The latest article by the CWU history department's newest tenure-track hire Brian Carroll, a specialist in colonial and Revolutionary America, has just been published in the September 2012 issue of the renowned New England Quarterly. The article advances historical understanding of the role of Indians in the American military by shedding light on the experience of Native Americans who served in Gorham's Rangers, an all-Indian ranger company in the colonial British Army.
Savages in the Service of Empire chronicles Gorham's Rangers' operations in the war-torn borderlands of the colonial northeast during the mid-eighteenth century and positions the unit within larger historical debates over the evolution of a uniquely American way of war during the era, characterized by guerilla warfare and extreme forms of interracial frontier violence. The colonial officers along with the mostly Wampanoag rank and file members of the unit together fashioned a way of fighting that drew on both European and Native precedents, as well as the personal experiences of many of its members in the early whaling industry on Cape Cod, and tailored it to the exigencies of imperial frontier warfare. In the process they helped revolutionize Euro-American tactics during the French and Indian Wars and served as the model for subsequent frontier ranger units.
However, the costs for the Indian men who served in the company were high. Many enlisted because they were poor and struggling in the new colonial economy and society which had transformed their lives since being conquered by the English in the previous generation. Seen as a way to recapture former glory and once again gain honor and prestige as warriors while earning excellent wages, enlisting in the colonial army, on the surface, seemed to reinforce many aspects of Indian culture and provide clear material benefits. However, more often than not, rather than glory and reward, it was combat fatalities, death from disease or injury, or brutal captivity in French or Indian communities in Canada that characterized the experience of most indigenous men who joined. As a result, over time fewer Indian men were available to staff the ranger corps and so Anglo-Americans gradually replaced the Indian members. Despite dwindling to a small minority within the company, Indians nevertheless remained a key element within the unit, and the force continued to practice the unique style of warfare pioneered by the original Native members of the company.
The full article is available for download from the MIT Press website here.
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Helen Szablya reads selections from her book, My Only Choice, 1942-56 Hungary, on Wednesday, May 15,CWU History Professor Wins Prestigious Labriola National Book Prize
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