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Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America Paperback – August 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The mid-Atlantic colonies of 18th-century America were home to a remarkable diversity of immigrants—Germans, Quakers, Moravians, Englishmen and French, among others. In this exhaustively researched and elegantly written study, Princeton historian Silver asks how all the Europeans lived side by side. The answer, Silver says, is that they were solidified into a single people during the Seven Years' War in the 1750s by the fear of Indian attack. The motley Europeans morphed into white people, defined in opposition to Indians. (An intriguing appendix reveals that colonial newspapers tended to use the adjective white to describe people principally during bouts of Indian war.) But not everyone with pale skin became part of this new people—the most fascinating sections of the book explore why some European settlers, such as Quakers (who were accused of betraying white people's interests), were excluded from the collective. Silver also shows how fears of Indian menace were taken up during the Revolution: patriots shored up a distinctive American identity and claimed that the British were engaging in Indian-like atrocities, such as scalping and cannibalism. Silver's study will change the way scholars think about whiteness and will reshape our understanding of how 13 distinct colonies were knit together into one nation. 13 illus., 2 maps. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Penetrates searchingly into a dark chapter of Colonial history. "

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (August 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393334902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393334906
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is not, and is not meant to be, the standard book on the French and Indian War that so many readers seem to be anticipating.

Silver states his intentions very clearly in his Introduction:

"This book is about how fear and horror, with suitable repackaging, can remake whole societies and their political landscapes. The societies in question are the middle provinces of British North America--a collection of rural colonies strung along the center of the Atlantic seaboard, joining Indian country to the ocean--during a long generation of wars from the 1750s to the 1780s." [pg xviii]

As the story opens, race relations in Pennsylvania had been relatively amicable for several generations. Many Native Americans had been Christianized and a significant number of Indians could speak English, German, or both, as well as their native tongues. Now millions of new immigrants were arriving in droves in Philadelphia, upsetting the established social balance.

When the Seven Years War broke out in Europe it soon became evident that the lands and inhabitants of the British and French colonies were being used as playing chips in a bloody global game, and that both Great Britain and France were stirring up the American Indians.

As the stakes in the European game grew higher, journalists and pamphleteers whipped the colonial population into a frenzy. Negative campaigning, fear-mongering, slogans and symbolic gestures such as carting the dead through the streets of major cities, escalated.

As the publicity campaign grew more vicious, so did reactions of previously neutral people. Quakers turned against Quakers, Native Americans against Native Americans, Germans against the English, Scots-Irish Presbyterians against everyone.
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Format: Hardcover
Peter Silver has achieved something quite extraordinary with this book. It's a brilliant meditation on the formation of an American identity in the violent years of conflict between 1755 and 1789. In these years, Silver argues, colonists were both enraptured and appalled by the spectre of Indian attacks on the frontier of their settlements. By centering his examination on the "Middle Colonies" - really Pennsylvania - he is able to tease out the ways Germans, Scots-Irish, Quakers, Moravians, and the numerous other small ethnic enclaves in the region became bound by the "anti-Indian sublime" - a form of writing and communication that left every man woman and child fearing for their lives.

The great irony, of course, is that Pennsylvania had perhaps the most peaceful and nonviolent Indian population in the American colonies. But that was really beside the point. What these people needed was a way to distinguish themselves from the European brothers as the Revolution became a reality. What better than to focus on the trials and tribulations they had suffered in the savage wilderness of America? The amalgamation of different groups under the mantle of "American" was not a product of some enlightened democratic spirit, but one born out of fear. To be American was to have survived a life on the edge of a howling wilderness that held grave secrets and dangerous animals just waiting to take their children.

There is no mistake that America's first great novelist, James Fenimore Cooper, wrote about such themes. It was what defined the uniquely American experience of the 18th century...it was what made Americans exceptional. There remains much more to be said on the subject, but Silver has set a very high bar indeed.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To the extent that all our history is but a conduit back to our collective national memory, this sophisticated book chips away at the "Rosetta Stone" coiled in the nation's bosom: It uncovers one of the key sources of our obsession with the issue of race, and racism.

But race, in this context has to do, not so much with black and white issues, as with red and white issues. Unlike the familiar tracts on how whiteness evolved, (Such as Winthrop D. Jordan's "White over Black," or Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race") that tend to carry the heavy odor of a socialist axe to grind (which is to say most of them), this one has no ideological axe to wield. And the very fact that it took so long to uncover this rather innocent but imminently common sense and believable thesis is itself no small measure of how deep our national denial on the issue of race really is.

What this brilliant author and researcher tells us is that the white race has not been in existence for time immemorial (as the committed racists tell themselves - even claiming Greek and Roman history as part of a common "white heritage," and pedigree), but was invented in the aftermath of the "Seven Year War," by demagogues, and scam-artists, pamphleteers, and other peddlers of the print medium, whose tactics even today would make Madison Avenue "Ad Men" blush.

As the story is told here, during, and in the aftermath of the war between England and France, the disparate tribes on opposing sides of that war, for their own respective existential imperatives, found for the first time, ways to coalesce as groups in order to fight each other in that war.
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