The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic

John Demos. Knopf, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-0-679-45510-3
Demos, a Yale historian and master of micro-history (Bancroft and Parkman Prize winner for Unredeemed Captive), turns his attention here to a well-intentioned 1820s effort to create a Connecticut school to Christianize “heathens” (mostly Indians and Hawaiians) and send them forth to missionize. The sad, sometimes tragic, results could have been anticipated. Some of the young male students, two Cherokees foremost, became enamored of town daughters. The consequences, perhaps inevitably, were instances of racism, clerical fear, an overall public hubbub, leading to the school’s collapse. But not before two long and apparently successful marriages between the Cherokees and the towngirls were conducted. Those Indians eventually became noted leaders during their tribe’s searing dispossession and exile westward—of their “ethnic cleansing”—wherein one of them was murdered by a fellow tribesman. Demos tells this tale with scarcely hidden feeling. His research is characteristically prodigious, his writing disarming, and his story captivating and of national resonance. However, his first-person usage (a recent minor fashion among historians) intrudes on that story, and strange typographical mannerisms (long passages in small typeface) blemish a marvelous story that needed no such embellishments. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/09/2013
Release date: 03/18/2014
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