Uncas: First of the Mohegansby Michael Leroy Oberg
Many know the name "Uncas" only from James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, but the historical Uncas flourished as an important leader of the Mohegan people in seventeenth-century Connecticut. In Uncas: First of the Mohegans, Michael Leroy Oberg integrates the life story of an important Native American sachem into the broader story of European settlement in America. The arrival of the English in Connecticut in the 1630s upset the established balance among the region's native groups and brought rapid economic and social change. Oberg argues that Uncas's methodical and sustained strategies for adapting to these changes made him the most influential Native American leader in colonial New England. Emerging from the damage wrought by epidemic disease and English violence, Uncas transformed the Mohegans from a small community along the banks of the Thames River in Connecticut into a regional power in southern New England. Uncas learned quickly how to negotiate between cultures in the conflicts that developed as natives and newcomers, Indians and English, maneuvered for access to and control of frontier resources. With English assistance, Uncas survived numerous assaults and plots hatched by his native rivals. Unique among Indian leaders in early America, Uncas maintained his power over large numbers of tributary and other native communities in the region, lived a long life, and died a peaceful death (without converting to Christianity) in his people's traditional homeland. Oberg finds that although the colonists considered Uncas "a friend to the English," he was first and foremost an assertive guardian of Mohegan interests.
"Oberg has produced what should stand for some time as the definitive biography of Uncas, one that significantly advances our understanding of the sachem's life and of Anglo-Indian relations in seventeenth-century southern New England. He is especially effective in showing just how fluid indigenous political leadership and tributary relationships were and how Uncas and other Indian leaders capitalized on that fluidity. . . . Oberg has given us our fullest portrait of Uncas to date, together with a solid account of the historical context that shaped, and was shaped by, this remarkable sachem."Neal Salisbury, Smith College, The New England Quarterly, December 2003.
"Unlike past writers, Michael Leroy Oberg avoids caricaturing Uncas and humanizes him. Because Uncas closely allied himself with the English yet managed to maintain a greater cultural gap between his people and the colonists than did many other leaders, he was unique. Yet if one had to choose an Indian whose life story could be used to present a microcosm of seventeenth-century New England, it would have to be Uncas."James D. Drake, Metropolitan State College of Denver, William and Mary Quarterly, July 2004
"For his nicely nuanced and minutely detailed narrative, historians of native southern New England owe much to Michael Oberg."William B. Hart, Middlebury College, The Journal of American History, June 2004
"The author looks at Uncas' relationship with both the English and the region's other tribes, particularly the Pequots and Narragansetts, both of whom rivaled the Mohegans for control of the area. The sachem's skillful cultivation and use of his allies, while keeping Mohegan interests at the forefront of his concerns, draws Oberg's praise."Tom Wanamaker, Indian Country, Sept. 24, 2005
"Oberg has composed what is clearly the most comprehensive and strongest treatment of Uncas thus far. . . . The author has successfully employed the framework of ethnohistory to construct a balanced and contextualized interpretation of Uncas' life, something that has been heretofore elusive. The Uncas that emerges from Oberg's pages is neither a bronzed hero of English providence, nor a convenient straw man who can be battered in the name of white guilt over and justification for imperial conquests."Akim D. Reinhardt, Towson University, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 5:2, 2004
"This is a very impressive narrative account of the life of one of the most notable Mohegans. Michael Leroy Oberg demonstrates that it is possible to reconstruct in detail most facets of a Native American's life in the seventeenth century. Uncas: First of the Mohegans is paced well and its scenes are often vivid."Peter C. Mancall, author of Deadly Medicine: Indians and Alcohol in Early America and Valley of Opportunity: Economic Culture Along the Upper Susquehanna, 1700-1800
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