Rumors, Legends, and Hoaxes on the Early American Frontier
"Today we have grown so used to having boundless information at our fingertips that we can easily forget the practical limits on reliable news that both natives and European settlers faced in early America. Beyond what one could see or hear at the instant, one could only make surmises based on what others reported or reportedly said, etc. In a real sense, rumor ruled. Historians have known about this problem of information and wondered about how stories of far-off deeds, plans, or intentions could develop and then travel about from place to place, crossing various lines of authority and changing in every telling. Here Greg Dowd, an established student of Native Americans and their encounters with white settlers, makes a determined effort to examine the phenomenon itself. Using about a dozen case studies, organized in parts that alternately deal with overarching themes and groups of specific episodes, he asks on what basis rumors or legends emerged in the first place and why they grew as they did and reached the level of credibility they did. The Spanish belief that the interior of America hid huge supplies of gold will be familiar to readers, as will the white practice of using tainted blankets to spread smallpox among the natives (this before the germ theory of disease). Others, like stories of Washington's use of rumor and Franklin's worries about counterfeit currency and the role of bad information in the Indian-removal campaign of the Andrew Jackson presidency may surprise"-- Provided by publisher.
"Why did Elizabethan adventurers believe that the interior of America hid vast caches of gold? Who started the rumor that British officers purchased revolutionary white women's scalps, packed them by the bale, and shipped them to their superiors? And why are people today still convinced that white settlers--hardly immune as a group to the disease--routinely distributed smallpox-tainted blankets to the natives? Rumor--spread by colonists and Native Americans alike--ran rampant in early America. In Groundless, historian Gregory Evans Dowd explores why half-truths, deliberate lies, and outrageous legends emerged in the first place, how they grew, and why they were given such credence throughout the New World. Arguing that rumors are part of the objective reality left to us by the past--a kind of fragmentary archival record--he examines how uncertain news became powerful enough to cascade through the centuries. Drawing on specific case studies and tracing recurring rumors over many generations, Dowd explains the seductive power of unreliable stories in the eastern North American frontiers from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. The rumors studied here--some alluring, some frightening--commanded attention and demanded action. They were all, by definition, groundless, but they were not all false, and they influenced the classic issues of historical inquiry: the formation of alliances, the making of revolutions, the expropriation of labor and resources, and the origins of war"-- Provided by publisher.
Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 
ix, 391 pages ; 24 cm