The Indians' New World

Catawbas and Their Neighbors From European Contact Through the Era of Removal
James H. Merrell
Cloth price: $22.95
Publisher: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press
Imprint: OIEAHC
Cloth/Hardcover Publication Date: 06/2009
Pages: 400
Cloth ISBN: 9780807871362


This book is an eloquent account of the native peoples of the Carolina piedmont who became known as the Catawba Nation. James Merrell brings the Catawbas more fully into American history by tracing how they underwent that most fundamental of American experiences: adapting to a new world. Arguing that European colonists and African slaves created a society that was as alien--as new--to Indians as American itself was to the newcomers, Merrell follows the Catawbas from their first contact with Europeans in the sixteenth century until their accommodation to a changing America was largely complete some three centuries later.

Heretofore, scholarship has mostly ignored that adaptation of native Americans to the new American cultural and physical milieu and has instead dwelt on warfare, expropriation, suppression, and annihilation. Attempts to incorporate native peoples into the mainstream of American history have usually taken the form of lists of Indian "contributions" to American culture or, conversely, a solemn paean to Indian respect for nature.

This chronicle of the Catawbas takes note of all of the above. But its center is the Catwabas' encounter with the colonists and their entourage: unfamiliar diseases, crown diplomats, trade goods, and Christian missionaries. Each of those required creative responses, which transformed Catawba life rather than destroyed it. Natives constructed new societies in the aftermath of epidemics, assimilated both traders and their enticing goods into established cultural forms, came to terms with settlers, and fended off missionaries. Through it all, the Catawbas endured--as soldiers in the Revolution, as landlords and landladies on their reservation, as potters and farmers--retaining their Indian identity, remaining in their piedmont home, and becoming a part of the American mosaic.

Absorbing archeology, anthropology, and folklore into his vast historical research, Merrell provides what will be the definitive history of the Catawbas. The book also signals a new direction for the study of native Americans and will serve as a model for their reintegration into American history.


A vivid reconstruction of the Indians' experience of disastrous contacts with alien people and diseases and the nation-rebuilding that they undertook afterward. And there is a realistic emphasis throughout the book on how Indian society, rather than collapsing, adapted to changing conditions. . . . Outstanding.--American Historical Review

Merrell offers a fresh perspective in this stimulating study of the Catawbas. . . . [He] has moved historians closer to incorporating Native Americans into the history of America as an ever-present force.--Choice

One of the most carefully crafted and smoothly written narratives I have ever read.--The Journal of Southern History

This thoroughly researched and gracefully written book sets a new standard in American Indian history.--Journal of American Ethnic History

Working with difficult evidence and supplementing his reading of the historical record with material from anthropology, folklore, and archaeology, Merrell has produced a well-written and impressive study.--The Journal of American History

Only a genuine scholar and fascinating writer could have paid tribute as James Merrell has done.--Francis Jennings, Director Emeritus, D'Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian, The Newberry Library

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