Chris Burris #1

26 01 2010

This week’s reading from The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians 1540-1760 addresses multiple topics in post-European contact history of the numerous Native American tribes of the Southeast, primarily regarding the area comprised of modern-day Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, but with some extensions south as far as Florida and west into Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia.  Broadly speaking, all of the assigned papers from the collection discuss the specific effects and causes of European influence on native populations from the 16th century onward, focusing on the impact of disease, slaving, European trade goods, and political tension between peoples.  All of them attempt to reconcile the modern known archaeological record of the region with the sparse and sometimes contradictory primary source accounts of European explorers, traders, and colonists of the time period.

Marvin T. Smith’s essay Aboriginal Population Movements in the Postcontact Southeast attempts to catalog some of the major population movements between 1500 and 1735, including a series of maps.  He furthermore is concerned with discussing the factors that caused these movements, and argues that not only were early population movements over greater distances than some scholars have previously imagined, but also were due to a complex confluence of “push” and “pull” factors that affected the populations.  Push factors such as disease and political factionalism cause a population to leave a previously settled area, while pull factors such as trade, missions, favorable environmental conditions, and coalescence between similar linguistic or cultural groups influence a population to come to a new area.  He concludes that the large number of factors involved, combined with scant historical and archaeological evidence, make it difficult to divine exactly the reasons for these movements, and proposes a few potential avenues for further research.  The next essay, by Paul Kelton, addresses the one specific push factor of disease, specifically smallpox, and argues that the first major regional epidemic occurred at the very end of the 17th century.  He cites smallpox’s long incubation period, ease of communicability, and extremely high mortality rate as evidence that smallpox is primarily responsible for the massive depopulation around this time period, and also that this was the first major epidemic because only then was the Indian slave trade network extensive and far-reaching enough for the epidemic to be able to spread so widely and devastatingly.

Helen C. Rountree’s essay is concerned with both native and European movements from and through Virginia in the early to middle 17th century and argues that long-distance European exploration occurred earlier than is commonly believed by as many as several decades, due to the prospect of trade and colonial expansion.  Rather than this southward movement on the part of the Europeans starting around the 1670s, she asserts it began “piecemeal” long before that, due to exploratory forays south in search of potential trading partners, Indian workers, and agricultural space.  Steven Hahn’s essay in Chapter 5 addresses the Yamasee War and the Creek dependency on European goods as the primary motivating factor for political and socioeconomic conflict between native populations and Europeans.  The advent of British mercantilism with the Navigation Acts spurred colonial leaders to seek highly profitable trade agreements with Indians, primarily receiving captured Indian slaves as payment for their goods, and this in turn caused the native populations to become indebted to the Europeans, which eventually led to massive conflict between a large confederacy of Creeks and other local tribes and Europeans in the form of the Yamasee War.

The final reading from the Transformations text is by R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr. and discusses the cultural landscape of North Carolina native populations and their change over time, providing maps to illustrate, and is focused primarily on reconciling archaeological data with the available historical accounts of European exploration in the region.  He argues that due to the rapid cultural changes brought about by European contact, Iroquois raiding, disease, and other related factors, the apparently contradictory accounts of early explorers through the Piedmont with regards to village locations, etc are not in fact contradictory at all, but can be explained by the fact that many of the tribes in question were annihilated by disease, relocated frequently, or coalesced with one another.

Stanley Knick’s essay Because It Is Right is also concerned with the reconciliation of archaeological evidence and historical accounts, but is focused primarily on the origins and validity of the name Lumbee in furtherance of arguing for federal aid beyond mere recognition for the modern Lumbee.  He asserts the name has been in use for hundreds of years to describe the original local population around the Lumber River, and makes a case for continuous population in the area since prehistory, long before European contact, by drawing upon archaeological evidence.  He is concerned with eliminating the misconception that the current Indian-descended population of Robeson County is the result of post-colonial coalescence of refugee native populations from elsewhere, asserting that although there was migration to the area during this time, it added to an already significant and ever-present population from the area.

