Category Archives: History and Historians

A Death in the Family

On October 7, 1968, Billy Van Tassel died in the Long An Province of South Vietnam.  His unit operated near Tan Tru, an area characterized by hard fighting and heavy casualties. He was from Scarsdale, New York, and was two months shy of his twenty-first birthday.  He was my second cousin, though I never knew him.  He died fifty years ago today.

Because I am a historian, I tend to think a lot about the past. It’s an obvious statement, I suppose. History, I tell my students, is the study of continuity and change, measured across time and space, in peoples, institutions, and cultures.  I try to teach my students to understand the significance of the past, to understand past events, and why they mattered.  I try to persuade them to see the connections between events, even when at first they are not apparent.  Sometimes those connections are incredibly difficult to find, but real nonetheless.

And there were many significant events in 1968.  “Identify and give the significance of the Tet Offensive,” my friends and colleagues might ask.  It began in January, a series of coordinated North Vietnamese attacks that made clear that the American government’s reports and bulletins about progress in the war were at best rosily optimistic, and at worst brazen lies.  Or the assassination of Martin Luther King in April of that year, or Bobby Kennedy in Los Angeles two months later.  Identify and give the significance of the Democratic National Convention, where Chicago policemen serving that city’s autocratic mayor bludgeoned anti-war protestors in the streets at the end of the summer.

Billy was one dead soldier, one of more than 16,500 American service members who died during that terrible year, one of the 57,000 Americans who died in all during the Vietnam War.  Against that backdrop, his life may not amount to much. Many families suffered.

So what is it that makes an event significant? Does it have to change the world, disrupt the established order of things, ring in a new era, or carry some measurable consequence?  I sometimes ask my students to identify the most significant historical events in their lives.  They ask for clarification but I encourage them to do their best.   They will mention the attacks on 9-11, though they are too young to remember them. They might mention the election of Barack Obama, though some of them are young enough that they do not remember that historic night either.  They are so young.  They will come up with a range of answers: Sandy Hook, Pope Francis, the tsunami in Japan, the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, Donald Trump.  I listen. Then I ask them again to tell me about the most important event in their lives. What events made you who you are?  I suggest to them some possibilities: a first kiss or a first broken heart; the birth of a sibling, a marriage, or a death in the family, an act of cruelty or an act of kindness.  Were there events in your life, I ask them, things that you experienced, after which nothing ever was the same?  Billy Van Tassel’s death, I think, was one of those events.




I am trying to learn what I can about Billy Van Tassel.  He was born in 1947.  The Long An Province,  where he fought, was a region where the Saigon government and the Communists vied for the control and allegiance of the local populace.  If Jeffrey Race is right in his book War Comes to Long An: Revolutionary Conflict in a Vietnamese Province, that struggle already was over as early as 1965, when Billy was still a student at Fordham Prep, still running track, still studying Latin and Greek, still editing the school newspaper and the senior yearbook.  He graduated in 1965. I have no idea what he did between then and his enlistment in 1968.  His tour began on the Fourth of July, three days after the official beginning of the “Counteroffensive Phase V Campaign.”  He served in B Company, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, in the 9th Infantry Division of the United States Army.  He joined his fellow soldiers in fighting to recover territory lost earlier that year during the Tet Offensive.  American forces came in, hard and heavy, and then the South Vietnamese arrived and began rooting out communist fighters.  In Race’s view, the strategy could not succeed.  They were separating fish from water, the American commanders said, removing the communist fighters from the towns and villages of South Vietnam.  But the violence they deployed in this counteroffensive was too extreme, too indiscriminate, and it may actually have increased the number of militants.

I know nothing of Billy’s experience in Vietnam. He wrote letters home to his mother. I would like to see those letters someday. He asked her to send him magazines about cars, I am told.  He was really into cars. I know nothing about the men with whom he served, the battles in which they fought, the horrors they may have experienced, though I hope to learn more.  I have found a directory of men who served in the 2nd Battalion during the war, and from that I can piece together a list of names of men who fought in B Company, Billy’s unit. To track those men down, I suspect, will take a lot of detective work, running down a lot of leads.  I have found photographs online taken by men who fought with B Company in 1968, but I did not see Billy in any of them, though all I know of his appearance comes from his yearbook photo.  War, and the passage of time since someone snapped that senior yearbook photo, might have changed his appearance. I believe there is a lot I still can learn about his brief time overseas, but I am not certain of the strength of the connections he forged while overseas. He died three months after he arrived in Vietnam, “small arms fire” given as the cause of his death.  Three months. The semesters at the school where I teach are longer than that.  He was a sergeant, promoted posthumously, so maybe he did really well in basic training, or gained a promotion on the battlefield.  I wish I knew. There are people out there who know, but I do not know who they are.

Billy Van Tassel volunteered. He was not drafted.  That is what the family says. That blows my mind. He went to Vietnam in 1968, well after things seem to have turned south. He arrived in Vietnam as the anti-war movement at home grew in strength, and after that opposition caused President Johnson to decide against seeking reelection.  He arrived in Vietnam after many officials in the Department of Defense had concluded, if we are to believe the Pentagon Papers, that the war could not be won.  He volunteered, turning down scholarship offers to Fordham University and Boston College.  Despite his family’s pleas that he attend college, he decided to enlist.

Everyone I spoke with thought that a number of factors went into his decision. “He felt it was a just war at the time,” one of his cousins told me, and he wanted to serve his country. He wanted to do his part. He may have wanted to impress his father, who had served in World War II.

William Van Tassel, Sr., served with the 774th Bomber squadron, 463 Bombardment Group, in the 15th Air Force in North Africa and Italy. The elder Van Tassel entered the service late in 1942. He was thirty-eight years old.  He went to Utah for some training, according to his discharge papers, and then to the Mediterranean theatre.  The 463rd was a heavy bomber group, flying B-17 “Flying Fortress” planes.

Billy’s dad was classified as an Air Operations Specialist 791, which meant that his job required that he assist

“in the administration of the Army Air Force Operations Office. Supervise or assist in the preparation and maintenance of individual flight records and related reports, preparation of operating orders authorizing flight missions, check lists for periodic instrument tests, and aircraft damage and accident reports, and issuance of flying clothing and personal equipment to aircraft personnel and passengers.”

He also would have supervised or assisted

“in the dispatching of air planes by preparing flight routes and logs of position reports of outgoing or incoming aircraft, obtaining clearances and information as to weather conditions and communication with other stations regarding flights from station and course of transient aircraft.”

This means that it is not likely that he served on board an aircraft.  I am trying to learn more, but a letter from the director of the National Personnel Records Center to my uncle’s congressman indicated that his service records were housed “in the area that suffered the most damage” in a fire that took place at the St. Louis facility in July of 1973.  “The fire destroyed the major portion of records of Army military personnel for the period from 1912 through 1959, and records of Air Force personnel with surnames Hubbard through Z for the period 1947 through 1963.” Much of what I might have found out there, as a result, is gone, burned up.  Even if he were not in combat, maybe seeing so many younger men leave and not return over the course of the two years he spent there had an effect.  Casualty rates for bomber crews were high.  Everyone agrees that the war changed him, that he was never the same again. He had “combat fatigue.”  The kids used to joke that he was not always with it, that he was a “dead head.”  Before the war he was “outgoing and personable,” but afterwards, he stopped speaking.  He sat at family gatherings, content to hold a baby on his lap, but largely uncommunicative other than that. Family members believe he suffered from what today we might call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

He worked with my grandfather selling tires after the war.  A lot of people worked for my grandfather.  When my grandfather moved his family to California, William found work cleaning up the courts at a tennis club. His wife Cecelia, my grandfather’s sister, worked as a secretary in the Manhattanville College library. Sometimes they needed help making ends meet. I am told she was friends with Jean Harris, who later was convicted of the murder of Dr. Tarnower, of Scarsdale Diet fame, and may even have visited her in prison.

A damaged man returned from a horrific war, whose son signed up for an unpopular war, and fought there for three months before somebody shot him.  The family’s suffering continued.  Billy’s sister, Mary Ann, died four years later. She ran a stop sign in Newburgh, New York, right in front of the town hall.  It was a sunny afternoon in January of 1973.  She hit another car, and her vehicle flipped.  The Newburgh newspaper has a photograph of people trying to save her, but you can see the resignation in their faces.  There was nothing they could do.  Her neck was broken, and she died twenty minutes after the accident.


People seem to expect a lot from historians, when they pay attention to historians at all.  They have questions, and they want answers. Sometimes they want reassurance, for us to tell them the course they are following, as nations or as individuals, is right or justified.  But some questions have no answers.  Or, perhaps, there are questions that historians cannot answer in their role as historians.  That uncertainty can be unsettling for some, when the past can provide no path forward and the past, itself, cannot be known.  How much can we really know about what happened before us? We learn the facts, and collect what strikes us as relevant.  We gather the evidence.  We know where to look.  But those interior worlds—why did the person we are studying do this or do that? Why did that person make one choice before another? What were they thinking, and what did they feel?  Were they happy, sad, fearful, or full of regrets? And what and how does it matter anyways?



