every day in a variety of contexts, some amicable and others fraught, and their presence seemed as natural and permanent as everyone else’s in the community. As I studied the history of white-Indian relations, I began to appreciate the distinctiveness of the colonial period and of my own lived experience.

JF: What is your next project?

MB: I’m working on a book-length study of shipwrecks in colonial America. Several of the themes central to Storm of the Sea, such as Native and colonial political economies, catastrophe and misery, gender roles, imperialism, and maritime violence, are shaping my inquiry into this strikingly common transportation disaster in the early modern period. The book will ultimately conceptualize shipwrecks as both destructive and generative experiences for Natives and newcomers alike, politically, socially, and economically.

JF:   Thanks Matthew!

The Author’s Corner With L.H. Roper

RoperL.H. Roper is Professor of History at the State University of New York at New Paltz.  This interview is based on his recently edited book The Torrid Zone: Caribbean Colonization and Cultural Interaction in the Long Seventeenth Century Caribbean (University of South Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Torrid Zone?

LHR: In 2012, I began a correspondence with Laurie Wood (now at Florida State) in which we lamented both the perennially secondary position the Caribbean occupies in our understanding of ‘colonial America’ and the particular lack of a comparative treatment of the history of the region’s colonization by Europeans.  We decided to do something about this state of affairs and we began recruiting ‘partners in crime’.  Happily, there are a number of young and talented historians who are working on the Caribbean whom we were able to recruit along with several ‘seasoned veterans’.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Torrid Zone?

LHR: The agendas and behavior of Native people had a significant effect on Caribbean history well into the eighteenth century. The Torrid Zone, particularly by virtue of the global extension of the personalities involved in its colonization and their conceptions of society and politics, constituted a fully representative, but not especially distinctive, manifestation of the sensibilities at work in European overseas colonization.

JF: Why do we need to read The Torrid Zone?

LHR: The contributions are filled with insights on the history of the seventeenth-century Caribbean generally and of places such as Jamaica and Suriname particularly.  Since this region constituted the primary target of European interest in the Western Hemisphere at this time, it is impossible to have helpful understanding of the expansion of European interests, including the colonization of North America, or the cultural interactions that this expansion generated—and the effects of these phenomena—without some knowledge of what went on in the Torrid Zone.  The essays also shed helpful light on the networks of merchants and political figures—operating both in the Caribbean and outside of it—who managed European operations in the region and who extended their social and political influence elsewhere.  Readers will learn a good deal about the Native agendas and responses to European activity in the Torrid Zone as well.

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

LHR: Although I was trained nominally as an American historian, I regard myself primarily as a historian of the expansion of overseas European (particularly English) interests and of the cultural interactions this generated.  While I was in graduate school during the ‘Pleistocene Era’, it dawned on me that the best way to comprehend ‘early American history’ was through a better understanding of the social and political worlds in which overseas traders and colonizers operated, from which colonists (and colonizers) derived their worldviews, and with which colonists (perhaps to a surprising degree) maintained close social, political, and economic associations.  This view has only strengthened over the course of my career.

JF: What is your next project?

LHR: I hope to begin work on two (having just finished two books in the past year).  The first is a further investigation of English involvement in the ‘Guinea trade’ and the other is an examination of the European colonization of the region bounded by the Connecticut and Susquehanna Rivers and Chesapeake Bay between 1636 (the founding of the Connecticut colony) and 1741 (the Treaty of Lancaster).

JF: Thanks, Louis!

The Remains of a Native American Found in a Philadelphia-Area Quaker Meeting House

ByberryMtgSign

A scholar searching for the graves of native children affiliated with the Carlisle (PA) Indian School discovered a native American skull in a display case in the library of the Byberry Quaker Meeting.  Here is a taste of Jeff Gammage’s article at Philly.com:

But as she hunted for burial records in the dusky, seldom-used library of the Byberry Quaker Meeting in Philadelphia, she made a horrifying discovery: a yellowed skull, labeled as Native American, set in a display case among a collection of rocks and fossils.

A note taped to the cabinet said the skull was dug out of a canal near Lambertville, N.J., part of a skeleton that in one hand held a pipe and hatchet.

 

“It’s just wrong,” said White, of Mohawk descent, who teaches First Peoples Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. “This is really an ancestor here, who’s been stuck on this shelf next to animal skulls.”

A Meeting representative said that she was shocked by the find — and that the Quakers will offer to return the remains, to conduct a burial, or take any action that Indian leaders may desire.

“We want to do the right thing,” said Mary Ellen McNish, a longtime member and former clerk of the Meeting. “We will do whatever they want.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Colin Calloway

51Wjbq2KQpL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgColin Calloway is John Kimball, Jr. 1943 Professor of History and Native American Studies at Dartmouth College. This interview is based on his new book, The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Indian World of George Washington?

CG: I, and many other scholars, have been working for years to include Native American history in the history of the United States, not only because indigenous experiences and voices should be part of the national narrative but also because the presence, power, and persistence of Indian nations affected how that narrative unfolded. I decided to write The Indian World of George Washington (rather than a book entitled George Washington and the Indians) because I hoped that demonstrating how Indian people and Indian lands played a central role in the life of the first president would confirm their central role in the early history of the nation he helped to found.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Indian World of George Washington?

CG: As first president, George Washington established important precedents that shaped the direction of US Indian policy and affected the lives of thousands of Indian people. At the same time, Indian people, Indian lands, Indian resistance, and Indian diplomacy shaped the life of George Washington and affected the direction of early American history.

JF: Why do we need to read The Indian World of George Washington?

CG: George Washington is perhaps the most iconic and revered figure in US history, but the purpose of the book is not to debunk him. History, put simply, is the stories we tell about the past. Simple stories may allow us to feel uniformly good about the nation’s past and its heroes, but great nations deserve great histories that recognize complexities, include multiple perspectives, and acknowledge hard truths. Looking closely and honestly at Washington’s dealings with Indian people and Indian lands provides a more ambiguous, but more realistic portrayal of the father of the country as a human being rather than as a demi-god; looking closely at the roles and experiences of Native Americans during his lifetime provides a richer and fuller picture of the world Washington inhabited and of the nation he built.

