Historian re-examines
revolutionary war

Staff writer

Peabody native Ethan Schmidt has spent five years researching and writing a book about a topic in American history never before so completely covered.

Native Americans in the American Revolution looks at the history of Native American tribes and their part in a war most people thought involved only white settlers fighting for freedom from Europe.

Schmidt’s book delves into the contributions various tribes made to the war as well as betrayal of those groups by white militias and European armies and the eventual displacement of Native Americans once the war ended and immigration surged.

The book is arranged chronologically and geographically to provide the reader ease in following the histories that unfold. Schmidt tells of Native American tribes in the northern colonies, southern colonies, and the Ohio Valley, all of which made significant contributions and sacrifices before, during, and after the Revolutionary War.

“The book is what is called a synthesis,” he said. “It pulls together facts from many historical accounts, personal papers and letters, and printed references that are scattered across the country. Finding all that information and fitting it together was like being on a long treasure hunt.”

Schmidt found information and collections of papers and letters in libraries and universities from the New England states to the University of Michigan.

“As long as an author references the work, it is all right to use it,” he said. “One of the great things about looking at history today is the wealth of information available online. It is so much easier to find with Internet access.”

Schmidt said written accounts of the Native American tribes often depended on interpretation of white historians.

“The Indians have what is known as an “ethno-history,” meaning they did not write things down. Their history was passed on in drawings, hieroglyphics, storytelling, customs, and such,” he said. “Practically all written information was written by white settlers or military men. It was often influenced by their personal feelings about the Native Americans, their customs, and culture.”

Schmidt decided to tackle the effect Native American tribes had on the Revolutionary War because a single book addressing the topic had never been written.

“There are many books written about that period and more recent times that tell the histories of different ethnic European, African, and Oriental groups, including women, who were involved in military conflicts, government, or social issues, but no comprehensive coverage of Native Americans,” he said.

Schmidt’s book is aimed primarily at instructors and students in senior-level college courses of early American history.

“The book is fairly brief — 225 pages — but its chronological and geographical style should help the reader get a handle on what was going on with the tribes in question,” he said. “My mom is reading it now and she said it is interesting and easy to follow.

“The most important thing I think is for the reader to understand that the American Revolution was very much a complex multi-level struggle. It was not a ‘good-guy bad-guy’ conflict.

“Native Americans still are grappling with the effects of the Revolutionary War. It ushered in a whole new world for Native Americans and the people who dealt with them. Hopefully this book will help students of history see how that war and the world it created impacts the lives of Native Americans today.”

Schmidt’s parents are Tom and Susie Schmidt of Peabody. He was a 1994 graduate of Peabody High School. He earned his Ph.D. at University of Kansas in May, 2007. He is an assistant professor of history at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi.

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