Michelle LeMaster. Brothers Born of One Mother: British-Native American Relations in the Colonial Southeast. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012. x + 292 pp. $39.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8139-3241-5.
Reviewed by Kristalyn M. Shefveland (University of Southern Indiana)
Published on H-AmIndian (July, 2013)
Commissioned by F. Evan Nooe
Illuminating Gender: Anglo-Indian Interaction in the Colonial Southeast
Utilizing the lens of gender, Michelle LeMaster has crafted an excellent work on the colonial Southeast and the realm of Anglo-Indian interaction. With a focus on the late seventeenth through the mid-eighteenth century, LeMaster’s narrative highlights a different theme in each chapter yet does not lose focus of the greater issue of gender and its impact on matters of diplomacy and its various attributes. Citing “complementary and clashing understandings of masculinity and femininity,” the work begins with a discussion of the roots of the Yamasee War and the importance of women to the conflict, particularly the enslavement of Indian women but also the fact that Yamasee women played a role in the “deadly rumors that contributed to the execution of the South Carolina ambassadors” (pp. 2-3). Language, the understanding and misunderstanding of gender, played a strong role in Anglo-Indian interaction. And naturally, the role women played in the spreading of information is something of great interest to scholars of the colonial period who have focused on English women, particularly in Bacon’s Rebellion. By refocusing the narrative to gender in Anglo-Indian interaction, LeMaster has opened a view to the role of Native women that deserves further attention as scholars expand upon the important works of Theda Perdue, Kathryn Holland Braund, and others. The language of fictive kinship and familial ties was one that knitted disparate groups together but how each group viewed the bonds of those relationships is naturally of some debate. LeMaster has contributed an important work on diplomacy and metaphor, the attempts to find a common ground, and the adaptation and continuity present in the Native Southeast.
Each chapter takes on a specific theme that examines the gender rhetoric. In “A ‘Friend’ and a ‘Brother’: Gender, Family, and Diplomacy,” LeMaster argues that long periods of peace and diplomacy led to cooperation in attempts for trade and the maintenance of relationships. These relationships often emerged as homosocial interactions and kinship ties between fictive “brothers.” While men were often the official political leaders and diplomats, women played a large role in the function of diplomacy as those responsible for hospitality and informal behind-the-scenes negotiation. The use of the term “brothers” is important to understanding the Southeast and Anglo-Indian interaction. Among Native peoples, “the elder brother was accorded respect and had the moral authority to advise the younger, although he lacked coercive power. The elder also had the responsibility to provide for the younger” (p. 25). Thus, in Anglo-Indian diplomacy, while the British were often accorded elder brother status, they still had responsibilities to their Native younger brother. Obligations and reciprocal interactions proved to be a problem for the British, who often did not meet the expectations of proper kin, particularly in the realm of gift-giving.
In the second chapter, “‘I Am a Man and a Warrior’: Native and British Rhetorics of Manhood and Warfare,” two martial cultures meet. While both groups identify the art of fighting as primarily a masculine activity, the rhetoric of gender was not one-sided as notions of masculinity and femininity played a strong role in warfare. LeMaster includes the experience of Cherokee headman Choa:te:hee of Great Tellico, who mused that Colonel John Herbert, South Carolina commissioner of Indian Affairs, might be less strong than the Cherokee. In this exchange, Herbert had asked the Cherokee to attack the Creek to avenge the loss of English colonists along the South Carolina border. Choa:te:hee rightly asked that the English ride out to war with him and when Herbert “hesitated, equivocated,” and eventually said that he would have to seek permission from the South Carolina governor, Choa:te:hee concluded that “the English were afraid of the Creeks” (p. 53). The reality of Anglo-Indian interaction as war partners was that they were two very different martial class societies. The social value of military rank in English society that was not based on martial ability was at times found “repulsive” by their Native counterparts (p. 64). Different understandings of the art and rules of war also dominated the southeastern landscape. LeMaster’s narrative manages to discuss sexual violence and the denigration of corpses in such a way that the discussion is not sensational or biased, particularly in the discussion of the Tuscarora War. In referencing the use of insults such as “boy,” “woman,” and “eunuch,” LeMaster makes it clear the variety of meanings and how they can be misconstrued by outsiders of the community.
“‘To Protect Them and Their Wives and Children’: Women and War,” pays close attention to domestic affairs and how war affected the whole community. Importantly, it discusses the role of women in relation to war, particularly in the realm of captives and torture. Torture and symbolic violence played an ever-present role in Anglo-Indian warfare. While a number of scholarly works discuss these themes with respect to the Eastern Woodlands, LeMaster’s contribution is a well-researched and -argued take on the issue of captives. This is especially the case in her discussion of English concerns over the protection of Native settlements and the need for forts for the Cherokee in the eighteenth century, after over a century of slave raids and centuries of endemic colonial skirmishes and war throughout the Southeast.
In her chapter on trade, “Guns and Garters: Men, Women, and the Trade,” LeMaster highlights the consumer culture of the trade and the importance of the buyer, expanding upon the work of James Merrell, Steven Hahn, James Taylor Carson, and Daniel Usner. The chapter highlights the problems of rum as well as the shifting domestic economy. Women in particular shaped the trade economy; their “desire for clothing, ornaments, and cooking utensils shaped the nature of the trade and drove the actions of husbands and brothers, who strove to provide those goods that women wanted” (p. 127). The trade affected men as well, who adapted or expanded their original occupations to “meet the new realities of contact” (p. 147). That stated, while Native men adapted to new roles as traders, normative patterns of male behavior remained intact as they refused to submit to European notions of masculine activity, such as farming, which Natives in the Southeast deemed women’s work, a separate but equally important enterprise but not one for men.
The final chapter, “‘To Stay amongst Them by a Marriage’: The Politics and Domestics of Intermarriage,” delves into the relationships born of trade and interaction. This chapter discusses in detail the well-known opinions of John Lawson on trading girls and the politics of sex in the trade. In that vein, however, LeMaster makes it clear that the innuendos circulating in the Southeast about lascivious Native women were problematic. A good example is the case of Richard Everard, who went to Coweta in 1741 and left being chastised by Chigelli for his behavior. LeMaster argues, that many Native headmen “indicated that they considered British men to be little more than sex-crazed animals, not worthy of respect and certainly not good ‘ambassadors’ of European culture” (p. 168). This chapter also adds to the body of scholarship on Anglo-Indian children and their changing circumstances in the late colonial Southeast.
In conclusion, LeMaster’s work is an important contribution to the growing body of scholarship on Anglo-Indian interaction and the particular importance of kinship and fictive familial bonds in those encounters.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Kristalyn M. Shefveland. Review of LeMaster, Michelle, Brothers Born of One Mother: British-Native American Relations in the Colonial Southeast.
H-AmIndian, H-Net Reviews.
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