Ethnographies and Exchanges
Native Americans, Moravians, and Catholics in Early North America
Edited by A. G. Roeber
Ethnographies and Exchanges
Native Americans, Moravians, and Catholics in Early North America
Edited by A. G. Roeber
“The anthology succeeds in recovering Native as well as missionary voices, carefully building context to make those voices understandable to contemporary readers and reintroducing these important texts in exciting ways that will stimulate further study.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
One avenue to recovering the history of these relations examines early records that sought to understand the First Peoples scientifically. Missionaries were among those who chronicled the exchange between early settlers and Native Americans. The diaries, letters, and journals of these early ethnographers are among the most valuable resources for recovering the languages, religions, cultures, and political makeup of the First Peoples. This volume explores the interactions of two seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European settlement peoples with Native Americans: German-speaking Moravian Protestants and French-speaking Roman Catholics. These two European groups have provided some of the richest records of the exchange between early settlers and Native Americans.
Editor A. G. Roeber introduces the volume, whose chapters—by an international cast of contributors—are grouped in three parts: Texts and Interpretive Perspectives, Missions and Exchanges, and Indigenous Perspectives.
“The anthology succeeds in recovering Native as well as missionary voices, carefully building context to make those voices understandable to contemporary readers and reintroducing these important texts in exciting ways that will stimulate further study.”
“This volume’s greatest accomplishment well may be its attempt to elevate David Zeisberger to the status of reliable ethnographer as well as Christian missionary.”
“Taken as a whole, this collection brings needed scholarly attention to important epistemological and historical questions for mission and native history.”
A. G. Roeber is Professor of Early Modern History and Religious Studies and Co-Director of the Max Kade German-American Research Institute at Penn State University. He is the author of Palatines, Liberty, and Property: German Lutherans and Colonial British North America (1993), which was co-winner of the American Historical Association's 1993 John H. Dunning Prize.
A. G. Roeber
“This Much Admired Man”: Isaac Glikhikan, Moravian Delaware
I. Texts and Interpretive Perspectives
1. Moravians and the Development of the Genre of Ethnography
Christian F. Feest
2. The Succession of Head Chiefs and the Delaware Culture of Consent: The Delaware Nation,
David Zeisberger, and Modern Ethnography
3. Zeisberger’s Diaries as a Source for Studying Delaware Sociopolitical Organization
Robert S. Grumet
II. Missions and Exchanges
4. The Impossible Acculturation: French Missionaries and Cultural Exchanges in the Seventeenth Century
5. The Holy See and the Conversion of Aboriginal Peoples in North America, 1760–1830
6. Policing Wabanaki Missions in the Seventeenth Century
Christopher J. Bilodeau
7. The Moravian Missionaries of Bethlehem and Salem
8. “Incline Your Second Ear This Way”: Song as a Cultural Mediator in Moravian Mission Towns
Walter W. Woodward
III. Indigenous Perspectives
9. Munsee Social Networking and Political Encounters with the Moravian Church
10. The Gender Frontier Revisited: Native American Women in the Age of Revolution
Jane T. Merritt
11. A Footing Among Them: Haudenosaunee Perspectives on Land Cessions, Government Relations, and Christianity
Alyssa Mt. Pleasant
12. Translation as a Prism: Broadening the Spectrum of Eighteenth-Century Identity
Julie Tomberlin Weber
A. G. Roeber
A generation ago, standard histories of early North America presented a geographic vision of European settlers arriving from the right-hand side of conventional maps of a “New World.” Only passing acknowledgment recognized the critical role the “First Peoples” played on the left-hand side of this picture, one that in fact made possible any European survival anywhere in the Americas. Students today cannot be expected to recognize just how extraordinary have been the labors of historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, ethnographers, and literary scholars in the past quarter-century. Their efforts tell us far more about the American natives’ first impressions of, and exchanges with, the European arrivals than we once believed it possible to recover. Nor do we quite see the mapping of the Atlantic world the way we once did.
