“From a Nation of Drunkards, We Have Become a Sober People”: The Wyandot Experience in the Ohio Valley during the Early Republic

In recent years scholars have emphasized how borderlands and the transition to borders have influenced politics. Where does collective memory fit into the politics of these boundaries? How did Native Americans remember borderlands as they attempted to deal with the rigid restrictions that Americans attempted to place around them? What was the relationship between race and borderlands and how does the act of remembering provoke this relationship? Evangelical Christians contributed to a new way for Americans to carve out national borders; they understood the frontier as spaces destined not for “primitive” Native Americans but for Anglo-Saxon and Christian dominance. But Wyandot Indians proactively made a new geography by utilizing astute cultural and political strategies based on their collective memory of diaspora and hybridity to mark out their own borders and control their own destiny in the face of American expansion. Evangelical missionary James Finley’s History of the Wyandot Mission at Upper Sandusky, Ohio provided an early depiction of this Wyandot agency despite his intentions to convert “the heathen.” Although written with significant prejudice, deconstructing Finley’s text exposes the collective memory that the Wyandot used as agency to create a completely new version of Christianity that stymied empire rather than empowered it. This paper will deconstruct and de-mythologize Finley’s account and utilize it as a case study to examine how Christian and non-Christian Wyandot remembrances of borderlands were used successfully in building Wyandot borders conceived of and implemented by Wyandot leaders of which American settlers and U.S. government officials could neither penetrate nor dismantle.