Two scholars seamlessly combine forces to tell a little-known but important and ultimately shameful story from an unlit corner of the colonies’ battle for independence.
Glatthaar (History/Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Partners in Command, 1993, etc.) and Martin (History/Univ. of Houston; Benedict Arnold, 1997, etc.) begin and end with the elderly Marquis de Lafayette’s triumphal 1824 tour of the United States. In Utica, N.Y., he wondered aloud why none of his former Oneida allies had been invited to meet with him; a few hundred pages later, we learn what happened. Following an enlightening chapter on Oneida history, culture and cosmogony, the authors offer a straightforward narrative of the tribe’s earliest collisions with European immigrants, the French and Indian War, the colonists’ growing unhappiness with the British and the Oneidas’ reluctant involvement. Unable to convince their Iroquois allies to remain neutral during the Revolution, the Oneidas sided with the rebels and contributed significantly to the revolutionary cause. The text moves with great ease through some very complex issues: the Oneidas’ delicate political relations with the other tribes in the Six Nations (most of whom supported the British), the nature of frontier warfare (Indian warriors were often impatient with European/American martial strategies), internal politics (Oneida sachems held great sway, but warriors remained free to make their own decisions) and the Oneidas’ struggles to maintain their homes as war raged. Despite the great regard and gratitude that the Oneidas earned from the likes of George Washington and Lafayette, the Indians soon fell victim to encroachment and deception. By the early 20th century, the authors note, Oneida territory had shrunk from six million acres to 32, a disgraceful but predictable dénouement to the tribe’s heroic assist during the war for independence. A brief afterword explains how the Oneidas’ prospects have recently improved.
Much research and erudition underlie a sad tale of fidelity betrayed.