Book Review: Native Americans in the American Revolution: How the War Divided, Devastated, and Transformed the Early American Indian World by Ethan A. Schmidt (Praeger, 2014)
Native Americans in the American Revolution discusses the American Revolution in a way that most have never encountered. This conflict typically depicts “American colonists” against the British, with colonists on both sides fighting for a variety of different reasons. Few works tackle the irony of this war, which is that the colonists and loyalists fought a war over Native American land with little regard paid to these inhabitants. Schmidt’s work helps to correct this error, but falls short of placing Indians as players in stories known by experts and enthusiasts, but such was not the historian’s purpose, rather he chose to examine the Revolutionary Era in Indian territories. This work separates the natives under examination into four geographically centered groups (Southern Indians, Northern Indians, the Iroquois Confederacy, and Ohio Valley Indians) comprising seventeen separate tribes or nations. Schmidt offers a clear and concise history of the American Revolution and its involvement of and effects on Native American groups during and immediately after the war. The trend of examining the revolution with Indians as major players emerged relevantly recent in terms of the historical conversation of the war itself.
Native Americans in the American Revolution, however, may perhaps be the most approachable to scholars of the Revolution because, as Schmidt noted, “this volume represents not so much an attempt to create new knowledge on Native Americans in the revolutionary era, but instead to combine as many of the pieces we already know into one comprehensive, yet succinct and readable volume” (p. 6). This work, offers its readers a new way of interpreting a conflict that many believed they understood fully, and will attract enthusiasts from different historical backgrounds (military, social, and legal). It should be noted, however, that a majority of this work is built upon secondary sources, but this synthetic work retains merit because of his task of introducing Native Americans to historians and enthusiasts of the American Revolution.
This war, however, affected more than just the loyalists, supporters of the independence movement, slaves, women, and British, it also devastated the world Eastern Indians lived in and experienced. Schmidt outlines the ways in which Natives contended with the conflict. Divisions flung the Cherokee into a state of civil war, the altercation also left the Western Abenaki, who called Vermont home, in a fight for survival with the British, one that “left them on the brink of collapse” (p. 121), and splintering of the Iroquois Confederacy, all in a battle between colonial powers vying for land that Indians inhabited. The greatest contribution, of Ethan Schmidt’s work, however, may be his discussion of the immediate aftermath of the war for various tribes.
Schmidt offers a succinct and approachable account of Natives in the American Revolutionary era, and how the conflict divided, devastated, and transformed the Indian World because the conflict eliminated many opportunities of trading with other European countries for Natives, a power that helped maintain Indian power in the East for many tribes or nations. Ethan Schmidt’s expertly written prose will be welcomed by enthusiasts to enthusiasts at all levels of both the war and Native Americans. Perhaps, the greatest contribution remains introducing Indians to experts and enthusiasts who may have never contemplated the effects that the war for independence had on Natives, but it will also offer a perspective on how the elimination of Indians in the East, hinged on the outcome of a war they had little control over. Native Americans in the American Revolution is a must-read for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of American Indians or the Revolution.