At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763

At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763

At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763

At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763


Examining interactions between native Americans and whites in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania, Jane Merritt traces the emergence of race as the defining difference between these neighbors on the frontier.

Before 1755, Indian and white communities in Pennsylvania shared a certain amount of interdependence. They traded skills and resources and found a common enemy in the colonial authorities, including the powerful Six Nations, who attempted to control them and the land they inhabited. Using innovative research in German Moravian records, among other sources, Merritt explores the cultural practices, social needs, gender dynamics, economic exigencies, and political forces that brought native Americans and Euramericans together in the first half of the eighteenth century.

But as Merritt demonstrates, the tolerance and even cooperation that once marked relations between Indians and whites collapsed during the Seven Years' War. By the 1760s, as the white population increased, a stronger, nationalist identity emerged among both white and Indian populations, each calling for new territorial and political boundaries to separate their communities. Differences between Indians and whites--whether political, economic, social, religious, or ethnic--became increasingly characterized in racial terms, and the resulting animosity left an enduring legacy in Pennsylvania's colonial history.


In October 1736, during a treaty council outside Philadelphia at Stenton, Pennsylvania, the Seneca chief Kanickhungo, representing the Six Nations, explained to the proprietor Thomas Penn that, soon after his father William Penn “came into this Country, he and we treated together.” “He opened and cleared the Road between this Place and our Nations, which was very much to our good Liking, and it gave us great Pleasure. We now desire that this Road, for the mutual Accommodation and Conveniency of you and us, who travel therein to see each other, may be kept clear and open, free from all Stops or Incumbrances.” in a few words, the Iroquois leader invoked a simple element of the landscape, “the Road,” as a metaphor for communication, diplomacy, and cultural exchange between Indians and whites. Yet the road also referred to a physical space, a passage that connected national territories, communities, and people, a space used by many parties. Experience had taught Kanickhungo that shared roads often suffered from “Stops or Incumbrances”—like brambles, competition for resources and political power stood in the way of cooperation. He thus invoked the memory of the first colonial peacemaker who had advocated tolerance toward native peoples, and he gently reprimanded the son for his apparent deficiencies. Kanickhungo, like many eighteenth-century Americans, tried to articulate ways that coexistence could work. As representative of one imperial power addressing another, he drew on metaphors that implored native Americans and Euramericans to be equally responsible for keeping the route between their communities clear, to share that frontier as they negotiated a better understanding.

Employing the image of the road to visualize Indian-white relations is useful, partly because the metaphor was integral to eighteenth-century cultural encounters and diplomacy. But roads can also provide an apt metaphor for historians, proffering new paths of inquiry through the tan-

1. mpcp, iv, 83.

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