Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America

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“With remarkable literary skill, Peter Silver . . . provokes hard thinking about the basic themes of our history.”—Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy
Relying on meticulous original archival research, historian Peter Silver uncovers a fearful and vibrant early America in which Lutherans and Presbyterians, Quakers, Catholics and Covenanters, Irish, German, French, and Welsh all sought to lay claim to a daunting countryside. Such groups had rarely intermingled in Europe, and the divisions between them only grew—until, with the arrival of the Seven Years’ War, thousands of country people were forced to flee from Indian attack.Silver reveals in vivid and often chilling detail how easily a rhetoric of fear can incite entire populations to violence. He shows how it was only through the shared experience of fearing and hating Indians that these Europeans, once irreconcilable, were finally united under the ideal of religious and ethnic tolerance that has since defined the best in American life.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
“Penetrates searchingly into a dark chapter of Colonial history.”
Publishers Weekly

The mid-Atlantic colonies of 18th-century America were home to a remarkable diversity of immigrants-Germans, Quakers, Moravians, Englishmen and French, among others. In this exhaustively researched and elegantly written study, Princeton historian Silver asks how all the Europeans lived side by side. The answer, Silver says, is that they were solidified into a single people during the Seven Years' War in the 1750s by the fear of Indian attack. The motley Europeans morphed into white people, defined in opposition to Indians. (An intriguing appendix reveals that colonial newspapers tended to use the adjective "white" to describe people principally during bouts of Indian war.) But not everyone with pale skin became part of this new people-the most fascinating sections of the book explore why some European settlers, such as Quakers (who were accused of betraying white people's interests), were excluded from the collective. Silver also shows how fears of Indian menace were taken up during the Revolution: patriots shored up a distinctive American identity and claimed that the British were engaging in Indian-like atrocities, such as scalping and cannibalism. Silver's study will change the way scholars think about whiteness and will reshape our understanding of how 13 distinct colonies were knit together into one nation. 13 illus., 2 maps. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Through an examination of the frontier regions of Britain's middle provinces in North America, which included Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Maryland, Silver (history, Princeton Univ.) eloquently explains how violence united groups that were initially divided by linguistic, racial, and religious differences. The work focuses on the period between the 1740s and 1780s, when the region was wracked by conflicts such as the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Through graphic illustrations and quotes from the period, the author vividly demonstrates how extremists created paranoia among white Europeans that eventually led to the emergence of a white nationalism built on the common experience of a perceived victimization by Indians. Silver also demonstrates that Native American groups were affected in the same manner by the frontier violence, as a number of pan-Indian movements emerged that united disparate Native American groups in order to protect their communities from the numerous atrocities visited upon them by the white Europeans. This fascinating study on the role of frontier violence in forging a uniquely American psyche is highly recommended for academic and public libraries.
—John Burch

Kirkus Reviews
A historian examines how Indian war from the 1750s to the 1770s remade the social and political landscape of America's middle colonies. Early on, the challenges of the New World reinforced an ultra-orthodoxy among the overlapping cultural, linguistic and religious constituencies among European immigrants, heightening their mutual distaste and creating obvious difficulties for political and public life. A special scorn was reserved for backcountry settlers, dismissed as thoughtless, shiftless, no better than the Indians they stupidly provoked. Though he alludes to events in nearby colonies, Silver (History/Princeton) focuses on remarkably diverse Pennsylvania to explain how the fear and shock aroused by Indian attacks during the Seven Years' and Revolutionary War changed all that, breaking down shared stereotypes. Instead, the political debate began to center on the suffering of the country folk, testing the loyalties of any thought in sympathy or, worse, collusion with "our savage neighbors." Making liberal and judicious use of the historical record-pamphlets, sermons, petitions, news accounts, private correspondence, poems and plays-Silver demonstrates how the emergence of "the anti-Indian sublime" ennobled and empowered the previously downtrodden, casting them as victims of unspeakable horrors. This anti-Indian campaign-rhetorical and martial-drew the Europeans together, diminishing prejudice among them even as it hardened after the wars into a recognizable racism toward the tribes. Though not as compulsively readable as John Demos's The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (1994), Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War (2006) andBenjamin Woolley's Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America (2007), Silver's account is nevertheless full of engaging stories that serve his provocative thesis well. A delight for historians and a worthwhile challenge for the general reader.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393334906
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/3/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 472,106
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Silver is an assistant professor of history at Princeton University. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Table of Contents

Figures     xi
Charts     xiii
Map     xiii
Introduction     xvii
An Unsettled Country     3
Fearing Indians     39
Wounds Crying for Vengeance     73
The Seven Years' War and the White People     95
Attacking Indians     125
A Spirit of Enterprise     161
The Quakers Unmasked     191
Barbarism and the American Revolution     227
The Postwar That Wasn't     261
Conclusion     293
Appendix     303
Abbreviations     307
Notes     315
Acknowledgments     387
Index     391
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