The title chosen for this collection of essays might also deserve a word or two of explanation. Although “ethnography” is a recognized discipline today, its roots actually lie in the period, and in the labors of the peoples these essays explore. At its simplest, the word means to write about or to describe a “people” or “nation.” But to do this correctly, the ancient Greeks knew, depended on being able to penetrate the language, and through that, the understanding a “people” had about themselves, the known world, and perhaps a world or life beyond this one. We need to be careful especially in distinguishing how the early moderns understood this word from the associations it has since acquired. Only in the 1830s and 1840s did the Greek come to be translated as “race” rather than “nation” or “people,” and “ethnology” as a study of “races.” This “turn” to a pseudoscientific “race” study would not have been understood by the Europeans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, though in some unintended ways their labors may have led those who benefited from their pioneering efforts to turn toward a “race” explanation of “peoples.” The two European settlement peoples whose interactions with Native Americans we explore in this volume were German-speaking Moravian Protestants and French-speaking Roman Catholics. Neither group played the part of providing Europeans with formative descriptions of the peoples of the Americas. Both Portuguese and Spanish accounts had spread in translation across Europe by the time the French, or the Swedish and Dutch, settlements emerged in the north and middle Atlantic by the 1620s. The Mediterranean world had already shaped exchanges with Africa, and then the Caribbean, setting in motion many of the ecological, political, and religious patterns of exchange that later emerged on the North American continent. Material goods and the unintentional mixing of plants and animals hold pride of place in the timing of “exchanges” (which were still predominantly a “one-way” imposition upon the Americas). The Atlantic world the French, and later the German-speaking Moravians, inherited had already been refashioned by those late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century contacts. But how people came to interpret exchanges by the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is really the focus of this collection of original essays. That focus emerged because of an intensified interest on the part of both Moravians and Jesuits in the language, religion, and political organization of the First Peoples they encountered in North America.
This focus is neither new nor original. Experts in many disciplines have recognized how “scholars of literature and art join and compete with historians and anthropologists to draw out the many meanings embedded in texts broadly defined.” The essays collected in this volume do not pretend to sort out all the complexities of European–Native American exchanges. They do build upon fine recent efforts to recapture the voices of both Europeans and Native Americans in neglected or forgotten areas of North America.
The essays began as presentations at the Max Kade German-American Research Institute Conference, “David Zeisberger, Native Americans, and Cultural Exchanges in Early Modern North America,” held at Penn State University in September 2004. That conference recognized the appearance of the critical edition (in English translation) of the Moravian missionary David Zeisberger’s diaries. It also, sadly, honored the memory of one of the editors of that volume, the late Dr. Carola Wessel. Carola provided much of the preparatory work for participants in several disciplines on both sides of the Atlantic.
Students will find here a fresh perspective from which to carry out the exploration of how people interpreted the exchanges among Native Americans and Europeans from the 1670s to the decades just after the American Revolution. Despite the broader perspective that newer surveys of the early modern Atlantic provide us, many of our deepest impressions about these first exchanges continue to be guided by the Spanish contacts in the Caribbean, Meso, and South America, or English experiences in Virginia and Massachusetts. The Chesapeake and New England stories, especially, have long dominated accounts of early English North American contacts.
Dates and contexts for the middle and northern Atlantic areas where exchanges unfolded take most students into unfamiliar territories. The “Moravians”—or, to use the more accurate self-description they favored, “the Unity of the Brethren”—traced their roots to the 1457 aftermath of the wars between the Catholic emperor and the Hussites of Bohemia and Moravia. But this memory bears the marks of remembered religious myth. The brutal truth was that by 1648 the Thirty Years’ War had probably destroyed all, or nearly all, original Protestant communities as well as an additional center in Leszno or Lissa in present-day Poland.
