The Brothertown Nation of Indians: Land Ownership and Nationalism in Early America, 1740-1840

Synopsis

A group of educated Christian Natives from a variety of New England tribes came together in central New York in 1785 to form a community of their own, Brothertown, a proprietary "Body Politick" modeled after a New England town with an elected leadership. In an effort to retain their land rights and remain self-sufficient, the Natives of Brothertown sought accommodation rather than resistance to Anglo-American ideas about religion, land use, and gender relations by embracing the notion of "civilization" while retaining their identity as Natives. Brothertown residents encouraged women to adopt spinning and weaving and men to become farmers on individual assigned lots, rather than working in the Anglo-American community isolated from traditional ties. The Brothertown Natives had to negotiate continuously with local, state, and national authorities to retain the rights to their land and their own sovereignty. They eventually bought a tract of land from Natives in Wisconsin and relocated their community to escape land encroachment in New York. Facing the threat of the Removal Act and forced relocation, the Brothertown Natives used their status as "civilized Christians" to become American citizens in order to retain their land and keep their community intact, thereby establishing both their external identity and their self-understanding as Americans and as the "Brothertown Nation of Indians." Brad D. E. Jarvis examines the origins and experiences of a unique Native community as it negotiated to preserve community identity, sovereignty, and cultural stability in the midst of land loss, weakened political authority, and economic marginalization.