There used to be a poster that hung in the garage of the house where I grew up.  My sister remembers it, too.  My mom made it when we both were kids.  Red and white paint, smeared violently together, with the silhouettes of soldiers and gravestones, and in black block letters across the top, “End The War.”

My dad did not know what happened to it.  He thought that maybe he had tossed it. Then we asked my mom.  No, she remembered. They still had it.  They dug around in the closet of what once had been my sister’s room and they found it.

It has been at least three decades since I last saw that picture, but with the exception of some dried flowers on one of the dark tombstones, it was exactly as I remembered it. It left an impression.  I have always wondered why.


The death of Billy Van Tassel made my mother angry.  She had opposed the war before Billy’s death, but had not involved herself in protest or anything like that. My sister and I were young.  We grew up in a house where I was never allowed to play with guns.  That, too, my mom said, was a product of Billy’s death.  My own visceral hatred of America’s gun culture? It could have more proximate origins, of course, but the seeds might have been planted long ago.

So many questions. Some I cannot yet bring myself to put on paper.  Uncomfortable questions, and certain uncertainties.  Historians, I suspect, understand this.  We tend to accept the messiness of the past, the inconsistencies we cannot explain, the questions we cannot answer, the riddles for which we lack the last clue.  Aware completely that there always will be questions we cannot answer, onward we go anyways, searching for answers.  Until we can’t any longer.

Military service records for Vietnam veterans are open to immediate family—fathers and mothers and siblings and children.  Billy Van Tassel has no one.  His father and mother died long ago.  His sister is gone.  The National Archives will open his records seventy-five years after his death, a quarter of a century from now. So I talk to those with whom I can speak.  I gather what I can find.  But there is much I can never know.

Billy’s death must have been a shattering event. And like shattered glass, the cracks spread outward. For some they cut deep and left scars.  For the rest of us things were different to be sure, but it is sometimes difficult to see how, and to measure the weight of this event across the span of half a century.

History—the real history of our everyday lives—works like that. We are the things that we remember. We are the things that we forget.  We need to be honest about this. We are the product of facts and tales, truths and fables, the things that we know to be real and stories that we take on faith alone.  Perhaps we do so foolishly, or because of needs or inclinations long buried or barely recognized.  We are what we know and, truth be told, what we can never know.

We head nevertheless into the libraries or the archives.  We search about on the internet. Burdened with questions, we head out tired but relentless, searching for answers that may not exist.

“Civilization Or Death To All American Savages”: On the “Commemoration” of Sullivan-Clinton, 1779

“Civilization or Death to all American savages!”  That was one of a number of toasts offered by the officers who accompanied James Sullivan’s invasion of Iroquoia during the American Revolutionary War.  Planned and plotted by George Washington himself, the “Sullivan Campaign” burned dozens of Haudenosaunee towns, destroyed crops, orchards and fields, and forced the Iroquois to flee from their homelands toward the British post at Niagara.  There they suffered and died in large numbers during one of the worst winters on record.  In a letter to Lafayette, Washington expressed his hope that the expedition would eliminate the considerable threat hostile Iroquois posed to the rebel movement, “distract and terrify” them, and “extirpate them from the Country.”

I tell the story of the Sullivan Campaign in Native America.  You can also read a rather dry, nuts-and-bolts military history that focuses exclusively on the American side in Joseph Fischer’s A Well-Executed FailureMost recently, Colin Calloway in his fine examination of The Indian World of George Washington covers the expedition in all its brutality, from Van Schaick’s rape and murder of Onondaga women, to the atrocities committed by Sullivan’s men.  And it is not just academic historians with an interest in the story.  The Empire State Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, with financial backing from the William J. Pomeroy Foundation, has introduced its “Sullivan-Clinton Campaign of 1779 Historic Marker Grant Program.”  The ESSSAR ( try saying that without sounding like Kaa) invites you or your organization “to help commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Revolutionary War Sullivan-Clinton Campaign of 1779 by erecting a specially designed Historical Marker.”  The Pomeroy Foundation “will provide full funding for the marker, pole, and shipping.” Installation is up to you.

If you want to submit a proposal for a historical marker, your time is running out.  The deadline is September 14th.  You can fill out the form here.

The website includes a small sample marker you might use as a template.  “Chugnut,” the sample reads, “Native American village near mouth of Big Choconut Creek destroyed by General Enoch Poor, August 18, 1779, Sullivan-Clinton Campaign.”

If this marker is an indication of things to come, it looks like this will be a history uninformed by the important recent scholarship on native peoples, focusing mostly on what Continental soldiers and officers did with little attention to destroyed towns and and shattered lives, the uprooting of a people and their transformation into refugees, and the atrocities committed against non-combatants.  Chugnut is there, but then it is not.  No sense of what it was before, or what became of the people who lived there.  No sense that the rise of New York as the Empire State could not have occurred without war and violence, and without a systematic campaign of dispossession carried out by the state against the Haudenosaunee.

The ESSSAR campaign information came to me during the summer. To some extent, I am still catching up with some of that email.  I do not have time, regrettably, to submit a proposal for signs.  That is my fault.  I would very much like to send a large number of suggestions. I get that I am too late.

But I hope the sponsors of this project will seek out Haudenosaunee voices and solicit their suggestions for marking the path carved by Sullivan’s men, and measuring the destruction it wrought.  The Sullivan Campaign was designed expressly to eliminate the Iroquois as a force in the western reaches of what came to be New York State.  The Americans wanted to erase their towns, destroy their food supplies, force them from their country, and drive them to starvation over the winter outside of Fort Niagara.  You might call this an invasion.  You might say this was war.  But you could also call it ethnic cleansing.  Or genocide.

There is that tired cliché: The winners write history.  Might makes write.  Well, yes, they do, but it is usually not very good and it is almost always incomplete.  If you have used Native America, or if you have managed to keep abreast of the massive literature in Native American Studies written by anthropologist, archaeologists, and historians, you will note that there are a wealth of sources that can be used to reconstruct native experiences during the Revolution. You can ignore them if you want when you commemorate acts of war, but we historians have a name for that, and we will judge you harshly if you do so.  We will judge you in the same way we judge those who continue to defend the racist monuments celebrating the Confederacy erected after the Civil War. Like them, you will be encouraging a history of erasure, one that conceals the misdeeds of the past, and obscures the sufferings of those who became the victims of history.  Good historians remember and understand that what some people choose to “commemorate,” others are compelled to mourn.

Why Historians Don’t Embrace “American Exceptionalism”

At the “Days of ’47” rodeo in Salt Lake City late last month, an event that commemorates the arrival of the first Mormon settlers in Utah, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke declared that “Utah understands that religious freedom is the cornerstone of American exceptionalism.”

It’s a concept–American Exceptionalism–that is expressed frequently in American political discourse by those on the right.  America is unique, the argument goes, in its commitment to liberty and individual freedom, including religion, principles upon which the nation was founded and its first European settlers embraced.  Some, echoing the rhetoric of nineteenth-century “Manifest Destiny,” take things a step farther and argue that God ordained America’s special role in world history.  As President Trump asserted in his prepared remarks, read to the audience in Utah by Secretary Zinke, “our nation honors the ingenuity, industry, and unwavering commitment to faith of all those who endured frontier hardships.”  Oh, these pioneers, Trump’s statement continued, how they “worked tirelessly to transform this arid desert landscape into a blossoming new home where their families could live in peace and prosperity.”

Yet if many conservatives embrace American exceptionalism, American historians do not.  When we say that a book seems steeped in American exceptionalism, we are criticizing it for an uncritical approach to the past that fails to examine whether the events that an author discusses occurred elsewhere.  Looking at America in isolation from the rest of the world can lead to problems.  Although the American patriots declared their independence from Great Britain in part because they believed that all men were created equal, to cite just one example, it was their imperial overlords that first abolished the horrible institution of racial slavery, and they did so without a war that killed more than 600,000 people.  The liberty achieved through the Revolution was distinctly limited, and other nations, in other places, seemingly embraced liberty more fully and more thoroughly than did the United States.

We historians also reject the celebratory implications of so much American exceptionalism, so evident in President Trump’s statement, because it overlooks the costs, the violence, and the cruelty that accompanied the “settlement” of this continent. Once, when I appeared on a local radio show discussing the Declaration of Independence, one of the other guests said that America was settled by people who sought freedom.  I wish I had pointed out that when one looks at English America between 1630 and 1780, the number of people who arrived in the colonies was three times more black than white.  Most of those who came to Anglo-America, then, came not in search of freedom but in chains.  And that “arid desert” that the persecuted Mormon settlers transformed, and the wilderness through which they passed to get there, was somebody’s homeland prior to their arrival.  From New England to California, white settlers’ gains came at the expense of native peoples who lost their land, African slaves who lost their freedom, and a host of other peoples from Europe and around the globe who found themselves on the outside looking in.

