Date of Degree

6-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

History

Advisor

David Waldstreicher

Committee Members

Donna T. Haverty-Stacke

Andrew Robertson

Camilla Townsend

Subject Categories

American Material Culture | Cultural History | Ethnic Studies | Indigenous Studies | Intellectual History | Other American Studies | Political History | Public History | Social History | United States History

Keywords

New York, empire, biography, kinship, colonialism, decolonization

Abstract

This project is a history and memory study of Iroquois exceptionalism. This is an idea that shaped our understanding of the Iroquois as the “most studied” Indian nation and that they, as the debunked Iroquois Influence Thesis claimed, influenced the structure and scope of the U.S. Constitution. My study examines the lives of four related (by blood and by claim) Seneca leaders: Red Jacket, Ely S. Parker, Harriet Maxwell Converse, and Arthur C. Parker. These four stand out because each was one of the most famous Native Americans of their generation who worked within and against American colonial society and shaped how New Yorkers and Americans remembered the Iroquois and their history. Through deed and reputation, they created and then preserved an enduring vision of Iroquoian history told on Seneca terms in the American Revolution, through the rise of the Empire State, the era of Indian Removal, the Civil War and Indian Wars, the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, and the first half of the twentieth century.

Each chapter tells the story of a Seneca leader who made the mythological Iroquois “empire” central to the rise of the Empire State, wielded kinship as a weapon as well as a shield, told the history of the region in museums and in scholarship, influenced New York’s Indian policy, questioned contemporary notions of patriotism and belonging in American society, challenged what Americans thought Indians were “supposed” to look and act like, and shaped what we know of the Iroquois who, as Arthur Parker explained, were truly “amazing.”

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