cover image White Savage: William Johnson and the Invention of America

White Savage: William Johnson and the Invention of America

Fintan O'Toole, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25 (402pp) ISBN 978-0-374-28128-1

At the center of drama critic O'Toole's new book is an Irishman who migrated to New York in the 1730s. William Johnson began to trade with nearby Indians and quickly became knowledgeable about and beloved by the Mohawks, who adopted him as a sachem. Johnson, who became a key figure in the coexistence between Mohawks and Europeans, emerges as charismatic, a tad vain and very libidinous. He took a paramour, a German servant girl named Catharine Weisenberg, with whom he had children and whom he may or may not have married. Before Catharine's death, Johnson took Mohawk lovers and fathered Mohawk children; after her death, he married an Indian woman, Molly Brant. O'Toole reads Johnson's 1774 death as a turning point in Anglo-Indian relations; within three years, the Mohawks were siding with Brits in the American Revolution. Johnson, O'Toole argues, embodied the colonists' fantasies about the Indians—i.e., that their barbarity could be civilized and diluted by contact with enlightened colonists. O'Toole (A Traitor's Kiss ) brings together great man history and real analytical rigor; this book should be a winner with academics and history hobbyists alike. 8 pages of b&w photos, 2 maps, not seen by PW . Agent, Derek Johns of A.P. Watt. (Oct.)