Monday, February 1, 2010

Eric Hinderaker's "The Two Hendricks"

Eric Hinderaker is Professor of History, University of Utah.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Two Hendricks: Unraveling a Mohawk Mystery, and reported the following:
For three quarters of a century before its American colonies declared their independence, the British Empire competed with France and Spain for North American territory. In this competition, Indian relations were supremely important, and the Iroquois Confederacy came to be regarded as crucial to the fate of British North America. The Iroquois gained a mythic status as a uniquely powerful and enlightened Indian polity.

How did this come to be the case? And how can the myth of the Iroquois Confederacy be squared with the reality of an embattled string of villages fighting for their very survival?

Two Iroquois Indians, both named Hendrick and long thought to be a single person, help explain this puzzle. Both played important roles in diplomatic relations with the neighboring colonies of New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. They also became famous in London and throughout the empire, where they symbolized both the power and the civility of the Iroquois.

Page 99 of The Two Hendricks discusses the impact of the first Hendrick’s visit to London, where he met the queen and many leading men of state, had his portrait painted, and made a dramatic impression on the public. He was seen, not as a savage, but as a civil Christian. This was a transformative moment in the public understanding of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Among their own people, meanwhile, the two Hendricks calculated the interests of their communities and labored to maintain the confederacy’s power. They argued for the benefits of the British alliance even as their circumstances became more and more precarious. From their perspective, a close tie to Great Britain seemed to offer the best chance for survival.

We know enough about only a handful of Indians from the colonial era to support a biography. But the lives of both Hendricks are richly documented, and they emerge from the records as surprisingly vivid characters, with a significance that reaches far beyond the scope of their own lives. The Two Hendricks tells a richly detailed story that will change the way you think of early American history.
Read an excerpt from The Two Hendricks, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue