Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America / Edition 1

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Overview

In the beginning, North America was Indian country. But only in the beginning. After the opening act of the great national drama, Native Americans yielded to the westward rush of European settlers.

Or so the story usually goes. Yet, for three centuries after Columbus, Native people controlled most of eastern North America and profoundly shaped its destiny. In Facing East from Indian Country, Daniel K. Richter keeps Native people center-stage throughout the story of the origins of the United States.

Viewed from Indian country, the sixteenth century was an era in which Native people discovered Europeans and struggled to make sense of a new world. Well into the seventeenth century, the most profound challenges to Indian life came less from the arrival of a relative handful of European colonists than from the biological, economic, and environmental forces the newcomers unleashed. Drawing upon their own traditions, Indian communities reinvented themselves and carved out a place in a world dominated by transatlantic European empires. In 1776, however, when some of Britain's colonists rebelled against that imperial world, they overturned the system that had made Euro-American and Native coexistence possible. Eastern North America only ceased to be an Indian country because the revolutionaries denied the continent's first peoples a place in the nation they were creating.

In rediscovering early America as Indian country, Richter employs the historian's craft to challenge cherished assumptions about times and places we thought we knew well, revealing Native American experiences at the core of the nation's birth and identity.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

Most American histories treat North America's indigenous peoples as ancillary to the more important story of the establishment of a European nation in the New World. What would happen if one shifted focus and transformed the usual bit-players into stars? Richter...makes that shift and produces what may, for its impeccable use of primary sources, smoothly well-wrought prose, and passionate argument, become a classic.
— Patricia Monaghan

Choice

Richter demythicizes the standard accounts...to demonstrate how white settlers consciously created false images to justify economic, religious, and military exploitation of Native inhabitants...This [is an] innovative and well-written book.
— M. L. Tate

Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News
Richter insists that we must look over the shoulders of American Indians to see the Europeans who settled the New World to have a complete understanding of our origins. His depiction of how these original Americans adapted to the new-comers and how they were inevitably betrayed by generations devoted to "freedom" and "opportunity" are especially telling.
Indian Country Today

In his acclaimed volume Facing East From Indian Country, Daniel Richter turns the tables on 'conventional' histories of early European-Indian relations by looking east from the Mississippi River rather than west from the Atlantic Ocean...Richter approaches, from the Indian perspective, the history of early contact with Europeans through the founding of the U. S., with emphasis on tribes' immeasurable contribution to the history of the continent. He culls Native voices from surviving documents and records, pulling Indians from the periphery of white America's memory and making them the focal point of the post-contact story.
— Tom Wanamaker

Journal of the West

[Richter] has written a provocative new interpretation of early America from pre-contact to the early 19th century…[H]e places early America in the context of Native American society and history and not solely in the rush of colonial expansion…Historians of the American West and scholars of Western Native American studies will find much value in Richter's retelling of early American History.
— Joseph Key

New York Review of Books

Thanks to the work of Richter and others like him who have set out to break with the traditional Eurocentric narrative, 'the people without history' have been given back their voice.
— J. H. Elliott