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

CG: Growing up in Britain, I think I was always interested in American history. What struck me as distinctive was the presence of Indian peoples; what struck me as odd was the relative absence of Indian people in most American history books. I suppose this is what led me to think about how differently the history of America looks if Indian people are included as having meaningful roles and impacts rather than scripted appearances and disappearances.

JF: What is your next project?

CG: I am beginning work on a book that will explore the experiences of Indian visitors to early American cities. Indian delegates who came to Philadelphia to negotiate with George Washington, for example, often spent many weeks in the city between negotiations. What did they do, see, and hear, and what did they make of it all?

JF: Thanks, Colin!

 

 

Americans and Land

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Earlier this week President Donald Trump tweeted:

I responded with a couple of tweets:

and

Not everyone was happy with me:

I thought about this series of tweets again when I read H.W. Brand’s piece at the website of the History Channel.  It is a (very) short introduction to Americans’ relationship to the land.  Here is a taste:

Before long, a critical mass of Americans joined Washington in concluding they needed a government of their own. Complaints over taxation and other issues joined the land question in triggering the American Revolution, which ended with the Americans in possession of the Ohio Valley and much more.

The new land proved the British right about one thing: More western settlement meant more trouble with the Indians. To the tribes of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, American independence was a disaster. The Americans were more aggressive in seizing land than the British had been. Often tribes secured treaties from the governments of the white settlers, but those treaties rarely inhibited the whites from taking what land they wanted.

At times the Indians resisted. In the first years of George Washington’s presidency, an Indian confederacy that formed in the region between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes inflicted a series of defeats upon settlers and local militia groups. They received arms and moral support from the British, who, still stinging from the loss of their 13 American colonies, were happy to provoke trouble for the upstart republic.

Washington summoned one of his lieutenants from the Revolutionary War, Anthony Wayne, known as Mad Anthony for his impetuous style of command. Wayne led America’s first federal army under the Constitution, called the Legion of the United States, against the Indian confederacy and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, near modern Toledo.

The victory allowed the settlement of Ohio, but it meanwhile foreshadowed a century of struggle between whites and Indians over land along the westward-moving frontier.

Read the rest here.

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!

“Native American Revolutions”

map-iroquois-1771

This is the title of the latest series at Age of Revolutions blog.  Expect essays from Karim Tiro, David Andrew Nichols, Andrew Frank, Kathleen DuVal, Kate Fullager, Michael Lynch, and Michael McDonnell.

Here is a summary:

Any perceptive #twitterstorian or scholar of the Age of Revolutions will notice the repeated reference to the idea of #VastEarlyAmerica. Karin Wulf named her blog after the historiographical shift. Other group and personal blogs have started to plumb the depths of the historical American periphery, and its place within the western hemisphere and world history. Conferences and papers have been devoted to it (talks too). Books and articles are now pouring out of presses, rethinking the origins of the United States in terms of its contours, as well as its (dis)contents — many of these works have been penned by our esteemed contributors. In this series, we revisit an important side of #VastEarlyAmerica, by thinking of #VastEarlyNativeAmerica. We have asked historians to think about Native American agency during the American Revolution. The result is the following schedule of amazing scholars, working the myriad angles of Native American experience, perception, agency, or lack thereof.

Read more here.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 2

Tour

Today the teachers got a tour of early American Princeton

Monday was a long and busy day at the Princeton Seminar.

We began with a morning of lecture and discussion about how we should think about “colonial America.”  I tried to get the teachers to think historically about the colonies and try to rid themselves of a Whig-centered interpretation of the period.  In the process we spent a lot of time talking about the difference between a “civics” approach to the past and a “historical thinking” approach to the past.   I challenged the teachers to try to understand the colonial American past on its own terms and, at least for a week, pretend that the American Revolution never happened.

I also introduced the teachers to what has been called “The New Indian” history.  What might our understanding of colonial America look like if we examine it from the perspective of native Americans?  I focused this lecture around three concepts: “Facing East” (Dan Richter), the “Indians’ New World” (James Merrell), and the “Middle Ground” (Richard White).

Finally, we got started with a lecture on the colonial Chesapeake and tried to make sense of why so many people starved to death in the early years of Jamestown.  We will be finishing this discussion today by carrying the Virginia story through Bacon’s Rebellion.

In the afternoon, Nate McAlister introduced the teachers to their lesson-plan assignment. Every teacher needs to pick a primary source from the colonial era and write a lesson that they can use with their students.   It is always fun to see the documents that they choose and the lessons that they design.

After dinner we split into two groups and got a historical tour of Princeton.  My tour guide, Leslie, was excellent.  She took us through Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, the home of Albert Einstein, the home of Richard Stockton (Morven), and the Princeton Battlefield Monuments.  We got caught in the middle of a thunderstorm while visiting Einstein’s house, but Leslie pushed us through.  There we were–standing outside of Morven in the pouring ran listening to Leslie expound upon the life of Stockton.  These teachers are real troopers!

About half of us ended the night at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room at Princeton’s Nassau Inn.  This is the place where the Princeton Seminar goes to solve all world problems. Tonight was no exception!

Looking forward to day 3!  Stay tuned.

Author’s Corner with Mark Goldberg

MarkGoldenberg

Mark Goldberg is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Houston. This interview is based on his new book, Conquering Sickness: Race, Health, and Colonization in the Texas Borderlands (University of Nebraska Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Conquering Sickness?

