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Indigenous Prosperity and American Conquest

Indian Women of the Ohio River Valley, 1690–1792

Susan Sleeper-Smith

Cloth: 978-1-4696-4058-7 ($45.00)

Copyright 2018
University of North Carolina Press

Indigenous Prosperity and American Conquest recovers the agrarian village world Indian women created in the lush lands of the Ohio Valley. Algonquian-speaking Indians living in a crescent of towns along the Wabash tributary of the Ohio were able to evade and survive the Iroquois onslaught of the seventeenth century, to absorb French traders and Indigenous refugees, to export peltry, and to harvest riparian, wetland, and terrestrial resources of every description and breathtaking richness. These prosperous Native communities frustrated French and British imperial designs, controlled the Ohio Valley, and confederated when faced with the challenge of American invasion.

By the late eighteenth century, Montreal silversmiths were sending their best work to Wabash Indian villages, Ohio Indian women were setting the fashions for Indigenous clothing, and European visitors were marveling at the sturdy homes and generous hospitality of trading entrepôts such as Miamitown. Confederacy, agrarian abundance, and nascent urbanity were, however, both too much and not enough. Kentucky settlers and American leaders—like George Washington and Henry Knox—coveted Indian lands and targeted the Indian women who worked them. Americans took women and children hostage to coerce male warriors to come to the treaty table to cede their homelands. Appalachian squatters, aspiring land barons, and ambitious generals invaded this settled agrarian world, burned crops, looted towns, and erased evidence of Ohio Indian achievement. This book restores the Ohio River valley as Native space.


In overlooking the vital role of women in creating and sustaining Ohio Valley Indians' rich agricultural system, historians have ignored what George Washington knew all too well. Starting with his 1791 order to imprison Indian women and children, Susan Sleeper-Smith uncovers the productive village life that supported prosperous commerce with colonial traders and enabled resistance to U.S. encroachment. In-depth archival research, careful attention to Indigenous knowledge, and innovative use of environmental evidence make her book a virtuoso interdisciplinary study and a stunning historical revelation.

--Daniel H. Usner, Jr., Vanderbilt University

An eye-opening, revisionist exposé of American expansion, Indigenous Prosperity and American Conquest lucidly narrates how the Ohio River valley's thriving Native world of agricultural productivity, fur-trading acumen, and lavish material culture fell victim to a covetous, militant aggression as Americans took possession.

--Nancy Shoemaker, University of Connecticut

Weaving together material culture, archaeology, and far-flung archives, Sleeper-Smith draws an engrossing portrait of the pan-Indian world of the Ohio Valley--created, not by military and political leaders, but rather by women whose agrarian, artisanal, and commercial labors transformed it into an economically bounteous place along la belle rivière--before its calculated plunder and destruction at the direction of the U.S. government.

--Juliana Barr, Duke University