Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives

By Pauline Turner Strong | Go to book overview

notes approvingly their "love of liberty" and "affection to their relations," and suggests that "some other nations might be more happy, if, in some instances, they copied them, and made wise conduct, courage, and personal strength, the chief recommendations for war-captains, or werowances, as they call them." Though he mentions Indian cruelty and vindictiveness, and especially decries their "barbarous and extraordinary manner" of putting the elderly to death,23 the bulk of Williamson's criticism is directed at the French for using liquor and bounty payments to induce the Indians to violence against the English. In this manner the French, writes Williamson, "render themselves as obnoxious, cruel, and barbarous, to a human mind, as the very savages themselves" (24-29). The remainder of the narrative would seem to suggest that French and Indian cruelty justifies similar savagery on the part of the British.

Williamson promoted himself as an ethnographic authority not only in his narrative but also in his peacetime occupation as a tavern keeper in Edinburgh. In front of his tavern stood a wooden Indian warrior; inside was a display of spears, bows, arrows, and "Chief Jacob's nightcap" -- which, the label asserted, had been presented to Williamson by Benjamin Franklin. Inside the tavern, "Indian Peter" ( Williamson) would exhibit himself in the dress of a "Delaware Indian Chief," lecture on Indian manners and customs, and demonstrate a "Mohawk war dance." The frontispiece of the fourth edition of French and Indian Cruelty shows Williamson in his Delaware garb--the very clothes in which he chose to be buried (see Figure 7.5). One of the original Indian "wannabes," Williamson not only exhibited himself to an eager public as the embodiment of Indian culture, but he also seems to have found his own self- fashioning quite compelling.24


Conclusion: The Selective Tradition of Captivity

This book began with the thesis that colonial captivity narratives comprise a hegemonic tradition, that is, "a version of the past which is intended to connect with and ratify the present," one in which "certain meanings and practices are selected for emphasis and certain other meanings and practices are neglected or excluded" ( Williams 1977:115-116). I adopted the term typification to refer to the conventional representations constructed in the captivity tradition, and I focused attention on the process through which the oppositional typifications of the Captive Self and Captivating Other were constructed. I noted that the opposition between Captive Self and Captivating Other largely neglects and excludes a complex convergence of indigenous and colonial captivity practices as well as significant moments of identification between Self and Other. Having considered Peter Williamson's and other mid-

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