Historians have an obligation to bring up these inconvenient truths.  We can celebrate all this country offers without forgetting the cruelty, exploitation, and violence that accompanied its founding.  And that cruelty continues.  Just a few days after Zinke’s appearance in Salt Lake City, the Pope proclaimed at long last that capital punishment was incompatible with Catholic teaching.  Capital punishment, however, still has many adherents in this country, the President himself among them. News sources reported on devastating declines in a number of species of animals, including King Penguins and Lemurs (which “wanton destruction of the planet’s ecosystem and the subsequent suffering of so many other species,” Andrew Sullivan wrote recently in an otherwise deeply problematic essay, “may be the cruelest act of humankind in our time”).  Meanwhile, the Trump administration fails completely to undo the premeditated damage caused by its “zero-tolerance” policy of family separation, including heart-broken parents and traumatized children. Trump administration officials were warned that this policy could do enormous damage to innocent children and they went a head and did it anyways, a program of deliberate cruelty.  It has always been there.  It is a thread that runs through all of American history.  There is courage and bravery and selflessness. There are so many acts of heroism.  But always there is as well the cruelty, the exploitation, the violence.  We cannot ignore that part of the story.



This past week I drove with my family from Montreal back to Rochester.  We took the Cornwall Bridge.  It crosses the territory of the Akwesasne Mohawks, who have lived on both sides of the St. Lawrence and on Cornwall Island in the river since before the United States existed as an independent nation.  At the customs inspectors’ booths, the flashing red and green signs said “Open” and “Closed” in both English and French. This is not surprising.  I have crossed this bridge many times, and this is entirely familiar to travelers.  But the signs now include those words in the Mohawk language as well.  We might view this as an example of enlightened policy, and act of courtesy by a United States government that has, like Canada, long obstructed the movement of Akwesasne Mohawks across what is, after all, their own land.  Such a view overlooks the Mohawks’ struggles to assert their nationhood, their efforts to defend their right to move across their lands, damn the international borders, and even shut down the bridge when their frustrations reached the boiling point.  Much of America’s freedom is like that.  It was not handed out generously, and it did not rain down upon all equally from the heavens.  No, most of the time freedom and liberty have had to be demanded and fought for and taken.



During the Texas social studies debate of 2009 and 2010, one of the advocates for the state’s proposed curriculum argued that a bad day in the United States is better than a good day anywhere else.  The curriculum, which celebrated American exceptionalism, was intended to convey that to Texas schoolchildren.  It was a statement of monumental ignorance and stupidity.  But it is a sentiment with which so many supporters of our current president would agree.

When we historians point out why these statements are wrong, we try to use specific examples to support our reasoning.  It’s not that we lack patriotism, or that we who teach in colleges are “Socialists” or “Snowflakes,” but, rather, that we believe that American exceptionalism erases or diminishes the historical experiences of millions of people who lived on this continent prior to the arrival of Europeans, or the millions who came in chains as slaves, or who faced persecution, prosecution, and discrimination once they arrived.

The cruelty we see today, fueled by a government run by men and women who have shattered long-established notions of decency and civility, and the cruelty we see in the past that Secretary Zinke and the President overlooked, finds its origins and its strength in inequality: between master and slave, for instance, or frontier settlers and militiamen and Indian villagers, or an armed agent of the state and a child, whether an Indian child carried away from his family and community to boarding school or foster care or an exhausted and frightened child seeking asylum.

Frontier days, and these days. The First Amendment to the Constitution provides guarantees for religious freedom, but that right has proved elusive for many throughout American history: Dissenting Christian groups in the colonial period, Jews throughout much of American history, Catholics at times, and Muslims today.  Zinke and many other conservatives have argued that America was founded as a “Christian Nation,”  an argument that no historian who has studied the issue closely accepts (and, if you are interested, read Tisa Wenger’s recent book).  Sure, some groups in American history have made enormous gains.  They struggled.  They worked hard.  But their successes came quite often at the expense of others who were denigrated, derided, and discriminated against.  To deny that is to lie to ourselves in the worst possible way about the cruelty and violence that lay at the core of America’s story. We have a lot of dirty laundry.  We can hide it or we can air it out.  The latter is the better option.


We Need To Get Woody Guthrie Right, Now More Than Ever

Every couple of months I read on Twitter another denunciation from someone in the Native American/Indigenous Studies community of Woody Guthrie’s famous song, “This Land is Your Land.” It’s a “obvs hella-colonial” song, the critique goes, because Guthrie’s claim that the entire continent “from California, to the New York Island” belonged to you and me ignored the original Native American owners of North America.  As such, Guthrie erased the reality of Native Americans’ antecedent claims to the continent and, in effect, whitewashed the long history of American Indian dispossession in the United States.

As scholars we need to counter the colonialist project of erasing native peoples and their histories from the land, but this critique of Guthrie is facile at best. Those who teach and write about Native American history, those of us who have worked with these communities in their present-day struggles to regain control of their ancestral lands, have bigger problems than a 75-year-old folk song.

Here are the full lyrics to the song:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Guthrie wrote the song after hearing Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” a patriotic anthem that borders on the jingoistic.  (If you want a song that celebrates an “America: Love It or Leave It” ethos, this ought to be your target). Guthrie wrote during a period in American history when the economy had failed catastrophically, where millions of people were out of work, and federal efforts to provide relief, recovery, and reform, as radical as they were for the time, did not fundamentally challenge the basic structures of American capitalism.

Guthrie stood against the injustices in American society, the exploitation of labor, the impoverishment of hard-working, ordinary people  He stood against the selfish rich, those who gamed a system already rigged in their favor.  This was protest music of the first order.

So, yeah, you can hate Guthrie’s lyrics if you want, but as scholars we have an obligation to read deeply, honestly, and thoroughly.  Unlike, say, Fox News, we are not allowed as scholars to take words out of context, not if we are to claim that we are hard-working, honest, and open-minded in our approach to the past.  And as citizens, we could use more voices like Guthrie’s, willing to denounce the injustices of a system that seems to spiral farther and farther away from its expressed highest ideals every day.

The Coward John White

The failed governor of a failed colonial enterprise, sent packing from what would soon become the fabled “Lost Colony” of Roanoke, and a pretend aristocrat whose patron procured for him a bargain-basement coat-of-arms, John White was also an “important” and “renowned” artist whose “vivid” and “lifelike” images included an Algonquian woman he depicted with two right feet.  Nearly everything John White touched turned to shit.

White did not lack for experience, we are told. He likely sailed aboard one of Martin Frobisher’s voyages in search of mineral wealth and a northwest passage in the 1570s.  He accompanied the reconnaissance voyage Sir Walter Ralegh sent to “Virginia” in 1584 and, the next year, returned aboard the much larger expedition sent to establish a base along the coast of today’s North Carolina.  He was among those men who, that summer, explored the coast to the south of Roanoke Island where he completed several paintings of the Algonquian peoples of the region and towns in which they lived, before he returned home with Sir Richard Grenville in the fall of 1585. He may have traveled more widely in the summer of 1585 to gather the information necessary to make his large map of the Outer Banks and Eastern North America. In 1587 Ralegh decided to try again, and for reasons that remain inexplicable still, he appointed White governor of what he hoped would become the “Cittie of Ralegh.”  White returned home from the colony a few weeks after arriving, and would not make back until 1590.  It was then that he discovered that the colony he claimed to have governed had disappeared.  Five voyages to America, but he spent more time aboard ships coming and going than he actually did on American shores.

It is easy, I suppose, to view White as a pathetic figure.  He brought his family to England’s paltry new world outpost. Circumstances forced him to return to England, and to struggle for several years to return to America.  He never succeeded in reuniting with his daughter, her husband, and their daughter Virginia, the first English child born in America.  How painful this must have been for him, to not know what had happened to his child and grandchild.

It is understandable.  It must have been agonizing for White. I can imagine his pain easily. But I keep tripping over my belief, based upon reading and re-reading the surviving records, that every time John White was faced with an important choice, he made the wrong one.

Every document that sheds light on the planning for the 1587 colony, for instance, shows that Ralegh charged White with establishing his “Cittie” on the Chesapeake Bay.  Relations with the Indians there the previous year offered promise.  An English party spent some time there in 1585 and 1586.  They found the deep water anchorage, abundant food, and peaceful Indians far more welcoming than the Algonquians in the vicinity of Roanoke, who would soon chase the colonists out of America.

Before heading to the Chesapeake, White wanted to check in on the men Richard Grenville had left at Roanoke the year before, shortly after the harried colonists evacuated.  He may as well have intended to install Manteo, the Indian from Croatoan who had stuck with the colonists since 1585, as a sort of feudal “Lorde of Roanoac” to govern the region in Ralegh’s name. So they were going to check in on Grenville’s colonists, install Manteo in his new post, and then carry on northward towards the Chesapeake.  Simple enough.  But that did not happen, and White’s explanation why makes little sense.

White and his men clambered aboard the pinnace, a smaller ship capable of safely crossing the Outer Banks.  “Simon Ferdinando,” the expedition’s pilot, told the sailors aboard to drop White’s party at Roanoke, “saying that the Summer was farre spent.”  It was the 22nd of July and, White suggested, Ferdinando wanted to get on with the more lucrative business of chasing Spanish prizes.

