On Records: Delaware Indians, Colonists, and the Media of History and Memory

On Records: Delaware Indians, Colonists, and the Media of History and Memory

On Records: Delaware Indians, Colonists, and the Media of History and Memory

On Records: Delaware Indians, Colonists, and the Media of History and Memory

Synopsis

Bridging the fields of indigenous, early American, memory, and media studies, On Records illuminates the problems of communication between cultures and across generations. Andrew Newman examines several controversial episodes in the historical narrative of the Delaware (Lenape) Indians, including the stories of their primordial migration to settle a homeland spanning the Delaware and Hudson Rivers, the arrival of the Dutch and the first colonial land fraud, William Penn's founding of Pennsylvania with a Great Treaty of Peace, and the "infamous" 1737 Pennsylvania Walking Purchase. As Newman demonstrates, the quest for ideal records-authentic, authoritative, and objective, anchored in the past yet intelligible to the present-has haunted historical actors and scholars alike. Yet without "proof," how can we know what really happened? On Records articulates surprising connections among colonial documents, recorded oral traditions, material and visual cultures. Its comprehensive, probing analysis of historical evidence yields a multi-faceted understanding of events and reveals new insights into the divergent memories of a shared past.

Excerpt

“For their original,” wrote William Penn of the Delawares in 1683, “I am ready to believe them of the Jewish race.” Penn was adding his opinion to a voluminous body of literature concerning the origin of the Native Americans. Consulting the Bible and classical sources, and correlating those with physical and cultural characteristics and geography, Europeans identified the Indians’ ancestors variously as Carthaginians, Atlanteans, Phoenicians, Tartars, Scythians, and the Lost Tribes of Israel. Each conclusion had different implications for the possibility of converting and civilizing the Indians. the question of origin was, therefore, a profoundly political one.

What information might the Indians themselves have to contribute to this subject? This question, too, was political, because it concerned the compatibility of their beliefs with Christianity, their status with regard to divine revelation, and especially their capacity to retain knowledge of their distant past, which was itself a key criterion in qualifying them as barbaric or civilized. the Delawares, whose oral traditions furnished the written records with two conflicting accounts of their origins, feature prominently in this discussion.

Like many peoples, the Delawares had a story of autochthonous origin: the first man and woman, their ancestors, had sprouted from a tree that grew from the back of the primordial turtle or tortoise that was their world. This account first appears in the 1679 journal of the Dutch Pietist Jasper Danckaerts, who presents it as evidence of how misguided . . .

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