From the Iroquois confederacy serving as a model for the US Constitution, to the connections between the matrilineal Iroquois and the woman suffrage movement, to the living legacy of the famous “Sky Walkers,” the steelworkers who built the Empire State Building and the George Washington Bridge, the Iroquois are viewed as an exceptional people who helped make the state’s history unique and forward-looking.
The new book “The Amazing Iroquois” and the Invention of the Empire State (Oxford University Press, 2023) by John C. Winters, Ph.D. takes a look at the connections between the Iroquois and New York’s modern and democratic culture.
John C. Winters contends that this vision was not manufactured by Anglo-Americans but was created and spread by an influential, multi-generational Seneca-Iroquois family. From the American Revolution to the Cold War, Red Jacket, Ely S. Parker, Harriet Maxwell Converse (adopted), and Arthur C. Parker used the tools of a colonial culture to shape aspects of contemporary New York culture in their own peoples’ image.
The result was the creation of “The Amazing Iroquois,” an historical memory that entangled indigenous self-definition, colonial expectations about racial stereotypes and Native American politics, and the personalities of the people who cultivated and popularized that memory. Through the imperial politics of the eighteenth century to pioneering museum exhibitions of the twentieth, these four Seneca celebrities packaged and delivered Iroquoian stories to the broader public in defiance of the contemporary racial stereotypes and settler colonial politics that sought to bury them.
Owing to their skill, fame, and the timely intervention of Iroquois leadership, this family showcases the lasting effects of indigenous agents who fashioned a popular and long-lasting historical memory that made the Iroquois an obvious and foundational part of New Yorkers’ conception of their own exceptional state history and self-identity.
John C. Winters is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southern Mississippi and ITPS Research Associate in New York History at the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies at Iona College. A public historian, he has also worked in historic homes, museums, and other institutions.
Book Purchases made through this Amazon link support the New York Almanack’s mission to report new publications relevant to New York State.
See more new books HERE.
N. Couture says
The U.S. Constitution, as well as the earlier Articles of Confederation were based on the Kayanerehkowa, or the Great Law of Peace brought by The Peace Maker (a Huron). in creating the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. (See Ben Franklin and the Albany Papers).
James S. Kaplzn says
You should mention the 1790 Treaty of New York in which members of the Tammany Society led by Colonel Marinus Willett negotiated on behalf of George Washington and the U.S. government (then headquarterd at Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan) a major peace treaty with the 27 chiefs of the Creek Nation led by Alexander McGilvary opening the way for American settlement of Alabama and Georgia. Legend has it that at the final
ceremony everyone swore fealty to the principles of Chief Tammany of the Delawares who had signed the peace treaty with William Penn creating the City of Philadelphia and believed that native Americans and Europeans could profitably work together.
The Tammany Society would be the major force in New York City politics for the next 160
years. Though at times stained with corruption its promotion of
chief Tammany’s belief in harmony among various ethnic groups would lead the City to be one of the largest and most important in the World.