By focusing on the complex cultural and political facets of Native resistance to encroachment on reservation lands during the eighteenth century in southern New England, Beyond Conquest reconceptualizes indigenous histories and debates over Native land rights.
As Amy E. Den Ouden demonstrates, Mohegans, Pequots, and Niantics living on reservations in New London County, Connecticut—where the largest indigenous population in the colony resided—were under siege by colonists who employed various means to expropriate reserved lands. Natives were also subjected to the policies of a colonial government that sought to strictly control them and that undermined Native land rights by depicting reservation populations as culturally and politically illegitimate. Although colonial tactics of rule sometimes incited internal disputes among Native women and men, reservation communities and their leaders engaged in subtle and sometimes overt acts of resistance to dispossession, thus demonstrating the power of historical consciousness, cultural connections to land, and ties to local kin. The Mohegans, for example, boldly challenged colonial authority and its land encroachment policies in 1736 by holding a “great dance,” during which they publicly affirmed the leadership of Mahomet and, with the support of their Pequot and Niantic allies, articulated their intent to continue their legal case against the colony.
Beyond Conquest demonstrates how the current Euroamerican scrutiny and denial of local Indian identities is a practice with a long history in southern New England, one linked to colonial notions of cultural—and ultimately “racial”—illegitimacy that emerged in the context of eighteenth-century disputes regarding Native land rights.