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  • The Brothertown Nation of Indians: Land Ownership and Nationalism in Early America, 1740-1840
  • Kathleen A. Brown-Pérez
The Brothertown Nation of Indians: Land Ownership and Nationalism in Early America, 1740-1840. By Brad D. E. Jarvis (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2010) 358 pp. $45.00

Jarvis provides a thorough account of the genesis of the Brothertown Indian Nation, a tribe formed in 1785, bringing together some of the members of the Mohegan, Pequot, Narragansett, Montauk, Tunxis, and Niantic nations. After years of planning, and then awaiting the outcome of the American Revolution, these people were able to focus on their new lives in Oneida country in upstate New York. Their common religion (Christianity) united them in an attempt to heal the wounds of colonization, warfare, disease, and land encroachment. These likeminded Indians continued to act in a manner that had, as its first and foremost goal, survival, both tribal and individual.

Jarvis' chronological account of the Brothertown clearly demonstrates the necessity of having at least a cursory understanding of the history of the tribes from which the Brothertown Nation was formed. His detailed account of the events that led to the tribe's formation serves to ground his overarching message: Despite eventually owning their reservation land in severalty, farming that land, and requesting (and receiving) U.S. citizenship, the Brothertown Indians have not disappeared into assimilation as many expected. Rather, they used the tools that they acquired from the colonial (then state) and federal governments to craft a plan that would allow them to survive within a system established by the dominant culture.

Jarvis notes in the introduction that the first published and most often cited book on the Brothertown, Love's Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England, spun a tale of assimilation and absorption into mainstream culture (2).1 Love's book assumed the tone prevalent at the turn of the twentieth century, offering the story that those Indians who dared to tread into "civilization" left their "Indian-ness" behind. [End Page 304] He also detailed the Brothertown rocky road to civilization, noting that "the curse of the race is rum."2 Contrary to this depiction, Jarvis provides a more complete history of the Brothertown, their citizenship, and their land ownership, drawing upon the methodologies of history, political science, anthropology, and American Indian studies. This history includes a twenty-year quest during the early nineteenth century for land farther away from disruptive and malevolent influences.

The early years of the Brothertown settlement in New York coincided with the expansion of the early republic and a rabid desire for land that failed to take into account current occupants' presence. The Brothertown sought to separate themselves from these influences, "construct[ing] boundaries around their town" (148). When fences and laws failed to protect them, the Brothertown sought land farther west, first in Indiana (1809-1825) and then in Michigan Territory (1820-1832) (150- 178,179-215). In Michigan Territory, they arranged to purchase land, first along the Fox River, then along Lake Winnebago, both in the area that would become the state of Wisconsin (200).

The Brothertown experienced many uncertainties during this time. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which coincided closely with the Brothertown move from New York. Although the move was their idea, necessary to maintaining their identity and asserting their sovereignty in the young country, the Brothertown feared that they would be removed farther west against their wishes. Reasoning that the federal government would not remove U.S. citizens who owned their own land, tribal leaders petitioned Congress for citizenship and allotment of their reservation land (10-11). In 1839, Congress granted their request. Not fully understanding the situation in which the Brothertown found themselves in the early 1830s, many people thought that Brothertown citizenship, individual land ownership, and Christianity amounted to assimilation. Jarvis disagrees with this interpretation, instead finding that the Brothertown were attempting to maintain their unique Indian identity.

From the time the tribe was first formed by Samson Occom (Mohegan), Joseph Johnson (Mohegan), and David Fowler (Montauk), the Brothertown desired to control their own destiny, finding strength in unity. Jarvis notes that "the Brothertowns had...


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pp. 304-306
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