Red Atlantic

The Red Atlantic cover. Image source:

The Red Atlantic is, as the title suggests, a book about American Indigenes in the transatlantic world and the influence they had in the shaping of the modern world. Weaver cites Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic as a precursor to his book which allowed the idea of a “Red Atlantic” to take shape in his mind. Weaver’s purpose is to “restore Indians and Inuit to the Atlantic world and demonstrate their centrality to that world, a position equally important to, if not more important than, the Africans of Gilroy’s black Atlantic” (x). Weaver takes up an ambitious project in which little work has as yet been completed. Scholars such as Kate Flint, Thomas Fulford, and Carolyn Thomas Foreman have all explored the transatlantic influence of American Indigenes, but in significantly smaller timeframes than Weaver (most timeframes range from a 100 year up to a 500 year period). Weaver, however, spans a period of 927 years, examining the transatlantic influence of American Indigenes beginning with the Viking sighting and invasion in 1000 and ends with 1927, when Charles Lindbergh made his solo flight and forever changed the way people would interact with the Atlantic world.

Weaver’s book lies somewhere between a historical analysis and literary exposition. Weaver draws on historical archives, key pieces of literature, and sometimes educated speculation to piece together the way Natives and non-Natives connected across the “Red Atlantic”. Weaver takes the reader on a journey through the past, weaving together the worlds of the Native and non-Native. Weaver asks the reader to consider “that from the earliest moments of European/Native contact in the Americas until the first quarter of the twentieth century, Indians, far from being marginal to the Atlantic experience, were, in fact, as central as Africans” and that “native resources, ideas, and peoples themselves traveled the Atlantic with regularity and became among the most basic defining components of Atlantic cultural exchange” (17).

Written as an interdisciplinary work The Red Atlantic may be of of interest for scholars of Indigenous studies, history, and literature. Those interested in both the legal and religious implications faced by the Natives may also find something of interest here as Weaver, who has a doctorate in law and a doctorate in religion, spends time exploring these issues as well.  While the work covers the years 1000-1927, it does not follow a chronological timeline nor are the categories provided hard categories as the characters within are fluid and may begin in one category and end in another.

Chapter 1: "For He Looks upon You as Foolish Children"

Chapter One “For He Looks upon You as Foolish Children: Captives, Slaves, and Prisoners of the Red Atlantic” focuses, as the title suggests, on those forcibly transported across the Atlantic. While it would be impossible for Weaver to detail an account of every Native taken by force across the Atlantic, he attempts to cover at least one notable individual taken from each group of explorers to reach the American coast. The chapter begins with Leif Erikson’s discovery of the northern coast of North American in 1000 and the capture of two Beothuk boys that were taken to Norway in 1009. From 1000, he jumps forward to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. It is with Columbus that Weaver marks the beginning of the Native slave trade. Weaver’s account of the ensuing slave trade reads much like African slave trade accounts where the Natives were captured, loaded on ships, transported across the Atlantic, and, those that managed to survive the voyage and onslaught of European diseases, were sold into slavery. After the Spanish, Weaver turns his attention to English contact where, beginning in 1605, Natives were again captured and shipped across the Atlantic. Some were fortunate enough to be taught English and sent back home to work as translators while the less fortunate were sold into slavery. Weaver ends the chapter with a look at the Atlantic littoral. While the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, and Caddo prisoners that were transported to Fort Marion, FL would not sail the Atlantic; they would be forced to adapt to life in a cramped prison on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Scattered throughout the accounts provided are the political and religious ramifications faced by the Natives.

Chapter 2: "In the Service of Others"

In Chapter Two, “In the Service of Others: Soldiers and Sailors of the Red Atlantic”, Weaver turns his attention to those who willing voyaged the Atlantic. Ending the previous chapter in the 1880s, Weaver begins this chapter in the 1700s with the story of Paul Cuffe, the son of an African slave and a Gayhead Wampanoag. Through Cuffe’s story, Weaver connects the Black Atlantic with the Red Atlantic. He then moves to the role of Natives in the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. He goes on to detail accounts of Caughnawagas fighting with the British and Canadian armies in Egypt. He then returns to the Atlantic littoral with his look at the Spanish-American war where some Natives would travel to fight in Cuba while others would be halted in Tampa, FL. Weaver ends the chapter with an account of Native activities in World War I. Again evident in these accounts are the political, religious, and legal ramifications faced by the Natives and Weaver sets the stage for Chapter Three where “diplomacy was a centuries-trodden path for Indians across and around the Red Atlantic” (135).

