Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America

By Carson, James Taylor | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America


Carson, James Taylor, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. By DANIEL K. RICHTER. Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 2001. xiv, 318 pp. $26.00.

DANIEL K. RICHTER'S Facing East from Indian Country is an excellent book because it enables readers to envision the settlement of North America in an entirely new way. The author's expertise in Iroquois history informs his broader consideration of how native history ought to be imagined and written as a history unto itself and as an integral part of the colonial and early national history of what we now know as the United States of America. Owing to his engaging prose and retelling of familiar stories, professional and lay readers alike will find his interpretation compelling and persuasive.

Richter takes to task the conventional history of America as the story of an inexorable tide of settlers moving westward in search of better land and opportunities. Such a history, inscribed in the nation's mythic past and popularized by Frederick Jackson Turner and his disciples, relies on an ahistorical rhetoric of "us versus them" to underscore its explanatory power. Whereas the old story cast the past in stark oppositional terms, Richter highlights the contingencies and ambiguities of native history from earliest contact with Europeans to the era of removal in the early nineteenth century. His discussion of the native reception of European material items, diseases, and people highlights the incremental ways in which a new world for indigenous people and Europeans grew out of the contact experience. As long as Spain, France, and England competed for the First Nations' allegiance and support, it is almost impossible to speak with any accuracy about colonization as a struggle of Europeans against Indians. Connections of friendship, trade, and enmity, Richter argues, simply crossed in too many ways.

After the 1763 Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years' War, everything changed. With the defeat of the French and the retreat of the Spanish to New Orleans, native people faced the English as the continent's single imperial power. …

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