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57 CHAPTER 4 Recentering Indian Women in the American Revolution SARAH M. S. PEARSALL In U.S. history textbooks, if Indians generally fare badly, Indian women fare even worse. For the most part, for textbooks surveyed for the periods up to the Civil War, only two Native women even appear to have names: Pocahontas and Sacajawea.1 Both are known for their alliances with white men. Pocahontas was the daughter of a Native leader, Powhatan. She may or may not have helped to save John Smith, an early English governor in Virginia; she was later a captive herself. She was baptized, married John Rolfe, and returned with him to England, where she died of smallpox. Sacajawea was a Shoshone interpreter and the wife of a French trader. She accompanied Lewis and Clark on their westward journey and helped to make it possible and successful. Other typical points of discussion about Native women include brief surveys of the precolonial social life of Indians, in which gendered divisions of labor figure. Native American women tend not to have a great deal of agency in these textbook accounts. Mostly, they are acted upon or remain in the background of the main narrative, which typically centers on white men. They do not appear to have really any role at all in pivotal moments in American history such as the American Revolution. Almost uniformly, for a given major event such as the revolution these textbooks contain a section on Indians, which generally means Indian men. Then there is a section on women, which typically means white women. This situation is changing, but only slowly. In part, this orientation in textbooks reflects some limitations in the treatment of indigenous women in the historiography, especially in specific key eras such as the American Revolution. Indigenous women appear largely as marginal figures, in a late chapter or a concluding section, in histories of the American Revolution , even in histories of women in the American Revolution.2 Both classic and recent work on the revolution that includes a great deal on women fails to discuss indigenous women.3 There are understandable reasons for this compartmentalization, but it does make it possible to continue to marginalize indigenous women in these histories. At the same time, 58 SARAH M. S. PEARSALL most historians of Native Americans and the war, with a few notable exceptions, have had comparatively little to say about women.4 Work in which Native women have been at the center tends not to focus on the traditional turning points of U.S. history such as the American Revolution. However, Indian women were vital to the shape of developments in early North American history. It is possible to tell stories about key events in American history in which Native women figure more prominently as actors and agents of history. Scholars are increasingly doing so, but their work has yet to be fully integrated into more general treatments. In part, widening the geography of American history to include what is now the United States is essential to telling these tales. Many points of focus in a standard class in American history might include more on Native American women. Attention might be given to war, for instance; Indian women played prominent roles—as leaders, as captives, and as mediators—in just about every war fought in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century North America, as well as many later ones.5 Other themes, from religion to cultural encounters to politics to economics, might usefully and reasonably highlight the ongoing contributions and experiences of Native women. To give a few brief examples, we might hear more about the spiritual and economic authority of women such as Kateri Tekakwitha, the seventeenthcentury “Mohawk Saint,” or cultural and economic mediators such as Marie Rouensa, a Native woman in New France who converted to Catholicism and lived at the center of a complex network of trade, religion, and community.6 We might consider the vital role Native women played in systems of labor and captivity, considering how enslaved Native women such as María Paula or Marie-Marguerite-Caroline navigated and at times surmounted complicated, bitter worlds of enslavement and exploitation.7 We would benefit from more attention to the actions of political leaders such as Doña María, a cacica (or chief) among the Guale of Spanish Florida in the late sixteenth century, and Nancy Ward, the War Woman of Chota, who addressed U.S. treaty commissioners on behalf of Cherokee women in 1781.8 We...


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