The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities

Before, during and after the American Revolution, interaction between American colonists and Native Americans were frequent and ubiquitous, however, in many histories of the period American Indians receive at best peripheral treatment. Colin G. Calloway’s The American Revolution in Indian Country remedies this historical discrepancy by focusing on “a number of Indian communities as case studies of how Native Americans fared during the conflict…”

The revolution altered Native American life socially, politically, economically, and even ecologically. Warfare disrupted local economies frequently resulting in greater dependencies on European powers for military and economic security. Britain exploited these dependencies to a great extent. Some tribes attempted to remain neutral between the colonial rebels and imperial Britain but were often drawn into war. Though some tribes such as the Abenakis remained to a significant degree impartial, evading “the burning of their homes and the destruction of their crops” , their tribe suffered from “internal turmoil”. The consensus politics that had defined Indian political life frayed. In addition, the influence of European goods (especially alcohol) and patronage caused social disruption and conflict within tribes.

Throughout the revolution, generational divides led to political ruptures as young warriors deviated from elder leadership, engaging in warfare on their own terms. Thus, with traditional tribal authority undermined, internal divisions surfaced. Many tribes fragmented into separate groups representing their own specific interests. Moreover, the imposition of European political structures often reduced the political authority of women. While most Native Americans sided with the British, some such as the Stockbridge community fought for the Patriots. The rebels rewarded them by taking their lands, illustrating a pattern that would repeat itself throughout the eighteenth century. Moreover, Calloway reveals the polyglot nature of Native American life at this time, as tribes divided, intermingling with other tribes at various communities. War created refugees whom settled around areas such as Niagara. If old communities were destroyed new ones were created in Canada and in Florida (the Seminole Nation).

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