Preston, David L.: The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783.

Author:Perreault, Melania
Position:Book review
 
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Preston, David L. The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009. x + 408 pages. Cloth, $45.00.

In The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers' of Iroquoia, 1667-1783, historian David Preston offers a nuanced, thoroughly researched analysis of European and Indian relationships on the frontiers of the Iroquois confederacy. Where previous scholars have described nearly unremitting conflict, Preston finds a world where violence was not inevitable and where daily interactions between the French, English, Iroquois, Dutch, Hurons, Abenakis and others were generally characterized by peaceful co-existence. While he acknowledges the bloodshed that did take place, Preston argues that in their focus on the actions of imperial elites, earlier historians have missed the important local relationships that dominated daily interaction on the frontier. Cultural negotiations took place not only in formal diplomatic meetings but also in the mundane acts of securing food, shelter, and land. Ironically, as Preston demonstrates, the very closeness of the intercultural relationships that were formed on the frontier made the violence of the mid-nineteenth century all the more devastating, as "both Indian and European settlers understood the war as a profound betrayal" (p. 149). The fighting was not between strangers who failed to understand cultural difference, asserts Preston, but between neighbors who had long-lasting, complex relationships.

The backcountry of Pennsylvania and New York is familiar ground to historians with an interest in European/Native American relations, and the narrative of racially charged violence has been a focus of numerous studies in the past. Where Francis Jennings saw an unrelenting invasion of European imperialists in The Invasion of America (1975), James Merrell identified a network of semi-professional cultural brokers mediating peace and war in Into the American Woods (2000). Most recently, Peter Silver's excellent Our Savage Neighbors' (2009) found the beginnings of racial consciousness being forged in the crucible of frontier violence. By examining local records that many historians have long overlooked, Preston is able to bring a fresh perspective to the field. What emerges is a sophisticated analysis that takes into consideration the variable conditions in settler communities on the...

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