The reconstitution of the Brethren in the 1720s under the protection of Nicholas Count von Zinzendorf in Saxony brought them, within a decade, into contact with British North America. There, Moravian interests in converting both enslaved Africans and Native Americans from the Caribbean and on the North American mainland catapulted them into an uneasy relationship with other Protestant groups and often tense relations with European colonial regimes. Their own fragile existence in the midst of European empires contributed to a somewhat more chastened and humble attitude that Moravians brought to their contacts with non-European peoples and their beliefs.
The Catholic French are likely to be recognized because of the accounts that survive in the Jesuit Relations. We need to remind ourselves immediately, of course, that not all French Catholic missionaries were Jesuits. Indeed, some very shrewd ethnographic descriptions penned by French Catholics were done by Franciscans, Suplicians, and secular clergy. Still, the Jesuits do hold a kind of pride of place in the tale of European–Native American exchanges in Canada. It seems especially appropriate, therefore, to mention the famous collection of texts compiled by the Jesuits. One of the conference participants, Allan Greer, had already provided an accessible selection of excerpts for students from this seventy-three-volume work. Greer alerted students to the issues of texts, translations, religious worldviews, and ethnographic reporting that are the subjects of the essays in this volume. And, whatever the limitations of the French Jesuit reporters and compilers, Greer’s judgment remains sound: “the Jesuits knew what they were talking about . . . [and] because they lived in native villages for years on end, learned the local languages, got to know the people, and took their place on the margins of Amerindian society, they came to know native peoples as few other Europeans did.”
That Jesuit accomplishment seems to encourage a comparison between French Jesuits and German-speaking Moravians. Greer has provided a case study of his own to illustrate some of the challenges that surround texts, terminology, religious worldviews, and sociopolitical organization among Native Americans, as reflected in the career of Kateri Tekakwitha. Only recently have scholars begun to probe this Mohawk woman’s life and “the contradictions or paradoxes she may have struggled with as she embraced an alien faith.”
But not only do our impressions and interpretations of Huron, Algonquin, Montagnais, or Mahican peoples continue to require revision. The Jesuits themselves, once portrayed as either Catholic heroes or the bogeymen of Protestant nightmares, in more recent years have again suffered at the hands of both secular and some Native American scholars to serve as the paragons of “Christian missionaries as a malevolent force.” Greer’s subtle interpretation of these missionaries, and of the Native Americans, outlined in his contribution to the conference, are best followed in his full-length study of Tekakwitha.
These essays look both east and west from parts of the North Atlantic world that are less familiar. Because we are interested in the issue of texts, translations, and the challenge multiple languages posed in European–Native American exchanges, European religious leaders interested in these issues play a somewhat exaggerated role in that story. The middle Atlantic British settlement area where German Moravians encountered the Lenape and others, and the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes region where the French met Huron, Algonquian, and Haudenosaunee, probably still remain slightly out of focus in our mind’s eye. We do not instinctively look there for the main outlines of the story of European–Native American contacts. But the French Catholic and German Moravian experiences provide important correctives to some received wisdom about the language, religion, and political structures of Europeans and First Peoples. Their exchanges require us to integrate them into more familiar tales and areas of Native American–European meetings.
Most of the serious study of Native American languages and culture took place among European Christian clerics. The authors of these essays made no attempt to survey all of those efforts. For example, the insights into Native American kinship relations gleaned from the 1661 Sulpician manuscript dictionary of Algonquin still awaits the full attention of anthropologists, linguists, and ethnohistorians. Exchanges about language, political organization, and gender roles do figure in our essays within the broad context of religious objectives and interpretive lenses provided by both Moravians and Jesuits, Lenape, Haudenosaunee, and Algonquin.
