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Firsting and Lasting

Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England

Jean M. O’Brien
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Firsting and Lasting
    Book Description:

    Firsting and Lasting argues that local histories became a primary means by which European Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples. Drawing on more than six hundred local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, Jean M. O’Brien explores how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7367-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Author’s Note on Sources
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction Indians Can Never Be Modern
    (pp. xi-xxvi)

    On June 3, 1856, Harvard legal scholar Emory Washburn, fresh from a brief term as governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, stood to address the people of Bridgewater on the two hundredth anniversary of its legal incorporation.¹ They were gathered, he proclaimed, “to lay the offerings of cherished memories and honest pride upon altars which our fathers reared here in years that are past.”² Washburn’s account participated in a robust tradition of southern New England ancestor worship, and it grounded that story locally. The original inhabitants of the land that became Bridgewater barely registered in his address, although the way...

  5. Chapter 1 Firsting Local Texts Claim Indian Places As Their Own
    (pp. 1-54)

    Enoch Sanford named his 1870 narrativeHistory of Raynham, Massachusetts, from the First Settlement to the Present Time.¹ Sanford’s title for his fifty-one-page survey of local history resembled those given many other histories. Slight variations on this formulaic approach to naming abounded in nineteenth-century local texts. Take, for example, Myron O. Allen’sThe History of Wenham, Civil and Ecclesiastical, from Its Settlement in 1639, to 1860, Abiel Abbot’sHistory of Andover, from Its Settlement to 1829, Elias Nason’sA History of the Town of Dunstable, Massachusetts, from Its Earliest Settlement to the Year of Our Lord 1873, and Sidney Perley’s...

  6. Chapter 2 Replacing Historical Practices Argue That Non-Indians Have Supplanted Indians
    (pp. 55-104)

    Local narrators in New England simultaneously embraced and replaced Indian peoples in shaping their story about New England history, collectively arguing for the primacy of the new modern social order they claimed as their hallmark. Their accounts of the past, present, and future entailed a process of physically and imaginatively replacing Indians on the landscape of New England. That is, they formulated a history that negated previous Indian history as a “dead end” (literally), supplanting it with a glorious New England history of just relations and property transactions rooted in American diplomacy that legitimated their claims to the land and...

  7. Chapter 3 Lasting Texts Purify the Landscape of Indians by Denying Them a Place in Modernity
    (pp. 105-144)

    Thomas Gray’s poem “Change,” which was read at the commemoration of the English arrival in Roxbury in 1830, provides a fascinating window on a crucial theme of nineteenth-century local narration in connection to what might be thought of as the temporalities of race.¹ Even though Indians are not the explicit focus of his poem, the implicit argument posed is that Indians reside in an ahistorical temporality in which they can only be the victims of change, not active subjects in the making of change. These ideas about Indian timelessness relegate Indians to the past by suggesting that they were passive...

  8. Chapter 4 Resisting Claims in Texts about Indian Extinction Fail Even As They Are Being Made
    (pp. 145-200)

    The temporalities of race that insisted Indians remain mired in a static past blinded New Englanders to an important fact: Indians resisted their effacement from New England in the nineteenth century by embracing change in order to make their way in a changing world, as they had done for centuries. Their ongoing resistance to settler colonialism took multiple forms and translated into their survival as Indian peoples. Driven to understand Indianness through a degeneration narrative about race that insisted on blood purity and coupled with an understanding of Indians reckoned within the temporalities of race, non-Indians failed to accord Indian...

  9. Conclusion The Continuing Struggle over Recognition
    (pp. 201-206)

    In 2000 the U.S. Census Bureau implemented a dramatic change in enumerating “race” and especially in how it counted American Indians. Rather than insisting upon a unitary classification of race and employing the monolithic category “American Indian or Native Pacific Islander,” this census permitted respondents to designate more than one race, and it elicited precise tribal information. These new guidelines yielded fascinating and complex grids of information for Indian America. For southern New England, the Census Bureau reported a total of 16,333 respondents residing there in 2000 who, alone or in any combination of races, proclaimed their Indianness. The census...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 207-210)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 211-260)
  12. Index
    (pp. 261-269)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)