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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.

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