Deconstructing the Cherokee Nation: Town, Region, and Nation among Eighteenth-Century Cherokees

By Abram, Susan M. | South Carolina Historical Magazine, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Deconstructing the Cherokee Nation: Town, Region, and Nation among Eighteenth-Century Cherokees


Abram, Susan M., South Carolina Historical Magazine


Deconstructing the CherokeeNation: Town, Region, and Nation among EighteenthCentury Cherokees. By Tyler Boulware. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011. Pp. xii, 234; $69.95, cloth.)

Cherokee identity has recently been the focus of many scholarly examinations. Further contributing to this trend is Deconstructing the Cherokee Nation, by Tyler Boulware, assistant professor of history at West Virginia University. Having meticulously sifted through eighteenth-century colonial records and traveler accounts throughout the Southeast, the author attempts to reveal the truly complex nature of Cherokee identity during this period. While others have converged on the establishment of a Cherokee national identity in the nineteenth century, Boulware carefully looks at events over the previous one hundred years of Cherokee history to disclose how multifarious factors made the concept of nationhood seem unlikely at most times.

In eight well-constructed chapters, Boulware extricates the challenges that Cherokees faced in the wake of colonial and then early American contact. Thus far most Cherokee historians have considered clan membership as the foundation that defined internal identity and, therefore, ordained outside relationships with both friends and enemies. Boulware's thorough study challenges this notion. Instead, he persuasively argues, Cherokees relied on town and region from which to project their power, authority, and identity. By concentrating on the Cherokee-Creek War, the Anglo-Cherokee War, and the American Revolution as well as interwar relationships, Boulware skillfully exposes the importance and power of localism and regionalism in not only forging identities but also shaping events.

Boulware reveals the fractures in Cherokee unity during the eighteenth century because of the lack of any national identity. He adeptly explores the complicated roles of headmen and skilled war leaders and their relationships to clan, town, and region. Though all were Cherokee and the seven extended matrilineal kinship networks called clans crossed town and region boundaries, the author contends that this alone did not hold them together as a group. Rather, the concept of place and identification to specific places worked to detach Cherokees from one another. This inclination usually resulted in colonial confusion and sometimes frustrated anger that led to scorched-earth expeditions against the Cherokees as a whole, regardless of whether the actions of a particular town or region had provoked the retaliation. The extreme decentralization of Cherokee government along with colonial officials' ignorance or stubborn denial of the traditional Cherokee geopolitical power structure and their lack of national institutions often exacerbated military actions. …

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