William A. Pencak, Daniel K. Richter, eds. Friends and Enemies in Penn's Woods: Indians, Colonists, and the Racial Construction of Pennsylvania. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. 329 pp. $76.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-271-02384-7; $28.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-271-02385-4.
Reviewed by Mark A. Nicholas (Department of History, University of St. Thomas)
Published on H-AmIndian (November, 2006)
William Penn's Racial Experiment
Pennsylvania's Quaker beginnings were once legitimate proof that the colony ably maintained the peace with its diverse native peoples. For far too long, the Quaker colony, as a place in which historians might render fresh understandings about Indians, waited in the shadows of New England, Virginia, and even the Deep South. (For the most part, scholars have taken lesser interest in colonial settlements not torn apart by Indian war.) James H. Merrell and Jane T. Merritt both smashed the vision of William Penn's "Peaceable Kingdom" and the misrepresented notion that the Quaker colony has little to offer historians of Native North America. "Penn's Woods" was one of many places in British North America where Indians and whites committed acts of violence against one another, even if these moments were small by comparison to southern New England's King Philip's War or the Indian killing associated with Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia. At the same time, a strikingly different Pennsylvania emerges from the pages of the works by Merrell and Merritt. In the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth, there was a unique intimacy in Pennsylvania between Indians and colonists, sometimes brokered by people who dared to cross cultural borders. But such closeness was mostly felt where missionaries held ground operations or where people signed treaties or traded goods; this closeness was also predicated on shared land and resources, as well as shared work, social worlds, and practices. Amicability, nonetheless, was always clouded by an unsettled state of peace. By the 1750s, Indian-hating erupted as competition for land increased, and as domination loomed from multiple directions--from the imperial French and British, and from the Iroquois Confederacy to the North. Pennsylvania's state of racial violence, in fact, became more consistent and less episodic by the time of the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution. In recent years, then, colonial Pennsylvania has come to look more like a tapestry woven together from encounters between natives and newcomers; still these were fragile threads indeed, and where violence frayed the edges, people tried to stitch the tapestry back together, even if their work remained imperfect. By the 1750s, that tapestry unfortunately began to fall to pieces, as it was swept into a mid-Atlantic vortex of imperial war and racial violence.
The essays in Friends and Enemies lend new substance to this picture of Penn's Woods, while specific chapters tackle the complicated issues of how and when Indian-hating destroyed peace in the Quaker colony. As a whole, this collection tries to show how Indians and white settlers kept tensions submerged in the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth at points of cultural negotiation and during times of mutual accommodation. Tensions, nonetheless, could not remain subdued. They exploded later, in the worst of ways--racial hatred. White Pennsylvanians moved toward a white Pennsylvania, a place that excluded Indians entirely. William C. Pencak and Daniel K. Richter have assembled a unique volume in that it is rich in its breadth and depth for a collection of essays about colonial Pennsylvania's Indian-settler relations. All of the essays are sophisticatedly written and special in their particular methods and sources. Readers will enjoy Friend and Enemies not only for the contributions to the historiography. From one section to the next, from one essay to another, readers shift smoothly both topically and chronologically, with thirteen chapters under three different subheadings. A conclusion from Merrell brings further coherence to the volume.
"Peoples in Conversation" includes the first four essays. These chapters reveal some of the social structures, cultural values, land ways, and relations in the first years of native-newcomer encounters that were uncertain and unstable at best, while people tried to make sense of each other. Three of the articles demonstrate that cultural encounters (whether discomforting or somewhat familiar) were always fragile. Michael Dean Mackintosh shows that the first (and little-studied) Swedish immigrants along the Delaware River, in the seventeenth century, had different concepts of land use than Lenni Lenapis; Carla Gerona examines dream talks in religious encounters between Quakers and Indians; and Alison Ducan Hirsch traces a gender frontier of trade involving women in the early eighteenth century. As James O'Neil Spady's piece makes clear, absolute peace in Penn's Woods was more a historical fiction than reality. A myth of peace "has obscured the significance of both the severe disruption to Lenape life that Pennsylvania created and the resistance of some Lenapes to that disruption" (p. 19). Differences between white and Indian were there, but people hid them at times to live without spilt blood.
As the eighteenth century progressed, ties of intercultural relationships frayed even more; in different ways the next essays reflect this state of deterioration. The best of these essays from parts 2 and 3 address such topics as gender, violence, justice, land use practices, and race, as well as the ways that important axes of historical interpretation, set within the context of Pennsylvania's white-Indian relations, were fraught with tension. Amy C. Schutt's fine essay shows how Moravian-Indian female relationships were shot through with ambiguity. Female relationships underscored the weakness of life on the Pennsylvania frontier, at the same time that women established ties in attempts to keep peace stable. Teasing out the multiple identities, stories, and relations of power surrounding the death of a Seneca (Sawantaeny), John Smolenski raises interesting questions about the durability of western concepts of justice among diverse groups who made claims not in courts but in kin relations, retribution, and diplomatic allegiance. David L. Preston reminds scholars of the importance of locality; while decision-makers in Philadelphia and Whitehall may have tried to control Indian-settler relations, it was the squatters and native peoples in Pennsylvania who negotiated land rights. And even with the intervention of the metropole and province--the arrival of Redcoats and forts during the Seven Years' War, Whitehall's imposition of the Proclamation in 1763 and Pennsylvania's "draconian laws" from about that time--"old patterns persisted" (p. 199). Not for long, however, as Preston points out. Proprietary claims eventually removed squatters and infuriated Indians, creating a cultural divide that had not existed before. The last set of essays by Krista Camenzind, Paul Moyer, and Gregory T. Knouff establish that if a white Pennsylvania existed, it was a construct that emerged out of a maelstrom of frontier bloodshed from the 1760s through the 1780s, in the minds and hearts of those who fought the battles, mounted backcountry rebellions, and won or lost the wars. "Whiteness" was not something defined in specific laws in the halls of Philadelphia's government.
The flow of this book and its emphasis on intercultural relations indicates that inter-racial peace, or at least appearances of it, appeared at first settlement and stayed close to the Atlantic coastline. In contrast, racial hatred was first violently expressed in dark and distant places (far from where William Penn began his "Holy Experiment"), where "Indian" and "white" racial constructs only spread, breeding animosity into the nineteenth century. This is not so much a criticism as to note a point of departure for research. With more fine scholars like the ones that appear in this volume poking around in the nooks and crannies of Penn's Woods, perhaps "whiteness" in colonial Pennsylvania will manifest itself elsewhere. For now, scholars with any interest in racial construction on the early American frontier, or in the history of colonial Pennsylvania, will find this book a must read.
. James H. Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999); and Jane T. Merritt, At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
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Mark A. Nicholas. Review of Pencak, William A.; Richter, Daniel K., eds., Friends and Enemies in Penn's Woods: Indians, Colonists, and the Racial Construction of Pennsylvania.
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