Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Book Review: "The Divided Ground"

UC-Davis historian Alan Taylor is one of my very favorite authors (his William Cooper's Town is on my mental all-time top-ten list), so I was waiting very impatiently for my classes to finish this spring in order to start his newest book. The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution did not disappoint.

Taylor's subject is one which has been rising in historical esteem and interest in recent years, helped along through excellent work by James Merrell, Colin Calloway and others. Taylor jumps ambitiously and enthusiastically into the debate over the nature of border conflict and Indian history during the Revolutionary period, and this book contributes much to the scholarship. Taylor argues convincingly that the Iroquois tribes of what is now central/western New York and southeastern Ontario province worked diligently to keep control of their lands, first by playing the British off the Americans, then by playing the federal government off the government of New York State.

Perhaps the most important insight Taylor offers is that the Iroquois tribes understood the nature of settlement, and sought to arrange leases and/or private sales of their lands to chosen buyers, rather than allowing governments to purchase large tracts and divide it up. This method, they hoped, would create a friendly buffer zone between themselves and the flood of white settlers, thereby allowing the preservation of Indian culture and space.

Taylor effectively utilizes Mohawk chief Joseph Brant and missionary Samuel Kirkland as his case studies, returning to their lives throughout the book at opportune moments. It is a depressing read to no small degree, as it portrays the insatiable hunger of the settlers for more land in the most accurate if unflattering of lights. While The Divided Ground lacks some of the narrative style of Taylor's earlier works, it is nonetheless an important book covering a fascinating topic; I recommend it highly.


At 7:14 AM, Blogger pacatrue said...

Is it possible to say why the Iriquois settlement plan did not work, by chance? Was it broken agreements, something else? Yes, I am asking you to tell me the end of the book basically.

At 7:38 AM, Blogger JBD said...

Now paca, you know I can't spoil the ending, that would be wrong! I will say it was a combination of factors, but that broken agreements (and others drawn up with the specific intent to deceive) certainly had something to do with it.


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