Which makes no sense at all, for Ferdinando did not leave until the last week of August, more than a month later. White spent much of his account whining about Ferdinando, blaming him for everything and for nothing, and the charges simply do not add up.  One of the ships that made up the 1587 voyage separated from the other two in some rough weather: White blamed Ferdinando for this, accusing him of trying to abandon one of the ships. At another point, Ferdinando was not certain of his latitude, and at another he thought he could find food in the Caribbean but his supplier could not be found.  Understandable, perhaps, but White blamed Ferdinando for these events, too.  The colonists ate poisonous fruit, manchineel apples, and to wash that down drank nasty, stagnant water, and fell ill.  Ferdinado remained aboard the flagship. Still, White blamed Ferdinando, even though it was he who allowed the colonists to drink “stinking water of the pond,” and who failed to keep the colonists safe while on land.  Later, the flagship nearly ran aground near Cape Fear, and again White blamed Ferdinando. And the decision to settle on Roanoke, despite instructions to go elsewhere? White blamed that on Ferdinando, too, but the only logical explanation for White and his colonists ending up on Roanoke was that he decided to settle in this somewhat familiar setting, rather than move to the Chesapeake where he had no first hand experience.

It was a bad choice.  Grenville’s  men were very clearly dead: White reported that his men found the skeleton of one of them. Very clearly they had been killed by Indians. Within a couple of days, those same Indians killed George Howe, one of White’s closest advisers.  White attempted to carry on some diplomacy and figure out how the Indians felt about his colonists, which somehow still seemed a mystery to him.  The Croatoans, always friendly, at first feared the English and lined up for battle before Manteo assuaged their fears.  They lectured the English about indiscriminate attacks the year before. They begged the English not to steal their food.  White decided that this was a good time to ask them for favors, and told them to carry messages to the neighboring Indian villages, indicating that the English “would willingly receive them againe, and that all unfriendly dealings past on both parts, should be utterly forgiven and forgotten.”  This reflected nothing more than White’s utterly clueless understanding of the situation in which he had placed the colonists–in the midst of large numbers of Algonquians who had no interest in accepting English friendship. He was in no position to “receive” anyone.

Could White make it worse?  Yes.  After waiting a week, and receiving no response from the Indians, White decided to attack “the remnant of Wingina his men, which were left alive, who dwelt at Dasamonquepeuk,” across the sound from Roanoke.  It was they, he believed, who had killed George Howe and wiped out Grenville’s party.  White led a party across the sound, surrounded some Indians in the dark at Dasemonquepeuk, and launched his assault. As White put it himself, “we hoped to acquite their evill doing towards us, but,” he said,  “we were deceived, for those Savages were our friends, and were come from Croatoan to gather the corne & fruit of that place, because they understood our enemies were fled immediatly after they had slaine George Howe.”  They killed the wrong Indians.  They killed friendly Indians, or at least he least hostile of the Algonquians in the region.  The colony was now in dire straits, with no friends, and little provision.

Over the next several days, the English baptized Manteo, and White’s daughter gave birth to Virginia Dare.  The colonists needed provisions, and White could not find any volunteers to go home to lobby for more. The colonists told White to go himself.  He whined. He feared that during his absence, “his stuffe and goods might be both spoiled, & most of them pilfered away.”  White refused to go. He feared that the people he led would rifle through his stuff.   The next day, the 23rd of August, more of the colonists, “as well women and men,” once again told White to leave.  Please. Really, just go. Don’t worry. We will be fine.  We will be better off without you.  They wanted him to leave.  They knew who they were dealing with.  They promised to sign a bond not to steal White’s crap, as if they really wanted his books and his armor.  He must have found it difficult o leave his daughter and granddaughter behind, but that is not the argument he made.  With a promise not to steal any of his stuff in hand, White departed for England on the 27th.

It was a hellish journey home. White survived, but many of the sailors did not.  He tried again to sail for America the next year, that of the Armada, but the ship he was aboard was mauled by a French corsair. In the battle for control of the ship, White was shot in the ass, an injury that does not seem to have embarrassed him at all.  By the time he finally made it back to Roanoke in 1590, he could determine only that the colonists were no longer on the island, and that the trunks containing his stuff had been dug up by Indians, broken open, and their contents ruined.  So much for that bond.  White seemed to know where the colonists were, though the location is not clear from his account.  In any case, White was a man who nobody listened to.  He could not persuade the mariners  to devote the time to seek out the colonists, and White returned, once again, to England, his voyage entirely without effect.

The Stories We Ought to Tell

I have always loved Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities. Her reflections on the historical enterprise in which we all are engaged inform in ways great and small what I try to do in much of my teaching and writing.  “History,” she writes, “is like weather, not like checkers.”  A board game comes to an end, but the weather, “in its complexity, in its shifts, in the way something triggers its opposite, just as a heat wave sucks the fog off the ocean and makes my town gray and clammy after a few days of baking, weather in its moods, in its slowness, it its suddenness,” never does.  “We never did save the whales, though we might have prevented them from becoming extinct. We will have to continue to prevent that as long as they continue not to be extinct, unless we become extinct first.” Past, present, and future, all connected, inseparable.  The past never ends.

Solnit understands so well the work of the historian.  “Writing is lonely,” she notes.  “It’s an intimate talk with the dead, with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with the readers who may never come to be and who, even if they do read you, will do so weeks, years, decades later.  An essay, a book, is one statement in a long conversation you could call culture or history; you are answering something or questioning something that may have fallen silent long ago, and the response to your words may come long after you’re gone and never reach your ears—if anyone hears you in the first place.”  It is a beautiful reflection on writing, a solitary enterprise, Solnit claims, that “is a model for how indirect effect can be, how delayed, how invisible; no one is more hopeful than a writer, no one is a bigger gambler.”

And in her most recent essay, with the title “Whose Story (and Country) Is This?” she challenges the media, and indeed all of us, to think about the stories we tell.

The common denominator of so many of the strange and troubling cultural narratives coming our way is a set of assumptions about who matters, whose story it is, who deserves the pity and the treats and the presumptions of innocence, the kid gloves and the red carpet, and ultimately the kingdom, the power, and the glory. You already know who. It’s white people in general and white men in particular, and especially white Protestant men, some of whom are apparently dismayed to find out that there is going to be, as your mom might have put it, sharing. The history of this country has been written as their story, and the news sometimes still tells it this way—one of the battles of our time is about who the story is about, who matters and who decides.

More Americans work in museums, Solnit points out, than work in coal mines, but “no one is talking about their jobs as a totem of our national identity.”   Too many of us are missing the important stories.

We are as a culture moving on to a future with more people and more voices and more possibilities. Some people are being left behind, not because the future is intolerant of them but because they are intolerant of this future. White men, Protestants from the dominant culture are welcome, but as Chris Evans noted, the story isn’t going to be about them all the time, and they won’t always be the ones telling it. It’s about all of us. White Protestants are already a minority and non-white people will become a voting majority in a few decades. This country has room for everybody who believes that there’s room for everybody. For those who don’t—well, that’s partly a battle about who controls the narrative and who it’s about.

We who write about the past, and teach history, whether in K-12 or in colleges—most of us recognize this.  We who work in the face of a testing regime that turns history education into rote memorization, and a college environment tripping over itself in a race to embrace STEM fields at the expense of the humanities and civics, face blowback when we broaden the base, and attempt to include the voices of those who traditionally have been excluded.  If we look around, however, and see the kids marching against the NRA, and the #MeToo and the “#TimesUp” movements, and the assertions that Black Lives Matter, and the growing attention to the enormous numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women and children throughout North America, it is clear that the ground is shifting beneath our feet.  We work alone, and it is often a solitary pursuit.  But the effort to be inclusive, to tell the stories of the powerless and the marginalized, is as important now as it has ever been.   

The Sins You Forget Can Never Be Forgiven

And the sins you forget, you may commit again.

Are there historical sins that can never be forgiven? Are their historical crimes so great that the guilt can never be washed away?

Last week a story appeared in the New York Times  announcing that the “Holocaust is Fading from Memory.” Many adults, according to a recent survey, “lack basic knowledge of what happened—and this lack of knowledge is more pronounced among millennials, whom the survey defined as people ages 18 to 34.” 41% of Americans, as well as 66% of millennials, had never heard of Auschwitz. And, as Matthew Rozsa pointed out in Salon, it’s not just a Holocaust problem.  Americans of all ages just do not know their history well at all.

I am not willing to fault the young people for that.  Our education system, presided over by the overly-credentialed but unwise and unimaginative adherents of a testing regime, who celebrate STEM fields, who equate positive outcomes with “employability,” and who consistently challenge the relevance and even the necessity of training in the liberal arts and humanities, have done us all a huge disservice.  We know little of where we have been, who we hurt, how we hurt them, who benefited, and how the processes of history have unfolded.  We don’t know what we have done, how, and to whom.  And it seems unlikely that without that knowledge we will ever be able to stop.

There are just a few weeks left in the semester.  At the end of my Indian Law and Public Policy course in a few weeks we will discuss apologies for the historic treatment of America’s peoples.  And in my course on the Early Republic, which I am teaching for the first time in twenty years, we have reached that point in the semester where I am discussing Antebellum slavery and the slave regime in the south.  I like to ask students about apologies for slavery, too, given the horrible brutality of the entire system.

I have been at this a long time, and I can anticipate the answers.  Apologies bring complications.  Lawsuits, for instance.  Or all the exceptions.  My ancestors were not even here back then, and so on.  As a nation, and as individuals, I encounter many people who do not like to second-guess, who are willing to say that the past is in the past and it is time to move on.

