- Indians in Local Places:Towns, Outposts, and Colonialism in Eighteenth-Century North America
In his now iconic book, Indians in Unexpected Places (2004), Philip Deloria details how twentieth-century Native Americans occupied geographical and physical spaces, occupations, and cultural pastimes not popularly associated with American Indians. If we look back in time, and to the historiography of eighteenth-century American Indians, we see that historians have identified Indigenous people as active participants in colonial encounters with Europeans; have been shown to be the stewards of innovative matrilineal and matrilocal clan and kinship systems; and have played critical roles in the intercultural spaces between "traditional" and European settler trade, political, and cultural activities. (See, e.g., Tom Hatley's The Dividing Paths ; Daniel K. Richter's Facing East from Indian Country ; and Gil J. Stein, ed., The Archeology of Colonial Encounters .)
Until recently, sustained analysis of the local places where eighteenth-century Native Americans would have felt most comfortable have been missing [End Page 146] from our historical understanding of the Southeast, Great Lakes, and Mid-Atlantic regions of North America. Surprisingly, Indian towns and European outposts— vibrant sites of human activity that gave social, economic, and political relations their meaning—have escaped the focus of historians. With the exception of Joshua Piker's historical analysis of the Creek town Okfuskee in 2006, studies of eighteenth-century Indian towns and regional identities remain few and far between. While archeological and anthropological studies of eighteenth-century Indian towns are not uncommon (see, e.g., Christopher B. Rodning and Amber V. VanDerwarker's 2002 article, "Revisiting Coweeta Creek"), outside of Piker's important work the historical study of Indians in local places remains underdeveloped.
Historians Tyler Boulware and Daniel Ingram have produced two welcome and insightful contributions to this important field of historical inquiry. Boulware focuses on the eighteenth-century Cherokees. Weaving diplomatic, political, gendered, and racial analysis into his narrative, he presents readers with a vivid picture of the importance of town membership and geographical rootedness in constructing Cherokee social and political identities. Ingram, in contrast, provides us with a richly detailed assessment of colonial forts throughout the Southeast, Great Lakes, and Northeast regions. In so doing, he underscores the extent to which Indigenous Americans influenced the location of colonial outposts and shaped their economic, military, and political purposes. Taken together, Boulware and Ingram reveal just how important it is to study and attempt to understand American Indians in local places during the eighteenth century.
Tyler Boulware has made a major contribution to eighteenth-century Cherokee historiography, and to Native American scholarship generally. His Deconstructing the Cherokee Nation analyzes the importance of geography, settlement patterns, and town affiliations as the basis for political loyalties and sociocultural identities among the eighteenth-century Cherokees (3). In eight carefully crafted and well-researched chapters, Boulware acknowledges the importance of previous scholarship and its emphasis on clan membership in Cherokee social and political life (4). While he is not dismissive of the role of the matrilineal and matrilocal clan system, he is clear (and correct) in arguing that the historiographical focus on its significance has led scholars to neglect the importance of town and regional affiliations among eighteenth-century Cherokee people (4-5).
Boulware outlines his argument in bold terms, and to good effect. In his initial chapters, he reminds us of historian Tom Hatley's observation that life in an eighteenth-century Cherokee village was "intensely local" (10). Building on Hatley's insights, Boulware argues that Cherokee towns were political spaces that were vital to the nourishment of communal identities (11). Rarely, he contends, did members of a single clan assemble; those belonging to a particular town, however, gathered regularly at the local council house to discuss and debate issues of social, economic, and political salience with fellow townspeople (14). Within this localized framework, Boulware offers a refreshing take on the well-known Cherokee concept...