MG: In graduate school, I became interested in how people in multiracial spaces negotiated power. I am also from Texas, and a particular exclusive set of stories about the 18th and 19th century tend to dominate here, flatting the texture and nuance of Texas history and silencing many narratives.  During research for my master’s thesis, which analyzed Caddo Indian trade in east Texas, I came across many interesting discussions about disease and healing practices that people employed, including peyote and amulets. I also had the opportunity to take a graduate course that traveled around the U.S. West, studying the history of race in the region. We visited the Levi Jordan Plantation in Brazoria, Texas, where archaeologist Ken Brown has led a team that uncovered a curer’s cabin, highlighting the healer’s use of syncretic African and African American healing practices in postemancipation Texas. These experiences pushed me towards the study of health and healing in Texas. 

Health is one of the most basic elements of life, so it offered me a window into popular culture in the 18th and 19th century.  The history of health and healing in Texas addressed my intellectual curiosities and my desire to write against mythic, popular representations of the Lone Star State.  The era that I cover, roughly 1780 to 1880, saw multiple waves of colonization in moments when Native peoples dominated much of the region.  It was ripe for the study of race, popular culture, and power, as different nation-states tried to assert control over Texas, while Comanches and Karankawas held the upper hand in many instances.  Power was fluid in this borderland, so what did cross-cultural interactions and exchanges mean in this place undergoing conquest? 

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Conquering Sickness?

MG: The desire to build healthy settlements drove Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo conquests of Texas. Spaniards, Mexicans, and Anglo Americans defined healthiness environmentally and culturally, based around perceptions of how people lived, and they differentiated their own “healthy” behaviors racially, against Native and (during Anglo migrations) Mexican “unhealthy” ways of living.

JF: Why do we need to read Conquering Sickness? 

MG: First, I would say, for the stories.  I uncovered many fascinating examples of how individuals treated disease and how they thought about sickness and health.  The first story that caught my eye, which I still find captivating, concerns how the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas (one state at the time) confronted the 1833 cholera epidemic.  After a series of public health initiatives regulating when people were out and about, how they prepared food, town cleanliness, and leisure activities, failed to stem the tide of disease, the government came to employ a peyote remedy as its official prescription.  How could a nation-state, which was in the process of being built, promote a practice associated with so-called Indian superstition, when to be Mexican at the time meant culturally not Indian?  These types of healing exchanges occurred throughout the century under study, as did state governments’ efforts to legitimize their use of medicine that they simultaneously scorned.  Colonialism was largely about instituting particular ways of living beyond methods of healing, which colonizers in Texas often defined against nonwhite residents. Spanish missionaries, for example, justified conquest by trying to mold Indians into proper, civilized, healthy Catholics. Conversion, and by extension conquest, was not only about spirituality, but also about how one carried oneself. 

I also think it is important to see how a common idea—healthiness—was (and is) defined culturally and how science, which appears objective, has been shaped by local cultures and desires. For example, to live a healthy life in post-1848 Texas meant to embrace white, middle class values—temperance, sedentary agriculture, sexual restraint—showing the close relationship Anglo newcomers drew between morality and health. They often saw Mexicans and Indians as immoral and therefore unhealthy. Ultimately, then, this raises a question relevant today:  in what ways might we define something like healthiness in a culturally, religiously, racially, and sexually loaded manner?     

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

MG:  I was always interested in history, but when I was an undergraduate, I was premed with an art history major for most of college. I only decided not to pursue a medical career and to become an academic historian during my senior year. I realized that my passion was trying to understand histories that never fit into a neat, master narrative. My own family history of multigenerational migrations; Eastern European, Jewish, Latin American, Latina/o, and Texas histories; and U.S. immigration does not easily meld into a dominant national narrative, so perhaps that influenced my interests. I started graduate school focusing on 20th-century U.S. history and ties between the civil rights movement and Latin America. I moved back in time and across regions, but my interest in race and U.S.-Latin American connections continued as I came to study of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

JF: What is your next project?

MG: I am bringing together my background in Latina/o history with a new interest in Jewish Studies. Continuing to ask questions about race, ethnicity, national identity, and cultural boundaries, I am examining Jewish Latina/o history and studying the connections among Latina/o, Jewish, and American identities. I am interested in how Jewish Latina/os in the 20th century have used different forms of storytelling—about the colonial past, around food and music—to link those identities. It is also a personal study, allowing me to apply my interests in the American West and borderlands, Latina/o history, and cultural history to my family and community’s story. 

JF: Thanks, Mark!

The Author’s Corner with Dawn Peterson

PeterDawn Peterson is Assistant Professor of History at Emory University.  This interview is based on her new book Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion (Harvard University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion?

DP: I came to the adoption stories covered in Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion thirteen years ago. I had entered graduate school in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the United States’ subsequent “war on terror” and initially wanted to write about how discourses of race and family (particularly those emerging around white 9-11 families) supported imperial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as against immigrant communities and communities of color within this country. Yet after reading Michael Paul Rogin’s work on Andrew Jackson while in my third year of graduate school, I was compelled to go in search of the stories that inspired this book.

New to American Indian studies and early U.S. history, I was struck by one of Rogin’s footnotes, which indicated that, during the United States’ rapid expansion into Indian territories in the first decades of the nineteenth century, several white men, including Andrew Jackson, adopted American Indian children. I couldn’t stop thinking about these white adopters and Indian adoptees in the early U.S. Republic and kept traveling to archives to learn more about them. The research I uncovered showed me that, from the earliest moments of the early Republic’s founding, discourses of family and race played a central role in U.S. nation-making and imperial warfare, in this case against Native communities and enslaved people of African descent. I wanted to understand why this was the case and, just as centrally, how people shaped their lives and their communities in the face of U.S. imperial violence.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion?

DP: Indians in the Family argues that pan-Indian unity movements solidifying in response to British-American and U.S. territorial expansion during the latter half of the eighteenth century collided with U.S. citizens’ ideas about race, family, slavery, and freedom to give rise to the imperial idea that Indian people and their homelands could—and should—be adopted into the free white populace of the early U.S. Republic. As the United States expanded its territories west, including those of slaveholding Southerners, this imperial idea subsequently informed a series of intimate struggles between U.S. whites, adopted Indian people, and enslaved people of African descent up through the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

JF: Why do we need to read Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion?

