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The First Frontier
Cover of The First Frontier
The First Frontier
The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, & Endurance in Early America
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"Excitement abounds in Scott Weidensaul's detailed history of the first clashes between European settlers and Native Americans on the East Coast."—Nancy Marie Brown, author of The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman

Frontier: the word carries the inevitable scent of the West. But before Custer or Lewis and Clark, before the first Conestoga wagons rumbled across the Plains, it was the East that marked the frontier—the boundary between complex Native cultures and the first colonizing Europeans.

Here is the older, wilder, darker history of a time when the land between the Atlantic and the Appalachians was contested ground—when radically different societies adopted and adapted the ways of the other, while struggling for control of what all considered to be their land.

The First Frontier traces two and a half centuries of history through poignant, mostly unheralded personal stories—like that of a Harvard-educated Indian caught up in seventeenth-century civil warfare, a mixed-blood interpreter trying to straddle his white and Native heritage, and a Puritan woman wielding a scalping knife whose bloody deeds still resonate uneasily today. It is the first book in years to paint a sweeping picture of the Eastern frontier, combining vivid storytelling with the latest research to bring to life modern America's tumultuous, uncertain beginnings.

"Exciting and revealing . . . a stirring panorama of the land and the peoples who made their mark on it from the late sixteenth to eighteenth centuries . . . This is a rich tableau that both excites and informs about the forging of early American society."—Booklist
"Weidensaul's delightful storytelling brings to life the terrors and hopes of the earliest days of America."—Publishers Weekly

"Excitement abounds in Scott Weidensaul's detailed history of the first clashes between European settlers and Native Americans on the East Coast."—Nancy Marie Brown, author of The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman

Frontier: the word carries the inevitable scent of the West. But before Custer or Lewis and Clark, before the first Conestoga wagons rumbled across the Plains, it was the East that marked the frontier—the boundary between complex Native cultures and the first colonizing Europeans.

Here is the older, wilder, darker history of a time when the land between the Atlantic and the Appalachians was contested ground—when radically different societies adopted and adapted the ways of the other, while struggling for control of what all considered to be their land.

The First Frontier traces two and a half centuries of history through poignant, mostly unheralded personal stories—like that of a Harvard-educated Indian caught up in seventeenth-century civil warfare, a mixed-blood interpreter trying to straddle his white and Native heritage, and a Puritan woman wielding a scalping knife whose bloody deeds still resonate uneasily today. It is the first book in years to paint a sweeping picture of the Eastern frontier, combining vivid storytelling with the latest research to bring to life modern America's tumultuous, uncertain beginnings.

"Exciting and revealing . . . a stirring panorama of the land and the peoples who made their mark on it from the late sixteenth to eighteenth centuries . . . This is a rich tableau that both excites and informs about the forging of early American society."—Booklist
"Weidensaul's delightful storytelling brings to life the terrors and hopes of the earliest days of America."—Publishers Weekly

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About the Author-
  • Author and naturalist SCOTT WEIDENSAUL, who grew up in the heart of the old eastern frontier and has always been curious to learn more about it, has written more than two dozen books, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 14, 2011
    In this charming and fascinating chronicle, historian Weidensaul points out that the earliest frontier in America stretched from the Atlantic coast inland to the high, rugged ranges of the Appalachians, and from the Maritimes to Florida. By telling the stories of the numerous inhabitants of this “first frontier,” Weidensaul uncovers the terrain of this lost world where Europeans and Native Americans were creating a new society and a new landscape that was by turns peaceful and violent, and linked by trade, intermarriage, religion, mutual dependence, and acts of both unimaginable barbarism and extraordinary tolerance and charity. For example, Weidensaul recounts numerous stories of Indian captivity. In 1689, Maliseet Indians captured and carried 10-year-old John Gyles from his village in Maine into Canada, where he endured severe winters and a case of frostbite that almost killed him. By the time he was 16, his Indian mistress traded him to a Frenchman, who put Gyles in charge of a store in his trading post. While he was with the Indians, the young Gyles learned loyalty and refused to try to escape; when he had the chance to escape his French masters during a battle between the English and the French, he remained loyal to his French owners, even helping them avoid possible capture by the English. Weidensaul’s delightful storytelling brings to life the terrors and hopes of the earliest days of America.

  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2011
    Creating a new civilization is a bloody, destructive and morally withering business; for proof, one need look no further than frontier American life. In this comprehensive chronicle, Pulitzer Prize winner Weidensaul (Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding, 2007, etc.) sheds light on the shadowy world of pre-Revolutionary America, when the unconscionable chicanery of white explorers and settlers was met with horrific vengeance by the established Indian tribes. As straight history, it can be dry stuff, as the author's arsenal of facts tends to slow him down. Nonetheless, Weidensaul weaves together an impressive number of true stories, bolstered by first and secondhand records and journals. Captain John Smith has a grimly funny account of a starving man who killed, seasoned and devoured own his wife: "Now whether shee was better roasted, boyled or carbonado'd, I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of." There's also the story of Richard Waldron, who had a special talent for cheating Indians but got a dread comeuppance when his victims slowly dismembered him, starting by slashing knives across his chest and saying, "I cross out my account." Another figure of lasting interest is Hannah Duston, who became a frontier hero (and a source of lasting controversy) when she killed 10 Indians (including children) in their sleep, as retribution for the murder of her infant daughter. Students of early American history will be the most attentive audience for the book, but any reader who picks it up will get a very real picture of what it was like to live and die in the New World.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from February 1, 2012

    Beautifully written by naturalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Weidensaul (Living on the Wind: Across the Globe with Migratory Birds), this work surveys the contest for North America from the arrival of Europeans to the aftermath of the French and Indian War in 1763, including Pontiac's War. Although the Spanish appear within this text, the primary European actors here are the British and the French. Weidensaul sets the stage for his story by providing an overview of pre-contact Native America. This is critical, as it allows him to personalize centuries of conflict by demonstrating through numerous individuals, both native and European, how the first frontier fundamentally changed the people who lived therein. Unlike most works of this type, the author eschews a regional focus, which enables him to make connections from such disparate flashpoints as the Yamasee War in the South, William Penn's activities in Pennsylvania, and the conflicts in New England. VERDICT This highly recommended book is appropriate for lay audiences, who should also consider Fred Anderson's The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War.--John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    January 1, 2012
    The paired terms of frontier and Indian often conjure up images of cavalry troops and eagle-feather-bonneted Sioux or Cheyenne warriors struggling across buffalo-laden plains. As this exciting and revealing chronicle shows, the original frontier was in the East, stretching from the tidewater to the foothills of the Appalachians, and from Maine to Florida. Weidensaul, an author and naturalist, provides a stirring panorama of the land and the peoples who made their mark on it from the late sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. The land is described, in detail, as lush and enticing, but it was a lushness that could kill when it turned harsh and violent. Across this landscape, Weidensaul tracks the diverse and complicated mix of humanity who cooperated, fought, and transformed it, including various Huron, Iroquoian, and Algonquian Native American groupings and French-, English-, and German-speaking Europeans. This is a rich tableau that both excites and informs about the forging of early American society.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2012, American Library Association.)

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The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, & Endurance in Early America
Scott Weidensaul
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