Land Where The Partridge Drums
A History of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation
The King Without a Crown
Written and illustrated by Darren Bonaparte
This relatively peaceful era saw Akwesasne recover a great deal of the strength it had lost in generations of war and epidemics. It also saw an increase in day-to-day interaction with European immigrants moving into the region. It was not uncommon for a Mohawk to ddopt the family name of a new friend in those days nor were inter-marriages out of the ordinary. The oral tradition tells us that native people often took in orphans and abandoned children and raised them as their own. With an increase in contact came inevitable pressure to learn the English language, something that a minority of our people had adopted, even at this late period in post-contact history.
Mohawk culture ritualized the adoption of new members into the nation, be they native or European. When someone was adopted, they were considered to be Mohawk from then on. Assimilation into the dominant Mohawk culture was complete: adopted Hurons among the Haudenosaunee actually went to war against their own people in the 1600’s. Historians have noted that some white captives chose not to leave their new homes when presented with the choice. The same could not be said, however, for many of the natives who lived among the whites: within the first week, they would usually leave their European- style clothing hanging in a tree and run home naked.
As we have seen, Akwesasne history offers us three examples adoptions that stand out: Eunice Williams, captured in Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1704; and the Tarbell boys, John and Zechariah, taken from Groton, Massachusetts in 1707. Many of their descendants held positions of leadership in Akwesasne, just as the Tarbells did when the St. Regis Mission was established here in 1755, and contact with their New England relatives was maintained through subsequent generations.
One captive’s descendant in particular never did quite come to grips with his mixed heritage. His identity crisis reached symbolic proportions, even to the point where he began to claim that he was the long-lost heir to the throne of the King of France. For this reason he is more than just a historical oddity. He is a symbol of failed assimilation into both native and non-native society, a true “Lost Prince” if there ever was one. His name was Eleazer Williams.
Next week: Eleazer Williams
By Darren Bonaparte, historian and author of The Wampum Chronicles. Reprinted with permission.
Darren Bonaparte is a cultural historian from the Akwesasne First Nation. He is a frequent lecturer at schools, universities, museums, and historical sites in the United States and Canada. He has written four books, several articles, and the libretto for the McGill Chamber Orchestra’s Aboriginal Visions and Voices. Darren is a former chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. He is the creator of The Wampum Chronicles and historical advisor to film and television. He currently serves as the Director of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.