In reading these selections, I became curious about the greater extent of the Indian slave trade in particular and its impact on the native populations.  The reading suggests that captured slaves, rather than crops or other natural resources, were far and away the most desired commodity for European traders, and as Southeastern tribes became increasingly dependent on European goods to survive, the demand for slaves increased.  I am interested in whether this exaggerated the already-present paradigm of conflict between native populations, in particular with regards to the Iroquois who seem to have been by far the most aggressive group.  Obviously, other factors contributed to the massive and rapid cultural and geographic evolution of the native populations post-contact, in particular the horrendously devastating depopulation by disease, but it seems to me that the European influence on natives to capture each other as slaves to trade for guns, powder, tools, cloth and other manufactured goods initiated a self-destructive downward spiral of sorts that contributed greatly to the eventual decline and disappearance of the vast majority of the native population.  With specific regards to the Lumbee, this investigation would inquire as to the reasons for the movement to Robeson County of Cheraws, Tuscaroras, and Algonkians who coalesced with the already-present native population, in order to perhaps further define the nature of the modern-day Lumbee population and their origins.

Sources I would consult for this (found on the Lumbee Bibliography website and in the bibliography of the Southeastern text) include:

Knick, Stanley. Robeson Trails Archaeological Survey: Reconnaissance in Robeson County. Pembroke: Native American Resource Center, Pembroke State U, 1988. NC Docs. Depository: microfiche G85 2: R65

Smith, Marvin T.  Archaeology of Aboriginal Cultural Change in the Interior Southeast: Depopulation During the Early Historic Period.  Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1987.

Montgomerie, Deborah. “Coming to terms: Ngai Tahu, Robeson County Indians and the Garden Band of Ojibwa, 1840-1940. Three studies of colonialism in action.” Dissertation. Duke U, 1993.

Further avenues of research would be to consult archaeological evidence, such as can be found through the archaeology page on the website, and searches for more detailed and comprehensive maps of population movements around Robeson County throughout post-contact history, as well as for more general information from both primary and secondary sources related to the colonial Indian slave trade and trade routes in general, both European and Native American.





Brayboy #1

26 01 2010

Coty Lamar Brayboy

The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians, 1540-1760

Robbie Ethridge and Charles Hudson, Eds.

The readings from The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians assigned this week broadly focused on the “flurry of movements” (13), not only of people but also of disease and trade; these movements result in the “transformation” in the book title.  The readings prompted me to consider how the same effect, such as the movement of tribes, in fact has many different causes.  The historians analyze what forces caused each outcome by refuting a common misconception or an idea that historians have not fully explored.  Then the author uses ethnohistory, archaeology and maps to refute the particular stereotype.  In Chapter 1, Marvin T. Smith sets up several arguments against stereotypes by arguing that movements were caused by many factors, including a “push” of disease, factionalism and European settlement and trade (which may be an exaggerated factor) that pushed people off of lands.  Also, there were “pull” factors that made populations move into new areas.  Thus, tribes were not passive victims pushed off their lands. Instead, pull factors outnumber the push influences and include favorable environmental zones, displacement from Iroquois Wars, the appeal of moving into captured territory when weakened tribes lost control of their historic lands, the actions of Indian elites seeking political connections and power from the Spanish, the impact of missions, the slave trade (including Indian slave trade as slaves and slave traders) and the pull of cultural similarities as groups coalesced together.  The important theme of these “pulls” is that Indians actively reacted to situations they perceived as favorable.  This Indian agency interests me in the chapter on smallpox, because smallpox epidemics are usually seen as terrible situations when helpless Indians died because of European actions.

I was most interested in the chapter on Smallpox from 1696-1700.  Paul Kelton takes the idea of a “virgin soil epidemic” where the population had no previous contact with the disease.  He notes that historians commonly date the first smallpox epidemics to the 16th century.  However, Kelton argued that in fact, the first major epidemic was in 1696-1700.  He questions assumptions that smallpox first came from Mexico in the 1520s and spread to Indian tribes in the Southeast.  Reasons for his doubt include the fact that smallpox still requires person-to-person contact to spread or contact with clothes in cool, dry climate.  His analysis is helpful for me, because he utilizes biological information about the disease to question its transmission.  It is unlikely that smallpox could survive for very long in the unfavorable hot, humid Southern climate.  Kelton specifically considers factors including the epidemiology of smallpox, the size and gender of European exploratory parties, nature of trade and commercial contacts, and buffer zones between rival groups.  His strong analysis supports his argument that a smallpox outbreak before 1690s is unlikely. The conditions were just not favorable.

