Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Gods of Prophetstown - with Comments from the Author

In a recent post, I told about the Delaware witch purge of 1806.  This witch hunt/purge is the topic of one chapter of a new book by University of Auburn history professor Adam Jortner.  The full title is The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier.

Essentially the book contrasts William Henry Harrison - as a Deist - with Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee Prophet.  I think it tells the story very well and corrects a number of assumptions made by historians in the past.  One of those assumptions had to do with witchcraft; and in particular, the "role" it might play in a community.  In the past, historians have asserted that witch hunts allow a comunity to set boundaries of appropriate behavior or somehow aid in conflict resolution, but Adam Jortner doesn't buy it.  In an e-mail to me he said:

[I]f religious ideas only have social functions, then religion basically *is* sociology, when you get down to it, and although religion has many social functions, I don't think it's ALL social functions.
So I don't think the witch hunt had a "role." I think the Delawares...had fears about witches, and the purpose of the hunt was to initiate a supernatural war against them. I think Tenskwatawa was invited because of his presumed supernatural powers, and while he benefitted politically from the event, I don't think he manipulated the proceedings--I think he also was concerned about witches.
In my opinion, the witch hunts aren't a front for something else--they are just hunts for witches.
I get the impression from reading the book that Adam Jortner, on the one hand, has a lot of respect for religion, but, on the other hand, he doesn't study religion per se.  What he studies is people's religious beliefs that make up the contents of American history.

I feature lots of books on this blog that I don't (explicitly) recommend to you, the reader.  Unfortunately, lots of books written by history professors don't make for good reads for those of us who aren't history professors.  I think The Gods of Prophetstown is an exception.  It is more readable than the vast majority of books of its kind.

See the book review and author interview in Indian Country Today magazine.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Map of Statesburg (now Kaukauna, WI) in 1826

 Maps can tell us a lot about history. This one of Statesburg, the Stockbridge Mohican's first settlement in what is now Wisconsin, is no exception. (Hint: for better viewing, click on the map to enlarge it)

The community was first settled by fifty Stockbridge Indians in 1822.  Since there were problems with the treaties of 1821 and 1822, the tribe had to move again in the mid-1830's.  (To get the bigger picture, see this map of Wisconsin.)

The map that you see a portion of above is different from most in that south is "up" and north is "down." So although most of the buildings are "above" the Fox River, it actually means that they are to the south of the river.  The city of Kaukauna, Wisconsin is now located here, but it is on both shores of the Fox River (not just the south shore as Statesburg was).

I'd like to thank Craig Lahm of the Kaukauna Historical Society for requesting the map from the Library of Congress and sharing it with me.  Thanks also go to Tom Duescher, also of the Kauakuna Historical Society, for annotating the map.  That is, he inserted the red labels which make the map decipherable to us today.

Thanks again Tom and Craig!