Academic journal article American Studies

THE FOUR DEATHS OF ACORN WHISTLER: Telling Stories in Colonial America

Academic journal article American Studies

THE FOUR DEATHS OF ACORN WHISTLER: Telling Stories in Colonial America

Article excerpt

THE FOUR DEATHS OF ACORN WHISTLER: Telling Stories in Colonial America. By Joshua Piker. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2013.

Four Deaths is a meticulously researched, compellingly argued, grippingly nar- rated account of the mid-eighteenth century mass murder of a group of Cherokee men and the subsequent execution of the crime's ostensible mastermind, a modestly influential (and most likely innocent) Creek chieftain named Acorn Whistler. The "four deaths" of the title are the rival accounts-from imperial, national, local, and colonial perspectives-which condemned Whistler. In assessing the stakes involved in the rhetorical maneuvering over one man's culpability, Joshua Piker ultimately provides a brilliant sketch of colonial America's complex and explosive political dynamics, the "macroscale realities" of "international war and intranational rivalries, imperial reform and national consolidation, cross-cultural disagreements and transatlantic arguments, colonial intrigues and metropolitan politics" (10).

The motives and machinations of the key storytellers are rendered vividly in Four Deaths, from the nervous diplomacy of Governor James Glen, who needed to prove his efficacy as a colonial administrator in bringing someone to justice for a horrific crime committed not simply in the middle of British South Carolina, but in earshot of the gubernatorial mansion; to the crafty politicking of Thomas Bosomworth and his mixed-race wife Mary, ambitious provincials in desperate financial straits who sought to secure lucrative land claims by establishing their value as cultural mediators between Native American and colonial worlds; to the subtle balancing of allegiances carried out by Malatchi, the Creek leader at war with the Cherokees who saw his own authority threatened by struggles between and within different local powers. …

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