Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes

Univ of Massachusetts Press
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A center of the lucrative fur trade throughout the colonial period, the Great Lakes region was an important site of cultural as well as economic exchange between native and European peoples. In this well-researched study, Susan Sleeper-Smith focuses on an often overlooked aspect of these interactions -- the role played by Indian women who married French traders.Drawing on a broad range of primary and secondary sources, she shows how these women used a variety of means to negotiate a middle ground between two disparate cultures. Many were converts to Catholicism who constructed elaborate mixed-blood kinship networks that paralleled those of native society, thus facilitating the integration of Indian and French values. By the mid-eighteenth century, native women had extended these kin linkages to fur trade communities throughout the Great Lakes, not only enhancing access to the region's highly prized pelts but also ensuring safe transport for other goods. Indian Women and French Men depicts the encounter of Old World and New as an extended process of indigenous adaptation and change rather than one of conflict and inevitable demise. By serving as brokers between those two worlds, Indian women who married French men helped connect the Great Lakes to a larger, expanding transatlantic economy while securing the survival of their own native culture. As such, Sleeper-Smith points out, their experiences illuminate those of other traditional cultures forced to adapt to market-motivated Europeans.
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About the author

Susan Sleeper-Smith is associate professor of history at Michigan State University and coeditor of New Faces of the Fur Trade: Selected Papers of the Seventh North American Fur Trade Conference.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Univ of Massachusetts Press
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Published on
Dec 31, 2001
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Pages
234
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ISBN
9781558493100
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Native American
History / United States / Colonial Period (1600-1775)
History / United States / State & Local / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Indigenous Prosperity and American Conquest recovers the agrarian village world Indian women created in the lush lands of the Ohio Valley. Algonquian-speaking Indians living in a crescent of towns along the Wabash tributary of the Ohio were able to evade and survive the Iroquois onslaught of the seventeenth century, to absorb French traders and Indigenous refugees, to export peltry, and to harvest riparian, wetland, and terrestrial resources of every description and breathtaking richness. These prosperous Native communities frustrated French and British imperial designs, controlled the Ohio Valley, and confederated when faced with the challenge of American invasion.

By the late eighteenth century, Montreal silversmiths were sending their best work to Wabash Indian villages, Ohio Indian women were setting the fashions for Indigenous clothing, and European visitors were marveling at the sturdy homes and generous hospitality of trading entrepots such as Miamitown. Confederacy, agrarian abundance, and nascent urbanity were, however, both too much and not enough. Kentucky settlers and American leaders—like George Washington and Henry Knox—coveted Indian lands and targeted the Indian women who worked them. Americans took women and children hostage to coerce male warriors to come to the treaty table to cede their homelands. Appalachian squatters, aspiring land barons, and ambitious generals invaded this settled agrarian world, burned crops, looted towns, and erased evidence of Ohio Indian achievement. This book restores the Ohio River valley as Native space.

From the author of 1491—the best-selling study of the pre-Columbian Americas—a deeply engaging new history of the most momentous biological event since the death of the dinosaurs.

More than 200 million years ago, geological forces split apart the continents. Isolated from each other, the two halves of the world developed radically different suites of plants and animals. When Christopher Columbus set foot in the Americas, he ended that separation at a stroke. Driven by the economic goal of establishing trade with China, he accidentally set off an ecological convulsion as European vessels carried thousands of species to new homes across the oceans.

The Columbian Exchange, as researchers call it, is the reason there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in Florida, chocolates in Switzerland, and chili peppers in Thailand. More important, creatures the colonists knew nothing about hitched along for the ride. Earthworms, mosquitoes, and cockroaches; honeybees, dandelions, and African grasses; bacteria, fungi, and viruses; rats of every description—all of them rushed like eager tourists into lands that had never seen their like before, changing lives and landscapes across the planet.

Eight decades after Columbus, a Spaniard named Legazpi succeeded where Columbus had failed. He sailed west to establish continual trade with China, then the richest, most powerful country in the world. In Manila, a city Legazpi founded, silver from the Americas, mined by African and Indian slaves, was sold to Asians in return for silk for Europeans. It was the first time that goods and people from every corner of the globe were connected in a single worldwide exchange. Much as Columbus created a new world biologically, Legazpi and the Spanish empire he served created a new world economically.

As Charles C. Mann shows, the Columbian Exchange underlies much of subsequent human history. Presenting the latest research by ecologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians, Mann shows how the creation of this worldwide network of ecological and economic exchange fostered the rise of Europe, devastated imperial China, convulsed Africa, and for two centuries made Mexico City—where Asia, Europe, and the new frontier of the Americas dynamically interacted—the center of the world. In such encounters, he uncovers the germ of today’s fiercest political disputes, from immigration to trade policy to culture wars.

In 1493, Charles Mann gives us an eye-opening scientific interpretation of our past, unequaled in its authority and fascination.


From the Hardcover edition.
Indigenous Prosperity and American Conquest recovers the agrarian village world Indian women created in the lush lands of the Ohio Valley. Algonquian-speaking Indians living in a crescent of towns along the Wabash tributary of the Ohio were able to evade and survive the Iroquois onslaught of the seventeenth century, to absorb French traders and Indigenous refugees, to export peltry, and to harvest riparian, wetland, and terrestrial resources of every description and breathtaking richness. These prosperous Native communities frustrated French and British imperial designs, controlled the Ohio Valley, and confederated when faced with the challenge of American invasion.

By the late eighteenth century, Montreal silversmiths were sending their best work to Wabash Indian villages, Ohio Indian women were setting the fashions for Indigenous clothing, and European visitors were marveling at the sturdy homes and generous hospitality of trading entrepots such as Miamitown. Confederacy, agrarian abundance, and nascent urbanity were, however, both too much and not enough. Kentucky settlers and American leaders—like George Washington and Henry Knox—coveted Indian lands and targeted the Indian women who worked them. Americans took women and children hostage to coerce male warriors to come to the treaty table to cede their homelands. Appalachian squatters, aspiring land barons, and ambitious generals invaded this settled agrarian world, burned crops, looted towns, and erased evidence of Ohio Indian achievement. This book restores the Ohio River valley as Native space.

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