But if Americans do not know those histories—of dispossession and colonization in the first instance and enslavement and white supremacy in the second—and if they do not understand the chains binding the past to the present, the likelihood of them understanding what they might apologize for is remote at best. Why do something when you lack the knowledge to understand the problems that exist?

We like villains, for instance. We like to place blame.  Doesn’t take much thought at all. Andrew Jackson was a real bastard, we might point out. But we might also suggest that he was hardly the only person to call for “Indian Removal.”  And he was hardly the only person to benefit.  Those of us who live on what was once native land should know that well. We do not, generally speaking, but we should. To many Americans the injustice that made them who they are remains invisible. I have met many people who sense that there is something off-putting and creepy about President Trump’s fixation with Andrew Jackson, but to ask them to explain why is another matter entirely.

I have been listening to the “Finding Cleo” podcast produced by CBC Radio.  It is a searing story of the legacies of Canada’s brutal decision to carry away 150,000 First Nations children into boarding schools, foster care institutions, and adoptions, in order to assimilate them.  The podcast follows the victimized siblings of one small girl who also fell victim to Canada’s “Sixties Scoop.”  Today is the product of many yesterdays, of many decisions, policies, and actions, the consequences of which whipsaw through time, spreading wreckage as they go.  If your students watch the “The 13th,” they will recognize that slavery is hardly part of the past, that the injustices upon which the South’s “Peculiar Institution” rested are still very much with us.  Incarceration Nation.  Prison reform has received more attention than in the recent past, but the racial disparities in American prison populations quite simply is not a source of concern to many Americans.  We watch our duly elected buffoon preside over the country, and bounce from crisis to crisis, while his trampy kids and corrupt appointees run a smash and grab ring. Important problems, the legacies of our nation’s sins, remain unaddressed, because too many people do not care, and too many people know too little to care.

The Allure of the Archives, and the Accompanying Responsibility

I recently finished reading Arlette Farge’s The Allure of the Archives. It’s a beautiful little book, written originally in French, translated into English by Thomas Scott-Railton.

Farge’s journey into the archives brought her into contact with the denizens of 18th century Paris, ordinary men and women who entered the historical record only because they found themselves dragged before authorities as accusers and victims, witnesses or perpetrators. They came to advocate for their cause, to protect or recover their property, to seek redress, or vengeance, or, at times, to save their lives.  Farge describes the people of Paris, but her experiences in the archives and the lessons she drew from the people she encountered there—men and women who appear fleetingly and incompletely in the judicial records–are wise and wonderful enough to be useful to all students of the past, whatever field they study.  I can imagine using Farge’s book the next time I teach the freshman writing seminar.

The allure of the archives, Farge writes, “is rooted in these encounters with the silhouettes of the past, be they faltering or sublime.  There is an obscure beauty in so many existences, barely illuminated by words, in confrontations with each other, imprisoned by their own devices as much as they were undone by their era.”

Farge describes the rituals and mechanics of archival work, and she describes archival etiquette, at least for an era before digital cameras became commonplace. But the book’s beauty lies in its account of Farge’s interactions with the archives’ inhabitants, the ordinary French men and women who show up in bits and pieces in the surviving records.  “The incompleteness of the archive,” she writes, paradoxically “coexists right alongside the abundance of documents.”  Tell me about it.  Historians write down quotations from these documents, and “the proper usage of documents is similar to the inlaying of precious stones: a quotations only truly takes on meaning and significance if it fills a role that nothing else could.”  Historical scholarship is a discipline and a craft and, for Farge, it is a reflective process.  Those working in the archives must remain conscious of what they are doing, and the consequences that may result from their carelessness.  We hold these forgotten lives in our hands. That is a privilege that comes with great responsibility.

History is never the simple repetition of archival content, but a pulling away from it, in which we never stop asking how and why these words came to wash ashore on the manuscript page. One must put the archive aside for a while, in order to better think on one’s own terms, and later draw everything together. If you have a taste for the archives, you feel a need for these alternating tasks of exclusion and reintegration of documents and writing, as you add your own style to the thoughts that emerge.

Still, so many people you meet in the archives, so many stories.  “What can be done with these countless individuals, their tenuous plans, their many disjointed movements?” She likens these images to silhouettes on a wall or the shifting images one sees when gazing into a kaleidoscope, dynamic always, appearing and then disappearing, passing quickly out of your field of view before you get a clear sense of what you are looking at.

I get it. My colleagues who write about Native American history will sympathize.  In so many archives, in so many collections of documents, in parish registers, burial records, transcripts of diplomatic encounters, bits of correspondence scattered here and there, receipts, school records, and even newspapers, thousands of lives, thousands of individuals, will appear fleetingly, saying little or nothing at all, words recorded by people with limited understanding of the peoples whose stories they tell.

These lives are difficult to reconstruct, I know, as I work through the many thousands of pages of documents I have collected to write my Onondaga book. It is difficult and demanding work.  We work to recover larger pictures from scattered or broken fragments. But as I look small, I look large, too.  We wrestle with the challenge of understanding the relationship between these individuals and the larger societal forms to which they belonged as native peoples.

It is easy to write the history of native peoples as objects acted upon by non-native actors.  Writing that sort of history, however, privileges the forces of colonialism and the voices speaking in behalf of that process.

Farge has given me a lot to think about as I continue to read my sources and work on my history of the Onondaga Nation.

The Onondagas, as a community, experienced warfare, disease, and dispossession.  They endured efforts to break up their reservation, to individualize them and destroy their national identity, and to transform them into something else.  They confronted the State of New York’s efforts to extend its laws over their lands and the decisions of nearby business interests that destroyed Onondaga Creek.  Telling these stories requires detailed examination of the many thousands of pages of documents and an enormous amount of reading, but the work itself is not particularly difficult.  The views of white policy makers and power brokers are uncovered with relative ease.  The challenging part is reconstructing the lives of the thousands of individuals who cross the pages in the sources I read, and who interacted with these larger forces.

History: It’s the study of continuity and change, measured across time and space, in peoples, institutions and cultures.  To tell these stories of continuity and change, to give them real meaning, requires a close examination of the small pieces, the individual pebbles on the beach.  Boarding schools were terrible, we are told, instruments of cultural-genocide marching under the guise of benevolence.  Richard Henry Pratt founded the Carlisle School, and I read his propaganda and his reports, all the paper detritus of his campaign to “kill the Indian and save the man.”  The best he could see in the thousands of young Native Americans who came to Carlisle was that they might be formed into something else. Pratt’s words are difficult to read, knowing that his blundering arrogance shattered so many lives and caused so much grief.

But I also need to look at the young men and women who clearly wanted to go to Carlisle because it offered them an opportunity to acquire a trade, to improve themselves.  The records exist.  We can see the Carlisle students who ran away from their “outing system” placements because they were homesick or were needed at home or because they hated their overseers, or fell in love with a fellow student working at a place not far away.  It requires telling the stories of those Onondagas who missed the school once they left, who pestered the school’s administrators to send them copies of the student newspaper, and who attended Carlisle games when the team was close enough for them to make the trip.  We must consider of the stories of those who were sent home because they were sick or rebellious or because they drank too much.  It requires placing one set of difficult readings against another and against yet another still, cobbling the pieces together into some sort of sensible whole.

Sometimes, the people who appear in these records have children and grandchildren still living.  As historians, drawn in by the allure of the archives, we are voyeurs and witnesses, and we will uncover stories that if shared carelessly can produce grief and pain and sadness. If we view our trips into the archive like a raid or a treasure hunt–and I will admit to feeling this way during my 5:00am drives down the Thruway from Rochester to Albany–we risk becoming exploitative, engaging in a sort of colonial enterprise.  These documents are not ours, and the stories we fashion from the lives we see in bits and pieces do not belong to us alone.  As we share these stories, and shape our careers as historians on the backs of the people about whom we write, we must remember our obligations, and the seriousness of our enterprise.

Many of my friends are historians, and many of us, I believe, identify closely with the work that we do and the subjects that we teach.  It is part of what makes us what and who we are.  We think about our work a lot, maybe too much for those with whom we share our lives.  We can obsess and lose sleep as we think about the questions that can only be answered by a sojourn in the archives. We must be honest: as historians, we are nothing without these stories.  Arlette Farge’s book reminded me of these obligations, and the deep and alluring connections that exist between the people we write about and the stories we tell, what we do and how we see ourselves.


Roanoke Bibliography

This semester I am teaching a freshman writing seminar at Geneseo on the Lost Colony of Roanoke.  The students have now finished reading through the bulk of David Beers Quinn’s famous collection of source material, and will begin writing their own papers this week.  I compiled this bibliography, which I will share with them, at least in part to bring myself up to speed with what has been published since my book on the Roanoke ventures, The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand: Roanoke’s Forgotten Indians, appeared a decade ago.   Even though I have been intermittently at work editing my portion of the very large Oxford edition of Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations, I thought it worthwhile to check and see what was out there.

This bibliography focuses most heavily on sources published in the last decade.  For older sources, see the notes in The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand. I hope you find this useful.

