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Professional Indian
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Professional Indian
The American Odyssey of Eleazer Williams

Michael Leroy Oberg

280 pages | 6 x 9 | 6 illus.
Cloth 2015 | ISBN 9780812246766 | $42.50s | Outside the Americas £34.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Early American Studies
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"The story of a fascinating, enigmatic character who inhabited the cultural borderlands between the Iroquois confederacy and the early American republic in an era of dramatic change. Well written and compulsively readable, Professional Indian helps us see the insoluble dilemmas facing Native American communities in this period."—Eric Hinderaker, University of Utah

"In this well-crafted, impressively researched biography, Michael Leroy Oberg has told Eleazer Williams's complete life story and told it well. In Oberg's hands, Williams was a serial liar who became a 'professional Indian' in order to make a living at a time of shrinking options for Indians. Professional Indian will be the authoritative account of this significant figure in Iroquois history."—David J. Silverman, George Washington University

Born in 1788, Eleazer Williams was raised in the Catholic Iroquois settlement of Kahnawake along the St. Lawrence River. According to some sources, he was the descendant of a Puritan minister whose daughter was taken by French and Mohawk raiders; in other tales he was the Lost Dauphin, second son to Louis XVI of France. Williams achieved regional renown as a missionary to the Oneida Indians in central New York; he was also instrumental in their removal, allying with white federal officials and the Ogden Land Company to persuade Oneidas to relocate to Wisconsin. Williams accompanied them himself, making plans to minister to the transplanted Oneidas, but he left the community and his young family for long stretches of time. A fabulist and sometime confidence man, Eleazer Williams is notoriously difficult to comprehend: his own record is complicated with stories he created for different audiences. But for author Michael Leroy Oberg, he is an icon of the self-fashioning and protean identity practiced by native peoples who lived or worked close to the centers of Anglo-American power.

Professional Indian follows Eleazer Williams on this odyssey across the early American republic and through the shifting spheres of the Iroquois in an era of dispossession. Oberg describes Williams as a "professional Indian," who cultivated many political interests and personas in order to survive during a time of shrinking options for native peoples. He was not alone: as Oberg shows, many Indians became missionaries and settlers and played a vital role in westward expansion. Through the larger-than-life biography of Eleazer Williams, Professional Indian uncovers how Indians fought for place and agency in a world that was rapidly trying to erase them.

Michael Leroy Oberg is SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Geneseo and the author of The Head in Edward Nugent's Hand: Roanoke's Forgotten Indians, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

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