Playing Indian

Playing Indian

by Philip J. Deloria




The Boston Tea Party, the Order of Red Men, Camp Fire Girls, Boy Scouts, Grateful Dead concerts are just a few examples of the American tendency to appropriate Indian dress and act out Indian roles. This provocative book explores how white Americans have used their ideas about Indians to shape national identity in different eras—and how Indian people have reacted to these imitations of their native dress, language, and ritual.

At the Boston Tea Party, colonial rebels played Indian in order to claim an aboriginal American identity. In the nineteenth century, Indian fraternal orders allowed men to rethink the idea of revolution, consolidate national power, and write nationalist literary epics. By the twentieth century, playing Indian helped nervous city dwellers deal with modernist concerns about nature, authenticity, Cold War anxiety, and various forms of relativism. Deloria points out, however, that throughout American history the creative uses of Indianness have been interwoven with conquest and dispossession of the Indians. Indian play has thus been fraught with ambivalence—for white Americans who idealized and villainized the Indian, and for Indians who were both humiliated and empowered by these cultural exercises.

Deloria suggests that imagining Indians has helped generations of white Americans define, mask, and evade paradoxes stemming from simultaneous construction and destruction of these native peoples. In the process, Americans have created powerful identities that have never been fully secure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300080674
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 09/10/1999
Series: Yale Historical Publications Series
Pages: 262
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Philip J. Deloria is assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a coauthor of The Native Americans.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Patriotic Indians and Identities of Revolution

What, then, is the American, this new man?


Letters from an American Farmer (1782)

"What is an American?" asked St. John de Crevecoeur before
the Revolution, and the question has been repeated by every
generation from his time to ours.


Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950)

When he was appointed the king's surveyor-general and assistant governor of New Hampshire in 1730, David Dunbar promised zealous enforcement of the Mast Tree law, an ordinance requiring him to claim trees suitable for ships' masts for the Royal Navy. During the forty-odd years preceding Dunbar's appointment, lax enforcement of the Mast Tree law and similar regulations had become status quo in New Hampshire. Local residents developed a system--juries that refused to indict or convict, paper townships created to evade private property restrictions, political manipulation, and threats of violence--that ensured their control over the lucrative lumber and shipbuilding trades. Dunbar's concern for renewed enforcement stemmed not from any deep devotion to the lapsed laws, but from his desire to embarrass a political rival, Governor Jonathan Belcher. Not coincidentally, his most serious enforcement efforts took place in Exeter, a town controlled politically and economically by the Gilman family, long-standing Belcher supporters.

    In 1734, Dunbar sent a party of men to enforce the Mast Tree law on the residents of Exeter. Midway through their meal at the town inn one evening, the party heard whoops and screams. The inn's door slammed open and a file of men entered and headed directly for Dunbar's table. The intruders wore blankets wrapped Indian-style and sported caps and feathers on their heads. They had blackened and painted faces, and they grimaced and brandished clubs at the frightened group. When one of the stunned victims tried to speak, an Indian clubbed him across the shoulders. As the king's men mounted a feeble resistance, war clubs rained down upon their heads. Bruised and bleeding, the men lay dazed as the war party, whooping and howling, made for the door.

    If Dunbar's men thought that the Indians' exit marked the end of the evening's excitement, they were gravely mistaken. Their assailants remained outside the public house, screaming curses, epithets, and threats. Concluding that they were still in danger, the men fled out the back door and down to their boat, only to find that the sails and rigging had been slashed. They pushed off into the harbor anyway, hoping to find refuge offshore. Perhaps they breathed a collective sigh of relief as they floated away from the howling throng gathered on the shore. Soon, however, the party realized that their vessel was taking on water, the Indians having punched a hole in its bottom. They drifted ashore downstream and spent the rest of the night in hiding. Doubtless, during their hike back to Portsmouth the next day each was reevaluating the relation between zealous backwoods law enforcement and personal safety.

    The Dunbar encounter may be the first recorded meeting with New England's white Indians. It was certainly not the last. In 1768, for example, the Boston Evening Post carried a similar story:

We hear from the eastern parts of this province, that there have lately been disputes relating to the right of lands between some Claimers and the Possessors, which are very common in those parts: That a month ago at Woolwich a person there having built a house, about 20 or 30 men disguised in an Indian dress, came upon him, and drove the people out, and they pull'd the house down; and afterwards threatened to serve some others in the same manner.

    In the years before the American Revolution, colonial crowds often acted out their political and economic discontent in Indian disguise. The Boston Tea Party has given the practice its greatest notoriety, but white Indians attacked other tea ships as well, and they kept a tight watch on activities involving tea. When a tea vessel did manage to land south of Boston the following spring, Samuel Adams wrote with disgust that "the Indians this way, if they had suspected the Marshpee tribe would have been so sick at the knees, would have marched on Snow Shoes... to have done the business for them." In New York, Mohawks wrote strident editorial letters to the newspapers and everywhere plastered handbills warning against the purchase or drinking of tea. Indians turned up frequently in political cartoons and in humorous yet pointed proclamations such as the one penned in January 1774 by Tea Party participant Edward Proctor (fig. 1):

[From the] Chief Sachem of the Mohawks... and Lord of all their Castles: To all our liege Subjects--Health.

Whereas Tea is an Indian Plant, and of right belongs to the Indians of every land and tribe... We do... permit and allow any of our liege Subjects to barter for, buy, or procure of any of our said English Allies, Teas of any kind: PROVIDED always each man purchases not less than Ten nor more than One hundred and fourteen Boxes at a Time, and those the property of the East India Company, and provided also that they pour all the Said Tea into the Lakes, Rivers, and ponds, that while our Subjects in their Hunting instead of Slaking their Thirst with Cold Water, as usual, may do it with Tea.

    Confronting political and economic incursions against established status quos, eighteenth-century New Englanders often adopted traditional European methods of social protest, resurrecting the blackfaced disguise and the violent (but rarely murderous) crowd reprisals that characterized Old World traditions of misrule. Whether aimed at British officials or colonial landlords, misrule traditions, often performed in Indian dress, remained a vital mode of American political protest for more than a century.

    In the middle colonies, other Americans began dressing as Indians for different reasons. While David Dunbar's men were confronting hostile white Indians in New Hampshire, the members of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of Pennsylvania may have been preparing Indian costumes for the May first frolics that opened their club's sporting season. According to club lore, its fishing and hunting grounds had once been the territory of Tamenend, a Delaware leader who had granted William Penn access to the river and woods. The Schuylkill club inspired the formation of similar clubs in urban areas of the middle colonies, the Chesapeake, and the seaboard South. Each group gathered on May Day for dinners that featured songs, tobacco, a huge dinner, and prolific toasting with bowls of potent alcoholic punch. May first was proclaimed King Tammany's Day, and, to celebrate the return of spring, revelers sponsored maypoles, dances, vigorous speeches called longtalks, and Indian-costumed parades.

    After the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, increasingly resistant colonists gleefully promoted Tammany from king to "tutular [sic] saint of America" and turned their May Day songs and revels into overtly politicized demonstrations of patriotic Americanness. The Indian saint's supposed motto, Kwanio Che Keeteru, used formally by the sporting club as early as 1747 (as the inscription on a cannon), became--both in and out of translation--a patriotic slogan of the Tammany societies: "This is my right; I will defend it." The societies created a body of myth to celebrate the recently canonized Tammany and the American continent for which he stood. Long before William Penn's arrival, the American saint had battled with the devil for possession of the land, successfully hunted the most dangerous of animals, nurtured peace in the council chamber, and performed a host of other noble deeds. Growing aged, Tammany refused to burden his family but instead put his lodge to the torch and reclined peacefully inside, perhaps destined to rise again someday. As they imagined and then appropriated this phoenixlike figure, the white members of the societies sought to stake their claim on an essential Indian Americanness.

European antecedents lay closely beneath the surface of these two prerevolutionary traditions of playing Indian. In the middle colonies, bacchanalian parties and patriotic literary fictions recalled the costumed excesses of European holiday festivals. In the North, disguised riot, effigy burnings, and tar-and-leatherings evoked Old World misrule traditions. The two traditions--carnival and misrule--are intimately connected and, indeed, often blend seamlessly together. Both sets of rituals are about inverting social distinctions, turning the world upside down, questioning authority.

    While recognizing the traditions' common roots, I would like, nonetheless, to treat them separately in order to help clarify the distinctions between New Hampshire and Pennsylvania and between the Old World and the New. What I shall refer to as carnival was associated with specific occasions--holidays and market days, for instance--although the inverted world of carnival consciousness could appear at any time and was a significant element in misrule rituals. What I shall call misrule, although it often occurred in the context of specific holidays, had an aggressive, critical quality that could be mustered at any time to protest transgressions of the social order. Taken together, manipulated by colonists, and transformed by the infusion of Indianness, misrule and carnival offered proto-Americans a platform for imagining and performing an identity of revolution. Such an identity was assembled piece by piece at events like the Exeter riot and the Tammany dinners, and it found its most compelling expression at the Boston Tea Party.

    Carnival, the Catholic holiday that ushers in the self-deprivations of Lent, is most visible to Americans as Mardi Gras. But carnival originated in the Middle Ages as a longer, transitional festive season. It encompassed the time between the celebrations of Christmas, which were based upon the solar calendar, and the Easter holidays, which marked the meeting of the lunar calendar and the spring equinox. During the carnival season, hearty overconsumption of meat and drink emphasized fertility, wild abundance, and the physical functions of the body. Carnival celebrations traded in humor, disruptive behavior, street theater, processions, disguise, gender reversals, death, regeneration, and the symbolic overturning and inversion of established social orders. In France, for example, at the Christmastime Feast of Fools a choirboy might become a bishop and preside over a burlesqued mass. Mocking paraders might dare to haul an ass through the church. The major sponsors of such festivals were fraternities of young men called Abbeys of Misrule, and they organized themselves around holiday hierarchies of inverted offices: the Prince of Improvidence, the Cardinal of Bad Measure, Bishop Flatpurse, Duke Kickass, and the Grand Patriarch of Syphilitics. In England, holidays featured blackface, transvestism, and costume, the parading of figures in live or effigy form, and the pots-and-pans clamor of "rough music."

    By the sixteenth century, urban men's societies--previously defined by youth and marital status--began to cluster around occupational affinities and social distinctions. Increasingly, festival inversions critiqued not only social but also political orders, mocking magistrates and officials and sometimes providing the occasion for armed uprisings. The line between street party and insurrection could blur with alarming rapidity, the semantically linked words rebel and revel smearing together in the collective mouth of an unruly crowd. Carnival worked transformative magic, however, even in the absence of armed insurgence. The temporary experience of life as something other-than-what-is infiltrated and permeated the life that was, transforming both.

    Carnival, according to the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, represented a second life, a different consciousness that transcended the everyday. In the festive practices of the common people of Europe, he saw a topsy-turvy, mocking way of being that questioned the rationalized administrative power of the state. As both specific holiday ritual and generalized consciousness, carnival broke down boundaries, demonstrating the commonalities between upper and lower classes, law and custom, food and flesh, past and present, civilized and savage, birth and death. It replaced all forms of rank and hierarchy with a boundless utopian freedom. Over time, the impact of these different consciousnesses might painstakingly transform the larger structures of a society.

    The confusing of boundaries made carnivalesque holidays perfect markers for the simultaneous beginnings and endings of cycles of time--years, mourning periods, planting seasons, periods of denial, rites of passage. Such cycles often ended with the ritual death of a royal figure representing the past year, the older generation, the accumulated evil. This sacrifice required celebration, for only through such an overthrow could the new cycle be born. On May Day, for example, European revelers danced around the maypole--an ancient symbol of the unity of the old sacrificial king and his successor--to celebrate not only the end of one cycle and the beginning of another, but also the oneness of the old year and the new. They frequently burnt the old king and used fire and ash symbolism to evoke the phoenixlike connection between death and new life. Along with the maypole, celebrants held dances, strewed flowers and boughs, wore blackface, and performed mummer's plays, in which costumed actors would break into a gathering, perform a skit, and then take up a collection. Copious food and drink recalled the abundance of the past and invoked the fertility of the future.

    At the same time that this second life awakened participants to future possibilities, however, it reaffirmed the social systems that structured the nonfestive world. The humor in a mocking church parade owed much of its power to the looming presence of a real parade of powerful bishops and clergy. Carnival presented its celebrators a doubled vision of the world: on the one hand, anarchic possibility; on the other, affirmation of the status quo.

    American Tammany societies created May Day rites that drew directly from these older European traditions (fig. 2). Endowed with kingly control over American fecundity, the mythic Tammany served as the counterpart of the traditional May fertility king. "It is usual on the morning of [St. Tammany's] day," noted one account of a Chesapeake Bay celebration,

for the members of the society to erect in some public situation in the city, a "May-pole" and to decorate it in a most tasteful manner, with wild flowers gathered from the adjacent woods, and forming themselves in a ring around it, hand in hand, perform the Indian war dance, with many other customs which they had seen exhibited by the children of the forest .... A large company usually assembled during the course of the evening, and when engaged in the midst of a dance, the company were interrupted by the sudden intrusion of a number of the members of "St. Tamina's Society," habited like Indians, who rushing violently into the room, singing the war songs, and giving the whoop, commenced dancing in the style of that people. After which ceremony, they made a collection and retired well satisfied.

The maypole, floralia, and costumed mummers were all familiar European holiday practices, claimed now as the supposed American customs of the "children of the forest." The Tammany societies also celebrated the death of the Indian saint as the overthrow of an aged fertility figure. In Charleston, South Carolina, Tammany followers reenacted his mythic end by literally setting him on fire: "At about 4 o'clock they sat down to a plain and plentiful dinner, and after imbibing a suitable quantity of Indian drink proceeded to the solemnity of burning the Old Chief, who being placed in the Wigwam and having sung the death song, fire was set thereto and the whole immediately consumed. A dance, after the Indian manner, concluded the ceremonies of the day."

    When Indian-garbed proto-Americans wound around the maypole, they celebrated not only the departed Tammany, but also his heir apparent--themselves. The rituals worked in countervailing ways. Tammany's death was a metaphor for the "disappearance" of Indian people from the land, the destruction of the old cycle, the dawning of another era in which successor Americans would enjoy their new world. His implied rebirth, on the other hand, suggested that Americans were not successors so much as aboriginal Tammanys themselves. And if the new ruler was literally the same as the old, it was only fitting that the Tammany members share his identity by clothing themselves in Indian garb.

    While Tammany rituals enacted the displacement of Indians, they also relied upon reborn Indian Americanness to question the British identity that the empire would have preferred to see among its colonists. John Leacock's comedy The Fall of British Tyranny; or, American Liberty Triumphant (1776) captured this mixture of nascent American political identity, spring fertility ritual, and doubled consciousness as it coalesced musically around the carnival theme of abundance:


Let Hibernia's sons boast, make Patrick their toast,
and Scots Andrew's fame spread abroad,
Potatoes and oats, and Welch leeks for Welch goats,
Was never St. Tammany's food, my brave boys.


In freedom's bright cause, Tamm'ny pled with applause,
And reason'd most justly from nature;
For this, this was his song, all the day long;
Liberty's the right of each creature, brave boys.


The strong nervous deer, with amazing career,
In swiftness he'd fairly run down;
And, like Sampson wou'd tear wolf, lion, or bear.
Ne'er was such a saint as our own, my brave boys.


On an old stump he sat, without cap or hat,
When supper was ready to eat,
Snap, his dog, he stood by, and cast a sheep's eye;
For ven'son's the king of all meat, my brave boys.


Like Isaac of old, and both cast in one mold,
Tho' a wigwam was Tamm'ny's cottage,
He lov'd sav'ry meat, such that patriarch eat,
Of ven'son and squirrel made pottage, brave boys.

    Tammany songs frequently played on the significant differences in food between the Old and New World. Enlightenment notions of environmentalism inclined both Europeans and Americans to the idea that one was, quite literally, what one ate. Leacock's derisive nods to oats, leeks, and potatoes (ironically a New World vegetable) are directed at diets that define the dominated provinces of the British empire--Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Rejecting such a colonial position, Leacock praises quintessentially American culinary alternatives--venison and squirrel--and links them to freedom, kingship, and patriarchal control. The result of such a diet was Tammany himself, a skillful debater who furnished a natural rationale for liberty, the cornerstone of American political argument.

    If food and fertility rarely appeared in political and philosophical pamphlets, they nonetheless carried a hearty political burden. At their annual May feast, Tammany disciples ate, drank, and sang songs like Leacock's in boisterous recognition of the gifts of the American land--gifts, they argued, that encouraged a different kind of social order. The intertwined meanings of American landscape, meaty carnival abundance, and revolutionary egalitarianism came together especially clearly, for example, in the societies' treatment of hunting--the mythic Tammany's most impressive skill and the one around which the groups had originally organized. America's profusion of wildlife stunned early seventeenth-century commentators, who were accustomed to the overhunted lands of the Old World. On his trip to America in 1633, William Wood reported his astonishment at the "millions of millions" of passenger pigeons, the great gray squirrels, of which "one might kill a dozen in an afternoon," and the twenty-pound lobsters and foot-long oysters.

    Tammany society songs regaling the kingship of venison and meat celebrated both this environmental distinction and its political consequence--the destruction of Old World social restrictions. Those restrictions appeared most significantly in the form of English hunting laws, which mandated severe penalties for the taking of deer and fish. English constructions of social class dictated that hunting be a gentleman's sport, inaccessible to other classes. In the New World, however, the abundance of game made hunting democratic, allowing every man to imagine himself a patriarch in a gentry of egalitarianism. Through Indianness, Tammany members tied the act of hunting to political and social control over the landscape and an ethos of equality.

    In sum, a collection of colonists created a patriotic, self-identifying fertility figure in order to celebrate American abundance and its social and political implications. The celebrations used Tammany as a sacrificial figure, the pivot point in a rite of passage ritual that described a transition from Indian to Euro-American rule. At the same time, the Tammany societies conducted their revelry through carnival forms that carried familiar connotations of revolution, overthrow, and transition. And this sense of rebellion was logically directed at a king, who turned out to be not only Tammany, but also George of England.

The festivals, however, meant little without the figure of the Indian. Through Indianness, colonists articulated a revolutionary identity, drawing on the deeply rooted power of familiar ideologies surrounding Native Americans. As Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., has pointed out, there have been two different manifestations of the Indian in American history. One group of Indians is material and real--a diverse set of tribes and individuals with whom Europeans have interacted for the past several hundred years. The other set is ideal--a collection of mental images, stereotypes, and imaginings based only loosely on those material people Americans have called Indians.

    Indian "Others" have been constructed at the intersection of real and imagined Indians. Colonists (mis)perceived real Indian people through a variety of European cultural lenses. Religion, gender relations, subsistence, technology--these and many other perspectives defined and distorted the ways Europeans saw Indians. These perceptions and misperceptions inevitably included imaginary and symbolic qualities as well, the visible products of the sea of ideology in which humans swim. Dignified nobility and inhuman savagery have, of course, been the most familiar principles for organizing these complicated constellations of perception, imagination, and ideology.

    It has become a truism that such images of good and bad Indians reveal more about the people who created them than they do about native people themselves. This suggestion is true, but perhaps it is also limiting. To understand the identities of imagemakers, one has to explore not only the meanings of their images, but also the ways those images were assembled. Eighteenth-century colonists constructed Indian Others along two critical axes. They imagined one axis--the noble savage--in terms of the positive and negative values that could be assigned to Indians and that could then be reflected back upon a Self, either as cultural critique or colonial legitimation. Equally important, they imagined a second axis focused not on Indian good or evil, but upon the relative distance that Indian Others were situated from this Self-in-the-making.

    We construct identity by finding ourselves in relation to an array of people and objects who are not ourselves. Every person and thing is Other to us. We situate some Others quite closely to the Selves we are calling into being; others, we place so far away as to make them utterly inhuman. My sister is Other to me but she is relatively close when compared to an anonymous New Yorker. That New Yorker is not as Other as a French policeman, who is not as Other as a Russian soldier. Our familiar sense of constructed social divisions--race, gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, religion, region, nationality--helps us categorize, clarify, establish, and empower these relations. In situating ourselves, we define our identities as individuals and as members of various groups.

    One of the most powerful lines that can be drawn across the spectrum ranging from sister to nonhuman is that which delineates the nation. Nationalism links land, subsistence, political identity, and group destiny together, creating a clear-cut boundary between insiders and outsiders. National identity was indeed the goal of the protonationalist celebrations sponsored by the Tammany societies, and Indian Others were clearly being included on the inside of the American boundaries the members sought to create. Along with the positives and negatives of the noble savage, then, we need to consider the distinction between Indian Others imagined to be interior--inside the nation or the society--and those who are to be excluded as exterior. The matter can get extremely complicated, for both interior and exterior Others can take on positive or negative qualities, depending on the nature of the identity construction in which they appear.

    In eighteenth-century America, colonists were especially sensitized to the lines that delineated their society. For most English colonists, so-called savage Indians defined the boundaries and character of their civilization. Conversely, noble Indians allowed the romantic intellectuals of the Enlightenment to embody a critique of European social decadence. In both cases, the exterior relationship between us and them allowed Europeans to define themselves through comparison with a radically different society.

    In the late eighteenth century, however, rebellious American colonists in New England and Pennsylvania did something unique. Increasingly inclined to see themselves in opposition to England rather than to Indians, they inverted interior and exterior to imagine a new boundary line of national identity. They began to transform exterior, noble savage Others into symbolic figures that could be rhetorically interior to the society they sought to inaugurate. In short, the ground of the oppositions shifted and, with them, national self-definition. As England became a them for colonists, Indians became an us. This inversion carried extraordinary consequences for subsequent American politics and identity.

    Focused on defining themselves against the mother country, the Pennsylvania Tammany societies almost eliminated the rhetorical boundaries between Indians and white colonists, creating an Indian hero virtually indistinguishable from the average patriot. Representing absolute individual freedom, yet also political control of the landscape, Tammany verged on being a pure representation of an American Self, reflecting the colonists' increasing need to define themselves as something new and non-British. Tammany created American patriots out of British traitors. Regenerative carnival festivities served as a stage for the public performance of this identity shift. So it was that rebels and revels intersected, as May Day and Tammany joined to produce a revolutionary sensibility well suited to the colonies' complicated sense of developing national identity.

Something different was going on in New England. Puritan New England proved to be far less tolerant of transformed fertility rituals than did Quaker Pennsylvania, passing laws against carnivalesque holiday celebrations like May Day. Carnival had always worked both to question and to reaffirm social orders. The Pennsylvanians emphasized the questioning elements that implied rebellion. By trying to stamp out festive humor and fertility celebrations, New Englanders pushed their rituals in the opposite direction--toward misrule and a single-minded concern with protecting social order. The Puritans created a society of rigorous, detailed, and sometimes intrusive rules. And while they backed their laws with civil courts, citizens might keep one another in line through the public humiliation of misrule rituals. Indeed, the lines between official punishment--ducking or the stocks, for example--and folk sanction often blurred.

    The changing uses of misrule appear with special clarity in early eighteenth-century England, where centuries-old traditions of masked social sanction took on more overt revolutionary contours around the problem of deer poaching. Severe penalties and paid informers made it, at least in theory, a dangerous and occasionally terminal offense, and poachers, subject to regulation since at least the fifteenth century, maintained a long tradition of blackening their faces in order to disguise their identities. These poachers were the cultural (and perhaps literal) ancestors of those who would later celebrate Pennsylvania's utopian abundance and egalitarian hunting opportunities.