DPAs the current president seeks to revive and celebrate the memory of early U.S. elites such as Andrew Jackson, Indians in the Family reveals the profound violence that propelled these figures to prominence. While many have argued that white impulses such as Jackson’s to adopt Native children are a sign of benevolence, the adoption stories that unfold in the book indicate that both ruling white men and everyday citizens within the United States saw themselves as entitled to own the material resources—and the very lives—of those deemed racially “inferior,” including Native children, not to mention people of African descent. Indeed, the fascinating, compelling, and even horrifying interactions between U.S. whites, Native people, and African Americans indicate that the law and culture of the United States was never oriented around freedom, democracy, or social justice, but was there to prop up white supremacy in general, and white nuclear families in particular. Just as importantly, just as the book illuminates the forms of violence historically supporting and emboldening “white” families in the United States, it shows the complex negotiations people of American Indian and African descent made to claim their bodies, their communities, and their lands as their own.

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

DPI decided to become an American historian because I needed to learn the deep roots of U.S. imperial and white supremacist policies as well as the various resistance strategies that have challenged them. I felt that in order to live ethically in the world that surrounded me, I had to both understand the mechanisms informing European-descended peoples’ vision of themselves as more worthy of material resources and physical safety than anyone else and, as a white women who materially benefits from this history of violence, engage with and support the life-affirming practices that seek to dismantle colonialism.

JF: What is your next project?

DP: My next project continues to explore Native history and its intersections with early U.S. imperialism. In it, I examine how Southeast Indian women navigated extractive U.S. economic policies that aimed to strip Native communities of their economic independence and, in turn, expand Southern slavery into their territories. Focusing on women’s roles in agricultural production, as well as their savvy in local and international trade, I seek to better understand Native women’s efforts in maintaining the economic vibrancy of their communities in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Southeast.

JF: Thanks, Dawn!

The Author’s Corner with Jason Opal

OpalJason Opal is Associate Professor of History at McGill University.  This interview is based on his new book Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation (Oxford University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Avenging the People?

JO: I had always been fascinated by Andrew Jackson and his intense following in the United States, especially in the wake of his controversial invasion of Spanish and Seminole Florida in 1818. I was also struck by the tone and vehemence of the Congressional debates that followed in early 1819. The pro-Jackson representatives talked about the “laws of nations” and the “rights of nature,” suggesting that Old Hickory symbolized a new claim to national sovereignty within the brutal world he saw.

But what made me want to dig deeper was what happened right after these debates—not the bitter controversy over slavery in Missouri, but the severe economic crisis that lasted from 1819 to 1822. Here, Jackson was an arch-conservative foe of public banks, stay laws, and other assertions of democratic sovereignty against international “laws” of commerce. Here, he rejected some of the most popular—and, in some sense, nationalistic—measures of his day. This just did not fit with the traditional view of Jackson as a patriotic champion and democratic reformer. Nor did it align with the usual critiques of Jackson, which stress his hostility to native peoples and black Americans.

So, I wanted to offer a new look at the towering enigma from Tennessee, one that stayed as close as possible to primary sources (rather than historiographical debates) and that scrutinized Jackson’s early career and political education (rather than his legendary times in the White House). I did not intend to besmirch Jackson, nor to condemn his fans. I just wanted to see what he was about, and to understand why so many Americans loved him so fiercely.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Avenging the People?

JO: I argue that Jackson led and embodied one version of American nationhood—of the American people as a nation who shared blood—that grew out of the long struggle with the British Empire and its native and black proxies during the post-Revolutionary decades. This kind of nationhood asserted American sovereignty vis-à-vis its enemies, including the right to avenge American blood around the globe, while restricting their sovereignty in times and places of peace, that is within the society they reluctantly composed.

JF: Why do we need to read Avenging the People?

JO: Especially since the United States, unlike most western democracies, still functions according to its first written Constitution (with amendments), it is always important to study the Founding era. In a way, this history is not history at all, but a kind of ongoing past.

Jackson was not one of the Founders of 1787, but he was probably the single most important figure in the later, longer rise of “democratic” models of American nationhood and popular sovereignty. Understanding that is especially important now that President Trump repeatedly and (I think) sincerely invokes Jackson’s name to authorize an “America First” course of action.

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

JO: I have loved history for as long as I can remember and was determined to become a history professor by the time I was in eighth or ninth grade. (One viewing of Les Misérables at the Shubert Theatre in Boston clinched it.) I honestly can’t imagine anything more compelling than the debatable record of what people have done and what it all means.

I decided to study the early United States after I took Mary Beth Norton’s class on the American Revolution at Cornell in the spring of 1996. I turned to cultural and social history after working with Jane Kamensky at Brandeis in 1999. Inspiring teachers have that effect!

JF: What is your next project?

JO: Moving to Montreal in 2009, right when I was starting this project, gave me a new vantage point on American history. It also revealed the importance of other languages, which had always been a weak point for me. I’m comfortable at last in French and am now studying Portuguese, both of which will help for my new book project, a global history of Barbados. As many early Americanists have shown, this island was the center of the early English empire and the starting point for its seventeenth-century turn to black slavery. I want to retell the island’s long ordeal by drawing in the associated histories of the Portuguese, French, Dutch, and British empires and of the many African nations that later gave rise to the Bajan people.

I’m also working on two collaborative projects. The first is a collection of essays on the “Patriot” rebellions of the late 1830s along the US-Canadian border. I’m writing about the economic priorities that underlay US-British rapprochement and that helped to doom the Patriots. Maxime Dagenais of McMaster University and Julien Mauduit of Université du Québec à Montréal are editing this book, which I hope will reach people in both French and English Canada and in my native country. Second, I’m writing a history of epidemic diseases and the American people with my dad, Dr. Steven Opal of the Brown University School of Medicine.

