Playing Indian by Philip Deloria is a very disturbing history of white men dressing up as Indians and using fake Indian shit in their secret societies. I have always found secret societies like the Masons a bit weird. But this shit goes back further than I expected, if, indeed, I expected anything at all.
I was interested in this book because I was hoping it would give me some help thinking about appropriation. But the topic is much broader than that. But I do like Philip Deloria’s title. It puts the whole idea of white colonial settlers blundering into the Americas and then making many stupid stupid assumptions and acting on them until the stupidity persists to this day in the story white Americans tell themselves.
I had heard of the Tammany political maneuverings in U.S. History. I think I may have had a paperback that told the story of corruption in New York via Tammany Boss Tweed.
But this is the 19th century. Deloria doesn’t even mention this. He’s more interested in fraternal orders that sprang up using fake Indian type stuff to organize themselves.
It seems that Thomas Jefferson and John Hay belonged to one or were at least present at a public celebration of of these Masonic-like organizations. Which brings me to what I wanted to “share” with you today.
The ridicule of natives was unsurprisingly extended to African Americans.
” The New York Evening Post carried accounts of an ‘African Tammany celebration” in 1809, and the following year the Rhode Island American reported, ‘Last April Fool Day we light de council fire at de wigwam in my house. Well, dan we chuse officer. Toby we make him Gran Sachem. Cudjo we make him farrer in council; Yellow Sam he set up for Sagemalel be he no brack enough. Dem we chuse Whish-em-Stirky.’ The ‘celebrants’ then toasted ‘Broder Tomm Jefferson, de lass gran sachem of dis country.’ ‘Black Sal, his squaw,’ and ‘Our broders, de white Indians.’
What? Black Sal has got to be a reference to Sally Hemmings, Jefferson’s slave and concubine. Nothing in the footnotes about her. When the report was printed in the Rhode Isalnd American (1809) Jefferson still had some 16 or 17 years to live and was just finishing up his term as president.
I always pictured the Hemmings affair as something sort of swept under the public’s eye. But it doesn’t look like it. Wow.