Crossing Cultural Frontiers: The Wild, Wild… East? by Lori Benton

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Lori Benton


Long before the California Gold Rush, before Louisiana was purchased and Lewis & Clark made their epic journey there and back again, there was an American frontier. We now call it the East.

In the last decades of the 18th century, colonists living in what would become the United States thought of the West as what lay just beyond the Appalachian Mountain range. These mountains were meant to serve as a barrier to colonial expansion. The land to the west was reserved by the British Crown for the Native nations who called it home. How quickly that frontier shifted as colonists ignored the barrier—and shifted back again as indigenous nations resisted being overrun. One place this process unfolded dramatically and with complex consequences for the people who lived there was western New York in the 1770s.

The Woods EdgeWhile researching New York history for my novel, Burning Sky, set in 1784, I learned of the division that occurred among the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Those six nations are, east to west as they dwelled across what is now New York State, the Mohawks, Oneidas, Tuscaroras, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. My focus during the Burning Sky research was on the Mohawks, but time and again the Oneidas snagged my attention. For one conspicuous reason—they went against the majority of the pro-British Six Nations and sided with the Americans during the war, serving as scouts, spies, and in some cases officers in the Continental Army. This decision on the Oneidas’ part broke a confederacy that had existed for centuries.

Why did the Oneidas make this choice? Decades before war’s outbreak, the seeds of division that would force the Oneidas to this momentous decision were being planted among the confederacy nations, seeds carried in the minds and hearts of individuals who chose to cross that first western frontier: traders, interpreters, explorers, and missionaries.

BurningSkyFrom as early as the 17th century, the Iroquois had welcomed French Jesuits among them. This resulted in groups of Native converts leaving their native Mohawk Valley and moving north to live on reserves along the St. Lawrence River, in Quebec. In 1710, sachems (peace chiefs) on a visit to England requested Queen Anne send Anglican missionaries to help guard against more of the people converting to Catholicism and decamping for Canada. Queen Anne complied. Soon the Anglican Church made its converts, especially among the Mohawks. Later in the 18th century, Presbyterian missionaries from New England ventured among the Iroquois. Among these was the staunchly patriotic Samuel Kirkland, who settled in the Oneida town of Kanowalohale and ministered among them for a decade before the Revolutionary War. By that time he’d gained the devotion of many Oneidas, including many chief warriors.

As conflict with the colonies escalated into war, the British pressured the Six Nations to honor what was known as the Covenant Chain of Friendship, but the Oneidas were increasingly drawing support, both material and spiritual, from Kirkland’s patriotic American friends. As time passed and loyalties became entrenched, there was very little middle ground upon which these polarizing nations could meet. Once war reached the Six Nations’ homeland, there could be no standing to the side while the King and his rebellious children (the colonials) fought it out, not when it came to protecting their own towns and hunting grounds. The Oneidas made their choice with heavy hearts, and for the next several years the frontier became a place of harrowing violence for natives and whites alike.

As I came to grasp the tremendous pressure the Oneidas found themselves under during this tumultuous time, the contributions they made to the founding of an American nation, and the devastating price they paid for following their convictions, I couldn’t resist attempting to tell their story. In The Wood’s Edge and its sequel, A Flight of Arrows (spring 2016), readers will meet two families, one white and the other Oneida, who become linked forever by tragedy and grace, as one young woman and one young man find the courage to cross the daunting frontier between them and meet in a middle ground of their own hearts’ making.

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Did it surprise you to learn the Oneidas were allies of the Americans during the Revolutionary War? Leave a comment with your thoughts on this post and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of The Wood’s Edge.

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The Wood’s Edge

At the wood’s edge cultures collide. Can two families survive the impact?

The 1757 New York frontier is home to the Oneida tribe and to British colonists, yet their feet rarely walk the same paths.

On the day Fort William Henry falls, Major Reginald Aubrey is beside himself with grief. His son, born that day, has died in the arms of his sleeping wife. When Reginald comes across an Oneida mother with newborn twins, one white, one brown, he makes a choice that will haunt the lives of all involved. He steals the white baby and leaves his own child behind. Reginald’s wife and foundling daughter, Anna, never suspect the truth about the boy they call William, but Reginald is wracked by regret that only intensifies with time, as his secret spreads its devastating ripples.

When the long buried truth comes to light, can an unlikely friendship forged at the wood’s edge provide a way forward? For a father tormented by fear of judgment, another by lust for vengeance. For a mother still grieving her lost child. For a brother who feels his twin’s absence, another unaware of his twin’s existence. And for Anna, who loves them both—Two Hawks, the mysterious Oneida boy she meets in secret, and William, her brother. As paths long divided collide, how will God direct the feet of those who follow Him?


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46 thoughts on “Crossing Cultural Frontiers: The Wild, Wild… East? by Lori Benton”

  1. I was very surprised to learn that the Oneidas were allies. I have not been a seeker of a great deal of history but through reading wonderful books like yours, history comes alive and is wonderful to read.

    Thank you for this very informative post, for sharing your talent and this great giveaway!

  2. Wow, history is so interesting, and hard to believe what people had to do to live through it. Love the cover and the blurb!

