Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America


New England Indians created the multitribal Brothertown and Stockbridge communities during the eighteenth century with the intent of using Christianity and civilized reforms to cope with white expansion. In Red Brethren, David J. Silverman considers the stories of these communities and argues that Indians in early America were racial thinkers in their own right and that indigenous people rallied together as Indians not only in the context of violent resistance but also in campaigns to adjust peacefully to white ...

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New England Indians created the multitribal Brothertown and Stockbridge communities during the eighteenth century with the intent of using Christianity and civilized reforms to cope with white expansion. In Red Brethren, David J. Silverman considers the stories of these communities and argues that Indians in early America were racial thinkers in their own right and that indigenous people rallied together as Indians not only in the context of violent resistance but also in campaigns to adjust peacefully to white dominion. All too often, the Indians discovered that their many concessions to white demands earned them no relief.

In the era of the American Revolution, the pressure of white settlements forced the Brothertowns and Stockbridges from New England to Oneida country in upstate New York. During the early nineteenth century, whites forced these Indians from Oneida country, too, until they finally wound up in Wisconsin. Tired of moving, in the 1830s and 1840s, the Brothertowns and Stockbridges became some of the first Indians to accept U.S. citizenship, which they called "becoming white," in the hope that this status would enable them to remain as Indians in Wisconsin. Even then, whites would not leave them alone.

Red Brethren traces the evolution of Indian ideas about race under this relentless pressure. In the early seventeenth century, indigenous people did not conceive of themselves as Indian. They sharpened their sense of Indian identity as they realized that Christianity would not bridge their many differences with whites, and as they fought to keep blacks out of their communities. The stories of Brothertown and Stockbridge shed light on the dynamism of Indians' own racial history and the place of Indians in the racial history of early America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this compelling book David J. Silverman examines two multitribal Christian native groups, the Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians. Silverman's narrative spans two centuries and half a continent as he follows his subjects from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century, from greater Long Island Sound to western Massachusetts, central New York, and finally the lakeshore of Wisconsin. In doing so, he draws from sizeable caches of native-authored sermons, journals, and letters. This is not a study of postcontact Indian ethnogenesis nor is it a story of native conversion or migration‚ though it covers each of these topics quite well. Instead the argument centers on these Indians' roles in creating and opposing emerging American notions of race. . . . Silverman sensitively explores how allegations of racial betrayal and impurity surfaced in disputes between Christian groups and their native neighbors, and between the groups' Indian and Afro-Indian members. This crisply written and thoughtful book is rich with vivid quotations from Indian sources that attest to Silverman's prodigious research. Red Brethren delivers on its promise of 'a deeply human lesson about the dark power of race in the history of America' (p. 9)."—Andrew Lipman, Journal of American History

"David Silverman's Red Brethren is a welcome addition to a growing historiography concerning race in early America. Covering two hundred years, from the middle of the seventeenth century through the 1850s, the book traces the interrelated stories of Brothertown and Stockbridge, two Christian Indian communities that migrated repeatedly, eventually settling in Wisconsin, in order to escape the pressures of Anglo-American expansion. The story that Silverman tells may at first appear to be one of cultural assimilation, for he describes Native peoples converting to Christianity, abandoning traditional subsistence cycles in order to embrace market agriculture, transforming communal land holdings into privately held lots, and even accepting federal citizenship by the mid-nineteenth century. But Silverman in fact illustrates how these actions reflected strategies of resistance in a world that increasingly defined Native peoples as inherently inferior. In essence, Silverman explores how Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians redefined racial ideologies meant to marginalize them while attempting to defend their own self-determination. The result is a wonderfully well-researched, readable, and insightful relation of American Indian history. Red Brethren is an excellent book that offers historical context for understanding the ways in which race undermined tribal sovereignty, unity, and land ownership. Its rich research in primary and secondary sources makes it useful for the expert scholar, and its readable narrative assures that it should find a place in both the undergraduate classroom and on the avocational historian's bookshelf."—Brad Jarvis, New England Quarterly

"This is the best work on these Christian Indian communities and a notable contribution to the growing literature on the emergence of race in America. Highly recommended."—D. R. Mandell, Choice

"Silverman's Red Brethren is deeply researched and well narrated; it tells a robust and nuanced story because of its attention to developments among the Oneidas and Stockbridges as well as the Brothertowns. It is deft in its critical examination of the internal conflicts that bedeviled these Native communities or set them against each other. Red Brethren offers tribal history, but it pushes beyond the older historiography of Indian history and Indian-white relations to examine fresh questions, including potentially the place of Indians within the larger narrative of American history. . . . Red Brethren shows that there's much more to be learned about American identity and principles and how they have been contorted by the problem of race."—Matthew Dennis, Journal of the Early Republic

