The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America
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Frontier: the word carries the inevitable scent of the West. But before Custer or Lewis and Clark, before the first Conestoga wagons rumbled across the Plains, it was the East that marked the frontier—the boundary between complex Native cultures and the first colonizing Europeans.
Here is the older, wilder, darker history of a time when the land between the Atlantic and the Appalachians was contested ground—when radically different societies adopted and adapted the ways of the other, while struggling for control of what all considered to be their land.
The First Frontier traces two and a half centuries of history through poignant, mostly unheralded personal stories—like that of a Harvard-educated Indian caught up in seventeenth-century civil warfare, a mixed-blood interpreter trying to straddle his white and Native heritage, and a Puritan woman wielding a scalping knife whose bloody deeds still resonate uneasily today. It is the first book in years to paint a sweeping picture of the Eastern frontier, combining vivid storytelling with the latest research to bring to life modern America’s tumultuous, uncertain beginnings.
appearance, although he was present at many of the most decisive moments in the long struggle for the Ohio country. We know he was Scots-Irish, one of the wave of emigrants in 1741 escaping widespread famine caused by poor weather in Ireland. There are suggestions that he grew up in Dublin, and in later years, when some questioned his loyalty to England, suggesting he was a French-loving papist, the governor of Pennsylvania assured his nervous counterpart in Maryland that Croghan “has never been
occupied by the Dorset or assimilating the last survivors of that culture into their own. In just a century or two, they reached Greenland. The First Frontier was a mind-bogglingly fecund land. An eagle flying anywhere between the northern timberline and the Gulf of Mexico would have seen, reflecting the sky like countless mirrors, the carefully dammed ponds of tens of millions of beavers. There were passenger pigeon flocks, just one of which (more than three centuries later) would be
over the bows. These boats were not the big, seagoing woleskaolakw—giant dugouts carved from the trunks of great pines, canoes built to carry fifteen people. Though nearly twenty feet long, these bark canoes were small craft in big waters, and while the men were skilled, they knew disaster lay just a careless moment or unexpected wave away. But a loon called, distant in the fog, and another answered it unseen—long, unearthly wails quavering over the water—and the men smiled at one another. The
it onto the field, not noticing when the English gun crew repositioned it to cover the Indians. As planned, the Abenaki “attacked” first, all the men firing their single-shot muskets into the air in one loud, harmless volley. Suddenly, their own weapons empty, they found themselves facing soldiers with loaded guns leveled at them and realized that the cannon, too, was aimed in their direction. There are reports that the cannon actually went off, killing some of the warriors, but most accounts say
contract gangrene. But Gyles was a survivor. His captors gave him rags with which to bandage his feet and told him to treat the tender flesh with gum from the balsam fir. As a slave, he was responsible for his own care, so he scuttled about the snow on his rear end, pushing himself with sticks from tree to tree, gathering gum that he melted over the fire to make a salve. Within a week, he could walk gingerly on his heels, supporting himself with a staff. By the time the band was ready to move a