New Mexico, West Indies and Guiana (Principal Navigations Wright Map)

Ambers, Janet, Joana Russell, David Saunders, and Kim Sloan.  “Hidden History? Examination of Two Patches on John White’s Map of ‘Virginia’.”  British Museum Technical  Research Bulletin 6 (2012): 47-54.

Andrews, Kenneth R. Trade, Plunder and Settlement: Maritime Enterprise and the Genesis of the British Empire, 1480-1630, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

________.  Elizabethan Privateering. Cambridge: Cambridge University   Press, 1964.

Appelbaum, Robert.  “Hunger in Early Virginia: Indians and English Facing Off over Excess, Want, and Need,” in Appelbaum and John Wood Sweet, Envisioning An English Empire: Jamestown and the Making of the North Atlantic World, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).

Barker, Alex W. “Powhatan’s Pursestrings: On the Meaning of Surplus in a Seventeenth    Century Algonkian Chiefdom,” in Lords of the Southeast: Social Inequality and the Native Elites of Southeastern North America, eds. Alex W. Barker and Timothy R. Pauketat, Anthropological Papers of the American Anthropologica Associations 3 (Washington, D.C: American Anthropological Association, 1992.

Barr, Juliana.  Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Beck, Robin A., Jr., David G. Moore and Christopher B. Rodning, “Identifying Fort San Juan: A Sixteenth-Century Occupation at the Berry Site, North Carolina,” Southeastern Archaeology, 25 (2006), 65-77.

Benitez-Rojo, Antonio.  The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.

Bradley, Peter T.  British Maritime Enterprise in the New World: From the Late Fifteenth to the Mid-Eighteenth Century. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1999.

Brickell, John.  Natural History of North Carolina.  Dublin: James Carson, 1737.

Brickhouse, Anna. The Unsettlement of America: Translation, Interpretation, and the Story of Don Luis de Velasco, 1560-1945, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

Bridge, David.  “The German Miners at Keswick and the Question of Bismuth.” Bulletin of the Peak District Mines Historical Society, 12 (Summer 1994), 108-112.

Brooks, Baylus. “John Lawson’s Indian Town on Hatteras Island, North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review, 91 (April 2014), 171-207.

Bullard, A. J. and Charles M. Allen.  “Synopsis of the Woody Species of Smilax in the Eastern United States North of Peninsular Florida,” Journal of the North Carolina Academy of Sciences, 129 (Summer 2013), 37-43.

Burrage, Henry S. ed., Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608.   New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1901

Canny, Nicholas C and Karen Ordahl Kupperman. “The Scholarship and Legacy of David Beers Quinn, 1909-2002,” William and Mary Quarterly, 60 (October 2003), 843-861.

Canny, Nicholas. “Writing Early Modern History: Ireland, Britain, and the Wider World,”Historical Journal, 46 (September 2003), 723-747.

Cormack, Lesley B.  Charting an Empire: Geography at the English Universities, 1580-1620, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

Cowper, H. S. The Art of Attack and the Development of Weapons. Eastbourne: Naval and Military Press, 2006.

Dawson, Scott and Jeanne L. Gillespie, “The Vocabulary of Croatoan Algonquian,” Southern Quarterly, 51 (Summer 2014), 48-53.

Donegan, Kathleen. “What Happened in Roanoke: Ralph Lane’s Narrative Incursion,” Early American Literature, 48 (no.2, 2013), 285-314.

________. Seasons of Misery: Catastrophe and Colonial Settlement in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).

Duke, James A. Handbook of Nuts: Herbal Reference Library. Boca Raton, FL :CRC Publishers. 2000.

Durant, David N.  Raleigh’s Lost Colony. New York: Atheneum, 1981.

Eastman, John.  The Book of Swamp and Bog: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern Freshwater Wetlands. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1995.

Egloff, Keith T. “Spheres of Cultural Interaction Across the Coastal Plain of Virginia in the Woodland Period,” in Structure and Process in Southeastern Archaeology, ed. Roy S. Elton, Geoffrey Rudolph.  The New Cambridge Modern History: Volume 2, The Reformation, 1520-1559, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Erichson-Brown, Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes.  Mineola, NY: Dover, 1989.

Foster, Steven and Rebecca L. Johnson, National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine. New York: National Geographic Society, 2008.

Fullam, Brandon. The Lost Colony of Roanoke: New Perspectives, Jefferson, NC: McFarland And Company, 2017.

Gallivan, Martin D.  “Measuring Sedentariness and Settlement Population: Accumulations Research in the Middle Atlantic Region,” American Antiquity, 67 (July 2002), 535-557.

________. James River Chiefdoms: The Rise of Social Inequality in the Chesapeake. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003).

Gardner, Paul R.  “Excavations at the Amity Site: Final Report of the Pomeiooc Project, 1984-1989,” Archaeological Research Report 7, Archaeology Laboratory, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.

Gleach, Frederic W. Powhatan’s World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

Green, Paul R.  The Archaeology of 31HY43: “Pomieooc”: 1985-1986 Field Seasons,, Greenville, N.C: East Carolina University Department of Sociology and Anthropology, 1987.

Goldman, William S. “Spain and the Founding of Jamestown,” William and Mary Quarterly, 68 (July 2011), 427-450

Hall, Joseph. “Glimpses of Roanoke, Visions of New Mexico, and Dreams of Empire in the Mixed-Up Memories of Geronimo de la Cruz,” William and Mary Quarterly, 72 (April 2015), 323-350.

Hamel, Paul B. and Mary U. Chiltoskey, Cherokee Plants and their Uses—A 400 Year History.  Sylva, NC: Herald Publishing, 1975.

Hann, John T, ed.  “Translation of the Ecija Voyages of 1605 and 1609 and the Gonzalez Derrotero of 1609.” Florida Archaeology. 2 (1986). 1-79.

Harriot, Thomas. A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. Facsimile ed. New York: Dover, 1972.

Hatfield, April Lee. “Spanish Colonization Literature, Powhatan Geographies, and English Perceptions of Tsenacommacah/Virginia,” Renaissance Quarterly, 67 (Summer 2014),425-472.

Heaney, Christopher. “A Peru of their Own: English Grave-Opening and Indian Sovereignty in Early America,” William and Mary Quarterly, 73 (October 2016), 608-646.

Herrmann, Rachel B. “The ‘Tragicall Historie’: Cannibalism and Abundance in Colonial Jamestown,” William and Mary Quarterly, 68 (January 2011), 47-74.

Hill, John.  A History of the Materia Medica. London: T. Longman, 1751.

Hoffman, Paul E.  A New Andalucia on the Way to the Orient: The American Southeast During the Sixteenth Century. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990.

________. The Spanish Crown and the Defense of the Caribbean, 1535-1585: Precedent, Patrimonialism, and Royal Parsimony. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.

Horn, James. A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of  Roanoke. New York: Basic Books, 2010.

Horning, Audrey. Ireland in the Virginian Sea: Colonialism in the British Atlantic.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,  2013.

Hudson, Charles M., ed.  The Juan Pardo Expeditions: Explorations of the Carolinas and Tennessee, 1566-1568, (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005).

Hulton, Paul. America 1585: The Complete Drawings of John White. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

Hume, Ivor Noel. The Virginia Adventure: Roanoke to James Towne. Charlottesville: University Press of Virgnia, 1997.

Isil, Olivia A. “Simon Fernandez: Master Mariner and Roanoke Assistant: A New Look at an Old Villain.” In Searching for the Roanoke Colonies: An Interdisciplinary Collection, eds. E. Thomson Shields and Charles R. Ewen, (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Archives and History, 2003.

Jones, Eric E. “Spatiotemporal Analysis of Old World Diseases in North America, A.D. 1519-1807,” American Antiquity, 79 (July 2014), 487-506.

Jones, Rosalind, “American Beauties, or What’s Wrong with this Picture? Paintings of the Women of Virginia from John White to Joan Blaeu,” Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 7 (Fall 2012), 215-229

Jowitt, Clare.   The Culture of Piracy, 1580-1630: English Literature and Seaborne Crime. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010.

Kaplan, Eugene H.  Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.

Keeler, Mary Frear, ed.  Sir Francis Drake’s West Indian Voyage, 1585-1586, Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society, Second Series, No. 148. London: Hakluyt Society, 1975.

Kelly, Brian T. and Michael K. Phillips.  “Red Wolf.”  In Endangered Animals: A Reference Guide to Conflicting Issues, eds., Richard P. Reading and Brian Miller. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.

Kelsey, Harry.  Sir John Hawkins: Queen Elizabeth’s Slave Trader.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Klein, Michael J. and Douglas W. Sanford. “Analytical Scale and Archaeological Perspectives on the Contact Era in the Northern Neck of Virginia.” Contact in       Context: New Archaeological, Anthropological and Historical Perspectives on Natives and Europeans in the Mid-Atlantic. Eds. Julia King and Dennis Blanton. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2004, 47-73.

Klingelhofer, Eric. “Captain Edward Stafford of the Roanoke Colonies,” North Carolina Historical Review, 77 (July 2017): 283-298.

Knighton, C. S. and David Loades, eds.  The Navy of Edward VI and Mary.  Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011.

Kupperman, Karen Ordahl. “Before 1607,” William and Mary Quarterly, 72 (January 2015), 3- 24.

