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In the context of a wider study of the evolution through time of relationships between Indigenous peoples, settlers and the British empire though the example of three family histories, this initial chapter starts in the borderlands between the lands of the Haudenosaunee and colonial New York just before the revolution. It re-reads the well-known histories of Haudenosaunee siblings Joseph and Molly Brant (Thayendenegea and Konwatsienni) and of British Superintendent of Indians William Johnson, Molly Brant’s partner, in a wider regional context. The chapter takes the Mohawk Valley as an example of a context in which the empire was compelled to accept to some extent the models of incorporation, including the creation of kinship links designed to foster mutual obligations, used by Indigenous people who were still key military allies. At the same time, William Johnson also used household power (including the ownership of enslaved people) to attempt to dominate a complex society. Before the Revolution, people in Mohawk Valley borderlands lived in a state of uneasy equilibrium, held together in part by the empire’s military need of an alliance with the Haudenosaunee, even as regional violence made relationships increasingly untenable.
This chapter examines the American Revolution in the territory of the Six Nations and in colonial New York as an example of the shift in power to settlers and settler rejection of Indigenous modes of alliance that also typified the expansion of settler colonialism elsewhere. In borderland regions, the American Revolution was also a land war. Ethnic cleansing and warfare broke many of such fragile bonds of kinship (real and fictive) as existed between settlers and Indigenous peoples, even as the metaphor of brotherhood was important to Ranger groups in which Indigenous and settler soldiers fought together. Difference was entrenched through violence. Specific examples of the politics of kinship examined include nineteenth-century settler family stories about warfare, including stories about Joseph Brant, who was often taken as a symbol of settler relationships with the Six Nations; changing practices of captive-taking on the part of the Six Nations; complex relationships between white and Indigenous soldiers; and the breaking of kinship links between the Six Nations themselves, in which the Brants played a significant role.
Empire, Kinship and Violence traces the history of three linked imperial families in Britain and across contested colonial borderlands from 1770 to 1842. Elizabeth Elbourne tracks the Haudenosaunee Brants of northeastern North America from the American Revolution to exile in Canada; the Bannisters, a British family of colonial administrators, whistleblowers and entrepreneurs who operated across Australia, Canada and southern Africa; and the Buxtons, a family of British abolitionists who publicized information about what might now be termed genocide towards Indigenous peoples while also pioneering humanitarian colonialism. By recounting the conflicts that these interlinked families were involved in she tells a larger story about the development of British and American settler colonialism and the betrayal of Indigenous peoples. Through an analysis of the changing politics of kinship and violence, Elizabeth Elbourne sheds new light on transnational debates about issues such as Indigenous sovereignty claims, British subjecthood, violence, land rights and cultural assimilation.
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