“Creating Histories and Recovering Autonomy in the Hudson Valley”

This is the abstract for my paper, “Creating Histories and Recovering Autonomy in the Hudson Valley,” recently submitted for pre-circulation among participants in a March 2014 conference, From Conquest to Identity: New Jersey and the Middle Colonies in the Seventeenth Century, sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. We’ll meet in late March, and hopefully more updates on this paper will follow here.

This paper considers the ways in which Native Americans seized on the English conquest of New Netherland in 1664 to position natives and newcomers as independent members of an extended colonial community inhabiting an intercultural landscape. It uses treaty records, council minutes, personal correspondence, and travel narratives to examine how Indians sought to institute a new era in colonist-native relations. While the transition to English rule did not revolutionize Indian relations, it did provide opportunities for Native Americans to attempt to preserve desirable elements of their relationships with the Dutch while redefining other aspects of colonial relations. By formulating a history emphasizing peace, preserving the memory of that past through ritual actions, and involving English colonists in processes that rested on that history, Native Americans sought to create a history and landscape in common with English colonists. Doing so would integrate the newcomers into existing networks of social relations and protect that emerging community against outside encroachments. Meanwhile, English colonists working to secure the colony and confirm individual land titles participated in rituals, agreed to treaties, mediated conflicts, and recorded land purchases. Acknowledging Indians’ memories regarding lands and the communities that inhabited them, the English initially appeared willing to share space and become conversant in historical traditions, indicating that they might be receptive to integration. Although it ultimately proved impossible to realize, the English conquest briefly introduced the possibility of creating an intercultural landscape on which diverse and autonomous peoples shared a common history.

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