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Groundless

Rumors, Legends, and Hoaxes on the Early American Frontier

Gregory Evans Dowd

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The fascinating—and troubling—story of powerful rumors that circulated and influential legends that arose in early America.

Why did Elizabethan adventurers believe that the interior of America hid vast caches of gold? Who started the rumor that British officers purchased revolutionary white women’s scalps, packed them by the bale, and shipped them to their superiors? And why are people today still convinced that white settlers—hardly immune as a group to the disease—routinely distributed smallpox-tainted blankets to the natives?

Rumor—spread by colonists and Native Americans alike—ran rampant in…

The fascinating—and troubling—story of powerful rumors that circulated and influential legends that arose in early America.

Why did Elizabethan adventurers believe that the interior of America hid vast caches of gold? Who started the rumor that British officers purchased revolutionary white women’s scalps, packed them by the bale, and shipped them to their superiors? And why are people today still convinced that white settlers—hardly immune as a group to the disease—routinely distributed smallpox-tainted blankets to the natives?

Rumor—spread by colonists and Native Americans alike—ran rampant in early America. In Groundless, historian Gregory Evans Dowd explores why half-truths, deliberate lies, and outrageous legends emerged in the first place, how they grew, and why they were given such credence throughout the New World. Arguing that rumors are part of the objective reality left to us by the past—a kind of fragmentary archival record—he examines how uncertain news became powerful enough to cascade through the centuries.

Drawing on specific case studies and tracing recurring rumors over many generations, Dowd explains the seductive power of unreliable stories in the eastern North American frontiers from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. The rumors studied here—some alluring, some frightening—commanded attention and demanded action. They were all, by definition, groundless, but they were not all false, and they influenced the classic issues of historical inquiry: the formation of alliances, the making of revolutions, the expropriation of labor and resources, and the origins of war.

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Groundless

Gregory Evans Dowd

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Reviews

Groundless is satisfyingly grounded. Dowd has eavesdropped credibly as well as prodigously, listening to the many voices across time whether recorded safely on microfilm or in the inky scribbles in the National Archives at Kew.

Dowd’s work has much methodological import for historians of early America and beyond who will certainly benefit from the approach he presents. Groundless shows that paying attention to falsities can uncover important cultural truths.

In this innovative, intriguing study, Dowd (Univ. of Michigan) examines how rumors or "flying reports" shaped the dynamics of communication between colonists and Native Americans... This work deserves broad readership for its wealth of insights on early America’s frontiers and for what it says about the nature of historical evidence.

Dowd's perceptive analysis ably establishes that rumor revealed deep-seated concerns and shaped both events and narratives.

... imaginative and forthright approach to evidence and its analysis...

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
408
ISBN
9781421418650
Illustration Description
2 b&w photos, 5 b&w illus., 2 maps
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Part One: Longitudes
1. Gold
2. Pox
3. Slaves
Part Two: Episodes
4. Panic
5. Father
Part Three: Longitudes
6. Bonds
7. Solidarity
Part Four: Episodes
8. Scalps
9. Hoax
Part Five

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Part One: Longitudes
1. Gold
2. Pox
3. Slaves
Part Two: Episodes
4. Panic
5. Father
Part Three: Longitudes
6. Bonds
7. Solidarity
Part Four: Episodes
8. Scalps
9. Hoax
Part Five: Longitudes
10. Slavery
11. Extirpation
Part Six: Episodes
12. Murder
Conclusion
Abbreviations
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bio
Gregory Evans Dowd
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Gregory Evans Dowd

Gregory Evans Dowd is a professor of history and American culture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is the author of A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815 and War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire.