The History of the American Indians

The History of the American Indians

by James Adair


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A fully annotated edition of a classic work detailing the cultures of five southeastern American Indian tribes during the Contact Period.

James Adair was an Englishman who lived and traded among the southeastern Indians for more than 30 years, from 1735 to 1768. During that time he covered the territory from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River. He encountered and lived among Indians, advised governors, spent time with settlers, and worked tirelessly for the expansion of British interests against the French and the Spanish. Adair's acceptance by the Creeks, Choctaws, Cherokees, and Chickasaws provided him the opportunity to record, compare, and analyze their cultures and traditions.

Adair's written work, first published in England in 1775, is considered one of the finest histories of the Native Americans. His observations provide one of the earliest and what many modern scholars regard as the best account of southeastern Indian cultures. This edition adheres to current standards of literary editing, following the original closely, and provides fully annotated and indexed critical apparatus.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781543127249
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 02/15/2017
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 228,554
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 11.02(h) x 0.44(d)

About the Author

Kathryn E. Holland Braund is Associate Professor of History at Auburn University and editor of A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, written by Bernard Romans.

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The History of the American Indians

By James Adair, Kathryn E. Holland Braund

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2005 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-5578-4


James Adair's History of the American Indians

A Note on This Edition

In the spring of 1775, James Adair's History of the American Indians was released by publishers Edward and Charles Dilly of London. The book was actually a study of the major tribes residing adjacent to Britain's southern colonies, particularly the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Choctaw Indians. In addition to providing a survey of southern Indian history from the 1740s through the 1760s, a review of the book in the May 1775 issue of London Magazine promised "an Account of their Origin, Manners, Religious and Civil Customs, and other Particulars sufficient to render it a complete Indian System." Central to that goal was a carefully formulated thesis, consisting of twenty-three arguments, proposing to prove that the Indians of America were of Hebrew descent. Specific chapters devoted to the history of each major southern tribe followed. The book concluded with an appendix bearing advice to British policy makers regarding the southern backcountry.

From the start, the author's elaborate origin thesis proved controversial. As the reviewer for Scots Magazine (June 1775) observed, once Adair's "fancy" had been taken with the notion of Hebrew descent, he had attempted "to evince it by every consideration which his ingenuity could suggest ... his imagination being strongly impressed with the preconceived opinion." But debates were then raging over the subject, and others found themselves agreeing that there was "indeed an amazing similarity between their rites and customs." Adair's supporters pointed to the author's long years among the Indians and his stated high regard for the truth. The London Magazine review of May 1775 recommended the work to the public for "information, entertainment, and solid instruction."

Today, historians, ethnohistorians, and anthropologists regard Adair's History of the American Indians as one of the most valuable primary accounts of the southeastern Indians. It has been, as the first reviewer promised, a source of "information, entertainment, and solid instruction" about the southeastern Indians for over two centuries. Adair's long tenure among the southern tribes as a deerskin trader presented many opportunities for intimate observation of Indian culture, and his broad education and literary skill provided him with the tools to build an incredibly detailed and singular account of life among the eighteenth-century southern Indians. His unique and perceptive work offers a telling glimpse of backcountry life absent from official reports and narratives left by those whose lives were spent as colonials rather than cultural brokers. This new edition of Adair's History is designed to introduce general readers to Adair and his famous work, as well as make it more accessible to scholars. To that end, this edition carries an introductory essay as well as annotations and a bibliography.

The introductory essay includes a summary of Adair's career and attempts to place his history in perspective so that the nonspecialist reader may better appraise the text. Annotations to the work itself vary in character from entries designed to provide readers with general introductory information on the topic under consideration to more detailed discussion of sources for those who wish to do further reading on a topic. Where possible, people, places, and events mentioned by Adair are identified, as are obscure terms and foreign phrases. Comparative evidence by Adair's near contemporaries is also included where appropriate. These comparative notes are not intended to be definitive but rather to illustrate the kind of material available to support Adair's work and expand upon details provided by him. The nature of this endeavor, as well as the rambling quality of A History of the American Indians itself, has necessarily led to some minor repetition in a few cases, but was judged appropriate in light of the convenience this affords the reader.

The book shares a number of peculiarities common to books of the period. The most striking to the eyes of modern readers was the use of the old style [??]. In The History of the American Indians, like other eighteenth-century texts, s was rendered, except at the conclusion of a word. In this version, the modern's has been substituted for the old style [??]. To aid the reader, eighteenth-century books usually printed the first word of a following page immediately below the last word on every page. The History of the American Indians followed this practice, which, of necessity, was not retained in a modern version.

There are numerous inconsistencies and nonstandardized spellings in the book, particularly of place and proper names. Adair's original spellings have been retained. In a few instances when an error or obsolete spelling might confuse the reader, a correction, in square brackets, has been included. Extraneous space preceding or following marks of punctuation has been closed up. Certain type features, including setting of leading section words in all capital letters has not been retained. A few obvious printer or typesetting errors were silently corrected. Original page numbers are placed in brackets in the text at the beginning of the page. In the event a page break occurs in the middle of a word, the bracketed number is placed at the end of the word. Adair's original Dedication, Preface, and Contents pages were unnumbered. Readers should note that the original edition contained no page numbered 101 but carried two pages labeled 102. Original pages numbered 374 and 376 are blank and have been omitted from the current edition.

In the case of Adair's original footnotes, set at the bottom on the page, readers may derive the original page number by referring to the page number of the symbol used to indicate the footnote. In the event the footnote carried to a second page in the original book, a bracketed number is included to indicate the page break. In the event of multiple notes on a single page, the 1775 edition generally employed an asterisk to mark the first and a dagger for the second. In the modern version, this system was impossible to maintain as in some instances footnotes from two original pages have been set on a single page. Thus, in certain cases, the reference symbols have been changed from the original mark to avoid confusion.

The most frequently cited modern edition of Adair's work was edited by Samuel Cole Williams and published under the auspices of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, in Tennessee, in 1930. Williams's edition has had numerous reprintings. In 1968, a facsimile edition with an introduction by Robert K. Berkhofer, Jr., was published by Johnson Reprint Company.

A xerographic reprint of the 1775 edition of Adair's History prepared by UMI Books on Demand served as the basis for the text reproduced here. In addition, copies of the 1775 edition housed at the Birmingham Public Library, Birmingham, Alabama, and the Charleston Library Society, Charleston, South Carolina, were also consulted. An on-line version of the text, including transcriptions and textual images of the original edition, is now available at the Library of Congress website and was also consulted. The volume owned by the Charleston Library Society belonged to the dedicatee, George Galphin, and contains a number of handwritten corrections made by James Adair. Most of the corrections concern matters of punctuation or have little or no bearing on content. Several are significant. They are identified at the appropriate locations in the text by footnotes. Readers can locate all the notations from that edition deemed worthy of mention by consulting the index under Charleston Library Society.


James Adair: His Life and History

I told him, with that vehemence of speech, which is always requisite on such an occasion, that I was an English Chikkasah. — James Adair, History of the American Indians

James Adair hardly seems to exist outside the confines of his monumental history of southern backcountry. Shadowy rumors of his existence elsewhere abound: born the youngest son of Irish gentry; later, the head of a family by a Cherokee woman in North Carolina on the eve of the American Revolution. Yet not a shred of hard evidence is offered to support these claims. James Adair deserves better — for his larger-than-life existence among the southeastern Indians is far more interesting than genealogical conjecture. Adair was, in fact, a self-proclaimed "English Chickasaw," and most of what we know of him begins and ends with the southeastern Indians, among whom he made his home for the meatier part of forty years. His life story, interwoven with his historical account and ethnological musing on the southeastern Indians, is an amazing one indeed.

Virtually nothing is known of Adair's family, early life, or education, although his work makes clear that he "had the advantages of a liberal education in the early part of life." And, as advertisements for his book would later tout, he was furnished with "a Genius naturally formed for curious Enquiries." By 1735, the inquisitive Adair entered the Indian country to trade with the Catawba Indians. The Catawba, an amalgam of remnant tribes struggling on the margins of colonial South Carolina society, were beset by numerous problems, notably encroachments, constant harassment from enemy northern tribes, and growing problems with alcohol misuse. Opportunities for advancement through the dying Catawba trade were slim, and almost immediately Adair ventured farther west, testing his fortunes among the Cherokee Indians. He was in their towns by 1736, trading for a time at Kanootare (Conutory or Connutra), one of the Cherokee Out Towns along the Tuckaseigee River. There are almost no clues to Adair's business partners, but his mention of George Haig and Thomas Brown suggest that he was in some loose association or alliance with them in both the Catawba and Cherokee trade.

Almost at once upon his arrival among the Cherokee, Adair encountered Christian Gottlieb Priber, a German intellectual also newly arrived in the Cherokee country, whom Adair described as "a gentleman of a curious and speculative temper." Settling in Tellico, Priber adopted the dress and mode of living of the Cherokee, and by "smooth deluding art" he began an attempt at reorganizing Cherokee society and making plans for a utopian refuge among the Indians. South Carolina envisioned only trouble in Priber's odd schemes and plotted his arrest. But before that could be effected, Priber and Adair corresponded for a time, until the Cherokee grew suspicious of the letters passing between them. According to Adair, Priber was composing a Cherokee dictionary and "set down a great deal that would have been very acceptable to the curious." Perhaps it was Priber's efforts that inspired Adair to begin setting down his own observations and thoughts on the southeastern Indians, for Adair's account of Priber and his capture and his relation of Cherokee reaction to a lunar eclipse that occurred in 1736 are the earliest datable occurrences found in his History.

The year 1736 was a momentous year for the Chickasaw Indians as well. Long allies of the English, with whom they had traded since the later part of the seventeenth century, the Chickasaw found themselves embroiled in war with France by virtue of the aid and comfort they afforded fleeing Natchez Indians, who were involved with a bitter struggle with the French from 1729 until 1733. Sandwiched between Francophile Choctaw and France's more northern Indian allies, the small but stalwart Chickasaw nation had embarked on its own campaign against the French, repeatedly harassing French supply boats traveling the Mississippi River from atop the renowned Chickasaw Bluffs, near modern Memphis, Tennessee. They also stalked French settlers in Louisiana. In early 1736, entrenched in fortified towns and very accurately dispensing English bullets, they managed to rebuff a massive French attack on their towns led by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville, the governor of French Louisiana.

News of the great Chickasaw victory was met with jubilation in Charleston, for until that point, French Louisiana had seemingly garnered the upper hand in the southern backcountry. First, they had established an alliance with the Alabama Indians of the Creek confederacy, a feat made palpable by the establishment of Fort Toulouse in 1717. With the destruction of the Natchez and a Choctaw alliance, the French seemed on the verge of not only destroying Carolina's commerce but endangering her security. With Christian Priber machinating among the Cherokee and French-speaking Shawnee attacking neighboring Catawba Indians with impunity, South Carolina and her neighbor Georgia seemed exposed indeed. Meanwhile, Spanish forces, ensconced in Florida, lent more immediacy to Carolina's fears.

As South Carolina's fears translated into action, James Adair quickly became an actor. His early association with the Chickasaw seems to indicate that he had already begun trading with them by the late 1730s. Adair recorded in his history, without providing any details, that he was directed by South Carolina's governor to "decoy" the Chickasaw Indians to settle near New Windsor. Although he failed to make clear the exact date of his involvement, Adair was perhaps referring to South Carolina's 1738 effort to entice a band of Chickasaw to resettle at New Windsor, near Fort Moore, on the Savannah River. A band of Chickasaw Indians had lived near the garrison since the end of the Yamasee War, but after the establishment of Augusta, Georgia, many of them had abandoned the more exposed northern bank of the Savannah River for the more convenient Georgia side of the river. To entice the Chickasaw to return to their province, South Carolina offered them a grant of more than 21,000 acres of land. The government hoped the Indians would provide a first line of defense against attacks by French-allied Indians as well as a buffer against Spanish Florida. The ploy failed, and the Chickasaw Indian community on the Georgia side of the river just below Augusta soon came to be known as New Savannah. To further counter the perceived threat of the Spanish in Florida, Georgia's governor, General James Oglethorpe, marched against St. Augustine in 1740, during the War of Jenkins' Ear. Oglethorpe's army included many South Carolina volunteers, among them James Adair. In addition, several hundred Indian warriors participated in the campaign, including the New Windsor Chickasaw as well as Creek and Cherokee warriors.

Oglethorpe's assault was a disaster, and on the farthest edge of English influence the turbulent times grew even more uncertain and violent. In 1738, Soulouche Oumastabé or Red Shoe of Couëchitto and eight other Choctaw chiefs had visited Governor William Bull in Charleston and formally ratified a peace between the Choctaw and English, but the skirmishes between factions of the Choctaw and Chickasaw continued and the promised English trade failed to materialize. The Chickasaw, tired of constant attacks and hoping for better relations with the French, made peace overtures to the newly arrived governor of French Louisiana, Pierre François Rigault, marquis de Cavagnal et Vaudreuil, in August 1743. Vaudreuil's terms proved unacceptable, for he demanded the ouster of the English traders as the price of peace. Hopes for a Chickasaw-French rapprochement were further dashed when, in November 1743, three English traders and two Chickasaw Indians were killed on the trade path by Choctaw Indians, acts presumed by Charlestonians to have been engineered by the French. The repeated attacks on English traders by the Choctaw, some of which occurred during times of peace, turned mere merchants into hard-core Francophobes. While such attacks were costly in terms of lost time and merchandise, it was the murder and capture of English subjects that forged irreversible animosity. In some cases, those killed were more quickly forgotten than those captured, for the result of capture by French-allied Choctaw was certain imprisonment in Mobile or New Orleans and, on occasion, shipment to France, where further imprisonment and an uncertain future awaited.


Excerpted from The History of the American Indians by James Adair, Kathryn E. Holland Braund. Copyright © 2005 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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Table of Contents


Illustrations and Maps,
James Adair's History: A Note on This Edition,
James Adair: His Life and History,
The History of the American Indians,
Notes to Introductory Essay,
Annotations to Adair's Text,

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