Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Taylor (American Colonies, 2001, etc.) turns in a grand tale “of mutual need and mutual suspicion” as Americans, Indians and the colonial powers vied for mastery of the 18th-century frontier.
His dramatis personae vast, Taylor here focuses on two men: the infamous Mohawk leader Joseph Brant and the lesser known American revolutionary Samuel Kirkland. Fellow students at a Connecticut boarding school, each fought the other when war came. The Mohawks took the British side not out of any love for an imagined mother country but as an expedient of sorts; by the time Kirkland and Brant first met, a great influx of Yankee settlers had overwhelmed the Algonquians of New England, “confining the survivors . . . in a landscape of colonial farms and commercial seaports,” and the independence-minded Mohawks, part of the Iroquois Confederation, had no illusions about their own fate given the land-hungry, westward-looking immigrant population. France’s surprisingly swift collapse following defeat in the Seven Years’ War meant that England was the default choice for protection, with the fox-in-the-henhouse nature of the colonial militia and the Iroquois’ misgivings over “the ability of the untrained and poorly equipped Patriots to compete with the superior discipline and arms of the British regulars.” Kirkland, a minister who came to believe that “the Christian religion was not designed for Indians,” and his fellow frontier colonists, proved a tough enough foe, and in all events, Brant was distracted by the constant need to convince the British that the Indians were not pawns, but “distinct allies, separate and equal.” No such understanding ensued. The British were defeated, and Brant’s followers went into exile in Canada shamefaced but with their suspicions confirmed: In no time, the Yankees had overwhelmed the Iroquois, too, backed by a new government that, unlike Britain’s, “was more solicitous of squatters’ votes than Indians’ rights.”
Illuminating and evenhanded; a sturdy companion to Fred Anderson’s The War That Made America (2005) and other recent studies of the colonial and postcolonial frontier.