Brothers Born of One Mother: British-Native American Relations in the Colonial Southeast by Michelle LeMaster
This book is a study of how gender ideology shaped intercultural conversations between southeastern Native peoples and the British from the 1660s to the 1760s. A significant component of this study is the author's attention to the ways in which the use of gendered language and kinship terminology varied throughout this period as the balance of power shifted and local interests and demographics changed. Both Native Americans and British manipulated gendered language and kinship terminology in ways that served their purposes, and, as the author notes, the process was neither consistent nor uncontested as different Native American groups and British representatives jockeyed for advantages.
The book explores four major areas of Indian-white relations: diplomacy, war, trade, and intermarriage. The chapter on diplomacy focuses on how both British and Native representatives drew on family relationships and kinship terminology, as well as ideas of masculinity and femininity as universal concepts for expressing concerns and intent. However, since the British came from a patriarchal family structure and the Native people from a matrilineal one, they did not share common understandings, and, as LeMaster explains, their gendered language often led to unrecognized misconceptions and misrepresentations. This chapter is an inclusive examination of [End Page 441] Native American men's and women's experiences.
LeMaster generally separates men's and women's war experiences into two chapters. Chapter two focuses primarily on male military experiences while the third chapter addresses women's and children's wartime experiences. LeMaster notes that war was a way for both the British and Native people to mark male honor. Each side sought to emasculate the other, thus bolstering their own perceptions of themselves. Although the third chapter briefly addresses women's military experience, it mostly attends to captivity and slavery of women and children. Women's participation in military activities probably does not receive as much attention as it could; the author's stated intent is to focus on the experiences of most women and not on a few exceptional figures.
In the chapter on trade the author rightly points out that scholars have often underestimated women's direct involvement in trade. She argues that since the whole society became dependent on trade, it is difficult to separate women's dependency from men's, as often was the case in earlier studies on trade. LeMaster skillfully deciphers how British and Native men used gendered language and symbols to manipulate the trade, particularly in ways that reaffirmed or challenged each other's masculinity.
Brothers Born of One Mother is a welcome addition to the growing number of studies attending to gender in European and Native American colonial experiences. LeMaster draws on a wealth of primary sources that have been used by other scholars, but "reads" the text through the lens of gendered language and kinship terminology to advance our understanding of the complexity of British-Native relations in the Southeast. Her interpretation of British-Native relations is well developed and convincing. Her attention to and analysis of the assumption of shared common meanings is a major strength of the book.
There are a few rare occasions when further investigation might have revealed more complex understandings of events than was offered. To give just one case in point, the author draws on Richard [End Page 442] Trexler's study of male-on-male sexual violence to explain that when some Native men placed rosemary by the nose of a British male killed during the Tuscarora War they were symbolically emasculating him, which is a reasonable explanation. However, factors such as that rosemary was not indigenous to North America, that it was probably introduced by Franciscan friars, that it was sometimes placed by bodies to cover the smell of decomposition, and that it was also believed to protect people from witchery suggests that a more complex or different symbolism is possible. Those rare occasions aside, this book is an insightful examination into the complexity of gender constructs and roles in the British colonial Southeast.
Michelene Pesantube teaches Native American religious traditions courses at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. She is the author of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World (2005) and is currently researching the intersection of gender and dance in Native American cultures.