Chapter 3: "Red Diplomats"

Chapter Three “Red Diplomats: Statecraft and Cosmopolitanism across the Red Atlantic” explores the ways in which “Indians of the Americas were engaged in diplomacy from the moment of first Contact” (136). Weaver takes us back to the 1500s and the Native revolt of Hispaniola that had paralyzed the Caribbean for a decade before “the first treaty was signed between a European power and a Native nation” (136). The chapter contains accounts of Manteo who disappeared with the Roanoke settlement, Lady Rebecca Wolfe (Pocahontas), several Cherokee like Attakullakulla (Little Carpenter) and Ostenaco, Joseph Brant, Peter Jones, and Levi General (Deskaheh). Within these accounts are writings from and about the Natives who traversed the Atlantic. Weaver outlines the roles they played in developing Native diplomacy with European nations and the ways in which they had learned to perform their expected parts to reach their goals.

Chapter 4: "A Gazing Stocke, Yea Even a Laughing Stocke"

Chapter Four “A Gazing Stocke, Yea Even a Laughing Stocke: Celebrity Indians and Display across the Red Atlantic” further explores the idea that Native diplomats had learned to adapt and were “unafraid to make himself a stereotypical spectacle in order to try to achieve his objective” (189). Perhaps the most notable of these displays was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show; however, Weaver points out that Natives had been performing in Europe for centuries before. In Rouen, France in 1550 “one of the most lavish such displays took place” where “fifty imported Tupinambá from Brazil” performed for King Henri II and Catherine de Medici joined with “around 250 nude painted French in a recreation of life in the homeland, complete with monkeys and parrots” (190). Weaver focuses on accounts like that of Mohawk author Emily Pauline Johnson who “skillfully manipulated the image of the Indian to carry her message and used every opportunity to plead the cause of the Native” (211). Here Weaver captures the social ramifications many faced while trying to gain awareness to the Native plight, where they were scorned by their own people for seemingly becoming “White Indians” and performing as spectacles. At the same time they often faced racism and discrimination from Anglo society where were treated as circus freaks.

Chapter 5: "Fireside Travelers, Armchair Adventurers, and Apocryphal Voyages"

Chapter Five “Fireside Travelers, Armchair Adventurers, and Apocryphal Voyages: The Literature of the Red Atlantic” focuses on key specific literary works. While in previous chapters Weaver had touched on the writings of Samson Occom, E. Pauline Johnson, Garcilaso de la Vega, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest; here he turns his attention to Michael de Carvajal’s drama Complaint of the Indian in the Court of Death, Voltaire’s L’Ingenu and Candide, The Female American, Susan Rowson’s Reuben and Rachel, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Weaver also examines German writer Karl May’s surprising role in shaping opinions about Indigenes on both sides of the Atlantic considering that Germany had no colonies in North America (217). The primary focus of this chapter is “how Europeans and later, Americans, came to define themselves in comparison with, and in contrast to, the indigenous peoples of the Americas” (216). Literature, Weaver argues, was a primary means for discussing these contrasts and comparisons. Important literature, is of course, left out as Weaver cannot discuss all literary works dealing with the Red Atlantic. Also notably absent is literature from the Natives themselves. He does reference authors such as George Copway, Peter Jones, and George Henry, all of whom he discussed in earlier chapters, but for the purposes of this chapter Weaver considers them "lesser figures when it concerns writing and letters" of the Red Atlantic (216). He also mentions contemporary Native writers Paula Gunn Allen, Joseph Boyden, Gerald Vizenor, and James Welch, all of whom have written about the experience of Native Americans abroad.

Chapter 6: "The Closing of the Red Atlantic"

Chapter Six “The Closing of the Red Atlantic: A Conclusion” is, as the title suggests, the conclusion of his book. Here he further draws the Red and Black Atlantic together with his discussion of Olaudah Equiano and his interaction with Miskito Indians. Weaver’s overall argument is that like the Black Atlantic, the Red Atlantic was more than just the movement of human bodies across the Atlantic Ocean; it was an economic movement, it was the transport of culture, ideas, and resources. The Red Atlantic provided the means by which provided the means by which “Europeans and then the settler colonists of the Americas defined themselves by comparing and contrasting themselves with Western Hemisphere indigenes” (274).

Critical Conclusions

Weaver acknowledges in the beginning of his work that he cannot cover all the participants in the Red Atlantic nor can he cover all the important literary works that came from it. His overall goal was to encourage discussion and further exploration of the subject. He suggests that this discussion could and should contain a look at modern Native writers and the way they are reappropriating the Red Atlantic, or perhaps even an exploration of Australian Aborigines travel, albeit that is a different ocean and a different set of indigenes. At work here is the suggestion that the importance of those whose roles have been mediated throughout history deserves a closer look. In the end, Weaver has ultimately done what he set out to do. He establishes the American Indigenes as a significant figure in the Atlantic world and validates their role in shaping the modern world.

The Red Atlantic, despite the jumps in time and the fluidity of characters, is easy to follow. While it will be useful for scholars and graduate students of Indigenous studies, literature, history, theology, and law; it is also suited for undergraduates or those simply interested in the subject. One of the first works of its kind, Weaver's work should encourage further exploration and discussion of the Red Atlantic and the role of the American Indigenes in the modern world.

Works Cited

Weaver, Jace. The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000-1927. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014. Ebook.

Contributed by Kimberly Allen