In The American Revolution in Indian Country, Colin Calloway presents a good quality account of Native Americans and their experiences during the American Revolution. He gives a thorough account of eight different Indian tribes and their struggle to preserve not only their lands but their sovereignty during the Revolutionary War. Calloway's take is that the tribes were communities, culturally different from each other, and his aim is to provide a better understanding what the Indians objectives were and how they responded to what was happening around them.
An in-depth study of these eight communities shows the ordeals they faced during the war years with the question of how the American Revolution affected Indians, regardless of whether they sided with the British, Colonists, or stayed neutral. The fact that each of these tribes was different from each other and Calloway's ability to examine those differences in great detail helps to better understand the Indian experience during the war years. As a result of his extensive research, and his background on Native American history, in particular the Abenakis, Calloway comes to the conclusion that there was no way that Native Americans were going to benefit from a civil war where the victor had plans for the land that didn't include Indians.
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History has taught us that the revolution that took place in North America was a conflict where American colonists were fighting for their freedom from oppressive British rule and that Indians only played a small part in it. The effect the war had on Native Americans has often been forgotten, for the most part because Indians were not united, they each had different goals, and their allegiances were different in each area of the colonies. Calloway changes this by giving glimpse into the Native Americans perspective. If Indians were not fighting with the British or the Americans against the other, they were fighting one another. Communities took the position they took for their own reasons without thinking about their neighboring communities or what their stance was.
In his first chapter, Calloway describes the response Indians had to a conflict that they believed wasn't their problem and one that they thought they shouldn't be involved in. It wasn't long after fighting started that Indians were being sought by both sides to take part in their cause. Calloway gives a good overview of the state of affairs between Indians and the British and Indians and the Colonists to summarize why tribes took the position they took. Indians whose position was one of impartiality at the start of the war, found it more and more difficult to stay neutral as the war went on.
In the middle chapters, Calloway explores the individual communities and their connection to the Revolutionary War. He starts with the Abenakis in the north and moves down to the Seminoles in Florida. Along the way, he explains the responses each community had to the conflict and how the Revolution was not a war where Indians fought against either British or Colonists, but how the Revolution forced Indians to fight among themselves. As communities lost people to war, they merged in an effort to get stronger. This caused internal strife as they sought to get along with each other and find a common identity.
Native Americans saw the conflict as a civil war between whites rather than a revolution. Each side was trying to enlist the Indians all up and down the eastern seaboard with mixed results. The Odanaks wanted to stay neutral to keep their independence. The Stockbridge fought on the side of the Colonials because they believed that was best for keeping their culture intact once the Americans were victorious. On the other hand, the Oquaga took the British side for the very same reason. The Niagara were no more than refugees in their own land, they lived off British support but stayed neutral. The Maquachakees were also not taking sides in the Ohio River Valley. The Chotas did not take sides during the war but suffered the same negative effects as the other tribes. They tried to remain independent of the British, Americans, and other Indian tribes but eventually fought other Indian communities for the resources that were in the past supplied by British or Americans but were cut off during the Revolution.
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Calloway is not out to depict Indians as supporters of the Colonialists nor is he trying to say they were against them. Instead, he shows that no matter what side they choose, all they really wanted was to safeguard their way of life. He is good at defending his point that Native Americans, while choosing sides, did not fight for either the British or Americans, they fought for themselves and their survival. There were Indians who supported the British, mainly because they wanted to protect the long-standing trade of goods, arms, and ammunition they had relied on for years and in case they needed an ally against land hungry Americans. There were Indians who supported the Americans because once the British were gone, they believed that they would be able to resume the way of life they were accustomed to, on their own land.
Calloway argues that despite staying neutral or taking one side or the other, all eight communities lost out. The loss was not only their independence but their lands and way of life as Americans started expanding their territory and moving west, settling on Indian land along the way. He uses The American Revolution in Indian Country to cast Native Americans in their own light during this pivotal era in American history, detailing their experiences as Indians, not as members of the British or American Colonies. In the end, as Calloway explains, "whether they sided with rebels, redcoats, neither, or both" Indians were not much different from the colonists saying that they were "fighting for their freedom" (p. xiii) and the outcome for them ended in a tragedy.