Re: Early Amerind assimilation (Was: Re: Romans in the New World?)

Mary Beth Williams (
1 Aug 1996 19:45:53 GMT

In <DvG3oo.3I3@CritPath.Org> aawest@CritPath.Org (Anthony West) writes:

>In article <4tnfpe$> Beth Williams) writes:

>>I currently know of no complete white cemetary from a
>>*frontier* community that is sitting on some institution's shelves,
>>I'm rather certain that is not something any institution would
>>publically tout.
>Odd. When I was in Southern Maryland, 1989-92, a well-
>publicized dig at a ~1640 plantation produced, among
>other things, remains of ~9 individuals, presumed
>white settlers. Plantation's a community. You bet the
>institution touted this find! And the community loved

1) Would you consider a *plantation* to incorporate *outlivers*?
2) Nine burials does not constitute a *statistically significant
3) What percentage of these whites were even born in Maryland, and so
what is the chance that they would show *genetic* indicators of
interracial parents?
3) The institution (St. Mary's?) may have *touted the find* but are the
bones still on their shelves, waiting for further research, or were
they summarily reinterred, as most white remains are?

>In Philadelphia, ~1989, highway work uncovered an
>unsuspected black cemetery from the colonial period
>(~100 individuals). Man, was this touted! Yes, the
>bones were studied. If anything, Philadelphia's
>influential black community was even more thrilled
>than we white boys.

I have colleagues in my department who have worked on this site from
the beginning (and continue to do so) and,
1) It was a nineteenth-century, urban population.
2) There was no *social frontier* between these urban blacks and local
American Indians (who, by this point, had been removed to *Indian

>So I think you may be understating the volume of
>bioarcheological remains from this period and
>overstating the resistance of non-Indian communities
>to this kind of research.

Neither of those two examples could be used to extract the type of
information that you seek, unless of course you're trying to argue that
white, wealthy 17th century Europeans and Ante-Bellum urban
African-Americans do not show evidence of genetic or cultural
indicators of interracial relations with Native Americans.

Although there has been some outcry from the African-American community
for reinterment of the Philadelphia cemetary remains, I will concede
that it is far less than one sees when white cemetaries are disturbed.
Unfortunately, although this cemetary has provided a wealth of
information on African-American lifeways, it is of no use in answering
your questions.

>>>I'm asking about cross-cultural
>>>influences. You're saying I can't ask until I sort
>>>"diffusion" from "appropriation" first. This
>>>distinction may be sharp iu some cases, pointless in
>>*Diffusion* would indicate a *sharing* of
>>information, presumably between equals, whereas *appropriation*
>>with it an assumption of unequal power. Hence, unless you consider
>>forced physical integration, i.e., rape, to hold the same social and
>>cultural meaning as voluntary *fraternization*, you search for
>>*genetic* and cultural indicators is compromised. This is certainly
>>the case in European/African relations in North America.
>Yes, it's useful to consider power relations in some
>contexts of this issue and here these terms become useful.
>>>>Why assume then that there are
>>>>ways in which Indians *genetically* effected European/African
>>>>societies, if you can't prove that an *integration*, i.e., Indians
>>>>marrying and living, with society's blessing, with their non-Indian
>>>>mates, occurred on any significant level?
>Indians have, by now, genetically affected white and
>black American societies.

Do you have some evidence to back up this hypothesis? As Jeff Baker
stated, many Euro-Americans argue that they have *Indian blood* in
them, usually a Cherokee princess or two, and for many reasons, such
claims, without proof, should be taken with a grain of salt. Claiming
native ancestry *legitimizes* the immigrant's *right* to live in an
occupied territory and thus is often pulled out to assuage own's guilt,
or enhance own's position. (My current response when someone comes up
to me and states *You know, I'm part Indian too!* is *Oh really? What
part? Leg? Spleen? Fingertip?*)

Before you use this as your starting assumption, you really should have
some data to back it up. What percentage of people identifying as
*white* in the US also claim a N.A. ancestor? How many can prove it?

>At some point this started.
>The question of when it becomes significant is legit.
>The most methodical approach is to begin at the
>beginning and work forward. When do YOU think it
>approached significance, whatever that may be?

I don't fully accept your starting hypothesis because of the issues
outlined about. Prove your starting point, and then these other
questions can be addressed.

>>I'm aware that of the reasons why,
>>at this point, the type of analysis you want cannot be done, and
>>do not look for such pie-in-the-sky-answers, but focus instead on
>>physically and materially, we can *know*.
>The analysis you think I want is not, perhaps,
>the analysis I think I want. There are many degrees
>of approaching a large question short of *knowing*
>and one must be comfortable with them if one is
>ever to wind up knowing anything.
>I'd appreciate posts or email from anybody else
>who might have insights into early multicultural or
>multiracial communities in North America.
>>We *know*, historically at
>>least, that the offspring of European and American Indians were not
>>accepted into *traditional* Euro-American society, at least not as
>>*white*. Whether or not mixed-race children were accepting as
>>in *outliver* populations is currently not *knowable*, as we don't
>>a significant understanding of white *outliver* society.
>Put another way, the lives of poor, powerless early white
>and black Americans is poorly recorded and poorly understood.
>Yet it is with them in particular that many Indian-Euro/Afro
>contacts must have occurred.

*Must*? Are you not drawing conclusions before producing evidence? It
seems you, like Stella, automatically assume that Indians married into
white/African culture, and then viewed themselves and their offspring
as *white*. Why do you assume this happened? Can you produce data to
support this claim?

Attempts to reconstruct the
>history of the undocumented masses is difficult, but it is
>gaining in importance in historiography in our times. Often
>archeologists can contribute to this process.

Other than utilizing oral histories, I know of no other way to
reconstruct the history of *undocumented masses* than through material
culture analysis, so I would say that archaeologists do more than
*contribute* (*often* or not), wouldn't you?

Oral history is one thing, urban mythology another. I would be careful
not to fall into the trap of viewing them both equally.

>>MB Williams
>>Dept. of Anthro., UMass-Amherst