Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Professional Indian

Professional Indian: The American Odyssey of Eleazer Williams

Michael Leroy Oberg
Daniel K. Richter
Kathleen M. Brown
Max Cavitch
David Waldstreicher
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 280
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Professional Indian
    Book Description:

    Born in 1788, Eleazer Williams was raised in the Catholic Iroquois settlement of Kahnawake along the St. Lawrence River. According to some sources, he was the descendant of a Puritan minister whose daughter was taken by French and Mohawk raiders; in other tales he was the Lost Dauphin, second son to Louis XVI of France. Williams achieved regional renown as a missionary to the Oneida Indians in central New York; he was also instrumental in their removal, allying with white federal officials and the Ogden Land Company to persuade Oneidas to relocate to Wisconsin. Williams accompanied them himself, making plans to minister to the transplanted Oneidas, but he left the community and his young family for long stretches of time. A fabulist and sometime confidence man, Eleazer Williams is notoriously difficult to comprehend: his own record is complicated with stories he created for different audiences. But for author Michael Leroy Oberg, he is an icon of the self-fashioning and protean identity practiced by native peoples who lived or worked close to the centers of Anglo-American power.

    Professional Indianfollows Eleazer Williams on this odyssey across the early American republic and through the shifting spheres of the Iroquois in an era of dispossession. Oberg describes Williams as a "professional Indian," who cultivated many political interests and personas in order to survive during a time of shrinking options for native peoples. He was not alone: as Oberg shows, many Indians became missionaries and settlers and played a vital role in westward expansion. Through the larger-than-life biography of Eleazer Williams,Professional Indianuncovers how Indians fought for place and agency in a world that was rapidly trying to erase them.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9214-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PROLOGUE. On the Northern Line
    (pp. 1-14)

    The Reverend John Holloway Hanson boarded the Northern, or Ogdensburg, Railroad in the autumn of 1851. Leaving for good his home way up in St. Lawrence County, Hanson planned on attending the Episcopal Diocesan Convention in New York City before beginning his next assignment as a missionary chaplain at Calvary Chapel, spreading the word of God to Protestant immigrants in the spiritual wilds of Lower Manhattan. Hanson did not look forward to his new job, and he left northern New York with many regrets.¹

    Since 1846 Hanson had served as rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waddington, a beautiful...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Pilgrim and Patriot
    (pp. 15-48)

    Eleazer Williams’s family could trace its roots deep into the rocky soil of New England’s past, and his story rested at the core of the region’s long and violent history. Born in 1788 at or near Sault Ste. Louis in Lower Canada, a place known to the Mohawks as Kahnawake, Williams wrote in the draft of an early autobiography that his “father was the great grandson of the Rev. John Williams of Deerfield.” Even Sunday school children in New England learned that the well-known Indian missionary Eleazer Williams descended “from Rev. John Williams … in the town of Deerfield, a...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Soldier of Christ
    (pp. 49-76)

    In the weeks and months following their first meeting on the Northern Line, Eleazer Williams and John Holloway Hanson remained in touch. Their correspondence, which must have been extensive, has not survived. Nevertheless, they met on a number of occasions—in Albany, in New York City, and in Hoboken, New Jersey, where, Hanson’s sister recalled, Williams regularly visited the family home. Williams must have provided Hanson with drafts of the autobiography he never published, copies of his correspondence, and a range of newspaper clippings documenting his career. They spoke for hours. Hanson took notes. He gathered his evidence, looking for...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Prospect of Great and Good Things
    (pp. 77-106)

    Eleazer Williams may have led in the effort to relocate the New York Indians, but he was not alone, and a surging white population, aggressive land speculators, and the economic and commercial development of the Empire State conspired at the same time to push the Indians out. Native peoples did not need Eleazer Williams to explain to them that they might improve their lives by leaving New York State. Indeed, Indian land sales in New York predated Williams’s arrival in the Oneida country. They continued for more than two decades after he left. Still, no single figure has been more...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR A Failed Performance
    (pp. 107-137)

    Close to five thousand Iroquois remained in New York State when Williams delivered his Fourth of July speech in 1823. Neddy Archiquette, a chief of the First Christian Party, led close to one hundred Oneida Christians to Wisconsin that year, but some of these returned home shortly thereafter. Oneida leaders like Daniel Bread attempted to persuade others in New York that removal offered an alternative to watching white settlers steadily overrun their lands. The Indians heard as well from federal officials like Thomas McKenney who wanted them to sell their lands and then find new homes away from the ravages...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Life of a Misanthrope
    (pp. 138-163)

    Eleazer Williams “languished for want of support” during the years he served as a missionary, and now found himself “indigent.” He sent a bill to Daniel Bread for his services to the Oneidas. It was an act of pique, and a reflection of his powerlessness to undo the changes that had come to his life. Though the Oneidas of the First Christian Party remained “exceedingly anxious that our children should be educated as white children are,” they told their federal agent George Boyd that they could not “bear the expense of paying a teacher” and that they would not consider...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Confidence Man
    (pp. 164-196)

    Eleazer Williams once had been well known as a missionary. He never seems to have wavered in his belief in the importance of bringing Christianity to native peoples, even if his own efforts in that endeavor lacked consistency. Federal officials involved in American Indian policy, and the land speculators in league with them who coveted Iroquois land, valued the assistance he gave them in dispossessing the New York Indians and leading some of them to Wisconsin. For a time it seems that he shared their goals, if not all their motives, because he saw removal as a way to insulate...

  11. CONCLUSION. The Last of Eleazer Williams
    (pp. 197-208)

    Early in 1858 Eleazer Williams met with Asher Wright, the long-serving Presbyterian missionary to the Senecas with whom he had been acquainted for more than a quarter century. They met at the Merchants’ Hotel in Albany. Williams, Wright wrote later, had told him much over the years about “what he knew of his own history.” Williams had explained to Wright how “he became early aware that he was watched and cared for by distinguished strangers, who kept themselves constantly informed of everything which concerned him.” Wright recalled that when he recited the well-rehearsed story of his encounter with Joinville, Williams’s...

  12. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 209-210)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 211-256)
  14. Index
    (pp. 257-268)
    (pp. 269-270)