Part historical narrative, part textual analysis, this book traces the development of American Indian literature from the seventeenth century to the eve of the Civil War. Bernd C. Peyer focuses on the lives and writings of four prominent Indian missionaries—Samson Occom of the Mohegans, William Apess of the Pequots, Elias Boudinot of the Cherokees, and George Copway of the Ojibwa—each of whom struggled to negotiate a secure place between the imperatives of colonial rule and the rights of native peoples.
In the view of the English colonists and their descendants, Indian converts to Christianity were expected to repudiate native traditions and affirm the superiority of European civilization, to serve as role models, and to spread the gospel far into the wilderness. Yet as Bernd C. Peyer shows, Indian missionaries did not always fulfill the expectations of those who trained them. Once the Indians recognized that conversion alone did not guarantee protection from discrimination, they devised a variety of strategies, theological as well as practical, to resist assimilation into the dominant white culture. Making effective use of their literacy and education, they called attention to the discrepancy between the Protestant ideals they had been taught and the Anglo-American practices to which native people were subjected.
By uncovering this subtext of dissent and resistance, Peyer at once alters and enriches our understanding of the evolution of the American Indian literary tradition.