Possessing Knowledge: Race and Culture in the Upper Great Lakes, 1790-1840

Lantz, Katie, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Taylor, Alan, AS-History, University of Virginia
Varon, Elizabeth, AS-History, University of Virginia

This dissertation traces the erosion of the middle ground, and rise of American power, in the upper Great Lakes, 1790-1840. It does so through a narrative of the intertwined Tanner, Johnston, and Schoolcraft families of Sault Ste. Marie. Born American, John Tanner became an Anishinaabe captive, then adopted kin, before settling in Sault Ste. Marie. Scottish immigrant John Johnston and his Ojibwe wife Oshaguscodawayquay traded for furs at Sault Ste. Marie, and raised eight trilingual, bicultural children. And Henry Schoolcraft came to the Sault in 1822 as an American Indian Agent, then married into the Johnston family to acquire their knowledge of their Anishinaabe kin.

Beginning in the 1820s, American federal officials commodified Anishinaabe knowledge as discrete pieces of information, seized Anishinaabe material and cultural resources, and reconstituted these fragments into their preferred narrative of Natives as the vanished ancestors of the United States. At the same time, elite Americans adopted increasingly hardened views of Indians as racial others, and imposed binary racial categories of white and non-white on the Great Lakes world of fluid kinship and culture. Over the fifty years I examine, Americans developed the power to manifest their narrative of themselves as the heirs to naturally vanished Indians—to achieve through narrative a cultural conquest that they could not achieve in fact. Anishinaabe people, unable to force Americans to treat them as empowered equals, turned inward toward secrecy, to protect their knowledge from American appropriation. By tracing the shifting kinship connections, alliances, and conflicts of the Tanner, Johnston, and Schoolcraft families, I examine how individuals navigated this transformation of power, race, and culture.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Anishinaabeg, Great Lakes, American Indian Policy, Henry R. Schoolcraft, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, John Tanner, Edwin James, Sault Ste. Marie, Lewis Cass, Michigan, Netnokwa, Métis, Fur trade, Ojibwe, Odawa
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