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Writing Indians: Literacy, Christianity, and Native Community in Early America

University of Massachusetts Press

By Hilary E. Wyss
Posted January 1, 2000
Tags Alumni Books Faculty Books
A study of cultural encounter, this book takes a fresh look at the much ignored and often misunderstood experience of Christian Indians in early America. Focusing on New England missionary settlements from the mid-seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries, Hilary E. Wyss examines the ways in which Native American converts to Christianity developed their own distinct identity within the context of a colonial culture.

With an approach that weaves together literature, religious studies, and ethno-history, Wyss grounds her work in the analysis of a rarely read body of "autobiographical" writings by Christian Indians, including letters, journal entries, and religious confessions. She then juxtaposes these documents to the writings of better known Native Americans like Samson Occom as well as to the published works of Anglo-Americans, such as Mary Rowlandson's famous captivity narrative and Eleazor Wheelock's accounts of his charity schools.

In their search for ostensibly "authentic" Native voices, scholars have tended to overlook the writings of Christian Indians. Yet, Wyss argues, these texts reveal the emergence of a dynamic Native American identity through Christianity. More specifically, they show how the active appropriation of New England Protestantism contributed to the formation of a particular Indian identity that resisted colonialism by using its language against itself.

Reviews

"This book will fill a crucial gap in Native American literary studies. While there have been biographical studies of some of the figures Wyss discusses, and works focusing on individual authors of this period, there is no other critical work that brings such diverse forms of writing—missionary tracts, captivity narratives, diplomatic exchanges—together. This is well-researched, necessary scholarship." - Michael A. Elliott, Emory University

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