JF: Thanks, Jason

The National Endowment for the Humanities Funds an Exhibit on Indian Boarding Schools

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The Carlisle Indian School, Carlisle, PA

Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund programs like this:

The Heard Museum, a Phoenix Museum of American Indian art and culture, has an exhibit titled: Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience.

Here is a summary of the exhibit:

The groundbreaking exhibition Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience draws on first-person recollections, memorabilia and the writings and art of four generations of Indian school alumni to examine the commonality of the boarding school experience. A powerful display that explores an important era in American history, the exhibition incorporates historic images, music, sound, oral histories, memorabilia and video to immerse visitors in the story being told by the people who lived it.

Remembering Our Indian School Days celebrates the spirit of survival. Originally established to “civilize” American Indians into mainstream society, Indian boarding schools became a shaping force of a national American Indian identity. “This is not just a part of American Indian history; it is an important element of American history in its entirety,” says Margaret Archuleta, curator of the exhibition, which opened in 2000 and has become one of the museum’s most popular and moving presentations. “Indian or not, this exhibit is an important examination of our society both past and present.”

For other posts in this series click here.

The Author’s Corner with Jessica Yirush Stern

the-lives-in-objectsJessica Yirush Stern is Associate Professor of History at California State University, Fullerton. This interview is based on her new book, The Lives in Objects: Native Americans, British Colonists, and Cultures of Labor and Exchange in the Southeast (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Lives in Objects?

JS: Since I was an undergraduate, I considered myself a closet anthropologist. I never thought I would have the chops to do fieldwork, but I enrolled in a lot of anthro classes and was intoxicated by their theories. So when I entered Johns Hopkins as a graduate student in history, I immediately went over to the anthro department and convinced Jane Guyer to preside over one of my MA fields of study in economic anthropology, her specialty. She exposed me to some great theorists: David Graeber, Arjun Appadurai, Nancy Munn, Nicholas Thomas, Marilyn Strathern. After studying with her, I started reading historical monographs about early Native American and English colonist economic exchange and I felt that we were a few steps behind anthropologists in how we analyzed exchange, so I devoted myself to writing a new book on the subject.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument The Lives in Objects?

JS: Southeastern Indians and British colonists both understood and utilized a wide variety of social and asocial modes of exchange, from gift giving to commodity exchange, and thus the groundwork was laid for them to easily establish sustainable economic relationships. But simmering beneath these similar cultures of exchange were divergent beliefs about the value of the people who created and traded these objects, and the obligations of those who consumed these cross-cultural goods, which caused exchange to become the site for colonial actions and anti-colonial protests.

JF: Why do we need to read The Lives in Objects?

JS: I don’t think you can read The Lives in Objects and still believe that Native Americans were simply gift givers whose societies and cultural systems were toppled by European ideologies of modern commerce. This pernicious idea still pops up repeatedly in popular culture, and I think this book helps to put a nail in that coffin.

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

JS: My mom is a microbiologist and my dad is a lawyer, and they exposed me to both methods of exploration, so I entered Reed College as an undergrad confident that I could pursue either a degree in science or the humanities. Then I took my first history course, on Colonial America, and read James Axtell’s The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial America. I never turned back. In retrospect, I think this interest in cultural contact in Early America has a lot to do with my upbringing. My grandfather narrowly escaped Europe during the Holocaust, but his first wife and son were murdered at Auschwitz. Although I never met him, I spent my childhood watching his second son, my father, deal with the questions of assimilation and home that I think a lot of children of refugees inherit. By studying contact in early America I am grappling with similar questions on a different stage.

JF: What is your next project?

JS: I am working on an intellectual biography of Roger Williams, most famous for founding the colony of Rhode Island and being a vocal advocate for religious toleration. But instead of looking at Williams solely through the lens of religion, I am using the fact that he was interested in economic theory, natural philosophy, world history, and ethnology to write a new history of Atlantic New England. I am indebted to the team at Brown University, led by Lucas Mason-Brown and Linford Fisher, who started translating the shorthand notes that Williams took in a couple of books he owned. I am continuing to translate these notes, which reveal how Williams was reading and engaging with Peter Heylyn’s Cosmography and Thomas Bartholin’s Bartholins Anatomy. My goal throughout the book is to extend an argument I made in a 2011 article I published in Early American Studies: we cannot understand Williams’s intellectual development without acknowledging the effect his contact of New England Native groups had on his world view.

JF: Thanks, Jessica!

The Author’s Corner with Kristalyn Shefveland

anglonativevirginiaKristalyn Shefveland is Associate Professor of History at the University of Southern Indiana. This interview is based on her new book, Anglo-Native Virginia: Trade, Conversion, and Indian Slavery in the Old Dominion, 1646-1722 (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: During my PhD program at the University of Mississippi, I took two seminars on the American colonies, with emphasis on the Southeast. One was a history seminar in which we discussed at length the Chesapeake school and the evolving issues of race, particularly as it related to the work of Edmund Morgan and Winthrop Jordan, and the seminal work of Powhatan’s Mantle. The other was an anthropology seminar in which we were introduced to the body of scholarship on the Eastern Woodlands and the emergence of the trade in skins and slaves. Out of these two courses I came away with many questions about the Stegg/Byrd family and the role of Virginia in the Indian slave trade. I was inspired by the work of Alan Gallay, Robbie Ethridge, and Charles Hudson and wanted to know more.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: Anglo-Native Virginia argues that attempts to regulate and control trade and indigenous peoples via a tributary system was at the foreground of Virginia’s native concerns from Governor Sir William Berkeley to Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood. This tributary system and its accompanying categories and rules represent an era of deep upheaval in the indigenous communities of the coastal plain and piedmont, resulting in the enslavement of native peoples as the colonies used the frontier exchange economy to finance their emerging plantation complex.