The first task we would urge on students is to keep the geography of the middle to northern Atlantic and the St. Lawrence River in mind. This seems important because the perspective of most of the writers differs slightly from that advanced by scholars who have tried to talk of a “middle ground” where Europeans and First Peoples met. Both the French Jesuits and the German Moravians might qualify as inhabitants of what Richard White called “the place in between: in between cultures, peoples, and in between empires and the nonstate world of villages.” The same might have been true for many of the Lenape, Mahican, Haudenosaunee actors. But the interior of the continent where White explored this notion of a “middle ground” had its own regional characteristics and posed its own problems. Both Catholics and Moravians penetrated into the Great Lakes and Ohio country, and southward among the Cherokee as well. But, at least from the European perspective, the relative weakness of many of those missionary efforts delayed, or made more difficult, extensive probing of Native American languages and cultures.
Nearly all scholars in related disciplines share White’s objective of providing an imaginative framework for examining “an elaborate network of economic, political, cultural, and social ties” among various groups. At the same time, because of the conference’s focus on issues of language, religion, and political organization, our essays probe religious belief systems more deeply than White did in his discussion of the importance of dreams and visions. Questions about political organization among Native Americans could not be asked by Europeans without a struggle with terms and relationships that demanded a real grappling with indigenous languages. Those grapplings really did take place among Jesuits and Moravians, and the results give a particular quality to the essays in this volume.
An inquiring student must now shift focus a bit away from the broad Atlantic world to locate more precisely where the Lenape, or “Delaware,” people encountered Europeans in what are today Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. This geographic context provided the stage upon which that people’s religious worldviews, and that of the recently transplanted “Moravians,” were acted out. The Iroquois Confederation—the Haudenosaunee—that dominated the Great Lakes region into present-day New York and into Canada was never far away, both in geographic fact and in the awareness of both Lenape and Moravian actors. This formidable group had provided both Dutch and English arrivals in New Netherlands and New England with a critical alliance in the seventeenth century, and most of us have at least some impression of their importance. But the Iroquois’s badgered southern neighbors, the Lenape, have never enjoyed quite such an outstanding profile. This may explain why it does not automatically occur to us to compare the middle Atlantic area to the northeastern Atlantic. But in doing so, we are following the lead of colleagues across several disciplines whose work in disparate geographic areas has provided us with important new insights.
A recent example of this kind of effort—one that focuses on notions of saints and the idea of the “holy” in the Americas—points out that notions about gender, about the enslavement of the body, about the creation of new identities, tended to emerge within the complex region of religious belief systems. Europeans may have regarded the exchanges as part of a “spiritual conquest of the Americas to be sure, but [it was] also the American ‘conquest’ of Christianity.” These same comparisons about the holy in different places also serve to remind us not to be lazy and invoke easy, comprehensive terms like “Protestant” and “Catholic” if we truly seek to understand a particular European version of Christianity. To do so is to risk the same level of misunderstanding that we do if we remain satisfied with a naïve invocation of “Indian” religion.
Before moving into more detail about the unfamiliar areas of North America, it may pay dividends to step back and gain perspective on more comfortable ground. Even in more familiar places, new findings advance our understanding of texts, political organization, and religious viewpoints. Most North American students, for example, instinctively think of the “American South” as a land particularly marked by evangelical Protestant revival traditions. But in the past few years historians have uncovered a rather different past for an area we thought we knew. The pioneering work of both Christine Heyrman and Jon Sensbach—the former a scholar with familial roots in the Moravians, the latter an expert on Moravian work among African Americans—has corrected our textbook impressions. The real story of the American “South” is far more complicated than a simple, quick triumph of an evangelical “Bible Belt” Christianity among Europeans and Africans. To take but one example, dream interpretation and visions preoccupied the minds and hearts of many Native Americans. But few have recognized that the same fascination characterized the popular religion of the early nineteenth-century South. Second, peculiar mixtures of Native American, African, and various ethnic European religious convictions (including those of the Moravians) actually shaped this region—and the Caribbean before it. Both areas actually looked vastly different from what our conventional memory, shaped by an older literature, has allowed us to see.
