Seneca Possessed

Paul Harvey

From Choice, a quick hit review of a new book that should be of interest to many:

Dennis, Matthew. Seneca possessed: Indians, witchcraft, and power in the early American republic. Pennsylvania, 2010. 313p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780812242263, $45.00. Reviewed in 2010nov CHOICE.
This fascinating study examines how the Senecas struggled to maintain their community, autonomy, and land between 1780 and 1825. Dennis begins by describing the dangerous chaos that shook western New York in the wake of the Revolutionary War. He then analyzes the message and effects of the Seneca prophet Handsome Lake, including connections to the Second Great Awakening, and provides a nuanced view of how witch hunting before, during, and after served as "a unified defense of Seneca integrity and sovereignty." Next, the author examines the connections that the tribe developed with Quaker missionaries, who proved useful partly by providing needed technology and education and partly by acting as a "firebreak" against other, less compliant missionaries, but mostly by supporting the Senecas in their fight against efforts by the Ogden Land Company and the State of New York to take their land and autonomy. The book seems disjointed because of the separate Handsome Lake and Quaker-focused sections, but that is outweighed by its analysis of Seneca social and cultural change and continuity, and its examination of the connections between the tribe and the surrounding US culture. Summing Up:Recommended. All levels/libraries. -- D. R. Mandell, Truman State University


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