________.  Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony, 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007.

________. Indians and English: Facing off in Early America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000.

________.  “English Perceptions of Treachery, 1583-1640: The Case of the American ‘Savages’.” Historical Journal, 20 (1977): 263-287.

LaCombe, Michael A. “’A Continuall and Dayly Table for Gentlemen of Fashion’: Humanism, Food, and Authority at Jamestown, 1607-1609,” American Historical Review, 115 (June 2010), 669-687.

Lance, Ron.  Woody Plants of the Southeastern United States: A Winter Guide.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004.

Lane, Kris E.  Pillaging the Empire: Piracy in the Americas, 1500-1750. Armonk, NY: M. E.   Sharpe, 1998.

LaVere, David.  “The Lost Colony of Roanoke: New Perspectives,” North Carolina Historical Review, 94 (October 2017), 439-440

________.  The Lost Rocks: The Dare Stones and the Unsolved Mystery of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony.  Wilmington, NC: Burnt Mill Press, 2010.

Lawson, John.  A New Voyage to Carolina. Hugh Talmadge Lefler, ed.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.

Loftfield, Thomas C. and David C. Jones. “Late Woodland Architecture on the Coast of North Carolina: Structural Meaning and Environmental Adaptation.” Southeastern Archaeology. 14 (Winter 1995), 120-135.

MacCaffrey, Wallace T. Elizabeth I: War and Politics, 1588-1603. Princeton: Princeton  University Press, 1992.

________. Queen Elizabeth and the Making of Policy, 1572-1588. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.

MacGregor, A.  “Medical terra sigillata: A Historical, Geographical and Typological Review,” in A History of Geology and Medicine, C. J. Duffin, R. T. J. Moddy and C. Gardner-Thorpe, eds., Geological Society, Special Publication 375.  London: The Geological Society, 2013, pp. 113-136.

MacMillan, Ken. “Sovereignty ‘More Plainly Described’: Early English Maps of North America, 1580-1625,” Journal of British Studies, 42 (October 2003), 413-447.

Mallios, Seth.  The Deadly Politics of Giving: Exchange and Violence at Ajacan, Roanoke and   Jamestown. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006

________. “Gift Exchange and the Ossomocomuck Balance of Power: Explaining Algonquian Socioeconomic Aberrations at Contact,” in Searching for the Roanoke Colonies: An Interdisciplinary Collection, eds. E. Thomson Shields and Charles R. Ewen, (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Archives and History, 2003.

________. “In the  Hands of ‘Indian Givers’: Exchange and Violance at Ajacan, Roanoke and Jamestown.” Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1998.

Mancall, Peter C.  Hakluyt’s Promise: An Elizabethan’s Obsession for an English America, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Markham, Clement., ed., The Guanches of Tenerife. London: The Hakluyt Society, 1867.

Mulcahey, Matthew.  Hurricanes and Society in the British Greater Caribbean, 1624-1783. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Miller, Christopher L. and George Hamell, “A New Perpsective on Indian-White Contact: Cultural Symbols and Colonial Trade, Journal of American History, 73 (1986), 311-328.

Miller, Lee. Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony, (New York: Arcade, 2000).

Miller, Shannon.  Invested with Meaning: The Raleigh Circle in the New World, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Mires, Peter B. “Contact and Contagion: The Roanoke Colony and Influenza.” Historical Archaeology. 29 (1994): 30-38.

Monardes, Nicholas.  Joyfull Newes Out of the New Founde World, ed. Sir. Stephen Gaselee, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1925).

Mt. Pleasant, Jane. “The Science Behind the Three Sisters Mound System: An Agronomic Assessment of an Indigenous Agricultural System in the Northeast.” In John E. Staller, Robert H. Tykot and Bruce F. Benz, eds., Histories of Maize: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Prehistory, Linguistics, Biogeography, Domestication and Evolution of Maize. Amsterdam: Academic Press, 2006.

Oberg, Michael Leroy. The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand: Roanoke’s Forgotten Indians,  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).

________. “Between ‘Savage Man’ and ‘Most Faithful Englishman’: Manteo and the Early Anglo-Indian Exchange,” Itinerario, 24 (2000), 146-169.

________. “Gods and Men: The Meeting of Indian and White Worlds on the Carolina Outer   Banks, 1584-1586,” North Carolina Historical Review, 76 (1999), 367-390.

________. Dominion and Civility: English Imperialism and Native America, 1585-1685. Ithaca:   Cornell University Press, 1999.

Palmer, William M. and Alvin W. Braswell. Reptiles of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Parramore, Thomas C.  “The ‘Lost Colony’ Found: A Documentary Perspective.” North Carolina Historical Review, 78 (January 2001): 67-83.

Phelps, David Sutton. Ancient Pots and Dugout Canoes: Indian Life as Revealed by Archaeology at Lake Phelps. Creswell, NC: Pettigrew State Park, 1989.

Pearson, Thomas Gilbert, C. S. Brimley, and H. H. Brimley, Birds of North Carolina. Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton, 1919.

Pluymers, Keith. “Atlantic Iron: Wood Scarcity and the Political Ecology of Early English Expansion,” William and Mary Quarterly, 73 (July 2016), 389-426.

________.  “Taming the Wilderness in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Ireland and Virginia,” Environmental History, 16 (October 2011), 610-632.

Potter, Stephen R., Commoners, Tribute and Chiefs: The Development of Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Valley, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993.

Powell, William S. “Who Came to Roanoke?” Searching for the Roanoke Colonies: An Interdisciplinary Collection, eds E. Thomson Shields and Charles R. Ewen. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Archives and History, 2003.

________.  “The Search for Ananias Dare.” Searching for the Roanoke Colonies: An Interdisciplinary Collection, eds E. Thomson Shields and Charles R. Ewen. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Archives and History, 2003

________.  “Who were the Roanoke Colonists?” Raleigh and Quinn: The Explorer and His Boswell. H. G. Jones, ed.  Chapel Hill: The North Carolinia Society, 1987. Pp. 51-67.

________. “Roanoke Colonists and Explorers: An Attempt at Identification.” North  Carolina Historical Review. 34 (April 1957): 202-226.

Probasco, Nate. “Cartography as a Tool of Colonization: Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 Voyage to North America,” Renaissance Quarterly, 67 (Summer 2014), 425-472.

Quinn, David Beers. Quinn, David Beers.  Explorers and Colonies: America, 1500-1625. London: Hambledon Press, 1990.

________.   Set Fair for Roanoke: Voyages and Colonies, 1584-1606, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

________. “Drake, Sir Bernard,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 23, 2014,

________, ed., The Roanoke Voyages, 2 vols. London: Hakluyt Society, 1955.

________, ed., The Voyages and Colonizing Enterprises of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, London: Hakluyt Society, 1940.

Raffaele, Herbert A. and James W. Wiley.  Wildlife of the Caribbean.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Ralegh, Sir Walter.  The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana. Neil L. Whitehead, ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

Renaud, Tabitha. “Rivalry and Mutiny: The Internal Struggles of Sixteenth-Century North American Colonization Parties,” Terra Incognitae, 43 (April 2011), 24-38

Rountree, Helen C.  The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.

Rowse, A. L.  Sir Richard Grenville of the Revenge. London: Cape, 1937.

Schmidt, Ethan A. “The Well-Ordered Commonwealth: Humanism, Utopian Perfectionism, and the English Colonization of the Americas,” Atlantic Studies, 7 (Spring 2010), 309-328.

Schroeder, Sissel.  “Maize Productivity in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains of North America.” American Antiquity, 64 (July 1999), 499-516.

Schwartz, Frank Joseph.  Sharks, Skates and Rays of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Seed, Patricia.  Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492-1616.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Shaw, William A. The Knights of England. London: Sherratt and Hughes, 1906.

Sherman, William H. “Bringing the World to England: The Politics of Translation in the Age Of Hakluyt,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 14 (2004), 199-207

Shirley, John.  Thomas Harriot: A Biography. London: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Shirley, John, ed., Thomas Harriot: Renaissance Scientist, London: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Slattery, Britt, Katheryn Reshetiloff and Susan Zwicker, Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed, (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2003).

Silberhorn, Gene M. Common Plants of the Mid-Atlantic Coast: A Field Guide. Revised ed., Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Sloan, Kim.  A New World: England’s First View of America, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Speck, Frank G.  “Catawba Medicines and Curative Practices.” Publications of the Anthropological Society, 1 (1937), 179-197.

Stahle, David W., Malcom K. Cleaveland, Dennis B. Blanton, Matthew D. Therrell, and David, “The Lost Colony and Jamestown Droughts.” Science, New Series, Vol. 280, No., 5363 (24 April 1998), 564-567.

Stephenson, James.  Herring Fishermen: Images of an Eastern North Carolina Tradition.  Charleston: History Press, 2007.

Stick, David.  Roanoke Island: The Beginnings of English America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983.

Strachey, William. Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia, London: Hakluyt Society, 1849.

Sugden, John.  Sir Francis Drake.  New York: Random House, 1990.

Taylor, E. G. R., ed., The Original Writings and Correspondence of the Two Richard Hakluyts, 2 vols. London: Hakluyt Society, 1935).

