Friday, December 12, 2008

As They Were Faithful

I finished up yesterday's post by saying that I doubted if the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians would be around today if not for the success of John Sergeant Sr.'s mission work. If you know me, you know that I'm not saying that all the credit for a whole tribe's survival is thanks to one white man. Too many Native nations didn't survive the European invasion intact and it wasn't because one tribe was "better" than another. Rather the amount of devastation the fur trade did to each group of Indians probably depended more on laws of geography than anything else. The coastal Algonkians were the most devastated by the fur trade and the Iroquois (e.g. Oneidas and Mohawks), being farther inland, had time to make a more gradual adjustment to the fur trade.

A scholarly article by James Ronda and Jeanne Ronda is relevant to this discussion: "'As They Were Faithful': Chief Hendrick Aupaumut and the Struggle for Stockbridge Survival, 1757-1830."(American Indian Culture and Research Journal 3:3 (1979) pages 43-55). A recurring theme in that article is a comparison between Captain Hendrick and Tecumseh. While Captain Hendrick was the first non-white diplomat employed by the United States, Tecumseh was an enemy of the United States. Captain Hendrick described himself as "the front door" through which Christian missionaries could access what were then known as "the western tribes," in the Ohio River Valley. He also promoted "civilization" to the Delawares and other Indians.

Tecumseh was trying to promote Indian survival by attempting to bring the tribes together against the United States. But Captain Hendrick saw it differently. In a speech to the Delawares recorded in John Sergeant Jr.'s Journal, Captain Hendrick explained

All the [Indian] nations who thus rejected civilization and Christian religion, and embraced the wicked practices of the white people were poor and finally became extinct from the earth. But, on the other hand, all the Indians who accepted the offer of the good white people were blessed. So far as they were faithful, they prospered, and the remnants of them remain to this day.

The Rondas point out a few other things: Captain Hendrick wasn't naive, he knew that his people weren't getting a fair shake from the white government. But his work on behalf of the United States gave him the opportunity to lobby for compensation for the tribe's service and losses in the Revolutionary War (the treaty of 1795 finally did that). And finally they tell us that Captain Hendrick Aupaumut's place in American history deserves more recognition. I agree.

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