    • I’m so pleased with my cover designer’s work. Recently my publisher, WaterBrook Press, shared a behind the scenes shot from the photo shoot for the sequel’s cover. That’s over on my Facebook Page. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with for this next one.

  3. Welcome to Wildflower Junction Lori! And what a gorgeous cover for The Woods Edge! The picture and the title and the blurb are all very compelling.

    I enjoyed your history post. In school my instructors did not dwell on the Native Americans in the colonial period much at all. My memories come down to reading the poems Evangeline and Hiawatha and seeing the movie The Last of the Mohicans which are all very romantic stories but likely not historically accurate in many ways.

    Is there a particular reason you have chosen this time period in which to write? Is it just a fascination with it…or a certain ancestor link?

    • Kathryn, the initial reason was less than profound. I wanted my characters to wear knee breeches. I’d seen The Patriot (with Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger) and I was a goner for the time period’s fashions for men.

      Little did I know when I picked the late 1700s what a treasure trove of history I was about to discover. I still like knee breeches, but there’s SO much more that’s keeping me telling stories about this era.

  4. I have always loved history so to see a author write about a time period I love it. Also you are a new author for ME so I will be looking for your books.

  5. I don’t know much about Native American history, especially in the early years of our country. I’m looking forward to reading your book, I’ve heard it’s rich in historical detail!

  6. You are a new author to me, Lori. I am looking forward to these books as I was born in the Mohawk Valley. State and local history was a very important part of our curriculum. I still remember words from a song we sang at pep rallies and games-“We are Mohegans, Mohawk Mohegans….” Someone didn’t do their homework on that one. Mohawks and Mohegans were hostile toward each other!

    • Hi Rosie. Great to meet someone born in the Mohawk Valley. I hope you enjoy the books, and that I did your home valley proud. What a fascinating history along that winding river.

  7. Doesn’t surprise me. I really think the American Indians started out peaceful but we pretty much ruined it. Sounds like a fascinating read!

  8. This came as a surprise to me, great post. Your book sounds awesome and I can’t wait to read it.

  9. I just love these post where you learn something new you didnt know,,very interesting post,,love the sound of hte book,just my style too,,thanks for sharing

  10. Hello Lori. I enjoy the history with the authors but least favorite of my subject in school. I knew they fought with the Americans, but couldn’t remember which one at the moment. My remembering isn’t as good as it used to be. I have The Burning Sky and Tamesen Littlejohn and won’t this one so very bad. It sounds so good. Sure hope I can get lucky and win. Thanks for the giveaway.
    Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

  11. I learned so much from this post! I just finished a historical fiction from the same or slightly later time frame but dealing with a totally different area of the country. I didn’t know a thing about the Oneidas, really! And I fell in love with the cover of The Woods’ Edge the first time I saw it 🙂

  12. I appreciate the thought and research you put into your writing. Yes, I knew that they were allies from US History and American literature (working on text books, not from high school).

  13. What an informative and interesting post. And touching excerpt. It did surprise me. I think we get an idea of history and stick with it until we read something like this and are surprised at events.

    • Sally, It’s always good to dig a little deeper. I’m constantly surprised by the things I’m learning now that I’m doing that digging for myself.

  14. Interersting article. I love reading about the early history of America. This is an era of history where one can not find many romance books during this time. Your book sounds really good.

    • Joye, True, not as many historicals or romances (mine tend to fall somewhere between) are set in the 1700s, compared to the 1800s and early 1900s. I’m so blessed that readers have enjoyed them.

  15. I just love reading a well written historical novel. Thank you so much for doing such thorough research!

    • Mary, I enjoy the research immensely. Fitting as much of it into a novel as I can is the real challenge. So hard to have to leave some things out. In this case, so many of the Oneida men and women I learned about. I had to choose for simplicity of narrative. I hope many who read The Wood’s Edge will look into the history more.

  16. I never really paid much attention (or got good grades) in History class, but I’ve learned more by reading historical fiction, especially of our United States! Maybe because it’s more fun? 🙂 Guess it really doesn’t surprise me that the Oneidas were our allies, some as scouts and spies probably because they knew the land so much better then we did 🙂 Total guess on my part however!
    Thanks for the opportunity to to win a copy of “The Wood’s Edge” (NOT wolves, lol!). Wonderful interview and love the fact that you put so much research into this book. It sounds like you learned a whole lot more then you expected to 🙂

    teamob4 (at) gmail (dot) com

  17. Reading this period of America’s history and the interlocking stories of frontiermen’s, Indian, and English interactions is fascinating and that is especially true when an author brings to life their meticulous research into fleshed out stories. I’d love to win a copy of “The Wood’s Edge.”

    godleyv [at] yahoo {dot}com

  18. Hi Lori!

    Much of this I knew because of the books BLACK EAGLE and SENECA SURRENDER that I wrote deal with the Mohawks and, of course, the Seneca.

    Your books sound wonderful.

  19. Missed your post. We are on the road and have had little internet availability. Interesting post. I am from that area and was not aware of the different missionary influences. Most often one hears about the Catholic missionaries.
    I will have to check out your books in this series.

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