Just so in the case of both the middle and northeastern Atlantic exchanges. If we seek to understand how Europeans described different peoples in these parts of the north Atlantic world, we need to bear in mind what one historian has called the “episodic” quality of European attempts to explain religious, political, and cultural differences among peoples. In every case, all such efforts were inherited from a much older history of Christianity. European notions of other peoples and their languages, though they began to emerge as separate and distinct areas of study by the eighteenth century, still fell largely under the assumptions inherited from ancient Western Christianity. Whether Catholic or Protestant, Europeans continued to struggle with their inherited conviction that humans, no matter their specific geographic location, language, or culture, were members of a common family. Whether Europeans were confident or pessimistic about their ability to penetrate the language, customs, and religious worldview of “others” depended upon their memory of other episodes, including sometimes fanciful notions about their own ancestors’ ancient conversion to the Christian faith.
If we seek to understand how the First Peoples regarded Christianity, Allan Greer reminded the conference participants that Christianity was itself but an “episode” in their long series of exposures to rituals and beliefs. Particular native tribes had sampled, accepted, or rejected specific practices and worldviews for their particular area and kinship group long before Europeans arrived. Despite the often bewildering diversity of linguistic, clan, and religious specifics, Native Americans, in distinguishing specific peoples and their deities and rituals, were exposed to many competing belief systems. They quickly concluded that these odd arrivals from across the water were humans. Despite their outlandish notions, behaviors, and sometimes impenetrably obscure language customs, Europeans were assumed to live under some sort of divine protection and judgment, even if they only rarely seemed to achieve a vague correlation between professed belief and actual behavior. Eventually, in episodic struggles and fatally weakened numbers, Native Americans challenged the linguistic, religious, and cultural reshaping of their lives demanded by Europeans along a shifting “frontier.” It was along this borderland country that both Moravian Protestants and French Catholics lived precariously, whether they were originally European or Native American by birth.
Even an “Atlantic” perspective, with smaller screens detailing the regions these essays cover, is not quite sufficient to see the broader patterns we hope students will discover and pursue. A satellite’s perspective on the entire North American continent, complete with time-lapse imagery over the course of the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century, would reveal in startling relief the limited successes of linguistic, political, and religious exchanges. These were largely confined to the saltwater edges of the continent. Some of the most impressive understandings of language, religion, and sociopolitical organizations resulted in serious study and near mastery of the languages of Native American cultures by interested Europeans. The essays in this collection illustrate some of the most impressive that occurred among the French Jesuits and Protestant Moravians in the eastern middle Atlantic region. But far to the northwest, along the Pacific Rim, Russian Orthodox Christians in Siberia and Alaska settled in for a long and steady study and appreciation of indigenous languages and worldviews. By the nineteenth century, Moravian arrivals were also engaging these indigenous peoples and cultures. Catholic Spanish European exchanges on that Pacific front, quite serious and significant, remained distinct from the French Atlantic experiences. Students may recall the famous Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which rejected Spanish Franciscan missionary efforts in what is today New Mexico. The story of Franciscan–Native American exchanges in California, similarly, was marred by the deep association of these European Christians with the Spanish Crown. From the very outset royal authority had promoted a close and often less than gentle approach to conversion. Sometimes doubtful readings of indigenous texts imagined a closer connection between Native American religions and Christianity than was probably ever the case. Such errors may have been less common among the French Catholics. Until 1700 little evidence survives to suggest that either the French monarchy or, for that matter, the Holy See in Rome paid much attention to French Catholic–Native American exchanges in the north Atlantic.
Precisely because there was no close political oversight by which to control French Catholic clerics, their relationship to various Native American peoples provides some suggestive points of comparison with the Moravians. These Protestants, too, never quite “fit” into any colonial political agenda in the Americas. By contrast, the Church of England, and even its self-proclaimed “reformed” (detractors said “puritan”) version in New England, never engaged Native American cultures to quite the same extent that Moravians and French Jesuits did. French Catholic activities among both Native American and African American populations, by contrast, shaped the contours of settlements from the Caribbean to the St. Lawrence River, despite a declining level of interest in these ventures on the part of Rome itself. Moreover, those activities implicated both Algonquian and Iroquoian speakers in the written and translated confessional anxieties and polemics of European Christians.