Booklist - Patricia Monaghan
Most American histories treat North America's indigenous peoples as ancillary to the more important story of the establishment of a European nation in the New World. What would happen if one shifted focus and transformed the usual bit-players into stars? Richter...makes that shift and produces what may, for its impeccable use of primary sources, smoothly well-wrought prose, and passionate argument, become a classic.
Choice - M. L. Tate
Richter demythicizes the standard accounts...to demonstrate how white settlers consciously created false images to justify economic, religious, and military exploitation of Native inhabitants...This [is an] innovative and well-written book.
James H. Merrell
From its title to its very last page, Facing East from Indian Country spins us around. But rather than dizzying, this turnabout is clarifying, freeing us from the blinders of a European perspective on the early American experience. Vast in scope yet intimate in its attention to particular people, places, and moments, Richter's book is a moving, thought-provoking work of scholarship.
Philip J. Deloria
Richter offers a brilliant retelling of the old stories of European colonies and empires through Native eyes. Facing East from Indian Country may be as close as any scholar has come to synthesizing an "Indian perspective" on early American history This is a book not to be missed.
Alan Taylor
With keen insight, deep reading, and a sparkling wit, Richter makes new and compelling sense of American history, radically shifting our perspective on the past. Balancing vivid imagination and a respect for the unknown, Richter crafts a powerful and engaging story that is essential to understanding our place in time on this continent.
Indian Country Today - Tom Wanamaker
In his acclaimed volume Facing East From Indian Country, Daniel Richter turns the tables on 'conventional' histories of early European-Indian relations by looking east from the Mississippi River rather than west from the Atlantic Ocean...Richter approaches, from the Indian perspective, the history of early contact with Europeans through the founding of the U. S., with emphasis on tribes' immeasurable contribution to the history of the continent. He culls Native voices from surviving documents and records, pulling Indians from the periphery of white America's memory and making them the focal point of the post-contact story.
Journal of the West - Joseph Key
[Richter] has written a provocative new interpretation of early America from pre-contact to the early 19th century…[H]e places early America in the context of Native American society and history and not solely in the rush of colonial expansion…Historians of the American West and scholars of Western Native American studies will find much value in Richter's retelling of early American History.
New York Review of Books - J. H. Elliott
Thanks to the work of Richter and others like him who have set out to break with the traditional Eurocentric narrative, 'the people without history' have been given back their voice.
Publishers Weekly
At the center of this bold and thoroughly astonishing history of Native Americans are narratives of three Indians generally known to Euro-Americans: Pocahontas, Blessed Catherine Tekakwitha and the Algonquin warrior Metacom, also known as King Philip. Telling each of these stories a romance, the life of a saint, the destruction of a "noble savage" from the European and then the Native American perspective, Richter elucidates an alternative history of America from Columbus to just after the Revolution. Taking his cues from historian Carl Becker's famous assertion that history is "an imaginative creation," Richter, director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, recasts early American history from the Native American point of view and in doing so illuminates as much about the Europeans as about the original Americans. After explaining the vast scope of Native American culture probably more then two million native people lived east of the Mississippi in 1492 in villages that were "decentralized and diverse, but not disconnected" Richter reconstructs the Native American experience of the European. Using a variety of sources missionary tracts, official state art (the seal of the Massachusetts Bay Company featured a native with the words "Come Over and Help Us"), military reports and religious writings by both Europeans and Native Americans he describes a world far more layered than that of accepted U.S. history. Exploring the varying complexities of different native peoples' relationships with England, France and Spain, he argues that the Native Americans were safer during the colonial era than after the Revolution, when the idea of a white,democratic country took hold. Gracefully written and argued, Richter's compelling research and provocative claims make this an important addition to the literature for general readers of both Native American and U.S. studies. (Dec.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
Daniel Richter, Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, invites his reader to imagine himself in the 17th century, at the location of modern-day St. Louis, facing eastward toward the Atlantic as the first Europeans arrive. He suggests that "if we shift our perspective to try to view the past in a way that faces east from Indian country, history takes on a very different appearance. North Americans appear in the foreground, and Europeans enter from distant shores." Richter maintains this eastward gaze as he traces three centuries of our continental history from the 16th-century explorers and the 17th-century colonizers to the 18th-century wars, culminating in the American Revolution. This is history as we have seldom read it, a perspective we have rarely adopted. Richter's research is broad and detailed, his prose smooth and his storytelling often absorbing. His conclusion, that "native people...could find no place in the mythology of a nation marching triumphantly westward," cannot be avoided. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Harvard Univ. Press, 317p. illus. notes. index., Moore
Library Journal
Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the acclaimed The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization (Univ. of North Carolina, 1992), Richter here offers a masterly work that eschews the long-standing perception that Native Americans were nothing more than marginalized bystanders as Europeans colonized North America. Focusing on the period between the 15th and 18th centuries, the author instead shows that Native American communities adapted to the many stresses introduced by the arrival of the Europeans and were active participants in creating a new way of life on the continent. This title, which should be read alongside Richard White's The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge Univ., 1991), provides a valuable perspective that is often overlooked in books about the same period. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An excellent, ambitious attempt to restore to history long-overlooked Indians who "neither uncompromisingly resisted . . . nor wholeheartedly assimilated" in the face of white encroachment. Much work on American Indian history has concentrated on the Great Plains and Far West, but a growing movement among (mostly junior) historians focuses attention on the Eastern woodland peoples who lived more or less at peace with the European newcomers during the period of colonial rule, treated by the overseas authorities as members of sovereign nations. Only with the attainment of American independence, writes Richter (Director, McNeil Center for Early American Studies/Univ. of Pennsylvania), did these scattered peoples find themselves considered part of a monolithic whole ("despite ancient rivalries among nations and speakers of different languages, they were all Indians"), a whole that, thought by definition to be the enemy, had to be subdued. Most of them, descendants of larger groups that had been fragmented by disease and other forces before and immediately after the arrival of the whites, had tried to "incorporate European objects and ideas into Indian country on Indian terms." Thus their cultures, altered by the introduction of alien modes of exchange and materials (like iron, which spurred what Richter memorably calls America's "first arms race," and pigs, which wreaked havoc on forest ecosystems and starved out the game Indians depended on), would have been unrecognizable to their ancestors in many ways, and nowhere more so than in New England, where Anglo participants in King Philip's War who dressed and behaved like Indians battled Indians who dressed and behaved like whites. None ofthis mattered to the expansionist-minded American government, which abjured the "mutual benefits of trade, peace, and stability" of Crown policy and declared war on Native America militarily, socially, and culturally, making Indian-hating a tenet of national policy-and setting in motion tragic events that haunt us even now. A hallmark in recent Native American historiography that merits wide attention.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674011175
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 2/5/2003
  • Edition description: First Paperback Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 190,401
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel K. Richter is Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History and the Richard S. Dunn Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: Early America as Indian Country

1. Imagining a Distant New World

2. Confronting a Material New World

3. Living with Europeans

4. Native Voices in a Colonial World

5. Native Peoples in an Imperial World

6. Separate Creations

Epilogue: Eulogy from Indian Country

A Technical Note

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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