Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier

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Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier

Author: James H. Merrell
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Copyright: 1999
Pages: 463
Cover Price: $ 16.95

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Although the American West was ultimately won by killing nearly every Indian who got in the way, the initial contacts between native and Euro-American cultures were for the most part peaceful, defined by the social and geopolitical norms set by the land's original inhabitants. Into the American Woods examines how semiprofessional negotiators defined a "middle ground" in frontier Pennsylvania where schisms between Anglos and native Americans were temporarily appeased for mutual economic and political gain. English colonial administrators, seeking to purchase land, establish trade, and avert conflict, became dependent on opportunists at the colony's edge, such as German entrepreneur Conrad Weiser, or trader George Groghan, to negotiate with the Delaware, Shawnee, Iroquois, and other regional tribes and bands. Uninterested in learning the ways of new arrivals, the native peoples sent sons of mixed European and Indian heritage or Christian converts to negotiate on their behalf. By trading wampum, using sign language, and scribbling pictographs, these go-betweens developed ambiguously effective means of bridging cultural divides. Negotiators, however, did not fully trust each other's intentions and maintained the prejudices of their own cultures. The French-Indian Wars lessened the effectiveness of councils or other forms of negotiation and tensions between Anglo and Native American civilizations intensified, culminating in the infamous "Paxton Boys" massacre of 1763. Each stage of Merrell's lively, extremely well-researched analysis is filled with colorful "woods lore"--anecdotes often comic in nature, focusing on the rampant alcoholism and bawdiness of frontier life--which illustrate the personalities of key negotiators, as well as the strategies and conditions by which White and Native America conversed in the early 18th century, an era when the wampum belt carried more power on the frontier than the flintlock. --John Anderson

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Background Information

The Iroquois were the people of several tribes in the Eastern United States and Canada, who controlled large areas before European settlement and allied themselves variously with French, British and Americans during their 18th century wars. King George's War, so named for the British monarch at the time, was part of a worldwide conflict between the British and French empires.