Our time-lapse view also compels us to notice that among continental European Protestants of the state churches, the Swedish Lutherans did try to engage the Lenape of the Delaware River valley. A century before the German-speaking Moravians arrived, Swedish settlers grappled with the language sufficiently to produce a rudimentary speech suitable for trade but little else. This limited level of interest expressed by Swedes and Finns on the far western Atlantic remained modest, mostly because Swedish authorities did not want to upset the Delaware and give the neighboring Dutch a trade advantage.
Swedish missionary work in the early decades of the seventeenth century among the Saami people of Lappland, by contrast, quickly targeted the shamanistic religion of that people for conversion. Close royal supervision and criminal penalties aimed at adultery or sorcery nonetheless were pronounced a failure by 1685. Compulsory church attendance had neither stopped Saami invocation of Sarakka, a female god, nor persuaded them to forswear reliance upon herbalists and shamans who mediated the conflict between the twin gods, the “Creator” and the “Devious One.”
Governor Johan Printz, the Swedish commander on the Delaware, remained cynical about any possibility of changing the non-Christians among whom he had settled—people he and his compatriots characterized as vildar—“wild men.” He regarded them as impervious to the allure of the Swedish Lutheran liturgy, despite urgings from Sweden that such ritual approaches and study of their language might produce real understanding. Not long after the 1638 founding of New Sweden, the Swedish priest Johan Campanius embarked on his effort to translate Martin Luther’s small catechism, probably finishing the task by around 1643. But Campanius’s glossary of terms did not actually show a mastery of Unami or Unalachtigo. Instead, it replicated the “trade jargon” that had been created in the first decade or so of contact. In 1690, however, his effort received a European printing, subsidized by a Swedish monarchy intent perhaps on promoting the Christianization of Americans just as such efforts in Lappland had been declared bankrupt. Much of Delaware religious life remained intact, since only in these last decades of the century did interest in the Christianization of this people intensify. Printz’s construction of a Lutheran church at New Gothenburg on Tinicum Island may have persuaded Europeans to stay Lutheran. But the Lenape felt no urge to subscribe to the Augsburg Confession. Real understanding of their language would not occur until the Moravians arrived in the 1740s.
These early Swedish–Native American contacts, on both a linguistic and a religious front of mutual exchanges, were never one-sided. Early accounts of the struggling European arrivals suggest that the challenge of remaining pious European Lutherans in the midst of “Indian country” proved too daunting for many. To the consternation of European authorities—and almost certainly one of the motivations for the later publication of Campanius’s work—some of the early transplants opted not for the role of “settlers” but instead adopted the Lenape language and cultural ways. European authorities here, as elsewhere, awakened repeatedly to the need to pay more attention to the allure of Native American language, political and social relationships, and religious worldviews.
Religious myths and ways of life did not encompass the entire spectrum of cultural exchanges, though they provided the most encompassing backdrop against which political, gender, and linguistic adjustments played out among European and Native American areas. Those adjustments, especially how they were shaped in the middle and north Atlantic world, are approached in various ways by the contributors to this volume.
Few scholars today care to spend much time trying to judge the “authenticity” of Native American conversions to Christianity. They also caution us to avoid the “golden age” myth of religious, social, political, and gender interactions within Native American groups, in which “authentic” or “pure” forms are imagined to have existed before the “negative” impact of European “impositions.” Several of the essays show both prior cross-fertilizations and tensions among First Peoples, and illustrate also why even now, after such prodigious labors, we are less than certain whether we understand the terminology and the implications of some Native American terms for kinship or social and political leadership roles.
The essays are divided into three sections. The first section investigates the issue of language as it occurs in texts and problems of interpretation. The second set of essays explores the complex nature of missions and the exchanges they gave rise to. The third group attempts to recapture the voices and visions of the First Peoples. Finally, the translator of David Zeisberger’s diaries provides us with a long meditation on the challenges of translation and the fragile nature of our probings of unfamiliar languages and peoples.