JF: Why do we need to read Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: As an interdisciplinary work of ethnohistory, I hope this book finds an audience in a number of venues, including but not limited to scholars of Atlantic trade, colonial settlement, Southern Studies, slavery studies, and Indigenous peoples. The book asks us to consider the central role that indigenous and colonial interaction played in the larger narrative of the plantation South. It asks us to look more closely at how trade with Native peoples shaped Virginia history as it transitioned from a fledgling colonial outpost to a settler society dependent upon slave labor. I argue that the Southeast cannot be understood without understanding Virginia and one cannot understand Virginia without understanding the tributary system. The framework of this project came from my interest in demonstrating the importance of Native history for broader narratives. Until fairly recently, Native peoples of Virginia have been in the background of important studies that have focused on the Atlantic slave trade, mercantilism, and the plantation economy. A full understanding of the important role that Virginia tributary and foreign Natives played in the trade in skins and slaves as it relates to the Atlantic economy and mercantilism has been the subject of important recent scholarship and I think my work complements this emerging field.

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

KS: I started writing stories at an early age and they always had a historical element. I split my childhood between the small Mississippi river town of Wabasha, Minnesota and a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I was always drawn to the historic sites of the two very different communities, one barely 2,500 people and the other a sprawling rustbelt town where suburbs converged into one another. In Minnesota, I was raised on the history of Euro-Native interaction, trade and settlement, and the folklore of the river valley. Across the river in Wisconsin was the Big Woods that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about and the town of Maiden Rock. In sum, I always loved a folktale and a yarn, a lifelong love affair that my parents greatly encouraged by going through historic towns and stopping at roadside markers, even when it added an hour or three to our regular road trips to Minnesota or Florida. In Ohio, I had the opportunity to work with an incredible high school teacher, Steven Abbey, who allowed me to take independent studies on a wide variety of historical topics and then I had the pleasure to attend Bowling Green State University where I studied under the Great Lakes historian, Edmund Danziger. He fostered my love of stories and helped to guide my scholarship towards the field of ethnohistory. In his seminar courses as well as the eye-opening classes I got to take with the Latin American historian, Rob Buffington, I knew that I wanted to pursue the field of history beyond undergrad. I was lucky to land at the University of Mississippi to work in interdisciplinary collaboration on indigenous peoples with Sheila Skemp and Robbie Ethridge. In a bit of kismet, I moved south to study peoples who came originally from Lake Erie.

JF: What is your next project?

KS: I am currently at work on a book on historical memory of indigenous peoples in Florida, particularly the town of Vero Beach, on the Indian River. This is a project of personal importance to me as it is a place I have known all my life and yet its deeply manicured history of settler pioneers and adventurous rogues reveals an incomplete narrative. I came to this study because of a large Spanish-mission style building that overlooks the town center with a relief carving of Pocahontas. Indian River produce advertisements from the 1880s-1970s depict idyllic jungle scenes, complete with friendly and noble Indians of vaguely Plains motifs—a vision at odds with the region’s indigenous past. Yankees, calling themselves pioneers and colonizers, moved to the region in waves throughout the early 20th century, viewing Southerners with scorn as the wealthy Northern investors built empires of citrus and sugar.

The Indian River Farms Company of Davenport, Iowa made the greatest strides toward conquering Florida. While settling the region, the company created a romantic narrative to sell land to potential Yankee colonizers. Street names included Seminole, Osceola, Cherokee, Mohawk, Kickapoo, and Ute. Buildings included the Chief Sleepy Eye Lodge and the Pocahontas Arcade. All names considered “picturesque” by would be settlers. Situating these endeavors within the broader context of Yankee imperialism in the Caribbean, particularly Cuba, I am reconsidering the legacy of a colonial southern past alongside the emergence of the vacation south to explore its potential impact on studies of the Indigenous south.

JF: Thanks, Kristalyn!

The Author’s Corner with David Silverman

thundersticksDavid Silverman is Professor of History at George Washington University. This interview is based on his new book, Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America (Belknap Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Thundersticks?

DS: It was the culmination of a number of different things.  Honestly, the first important step came when I was working as a colonial interpreter at Jamestown Settlement the summer after completing coursework toward my M.A. at William and Mary. My duties included a daily militia drill demonstration in which I loaded and fired a matchlock musket (something which routinely sent the throngs of boys among the tourists into a frenzy). It took barely a week of practice before I could get off a shot within 25 seconds, which made me wonder about the historical truism that these weapons took a painfully long time to load. I also learned firsthand about the power of gunfire. The interpreter in charge of the muskets showed me metal breastplates and helmets at which he had fired from distances ranging from fifty to a hundred yards. They were filled with baseball- and grapefruit-sized holes. Arrows, whether tipped with stone or metal, would have had no effect on this armor. Indeed, I also learned that arrows were incapable of breaching the gambesons (coats of padded cloth armor) worn by soldiers at Jamestown. This experience put me on the lookout for evidence of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of firearms in Native American life.  Over the course of several years researching a dissertation and several books and teaching several classes, the data began to mount.

A couple of other experiences later in my scholarly career convinced me it was finally time to address this issue in book format. The first was reading through the Curwen papers at the American Antiquarian Society, which contains a detailed account of the Indian attack on the English town of Medfield during King Philip’s War.  There are a number of anecdotes of colonists peeking out from the shelter of their blockhouse only to suffer a deadly gunshot from Indians firing at quite a distance away. This material made me wonder, yet again, why historians routinely slight the accuracy of flintlock muskets in the face of such evidence.

Another impetus was reading the burgeoning literature on the Indian-English slave trade of the North American Southeast (this was in the late 1990s and early 2000s). It seemed so obvious to me that this trade was fundamentally an exchange of captives for guns in which communities without firearms fell prey to those with them. However, when I began Thundersticks, historians too often muted and even explicitly dismissed the role of guns in this trade based on the old, unsubstantiated truism that flintlock muskets were slow, inaccurate, and valued by Indians primarily for their so-called psychological effect, not their effectiveness as weapons of war.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Thundersticks?