    In 1485, a Royal Act formally codified deer hunting in disguise or at night as a felony. In Windsor and some other royal and manorial forests, however, the law went largely unenforced for more than two hundred years. Instead, the inhabitants of the walks and towns of the forests developed what E. P. Thompson has called "moral economies," complex systems of customary rights and obligations, most of which shared ambiguous, interlocking relations with formalized law--and most of which were made visible only when threatened by formal authority. Under these traditional systems, individuals had subsistence rights to the forests' common turf, grazing land, wood, and game. Gamekeepers turned a blind eye to many offenses, and, on the rare occasions when an individual was prosecuted, the local magistrates frequently refused to hand down jail terms, realizing that a poacher's family would simply end up on the local dole.

    Reinforced by centuries of practice and a symbiotic relation between law and custom, the forest residents understood the working system of the forest to be a form of law. Resentment burgeoned when the routine came under gradual attack after England's Civil War and the Restoration of 1660. Newly rich and titled landowners slowly replaced older lords whose fortunes had declined. This new gentry, created by success in the national and international markets, staked economic rather than hereditary claims to the forests. They pushed the Crown for tougher laws and enforcement in the private parkland they now claimed as their own. A series of acts passed in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries aimed to reestablish royal dominance over the forests by offering substantial rewards to informants and mandating transportation to overseas penal colonies for deer poachers. By raising the stakes, however, the government succeeded only in elevating petty blackfaced poaching to a more organized and serious endeavor. Misrule, until now simply a method of enforcing the rhetoric of moral economy, became a more formalized mode of rebellion.

    Between 1720 and 1723, groups of so-called Blacks dominated Windsor Forest. Disguised in blackface, they hunted deer in large mounted groups calculated to intimidate gamekeepers. If a king's official seized a dog or a poached deer or levied a fine, a party of Blacks would soon appear at the door and threaten to burn his house unless the penalty was quickly returned. Gamekeepers were often "beset in the heath" and threatened with bodily harm. With local magistrates still reluctant to sentence offenders and many forest officials intimidated, the Blacks effectively stymied initial attempts to reassert royal control.

    Blacking drew much of its power from socially prescriptive misrule rituals. In France and Britain, the Abbeys of Misrule had protected moral economies and enforced social custom through noisy charivari parades featuring effigies of adulterers, men beaten by their wives, and other transgressors. English rough music accompanied the victims of "riding skimmington" or "riding the stang"--the parading of people or effigies on poles, carts, or donkeys. Such rituals frequently featured blackface, masking, and ritual burning, but they were cut from different cloth than those of carnival. Rough music groups acted to reinforce traditional, customary social orders, not to play on the edges of revolution.

    In Windsor Forest, however, blacking and misrule began to acquire a more fully developed revolutionary shape as customary rights collided directly with royal prerogative. The government responded accordingly In 1723, the English Parliament, concerned with the threat to royal authority and rumors linking Black groups with the Jacobites, passed the Black Act, an extreme piece of legislation suited more to revolutionaries than to forest dwellers protecting customary rights. It mandated the death penalty for blacking, hunting at night, and assembling in disguise. Backed by a network of informers and a troop of soldiers, officials made sweeping arrests of suspected Blacks in Windsor Forest. Eventually, four Blacks were executed, six were sentenced to transportation overseas, and several more were indicted.

    As David Dunbar had discovered in New Hampshire, Old World misrule rituals remained in the customary repertoire of many colonists. Periodically rejuvenated by arriving immigrants, they could be activated and reshaped according to the needs of specific local groups. Southern New Englanders, for example, had already turned misrule toward the preservation of the customary status quo. Between 1630 and 1650, the Massachusetts Bay Colony established social, political, and cultural hegemony over the region. Such dominance required the elimination of the carnivalesque, for its wild unpredictability threatened the ordered world the Puritans desired to build.


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