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“By examining the experiences of a Mohawk chief named Little Abraham, this article emphasizes the importance of Iroquois neutrality during the American Revolution. The author calls for greater attention to native definitions of neutrality and argues that self-identified neutrals were more widespread than scholars have realized. For such individuals, neutrality meant active but limited involvement in a war that directly threatened Iroquois interests. Indeed, even as some Iroquois were beginning to advocate a newly unilateral British alliance, Abraham sought to resuscitate the active neutrality of the early eighteenth century. In the process, he increasingly aided the Americans in their diplomatic negotiations and surveillance efforts even as he refused to fight. His approach drew substantial support and was similar to that of other native neutrals throughout revolutionary North America.
Still, Abraham failed. He died in a British prison and his community’s lands passed into American hands. Abraham had not entirely anticipated the differences between the British empire and the American republic with regard to native people; moreover, he encountered substantial opposition from other Iroquois like Joseph Brant and Aaron Hill, who advocated a strong British alliance in contrast to Abraham’s neutral factionalism. Nonetheless, following the war, Brant and Hill adopted the neutralist diplomacy of their former opponent. Abraham’s experiences thus illuminate a critical dialogue within the Six Nations, showing how different Iroquois were responding to imperial pressures, as well as how they responded to new challenges posed by the American republic.”