As Indian slave trade increased, the conditions to transmit smallpox became better. This happened in the 1690s. By 1696, VA was ready for an outbreak because the conditions were favorable. Smallpox was introduced by an unknown source, and it exploded from VA into the Carolinas and further south, following trade networks.  It is important to note that the traders making up the trade networks included tribes as well as Europeans.  Kelton expands the boundaries of the epidemic from tribes who happened to be located in the disease’s trajectory to include other tribes who would have come into contact through their economic activity.  Specifically, Chickasaws and Creeks probably experienced the epidemic, because they were very involved in the slave trade.  His conclusion changes the tribes from victims who were preyed upon by an unknown disease to people who happened to encounter it through business transactions and therefore changes the power dynamic of the Indian actors during this time.  However, whether or not Indians chose to participate in the slave trade, they still unexpectedly were decimated by smallpox exposure. He argues that the 1696-1700 epidemic was a “turning point”, because tribes could not completely recover from the population collapse, and more smallpox epidemics continued to hurt tribal populations (37).

Kelton’s analysis rests on trade networks and the unlikely contact pre-1696 and the increased contact in the 1690s.  Helen Rountree also uses trade networks to argue against the viewpoint that Indians made few long distance trips before 1670. She particularly uses maps to literally illustrate her points.  These readings made me very interested in the role that trade networks and people-to-people contact has.  Although something like smallpox usually makes Indians into the victims, I learned that Indian participation in the trade networks and slave trade actually helped the favorable conditions for the outbreak that collapsed tribal populations.

Steven C. Hahn further explicates the connections between Indians and trade; he argues that the Creek became so dependent on European goods acquired during trade that European products became necessities.  Creek children grew up taking European products for granted.  This asymmetrical trade relationship resulted in major Creek debt to the English traders.  However, Hahn disrupts this typical narrative of Indians being abused by the English by arguing that Creeks reacted by enslaving other Indians during the Tuscarora War. Thus, they attempted to repay their debts.  Hahn’s research supports this week’s broader theme of Indian agency and response.  Instead of passively getting into debt and accepting their situation, the Creeks tried to remedy their financial state.

“Because It Is Right”

Stanley Knick

Stanley Knick’s article “Because It Is Right” argues in favor of Lumbee federal recognition.  He also alludes to the “push” and “pull” of migration, calling it the “Indians-moved-in-and-settled” theory (82). However, he is arguing against the possible “pull” of moving into a vacated area, because Knick states that an archaeological record from prehistoric to early historic artifacts proves that Indians continuously lived in Robeson County.  Knick’s conclusion is that the Lumbees today descend from these historic Robeson County Indian residents.  Although he acknowledges that Tuscaroras, Cheraws and Hatterases migrated into the area, he insists other Indians already lived there. However, I did not find Knick’s argument convincing.  He explains why historians and anthropologists overlook these original Robeson County tribe(s) by arguing that there has not been extensive archaeological research.  How, then, can he make this argument?  He would have substantiated his argument with maps, as the above authors did, or other documents supporting his theory.

If I chose Robeson County migration for my research project, I would be interested in using historical maps, European descriptions of Indian migration and any other sources that document movement.  These other documents may include the Census, land grants, treaties, etc.  These tools and data would help me consider the coalescence and ethnogenesis of Indians in Robeson County, because I have always understood that we come from many different areas and Knick’s article did not completely convince me otherwise.  Some broad potential research questions include:

  • What were the pushes and pulls that brought families to Robeson County?
  • Did families migrate or move all at once, in different waves, or did they send out small exploratory groups and then others followed? That possibility reminds me of the small European explorer groups.
  • Is there substantial evidence that Indians lived in Robeson County since the prehistoric period?  What kind?
  • Can maps help us understand these movements?  I am aware of several historical maps that have been scanned online.  I may want to analyze these maps, although I realize Europeans made them and were not completely accurate in spelling tribal names or even in tribal locations.
  • Did Indian slavery or escaping slaves factor into our coalescence?  Where did Indian slavery occur?
  • Missions are one potential pull movement factor.  When did Christian missionaries first come to Robeson County?

I will be sure to keep Indian agency in mind; as the smallpox and slavery examples illustrate, tribes actively responded to changing situations and try to better their situations.

Before I compile a good list of potential sources, I would need to narrow my research question, because I am interested in several different issues.  I looked over the Lumbee Bibliography website, and I found an entire section on archaeology of Robeson County. However, most of these sources are newspaper articles, some from the 1970s. I would need to find the actual scholarly journal articles about these excavations.  Several of Knick’s articles are listed, so I would be interested in seeing if he has primary source material and stronger evidence in those papers.

To research maps, I found this North Carolina Maps site that has materials from the State Archives, the North Carolina Collection at UNC and the Outer Banks History Center.  This would be a great place to start my search.