Townshend, Camilla. Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, New York: Hill and Wang, 2005.

VanDerwarker, Amber M. “An Archaeological Study of Late Woodland Fauna in the Roanoke River Basin,” North Carolina Historical Review, 50 (January 2001), 1-46.

Vaughan, Alden T. Transatlantic Encounters: American Indians in Britain, 1500-1776,  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

________.  “Powhatans Abroad: Virginia Indians in England.” In Envisioning and English Empire: Jamestown and the Making of the North Atlantic World.  Eds. Robert Appelbaum and John Wood Sweet.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,   2005.

________. “Sir Walter Ralegh’s Indian Interpreters, 1584-1618,” William and Mary Quarterly, 59 (April 2002), 341-377.

Webb, Stephen Saunders.  The Governors-General: The English Army and the Definition of Empire, 1569-1681, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979).

Wernham, R. B.  The Making of Elizabethan Foreign Policy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

Whitaker, John O., Jr. and William J. Hamilton, Jr. Mammals of the Eastern United States. Reprint ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.

White, Sam. “’Shewing the Difference Betweene Their Conjuration, and our Invocation on the Name of god for Rayne’: Weather, Prayer, and Magic in Early American Encounters,” William and Mary Quarterly, 72 (January 2015), 33-56.

Whyte, Thomas R. “Reanalysis of Ichthyofaunal Specimens from Prehistoric Archaeological Sites on the Roanoke River in North Carolina and Virginia,” North Carolina Archaeology, 57 (October 2008), 97-107.

Wright, Irene A., ed.  Further English Voyages to Spanish America, 1583-1594. London: the Hakluyt Society, 1951.

The Crown Prince of Mar-A-Lago and Pocahontas’s People

I am teaching this semester a freshman writing seminar called “The Lost Colony.”  The students are reading an e-book version of David Beers Quinn’s The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590, which is now available from Routledge, and a copy of my book, The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand.  

For the first week of class I wanted the students to recognize the extent to which our understandings of the Roanoke ventures, and of early European expansion generally, are encrusted with a deep layer of myth.  In the past, I had the students read Paul Green’s play The Lost Colony, published by the University of North Carolina Press.  If you are on the Outer Banks in summer, by all means, slather up with bug spray and head on out to catch a performance.  It has changed over the years.  But the original 1937 version has not aged well, and I just could not subject myself, or the students, to that dreadful thing again. So we talked about “In Search Of,” a show I watched as a kid and that was hosted by Leonard Nimoy, and the recent “American Horror Story” series that connected some way back to Roanoke. Not much of an improvement, but I think they caught my drift.  Usually I mention David LaVere’s book on the goofy Dare Stones excitement in the 1930s, The Lost RocksIt’s an entertaining read, even if I do not agree with everything in the book.

Virginians claimed credit for the first successful settlement on American shores.  They arrived in the muck they called Jamestown in 1607.  The Pilgrims who set their feet on dry land at Plymouth Rock in 1620 received lots of attention, too.  But North Carolinians, late in the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries, argued that they deserved some attention, too.  It was at Roanoke, as speaker after speaker, and writer after writer claimed, where the first English child was born on American shores, and where the first baptism to English Christianity took place.  (To suggest that Americans look at the history of St. Augustine during these years was unheard of).  So I had the students read a collection of speeches that dignitaries delivered on Roanoke Island in 1907 to commemorate that glorious history, Thomas Pasteur Noe’s Pilgrimage to Roanoke Island.

According to Francis Winston, the lieutenant-governor of the Tarheel State and the event’s headliner, Roanoke was the opening chapter in “the story of the human race seeking liberty.”  While nobody who has looked at the surviving documents from Ralegh’s Roanoke ventures would agree that freedom mattered to the colonial promoters at all, Winston asserted that “the people who laid the foundations of colonization in this New World, were nearly all refugees, exiles, wanderers, pilgrims. They were urged across the ocean by a common impulse, and that impulse was the desire to escape from some form of oppression in the New World.”  And, of course, to escape that oppression, Winston wrote, the freedom-seeking adventurers encountered the region’s native peoples, “the savage red man, happy and free, in possession of fields, forests and streams.”

He roamed at large, a king among the beasts of the forest, but at best himself only an improved animal. Before this all-conquering race, he is gone and gone forever. He fulfilled none of the divine commands. He did not hunger and thirst after righteousness; he was not poor in spirit, nor pure in heart, nor meek, nor merciful. He could not inherit the earth. God’s law is a law of service.  That race shall survive and inherit the earth, which renders to the earth the greatest service: service of daily lives employed in useful labor, of hearts filled with love and unselfishness, of souls inspired with noble ideals, of heroic self-sacrifice and devotion to the higher interests of humanity.  The Indian is gone. The Negro is going.  The white man will survive in fulfillment of the laws of God. There is no room on earth today for vicious, incompetent and immoral races. White civilization is triumphant, because it is best; Christianity will rule the earth because it is a religion of love and service. The cannibal races of Africa, the idolatrous races in Asia, the savage Indian and the semi-civilized negro in America must all learn the laws of God, and fulfill them in their daily lives, or else pay the penalty of decay and final extinction.

That’s pretty racist, right?  But not all that far removed from the sort of stuff that those of us who teach Native American history hear all the time.  Listen to your favorite right-winger on the radio talk about Columbus Day. Or listen to Ben Shapiro, the knucklehead-hipster-conservative-pundit, who said as much about Native American cultures last October. These views are deeply held, deeply entrenched, widely-believed.  That Indians are doomed to disappear, are already gone, or are somehow inauthentic when they remind white Americans that they still are here, are beliefs too many Americans share. What Lt. Governor Winston said in 1907 about the Indians who once had lived on Roanoke Island has been said about Indians nearly everywhere throughout American history. Including Virginia. (Check out Brian Dippie’s old book, The Vanishing American, for examples of what I am talking about).

The same week that my students read Noe’s collection of speeches from Roanoke Island, came word that Congress, after many, many, years, had enacted legislation to extend federal recognition to six Virginia Indian tribes.  Congress passed a law in 1978 providing a process for recognizing and acknowledging Native American tribes, and that process is described in Native America, but Congress, with plenary authority over Indian affairs, can also enact specific legislation recognizing an American Indian community.  The Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017, which Congress sent to President Trump on 13 January, extends “Federal recognition to the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe–Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, Inc., the Monacan Indian Nation, and the Nansemond Indian Tribe.”  This is significant legislation, and I am hopeful that the Crown Prince of Mar-A-Lago will find time in his busy schedule to sign it into law.  But he might do even more.

Several decades ago, the great anthropologist Helen C. Rountree (nobody has written more on the Powhatan Indians of Virginia and their descendants) titled one of her studies Pocahontas’s People, a history of the Powhatans.  The six tribes named in the Thomasina Jordan bill are all part of that broader community.  President Trump, as readers of this blog will understand well, has regularly referred to his opponent Senator Warren as “Pocahontas.”  It is racist and unacceptable.  As I wrote in February of last year,

For President Trump, it seems, Native American identity can be determined by a quick glance.  He looked for certain characteristics and did not see them in the Pequots, or in Senator Warren. Centuries of intermarriage, enslavement, and the complex, messy, and tangled history of native peoples mattered in his determination not a bit.  For him, native peoples were individuals with certain easily distinguished racial features, and not members of political entities that possessed an inherent but limited sovereignty that predated the creation of the United States.

            But here’s the thing. Too many Americans share Trump’s views about who Indians are and what they ought to be.  Too many Americans view Indians as part of the past.  Think about the most commonly held stereotypes about Native Americans:  What images enter your mind? Ask your friends what they think. Chances are a lot of those images come from the past.

            And when we speak of Native Americans as being part of the past, we are aiding in an ongoing colonial project which erases native peoples in the present.  And if they are viewed as part of the past, or inauthentic, it becomes easier to dismiss the legitimacy of Native Americans, as individuals and as members of semi-sovereign nations, as being out of time and place and, as a consequence, irrelevant.  It becomes easier to ignore the very real problems of inequality and injustice in Indian Country; it becomes permissible to cheer for a football team with a racist name; or to silently assent to a President’s decision to authorize a pipeline through lands that a Native American community deems sacred. It also makes it possible to call into question the sovereign right of native nations to develop their economies, protect their lands, and against immense odds preserve their cultures.   When the President casts Indians as part of the past, he makes it more difficult for many Americans to recognize the importance of native peoples’ calls for justice today.

I wonder what the President will say if he holds a signing ceremony.  I wonder what words his speechwriters will place in front of him.  Will he invite representatives from the tribes to the White House? President Trump has been in office for just over a year, but the contempt he has shown towards native peoples is unmistakable. He has an opportunity, should he choose to use it, to explain that his name-calling was destructive and racist, that native peoples are still here, that they are still an essential part of the fabric of American life, as vital and important to this nation’s past and present as they ever have been.  He can explain to Americans that native nationhood matters.  He can show that the views expressed by Lt. Governor Winston, so widely shared 110 years ago, and shared still by too many Americans and by himself, were wrong and remain wrong. He can show the American people that native peoples are still here, and that their historical experiences matter.  I am not optimistic that he will be able to do that.