At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763/breaking the Backcountry: The Seven Years' War in Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1754-1765

By Boulware, Tyler | South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2005 | Go to article overview

At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763/breaking the Backcountry: The Seven Years' War in Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1754-1765


Boulware, Tyler, South Carolina Historical Magazine


At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763. By Jane T. Merritt. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Pp. vi, 352; $39.95, cloth.)

Breaking the Backcountry: The Seven Years' War in Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1754-1765. By Matthew C. Ward. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003. Pp. x, 360; $34.95, cloth.)

The literature on early American frontiers, borderlands, and cultural encounters has exploded in recent years. From the Great Lakes region to the Lower Mississippi Valley to the peripheries of New Spain (and everywhere in between), scholars have explored the events and processes that occurred in these contested areas. Indeed, peoples and territories that were once on the margins are now placed at the center of historical study. Jane T. Merritt and Matthew C. Ward continue this trend with their latest works on the Pennsylvania and Virginia frontiers.

In At the Crossroads: Indians & Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, Merritt invokes the idea of a "crossroads" as both cultural metaphor and actual "physical space" to show that European and Native American interactions took place "where many paths converged, providing divers possibilities and directions to those who passed through" (Merritt, pp. 1-2). Throughout her work, the author fully explores the diversity of frontier populations as well as the dynamics of colonial power and its affect on Indian-white encounters. Merritt more specifically utilizes the concepts of kinship, gender, and race to examine identity and group transformations on the Pennsylvania frontier. In seeking to understand why "prolonged cultural contact produced deep and long-lasting animosities," Merritt reveals how a once open and fluid frontier was replaced by hardening political and ideological boundaries that pitted Indians and whites on one side of the divide (i.e., "road") or the other (Merritt, p. 4).

Merritt divides her work into four sections with each comprising two chapters. The first examines "migration and community building" for Europeans and Indians and the tensions that arose from such processes (Merritt, p. 4). In the first half of the eighteenth century, Merritt contends, "internal colonialism" was at work, in which local governing bodies-mainly Pennsylvania and the Iroquois-struggled to exert control over peripheral populations. The intrusion of these "two powerful political entities" resulted in both Indians and whites being "less concerned about each others' activities" and, in many instances, "friendly" toward one another (Merritt, p. 41). Local populations consequently sought to understand "the boundaries of their relationship," whereby many became tied together by kinship and "kinlike relationships" (Merritt, pp. 5,50). Though tension and conflict often permeated relations, Indians and whites were nevertheless able to "find mutually acceptable ways" of dealing with misunderstandings (Merritt, p. 52).

The book's second section, "Empowered Communities," focuses on those Native Americans among German Moravians in and around mission towns. Merritt shows how adapting to Christianity and other Euramerican practices provided Indians new strategies for survival. Native women, in particular, found Christianity and Moravian religious practices "a source of power" (Merritt, p. 103). Many of these Indian "converts," however, were in cultural flux. As a result, both whites and non-Christian Indians increasingly viewed them with suspicion as the eighteenth century progressed. Some natives reacted to this cultural penetration of Christianity by turning to reform movements that rejected the immorality seen among nearby whites and instead promoted a return to "traditional moral behavior" (Merritt, p. 124). This emphasis on "native-centered communities," Merritt argues, was one of the many factors that helped lead to hostilities during the Seven Years' War (Merritt, p. 131).

The section entitled "War and Peace" centers on a transitional phase of Indian-white relations, wherein the fluid frontier receded as imperial rivalries and an intensification of internal colonialism forced Indians and whites to more clearly define themselves and their relationships to each other. …

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