Daniel K. Richter. Native Americans' Pennsylvania. Mansfield: Pennsylvania Historical Association, 2005. Illustrations, maps. 100 pp. $12.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-932304-29-9.
Reviewed by Kurt Carr (State Museum of Pennsylvania)
Published on H-Pennsylvania (August, 2016)
Commissioned by Allen J. Dieterich-Ward
This book serves as an introduction to the history of Indians in Pennsylvania from their migration during the Pleistocene era to their current position in the state. Richter explains complex issues in an informal, easy-to-read style supported with maps and illustrations. In contrast to Paul A. W. Wallace’s Indians of Pennsylvania (1961; 2nd ed., 2016), which takes an anthropological/archaeological perspective, Richter’s presentation is organized chronologically and each chapter highlights multiple causes for changes within Indian society.
Richter begins by contrasting the romantic image of Indians portrayed in paintings by Benjamin West (Penn’s Treaty with the Indians) and Edward Hicks (The Peaceable Kingdom) with the actual historical events. By all accounts, the effects of European contact were devastating; peace treaties were signed but the Indians were more or less forcibly removed and many were killed. This sets the theme for the rest of the book where the story is told from the Indian perspective.
The first two chapters cover the period prior to the arrival of Europeans. Richter divides the commonwealth into its three major watersheds, setting the stage for contrasting the cultural adaptations within each. He uses a broad approach, with only a few errors, in describing sixteen thousand years of cultural evolution. Several pages focus on the development of pottery and farming, innovations he considers the most important. As an archaeologist, I have trouble with the lack of references within the text, although most of the information in these chapters seems to be taken from Jay Custer’s Prehistoric Cultures of Eastern Pennsylvania (1996), Barry C. Kent’s Susquehanna’s Indians (1984; 2nd ed., 2001), and Herbert C. Kraft’s The Lenape-Delaware Indian Heritage (2001). Unfortunately, he skips the transitional period (4850-2800 BP) considered by some to be the most dynamic and complex adaptation in the Middle Atlantic region.
Richter outlines the gradual discovery of Europeans by Indians in chapter 3. Native populations were ravaged by smallpox and other epidemics even before most had met Europeans. Imagine the loss of between 80 and 90 percent of a native society due to disease within two or three years and the disastrous effect this had on social and religious systems. Competition between the Susquehannocks and Iroquois for European goods added to the catastrophic situation. The transformation of Indian technology began slowly, but by the 1640s it was in full swing and by the 1650s European raw materials had replaced natural resources. Archaeology provides a detailed record of the period, and Richter outlines a broad background of the cultural chaos that took place. By the late seventeenth century, the dominant tribe in the lower Susquehanna basin, the Susquehannocks, had been decimated by disease and warfare but were allowed to live in their old homeland, which was now controlled by the Iroquois. The Lenape and Munsee (collectively known today as the Delaware) also suffered from epidemics and were gradually pushed westward.
In most of the colonies, the attitude toward indigenous populations was exploitation. They were captured as slaves, forcibly driven from their lands, and outright murdered. With his arrival in 1682, William Penn instituted his Quaker/pacifist philosophy and required a fair treatment of native populations. This period from the late seventeenth century to the beginning of the French and Indian War became known as the “long peace.” The author emphasizes other factors, but I believe the Quaker government policies distinguished Pennsylvania from the other colonies and was the most important factor contributing to this time of peace.
Richter’s work in describing the complex set of factors that led to the displacement of eighteenth-century Indian populations is some of his best. He describes tension between Quaker pacifism and the need to pay family debts that began with Penn’s arrival. Penn insisted on purchasing the land from the native people. However, this philosophy was complicated by the need to negotiate with many individual bands, the difficulty in identifying who actually controlled the land, and changing attitudes among leading colonists following the founder’s death. The Indians’ unfamiliarity with the concept of land ownership also contributed to their discontent with the Europeans. Richter weaves a detailed account of this period of colonization and native displacement.