DS: Between the early seventeenth and late nineteenth centuries, indigenous people across North America used firearms to transform their warfare, hunting, politics, gender roles, ceremonies, and material culture. Though Indians became dependent on guns, powder, and shot to defend their communities, they rarely became politically dependent on Euro-American states because they cultivated multiple sources of trade and diplomatic gifts of munitions.

JF: Why do we need to read Thundersticks?

DS: It is a continent-wide treatment of one of the most fundamental changes in Native American life during the Early Modern era.

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

DS: I reached this decision during my junior year as an undergraduate at Rutgers University, under the influence of such wonderful professors as Thomas Slaughter, Philip Greven, Paul Clemens, and Calvin Martin.  I was inspired by the notion of leading a creative life of learning and mutual intellectual exchange. I also found (and continue to find) it noble to engage in the work of bringing the experiences of everyday people of the past to life.  Part of our collective endeavor to have the United States live up to its ideals should involve teaching the public about the dark legacies of colonialism, including historic and ongoing Native American struggles for self-determination and justice.

JF: What is your next project?

DS: I have two in the works. The first is a Wampanoag-centered history of Plymouth colony and the Thanksgiving holiday timed to appear for the quadricentennial of Plymouth’s founding in 2020. The second will examine the roles of Christian Indians in North American colonial empires, and of colonial empires in the roles of Christian Indians.

JF: Thanks, David

When the Sioux and the U.S. Army Mix It Up in the Dakotas Bad Things Can Happen

 

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Last night in my Introduction to History course at Messiah College we got into a discussion about the many ways historians might be helpful in public debates.  A student brought up the ongoing fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline.  The Native Americans of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are in a fierce battle with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the proposed route of the pipeline.  History has shown us that when the Sioux and the U.S. Army mix it up in the Dakotas bad things can happen.

Here is a taste of Bill McKibben’s piece on the controversy at The New Yorker:

This week, thousands of Native Americans, from more than a hundred tribes, have camped out on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, which straddles the border between the Dakotas, along the Missouri River. What began as a slow trickle of people a month ago is now an increasingly angry flood. They’re there to protest plans for a proposed oil pipeline that they say would contaminate the reservation’s water; in fact, they’re calling themselves protectors, not protesters.

Their foe, most directly, is the federal government, in particular the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has approved a path for the pipeline across the Missouri under a “fast track” option called Permit 12. That’s one reason the Dakota Access Pipeline, as it’s known, hasn’t received the attention that, say, the Keystone XL Pipeline did, even though the pipe is about the same length. Originally, the pipeline was supposed to cross the Missouri near Bismarck, but authorities worried that an oil spill there would have wrecked the state capital’s drinking water. So they moved the crossing to half a mile from the reservation, across land that was taken from the tribe in 1958, without their consent. The tribe says the government hasn’t done the required consultation with them—if it had, it would have learned that building the pipeline there would require digging up sacred spots and old burial grounds.

In fact, the blade of a bulldozer cut through some of those burial grounds on Saturday—during a holiday weekend, days before a federal judge is supposed to rule on an emergency petition filed by the tribe which would slow the project down, and immediately after the tribe identified the burial grounds’ locations in a filing to the court. The company building the pipe—Energy Transfer Partners—has already constructed more than half the pipeline, which, when completed, would stretch from Stanley, North Dakota, near the Canadian border, to Patoka, in southern Illinois. It apparently wanted to create facts on the ground in North Dakota—wanted to do so badly enough, it seems, that it was willing to employ a private security force, which used dogs to confront the Native Americans who tried to prevent the desecration of old graves. Tribal officials said that the dogs bit six protesters, including a small child. (The company did not respond to requests for comment, but had previously stated that demonstrators “attacked” their workers and the guard dogs. It has stressed in the past that it has been “constructing this pipeline in accordance with applicable laws, and the local, state and federal permits and approvals we have received.”)

Pictures from that confrontation recall pictures from Birmingham circa 1963. But the historical parallels here run much deeper—they run to the original sins of this nation. The reservation, of course, is where the Native Americans were told to live when the vast lands they ranged were taken by others. The Great Sioux Reservation, formed in the eighteen-sixties, shrunk again and again—in 1980, a federal court said, of the whole sad story, “a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.” In the nineteen-fifties and early sixties, the Army Corps of Engineers—the same Army Corps now approving the pipeline—built five large dams along the Missouri, forcing Indian villages to relocate. More than two hundred thousand acres disappeared beneath the water.

Sioux history, and Native American history, is filled with one massacre and battle after another. Most of us have never heard of some of those encounters—the Whitestone, or Inyan Ska, massacre, for instance, not far from the present encampment, where at least three hundred Sioux lost their lives when Brigadier General Alfred Sully attacked men, women, and children feasting after a buffalo hunt. Some we do remember, albeit differently: one man in the camp last week said it was the most diverse gathering of Native Americans “since the Battle of Greasy Grass,” known to the white world as Little Bighorn. In other words, America’s shameful history with its native inhabitants is echoing across these riverbanks this late summer.

Read the rest here.

History can’t tell us what to do in a situation like this.  This is primarily a policy, or perhaps a moral, issue.  But history does offer some perspective.  The Native Americans are certainly invoking the past here.  I wonder if the Army Corps of Engineers has (or had) a historian on board.

The Author’s Corner with Michael Oberg

ProfessionalIndianMichael Oberg is Distinguished Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneso. This interview is based on his new book, Professional Indian: The American Odyssey of Eleazer Williams (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Professional Indian?

MO: I had been working on the Oneida land claim case with the specific task of examining the role played by the United States in the Oneidas’ dispossession.  Eleazer Williams seemed to pop up everywhere in the records: As a Mohawk-born missionary to the Oneidas in New York State; as an early advocate and supporter of the policy of “Indian Removal,” and as a leader in the process through which the Oneidas and other New York Indians became pioneers in the vicinity around Green Bay. 

