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The Ohio Wyandots: Religion and Society on the Sandusky River, 1795-1843


The preponderance of Native American histories of the Old Northwest traditionally have examined macro-regional trends, particularly those related to warfare, trade, and the attrition of indigenous sovereignty in the face of European/American expansion. A number of recent studies have begun to dig deeper into the details of indigenous life in the region, but usually in the context of Indian Removal. This study attempts to shift the focus to a microhistorical examination of a single indigenous community, the Wyandot people in the Sandusky River region in modern northwest Ohio. I argue that training the analytical lens on the Wyandots reveals a much more complicated history than most existing studies have considered, especially after the War of 1812 (when most studies tend to end with the collapse of effective military resistance to American expansion). This study reveals a community in the midst of tremendous cultural changes, especially in regards to questions of religious adherence/identity, economic change, social structural changes, and perceptions of the importance of race and cultural identity. This dissertation considers these changes, especially the linkages (and non-linkages) between these varieties of social and religious change. Most importantly, this study seeks to recover both the complex lives of the Ohio Wyandots and the human agency they exercised in the roughly fifty years between the signing of the Treaty of Greenville and the removal of the bulk of the Wyandots in 1843. Framed within the legacies of both historical studies of missions and studies of contemporary indigenous communities, this dissertation places the Wyandot story into a broader context of Native American history, with important lessons about the complex nature of religious and societal changes. Through the evidence examined in the case of the Ohio Wyandots, it also asks historians to further question dominant assumptions about indigenous cultural change, such as the perceived links between religious conversion, economic adaptation, and racial identities.

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