Events that affected the commonwealth’s relationship with native populations during this tumultuous period are thoroughly identified. Richter points to several key incidents leading up to the inevitable French and Indian War. As emphasized by Richter, the war was brutal and atrocities were committed by both sides. The conflict resulted in moving more native people out of Pennsylvania and the Iroquois ceded even more land to the commonwealth. The subsequent War of Independence was as brutal as the French and Indian War, and resulted in the loss of additional lands for the Iroquois who had sided with the English.
Richter’s penultimate chapter, “Invisible Minorities,” covers up to the end of World War I. This chapter is a major contribution to Indian studies during the nineteenth century not found in most other treatments of Native American history. Out of the brutality of the French and Indian War, the War of Independence, and subsequent land treaties came Handsome Lake, half-brother of Seneca chief Cornplanter and author of the “Good Message.” He preached that if the Indian people “were to avoid destruction, they must give up alcohol, witchcraft, ‘love magic’ and abortion” (p. 70). He also emphasized the importance of the nuclear family and the “transformation” of gender roles. This is the message of the Longhouse Religion which is still practiced today. It essentially, although unknowingly, encouraged Indians to adapt to the new cultural environment. Interestingly, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Quakers were again friends of the Indian cause and compared to other religious groups, emphasized education rather than proselytization. Richter weaves a fascinating but complex account of how Indian and non-Indian groups gradually created a more admirable image of Native Americans, encouraging a more humane treatment while also fostering pan-Indian pride.
Although the Carlisle Indian Industrial Training School was the first (1879) and best-known boarding school for Native Americans, eventually federal off-reservation boarding schools were established all over the United States. As Richter notes in some detail, the results of the boarding school program, which lasted until 1918, were mixed. Education and assimilation into white society were the rule. Richter describes a variety of factors that led to the development of pan-Indian societies, notably the Society of American Indians, and points to how these groups promoted pan-Indian pride but still did not preach tribal pride.
The last chapter, aptly titled “Continuing Struggles,” chronicles a series of events in the twentieth century that supported Indian issues on a local and national level. Important markers included the Meriam Report of 1928 and the creation of the Indian Claims Commission in 1946, which provided compensation to nearly five hundred Indian tribes for treaty violations but, as noted by Richter, also reinvigorated collective identity and cultural traditions. The major unifying event of the twentieth century was the Kinzua Dam project. Nine thousand acres of Seneca land were taken and submerged beneath the Allegheny Reservoir, eliminating the only remaining reservation in Pennsylvania. Opposition to the dam became the rallying point for tribes and grassroots groups all over the United States. Richter also notes that the Indian population in Pennsylvania has increased from approximately two thousand in 1960 to over eighteen thousand in 2000; this increase is in part the result of a new pride in people being able to admit they are of Native American heritage without fear of discrimination. Furthermore, Richter states that Indians living during the first half of the twentieth century were forced to leave reservations, but by the end of the century their grandchildren felt encouraged to return, leaving the middle generations feeling stranded and guilty.
Richter ends with a brief review of current attempts by the Delaware Nation in Pennsylvania to win state or federal recognition and a discussion of the benefits of powwows. However, a major omission in this book is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). This law requires institutions receiving federal funds, including museums and universities, to consult with federally recognized tribes concerning the disposition of human remains and sacred objects. Federal funding for this program has enhanced activism among Indian tribes and encouraged interest in their cultural heritage, much of which can only be described through archaeology. Initially there was tension between tribes and archaeologists, but over time better communication has resulted in the identification of mutual interests.
History is not simple and cannot be explained by single causes or events. Wallace, Kraft, Custer, and Kent provide the details of Native American cultural evolution through the eighteenth century. Richter does an especially good job of summarizing the nineteenth and twentieth centuries but generally covers all the factors that contributed to Native American experiences in Pennsylvania. I heartily recommend this book for the historian, the archaeologist, and the general public.
. For example, see R. Michael Stewart, “American Indian Archaeology of the Historic Period in the Delaware Valley,” in Historical Archaeology of the Delaware Valley, 1600-1850, ed. Richard Veit and David Orr (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2014), 1-48.
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Kurt Carr. Review of Richter, Daniel K., Native Americans' Pennsylvania.
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