Abstract

This article looks closely at eighteenth-century crime narratives written about Indian criminals. These texts present a more complex and contested view of emerging notions of racial difference than scholars have yet seen. Many authors of crime literature were also missionaries—and thus motivated to defend the worth of Indian souls, even in the face of hardening notions of racial difference. In so doing, they offered a view of human difference that hinged on conversion, rather than on nature—a view that challenged the developing concept that Indians were “naturally” and inescapably inferior. Because these texts were widely read, that pattern deserves attention. It amounts, ultimately, to a powerful reminder that religious discourse sometimes intervened in unfolding processes of racialization. Early Americans were confronted in their prejudices, even as they took shape. “Race” was not inevitable; it was the product of many choices, made silently by the public.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 925-950
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-14
Open Access
No
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