As I began to go through Williams’s writings, however, I was fascinated by this shape-shifter, a man who, it seemed, played different roles as he traveled through the many worlds of the nineteenth century Haudenosaunee.  His own “real” life was fascinating enough: a descendant of the unredeemed Puritan captive Eunice Williams; as a successful missionary; as an advocate for Indian removal; and as a native leader who had the ear of political leaders at the state, territorial and national level.  But he also invented identities—characters, really– with elaborate backstories: he had said, for example, that he served as the Superintendent for Indian Affairs in New York during the War of 1812 and, late in life, he toured the northeast as the Dauphin, the long lost child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  With all of this, he seemed like too rich a character not to write about.

So I set out to gather as much material as I could find, beginning work on the project in 2009. A number of other projects intervened, as well as a year-long move to Texas, so the work took longer than I had expected.

I initially had thought that a study of Williams’s life would shed some light on the still under-studied history of the Iroquois in the first half of the nineteenth century, as well as providing a history of the removal of a northern Native American community.  I hoped to write a book illuminating the process through which Native peoples became pioneers, like the many tens of thousands of other Americans who moved westward during the nineteenth century.  The book ended up being something very different—the biography of a troubled man who in many ways, despite his importance in the history of the Iroquois, in Indian policy and in the history of New York State, lived a very sad and lonely life.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Professional Indian?

MO: Eleazer Williams, whose American odyssey carried him through the many worlds of the nineteenth century Iroquois, became a “Professional Indian” who cultivated many personas and political interests during a period of dispossession and shrinking options for native peoples. Williams—and many native peoples like him—fought for a place in an American Republic that was trying to eliminate and erase them, and his struggle illustrates the precariousness of the Indians’ place in white America.

JF: Why do we need to read Professional Indian?

MO: The book began as the story of the descendant of an unredeemed Puritan captive carried away to the Catholic Mohawk town of Kahnawake, who became a missionary to the Oneidas in central New York and Wisconsin, and an active supporter of the effort to “remove”—I hate that word in that context—eastern Indians to new homes in the west.  It follows Eleazer Williams through the many worlds of the Iroquois that Williams passed through over the course of his long public career, from the pressed-upon Indian towns in New York and Wisconsin to the centers of Anglo-American power in Albany, New York City, and Washington, D.C. But it became more than that. It is also a story of identity, of self-fashioning, in Indian America in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War.  It looks at the varied roles native peoples might play in the American Republic.  It is also a story about getting by and making do, and the struggles of an important, if underappreciated, Indian leader as he attempted to do so.  If you are interested in any of these subjects—the Iroquois, Indian Removal, Christian missions– I think you will find the book worth reading.   

But the book is also about an interesting and rich and complex character. I really try to emphasize that when I talk about this book. Writing it was difficult for me in that I have never had to devote this much time, energy and effort into developing a character, and understanding the motives and thinking of a man who was seldom honest.  Williams lied in his diaries, after all, and writing the life story of a liar was a difficult task. We all make choices about how we present ourselves to the world.  And to some extent, I suppose, we all play roles.  Williams certainly did.  We might conform to or challenge at times the expectations that come with these roles.  Eleazer Williams told stories.  He made choices.  He played roles.  On a number of times, he made things up, creating characters for himself with elaborate backstories and complex plots.  But he was limited.  As an Iroquois who was a Christian he found only a small number of doors open to him. As an Indian, or a person of mixed race, or as a European; as a missionary or an intercultural diplomat, or, he claimed, a king—all identities that he claimed at one time or another—he found himself confronted by the expectations of the various audiences before whom he appeared.  His livelihood depended upon not disappointing these audiences.

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

MO: The “Why?” is a much easier question to answer than the “When?”  At each stage of my career as a historian, I have always liked what I was doing.  I liked my undergraduate history courses, for the most part, and I enjoyed the reading I did in graduate school.  My first teaching job, at a small, underfunded college in eastern Montana, was horrible in so many ways, but I loved teaching there and the rare occasions when I was able to cobble together enough money to go do research. And I love Geneseo, where I teach now, working with talented and upbeat undergraduate students at a fantastic public liberal arts college.  That the main archives I rely upon for my research are all within a half-day’s drive is pure gravy.

I teach a survey course in Native American history, courses in American Indian Law, the     History of the Iroquois, and in American Colonial history, as well as some general education humanities and freshman writing courses.  They all present challenges, and by some standards I suppose the teaching load is heavy.  But the enjoyment I get out of talking history with bright students and the satisfaction I get when I am able to find time to conduct my own research leave me feeling pretty certain that I have been more than fortunate in the choices I have made. I am a historian because I have had the good luck to be able to do what I love.

When? That is a more difficult question.  I have always been interested in history.  I worked at a wargame store in high school and that forced me, in a fashion, to engage with the past—military history, mostly.  Like I said, I liked my history courses in school. I still remember some of my high school history teachers well. I bounced through a couple of majors at the junior college I attended and at CSULB, and after struggling in those I changed my major to history and never really looked back.   

I knew that I wanted to be a historian, even if I had a very poor understanding of what that meant. As an undergraduate I had no understanding of committee work, learning outcomes, and the various sorts of administrivia that sometimes comes with the job. My first try at applying to graduate schools did not go well, so I stayed at Long Beach and earned my MA.  I was able to do well enough there to get a free ride to Syracuse for my Ph.D.  It was only there where I really was convinced that there was a future for me in this field.  I had wonderful teachers in graduate school, and they prepared me well, especially Stephen Saunders Webb and James Roger Sharp, along with Ralph Ketcham and the late Joseph M. Levine, even if I still feel like I have much to learn about teaching and if I still struggle to keep up with all the literature in my field.

JF: What is your next project?

MO: After I complete revisions for the second edition of Native America: A History, a textbook I wrote some years ago, I plan to get back to work on a big project that I have been tinkering with for some time: a history of the Onondaga Nation from the earliest times to the present.  The material is collected. Now I need to sit down and start working my way through it.

JF: Thanks, Michael!