Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

White Savage

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

White Savage

Article excerpt

Fintan O'Toole, White Savage (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), xi + 402pp. Cloth. £20. ISBN 0-5712-1840-7.

Despite - or perhaps because of - the magnitude of a literary bequest accumulated over more than thirty years of involvement in Indian affairs, William Johnson has not secured undue biographical attention. His death in 1774 left unanswerable the question of whether he would have become a Patriot, though the likelihood is that he would have joined, as did his family, the Loyalists. In any event, Johnson failed to qualify for recognition among the founders of the new nation.

His role in the French and Indian war is, however, another matter. Should his management of Indian policy during the conquest of New France be considered a major contribution to that achievement? Was it his efforts that brought the ebbing away of Indian support for the French? Such questions have not secured convincing responses from historians too prone to confine their interests to only one side of the conflict: 1763 was not an end but merely the beginning of a partition of the past.

To a degree Fintan O'Toole adopts a different approach: his Johnson is certainly not French, only tactically English, and supremely Irish. Other biographers have acknowledged his origins but O'Toole delineates a career that proceeded from that background. Although the links may on occasion seem forced, Johnson's ancestry is exhaustively explored, with a sensitivity to religious, political and cultural implications. Not the least of these was that conformity to English, Protestant institutions permitted a move to the subsequent adoption of an Indian identity. Certainly, Johnson's perception and employment of Iroquois customs are particularly well demonstrated. …

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