"By examining the origin and development of race consciousness among the Brothertowns and Stockbridges, David J. Silverman opens a window onto Native explanations of colonialism and its discontents for Indian peoples. . . . Red Brethren is a concise, well-researched, passionately written case study of the formation of racial identity among two Native groups. Silverman suggests that these northeastern Alongonquian communities' racial identities as Indians emerged from practical struggles—principally the need to resist relentless land pressure—with a strong assist from awakened religion. He is careful not to homogenize the process and draws subtle distinctions in how it unfolded among the Brothertowns and the Stockbridges. But while the development of racial consciousness might not have been uniform across every community, Silverman sees race emerging within particular regional landscapes. Red Brethren invites, and will doubtless reward, close comparison with other studies of race formation among other peoples, not only Indians, throughout early America."—William and Mary Quarterly

"Red Brethren is a pathbreaking and important book. Without soft-pedaling or minimizing the record of Euroamerican greed and duplicity, David J. Silverman demonstrates that many Indians were able to assimilate Christianity and make it their own mode of reaffirming their communities and taking control of their own destinies. Silverman makes clear that this was neither an easy nor a triumphant process; one of this book's admirable qualities is its elucidation of the effects of the factions that rent Indian groups and the way alcohol destroyed lives and plans. Silverman replaces the traditional story of early Indian defiance followed by inevitable defeat and degradation with a story in which Indians assimilate new cultural tools and continue their struggle to carve out a place for themselves in the emerging American order."—Karen Kupperman, Silver Professor, New York University, author of The Jamestown Project

"In this deeply researched and beautifully written book, David J. Silverman tells the history of the Brothertown community and elegantly expresses the dilemma of race as Indians in America faced it on a daily basis over several centuries. Promised independence and survival if they adopted the trappings of civilization—Christianity, plow agriculture, and European-style clothing, houses, and manners—they discovered that these were false promises and that, in the end, their racial difference as Indians mattered most to the Euroamericans who surrounded them, no matter where they attempted to root their community."—Nancy Shoemaker, author of A Strange Likeness: Becoming Red and White in Eighteenth-Century North America

"David J. Silverman's Red Brethren is much more than an excellent study of how indigenous Americans coped with conquest and colonization. It is also a meditation on the perplexing meaning of 'race' and a compelling portrait of the intersection of religion, identity, and society in early America."—Peter C. Mancall, author of Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson

"David J. Silverman's new book is that rare thing: a superbly researched work of scholarshipanda thoroughly engaging story. InRed Brethren, Silverman tackles the subject of the origins and development of American racism within a surprising context, the 'Christian Indian Movement' of the Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians. Several of the chief actors in the book left substantial papers, and Silverman mines them to bring these people to life. In particular, Silverman paints a moving portrait of Samson Occom, whose journey from enthusiasm to despair forms the core of this book.Red Brethrenchallenges the trope of Christianity as a tool of colonial subjugation. In Silverman's telling, Indians creatively applied Christian beliefs to their quest for political independence and cultural revitalization, a striking counterpart to contemporary nativist movements. But, like those secular movements, the Christian Indians' quest for a unified community ultimately fell prey to white expansion and racism. This is a thoughtful, beautifully crafted, heartbreaking book."—Jenny Hale Pulsipher, author of Subjects unto the Same King:Indians, English, and the Contest of Authority in Colonial New England

Library Journal
Silverman (history, George Washington Univ.; Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community Among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha's Vineyard, 1600–1871) explores the history of Brothertown and Stockbridge, two Native American communities established in the 1780s in New York. The inhabitants originally hailed from New England and had adopted Christianity in the early 18th century, believing that their conversion would allow them to become equal to whites through cultural accommodation. Never truly accepted because of their ethnicity, the Native Americans developed racial attitudes of their own toward Africans. Despite becoming "civilized," the residents of the two towns were forced to migrate to Wisconsin in the 1820s. Efforts were soon underway to seize their lands by forcing them to Kansas. In response, the Brothertown people renounced their native identity and, in their own eyes, became white through U.S. citizenship in 1839. They quickly rediscovered that they continued to carry an inescapable racial stigma. VERDICT For academic readers interested in the construction of race, this highly recommended work should be read alongside Nancy Shoemaker's A Strange Likeness: Becoming Red and White in Eighteenth-Century North America. For a different perspective on Brothertown, see Brad D.E. Jarvis's The Brothertown Nation of Indians.—John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801444777
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 10/14/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 526,158
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

David J. Silverman is Professor of History at George Washington University and the author of Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America and coauthor of Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narrangansetts: Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-Century New England and Indian Country, both from Cornell. He is also the author of Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha's Vineyard, 1600–1871.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Abbreviations xi

Prologue: That Overwhelming Tide of Fate 1

1 All One Indian 11

2 Converging Paths 30

3 Betrayals 70

4 Out from Under the Burdens 89

5 Exodus 107

6 Cursed 125

7 Red Brethren 149

8 More Than They Know How to Endure 171

9 Indians or Citizens, White Men or Red? 184

Epilogue: "Extinction" and a "Common Ancestor" 211

Notes 219

Index 271

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