To illustrate how alert we must be to hear or read correctly what a person on the frontier between languages, political organizations, and religious beliefs “meant” by a certain action, David Edmunds uses the example of Isaac Glikhikan. His assessments of the “much admired man” provide a concrete and accessible point of entry into many of the issues that are treated in more detail in the subsequent essays.
The first essays focus on the difficult problem of surviving texts and how their interpreters continue to shape our own efforts to see through these artifacts into the complexities of the observed peoples and cultures. Christian Feest reviews for us both the traditions of ethnography the Moravians inherited and the particular contributions they made to this discipline. By surveying a number of efforts, and then focusing particularly upon David Zeisberger’s work, Feest also reminds us that the purpose of Moravian missionaries was not to be professional ethnographers. That simple fact again alerts us to the difficulty of sorting out what a particular account included, left out, or perhaps unknowingly misrepresented. Hermann Wellenreuther examines the same kind of problem, but from a different perspective. By teasing out the implications of the succession of the head chiefs of the Delaware Nation, he shows us how complicated (and still debated) are our understandings of such key terms as “nation,” “friendship,” and “consent” within Delaware political culture. Wellenreuther approaches this task from a historian’s perspective and as one of the two editors of Zeisberger’s diaries. Robert Grumet, trained as an anthropologist-archaeologist, assesses the organization of Delaware life from a different angle. By examining descent notions, lineages, and social control, Grumet also shows us how such ideas and practices evolved over time, perhaps taking on new and different meanings during the turbulent decades of contact with arriving Europeans.
The sharp-eyed reader will notice that the contributors do not always agree with one another in their interpretations of the evidence. Grumet’s analysis, for example, is very much at odds with Siegrun Kaiser’s assessment of the meaning of words like “Munsee,” “Delaware,” “Unami,” “Wolf,” “Turkey,” and “Turtle.” Wellenreuther explains why he disagrees with ethnologists about the issue of internal identity and lineages within the “Delaware Nation.” Exchanges at this level of technical expertise that try to explain what group identities consisted of are crucial for specialists in the field. This fact alone demanded that such disagreements be made available for the scrutiny of the scholarly community. Even those who do not care to follow all of the nuances of the argument can, we think, still benefit from observing why such disagreements continue to make issues of ethnographies and exchanges lively and important.
Whatever their particular perspective or argument, all of the contributors would concur that European exchanges with the First Peoples had already been shaped by the work of French Jesuits long before the German-speaking Moravians arrived in the north Atlantic world. The second group of essays focuses on “missions” and their critical role. For the French Catholic context, Dominique Deslandres reminds us of the importance of attempting to penetrate the mentality of the missionaries themselves—who in many respects are as foreign, as “other,” to us as readers today as the First Peoples were to these Catholic Europeans. Her extended meditation on the impossibility of “acculturation” provides a background against which to understand why the Jesuit missionaries were not, perhaps, all that different from their Moravian counterparts in their struggle to master the languages and mentality of the First Peoples, despite profoundly different theological assumptions about the internal dynamics of the Christian faith. Luca Codignola pushes the story of Catholic engagement with North America into the period when Moravians and other Protestants had become genuine competitors in North America. If relatively little interest or investment by Rome had characterized the Holy See’s relationship to French Catholic efforts in the previous century, this now changed. Yet, paradoxically, while Rome expressed concern for the success of Catholic efforts in the New World, Codignola concludes that the distance between the assumptions of Catholics in Rome and their counterparts in the New World may have been even greater than the cultural and linguistic differences that continued to challenge Europeans and First Peoples in mid-eighteenth-century North America. Christopher Bilodeau provides us with a close analysis of how liturgical rituals, developed in a medieval European context, served as a bridge between the French Catholics and the Wabanaki in the Maine region of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. At this local level as well, however, rituals and symbols succeeded only sometimes in connecting Native American and European understandings of the world.
