Kinship, communities, and covenant chains: Mohawks and Palatines in New York and upper Canada, 1712--1830

James W. Paxton
Dept. of History, Queen's University
August, 2006


"Kinship, Communities, and Covenant Chains" is the story of one community that emerged in the Mohawk Valley as the result of an encounter between First People and Europeans. At heart, it is an ethnohistorical analysis of the changing nature and composition of community that seeks to explain how Natives and newcomers understood one another, how they negotiated cultural differences, and ultimately how they constructed racial identities in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Beginning with the first meeting of Mohawks and Palatine Germans in 1712, this study traces the development of a multicultural community in the Mohawk Valley and then follows many of its members as they settled on the Grand River, Upper Canada, after the American Revolution. To the extent that it is possible, this thesis examines cultural contact from the Mohawk and, to a lesser extent, the Palatine perspective using concepts people at the time would have understood. Eschewing modern constructions of race that are anachronistic when applied to the past, it employs broadly inclusive concepts of kinship and alliances as a better reflection of the distinct regional culture these people created together. While the relationship between Mohawks and Palatine Germans forms the core of this study, it is also attentive to the fact that people resided within multiple and overlapping communities. "Kinship, Communities, and Covenant Chains," therefore, situates this community within other more abstract entities, such as the Confederacy, Covenant Chain alliance, British empire, and the colony of New York. The story ends in 1830, a time when the deaths of several community leaders severed the last living ties between the Mohawk Valley and the Grand River and as race supplanted kinship as an important marker of identity.