Tribe, Race, History: Native Americans in Southern New England, 1780-1880

Article excerpt

Tribe, Race, History: Native Americans in Southern New England, 1780-1880. By Daniel R. Mandell. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. 321 pages. $55.00 (hardcover).

Recipient of the Organization of American Historians newly established Levine Award for best cultural history in 2008, Daniel R. Mandell's Tribe, Race, History: Native Americans in Southern New England, 17801880 is an impressive, timely and thoroughly researched piece of scholarship. Drawing on a wealth of primary documents, photographs and illustrations Mandell explores where and how southern New England's Native American people survived long after King Philip's War, and how their relationships with New Englanders of other backgrounds helped to define an emerging social and political culture as well as regional and global economies.

The book documents the experiences of tribes in the three southern New England states. Mandell pays considerable attention to the larger communities of Aquinnah, Mashpee, and Narragansett while integrating and comparing the experiences of smaller communities. The temporal setting is the period immediately following the Revolutionary War through to 1880, when the special status of Indian communities, including the legal structures that supported and protected communal ownership of reservations, was ended. In six chapters, an epilogue, and an essay on sources the book covers a number of complex themes. Prominent among these are the mechanisms of tribal survival, which included new livelihood strategies, social networks and intermarriage, as well as formal legal and political action.

Mandell's thorough mapping of the contours of Native livelihood strategies begins in chapter one, 'Land and Labor,' and is a constant frame of reference throughout the book. Superimposed upon the fragmented homelands that remained central to Native American society and economy were complex networks of livelihood activities and social interaction that flowed between reservations, cities and towns. Drawing on multigenerational knowledge of territory Native peoples traveled the region as herbal doctors, basket makers, peddlers, circus performers and farm workers, maintaining a shadowy and transient profile in the eyes of white neighbors. Communities were linked to regional and global processes as many Native men found work in New England's whaling industry, which peaked during this period. Reserves also served as refuges for escaped slaves, free blacks and poor whites as well.

The social and political complexities of intermarriage, particularly between Native women and men of African descent, are discussed in chapter two 'Community and Family' and form another central theme of Tribe, Race, History. Partly as a result of the itinerant nature of Indian livelihoods and of whaling in particular, which could draw men away from communities for years at a time, Native women frequently entered into both formal and informal relationships with outsiders. Mandell follows some of the descendents of these, including well-known families like the Cuffees, examining the factors that influenced affiliation with African- American or Native communities. …