Indian Captive, Indian King: Peter Williamson in America and Britain

Indian Captive, Indian King: Peter Williamson in America and Britain

by Timothy J. Shannon


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In 1758 Peter Williamson appeared on the streets of Aberdeen, Scotland, dressed as a Native American and telling a remarkable tale. He claimed that as a young boy he had been kidnapped from the city and sold into slavery in America. In performances and in a printed narrative he peddled to his audiences, Williamson described his tribulations as an indentured servant, Indian captive, soldier, and prisoner of war. Aberdeen’s magistrates called him a liar and banished him from the city, but Williamson defended his story.

Separating fact from fiction, Timothy J. Shannon explains what Williamson’s tale says about how working people of eighteenth-century Britain, so often depicted as victims of empire, found ways to create lives and exploit opportunities within it. Exiled from Aberdeen, Williamson settled in Edinburgh, where he cultivated enduring celebrity as the self-proclaimed “king of the Indians.” His performances and publications capitalized on the curiosity the Seven Years’ War had ignited among the public for news and information about America and its native inhabitants. As a coffeehouse proprietor and printer, he gave audiences a plebeian perspective on Britain’s rise to imperial power in North America.

Indian Captive, Indian King is a history of empire from the bottom up, showing how Williamson’s American odyssey illuminates the real-life experiences of everyday people on the margins of the British Empire and how those experiences, when repackaged in travel narratives and captivity tales, shaped popular perceptions about the empire’s racial and cultural geography.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674976320
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 01/15/2018
Pages: 360
Sales rank: 807,169
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Timothy J. Shannon is Professor of History at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA.

Table of Contents

Note on Dates, Money, and Williamson's Narrative ix

Prologue: Aberdeen, 1758 1

Part I Hard Fate

1 Kidnapped 13

2 Sold as a Slave 36

3 Captive 56

4 Soldier 79

5 Prisoner of War 103

Part II The Interesting Tale

6 Strolling Adventurer 125

7 Poor Peter Williamson 151

8 Peter Williamson, Pursuer 169

9 From the Other World 200

10 Bookseller, Printer, and Postman 226

11 King of the Indians 243

Epilogue: Edinburgh, 1822 269

Abbreviations 273

Notes 275

Acknowledgments 331

Index 335

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