This paradox can be followed in the second set of essays by expanding our perspective on the Moravians to include their work among the Cherokee. Rowena McClinton details not only misunderstandings between the Cherokee and the Gambold missionaries but the unintended consequences of Cherokee acceptance of some European ways, which further challenged the missionaries’ own vision of their purpose among this people. Walter Woodward’s essay is unique insofar as it singles out for extensive reflection what all historians of the Moravians have always known: that their hymnography played a key role in their communal life, and indeed in their success among both European and non-European converts. In this instance, as in the context sketched by McClinton, unintended consequences and the complexities of “reading” or “hearing” Moravian Indian use of hymns bring the issue of texts and religious and political meaning home in a particularly memorable fashion.
The third group of essays concentrates on probing the internal dynamics of specific Native American groups. Siegrun Kaiser offers an extensive examination of how the Munsee neighbors of the Mahican and Delaware resisted and rejected Moravian missionary efforts. Instead, they effectively learned to use the Moravians to political advantage, though in the end their strategies failed to save them from exile. Jane Merritt’s examination of “gender frontiers” returns us very specifically to David Zeisberger and the women of the Mahican and Delaware peoples. She alerts us to the problems of possible gender bias in Zeisberger’s own recording of incidents and to issues among convert wives in particular. Their mixture of genuine religious conviction and canny pragmatism allowed these women an agency probably not quite in line with what the Moravian missionaries had envisioned, one that wove together both inherited and new religious visions and political and family arrangements. Finally, Alyssa Mt. Pleasant provides an important contrast to the Moravian-Delaware exchanges by examining the Seneca responses to Presbyterian missionary exchanges in the Buffalo Creek area of New York in the crucial years of the early nineteenth century, which created a “Christian-Pagan” schism among the Haudenosaunee. If Delaware and Mahican women adapted Zeisberger’s goals to their own ends, the Haudenosaunee likewise managed to use the possibility of missionary schooling to preserve aspects of their traditional life and defend their lands. They came to this position, in part, by observing what had befallen the Delaware, who had not sufficiently studied the Europeans and their objectives.
The concluding essay, by Julie Tomberlin Weber, the translator of the Zeisberger diaries, caps the volume. Her presentation at the conference provoked lively, intense, and sustained responses from the participating scholars and their audience. Weber’s primary question—what does a translation do?—gives her a platform for exploring the mysterious ways in which a translation creates a new cultural entity—something not “indigenous” to either its originating culture or the one for which it is intended. Her ruminations about the complexities of the translator’s task stand as a fitting summary of the challenges that face every student who seeks to puzzle out the levels of meaning texts contain for any exploration of religious meaning, social and political organization, and language itself.
From seasoned veterans to those just beginning their careers, the contributors have displayed remarkable tolerance for editorial interference. Several papers could not be included in the final volume, nor could the insightful suggestions and observations offered by session chairs and commentators. To William Joyce, Frauke Geyken, Mark Louden, Dean Snow, William Starna, Renate Wilson, Linda Sabathy-Judd, Corinna Dally-Starna, Daniel Richter, Brian Hosmer, Axel Utz, Jean O’Brien-Kehoe, Karen Kupperman, Allan Greer, Gregory Dowd, and Paul Peucker, I can only express on behalf of the Kade Institute our profound gratitude for their participation. In every instance, their presence at the conference helped to shape this volume. I hope that all who now have the benefit of reading the results of the conference will be as pleased by, and benefit as much from, these essays as the Max Kade German-American Research Institute and those who attended. My thanks as well to Peter Potter for his interest in the project, and to Sandy Thatcher, Jennifer Norton, Laura Reed-Morrisson, Suzanne Wolk, and the staff at Penn State Press for their superb and timely attention to the book’s final form.
A. G. Roeber
Penn State University, January 2007
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