Multiple tomes grace bookshelves in libraries, book stores, and personal residences that depict various aspects of George Washington’s life and legacy. Historian Colin G. Calloway’s “The Indian World of George Washington” deserves a space on that bookshelf.
Long overdue, this volume about Washington fills a void, as “nothing was more central than the relationship between the first president and the first Americans” (pg. 4). From his first appearances in the greater colonial world in the early 1750s to the last years of his presidency, “a thick Indian strand runs through the life of George Washington as surely as it runs through the history of early America” (pg. 4).
The book is broken down into three chronological periods that Washington’s professional life mirrors: “Learning Curves” is the first section header and this details Washington’s upbringing and emergence into the European – Colonial America scene. This portion of the history describes the first contact between the young and impressionable Virginia and Native Americans.
From there, Calloway titles his second segment, “The Other Revolution,” which chronicles the last years before the American Revolution erupts and carries the reader through the years of that conflict and how the Native American world was affected. Washington’s role in the relationships between the patriots and natives also is examined. Lastly, the book concludes with “The First President and the First Americans” and a look into those last years in the public world and the interactions and ripples that reverberated from that precedent setting time. What cannot be lost in the fold of history is best described by Alexander Hamilton and captured by Calloway, “the young republic was hemmed in by Indian power and European powers” (pg. 326). This definitely creates the lens in which a lot of early American political decision making was founded on. Furthermore,
“despite his well-intentioned efforts to establish nation-to-nation relationships,
Washington’s Indian policies eroded the Indian rights he claimed to protect and
undermined the Indian sovereignty he claimed to respect” (pg. 492).
That point, in the last paragraph of the book, underscores the relationship that developed and even what good intentions could lead to. One good intention though was filling this void with an excellently researched and fast-flowing narrative deserving of the history enthusiast’s limited space on that crowded shelf.
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2018
Pages: 621 with images and notes