Jim Remsen

AUTHOR AND FREELANCE EDITOR

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Our Undying Past

Philadelphia's Indian Set-Aside

December 20, 2014

Tags: Native Americans, Indians, Iroquois, reservation, Philadelphia, Mohawk


It's believed that the so-called Wampum Lot would have touched on the southern edge of Welcome Park and run toward Bookbinder's, as shown in this photo by Nathaniel Popkin.


The listener’s question last week stumped me. “Is it true,” she asked, “that William Penn set aside land in Philadelphia for the Indians’ permanent use?”

At author appearances for Visions of Teaoga, my historical novel about Indian-settler conflict, I’ve welcomed the various questions that have come: Why did I tackle this topic? How does one research it? What are the lessons for today?

But this query, about a possible Indian reservation right in Philadelphia, brought me up short. It came during a talk-back portion of my presentation at the Ethical Society on Philly’s Rittenhouse Square. I responded that it was news to me, though it was plausible given Penn’s early good will (more…)

Learning, the native way

November 8, 2014

Tags: Native Americans, Indians, University of Pennsylvania, wampum, Iroquois, American history

Imagine it. Three thousand hours of American Indian oral recordings, brought out of the archives after decades, digitized, and made available to the public – that means you -- for free. A database of six thousand traditional Iroquois names, now searchable by clan affiliation.

Those and other precious native holdings of the American Philosophical Society have been brought forth for sharing in a respectful new collaboration between that eminent Philadelphia institution and a host of native tribes across North America.
I knew nothing about this remarkable initiative, which was highlighted at a conference organized by the University of Pennsylvania’s Native American and Indigenous Studies program. Looking to attend a good event on November’s Native American Heritage Month calendar, I happily located this one, which showcased what it called “innovative approaches to recovering and engaging with Indigenous knowledge in the classroom and in the field.” As a sign of this native partnership with the academy, a banner displaying the Hiawatha belt was prominent on the stage.

Timothy Powell, who directs the philosophical society’s Native American Project, told the audience how his team has been digitizing and sharing papers and other holdings with more than 100 native communities (more…)

About that mascot ...

October 10, 2014

Tags: Native Americans, Indians, Iroquois, Redskins, Senecas, Pennsylvania, New York, mascots

This weekend I’ll be heading off on a book tour along the New York-Pennsylvania border. Being on the fringe of Iroquois country, it’s the very territory that’s featured in my historical novel Visions of Teaoga. It’s also an area touched by a hot national debate – about the term “redskin” and its use as a sports nickname.

You no doubt know about the pressure on the pro football Washington Redskins to change its team name, and the organization’s refusal to do so. Critics call the term an anachronistic slur, while the other side argues that it's benign, even respectful.

Slur or not, the Redskins name is still in use by several dozen high schools around the country, most of them majority-white. And one of them is Sayre High School, located just four miles north of Tioga Point, the epicenter of the Indian-settler conflict zone that Visions of Teaoga captures.

North of Sayre, in upstate and western New York, seven other schools have mascots with Indian references: the Watkins Glen Senecas, the Southern Cayuga Chiefs, and the Indians of Candor, Groton, Odessa-Montour, Owego Free Academy and Stamford. This is according to an article two weeks ago in the Elmira Star-Gazette. Only one school in that region, Sayre High, keeps the R-word.

The Redskins nickname is a thing of the past now on the collegiate scene since the last two schools gave it up a few years. (more…)

Marking Pa.'s Last Indian Removal

September 26, 2014

Tags: Native Americans, Indians, Iroquois, Seneca, treaties, land, New York, Pennsylvania

The blow-by-blow of how our Eastern Woodlands Indians were dispossessed gets sorely limited treatment in history classes, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. This weekend, a painful chapter in that history will be commemorated by the Seneca Nation along the New York-Pennsylvania border.

The events of “Remembering the Removal, 50 Years Later” will mark the Army Corps of Engineers’ ouster of the Senecas from their very last toehold of ancestral land in Pennsylvania. In the late 1950s, the Corps set out to build a hydroelectric dam that would effectively flood 10,000 acres of the tribe’s so-called Cornplanter Tract, which is about 70 miles east of Erie, Pa. The Supreme Court cleared the way, allowing a treaty to be broken and forcing the relocation of more than 600 Seneca families north to New York.

Not familiar with the story? You’re hardly alone.

The Seneca Nation wants to raise public awareness about the Kinzua removal. (more…)

Why Teaoga? It's in history's vortex

September 12, 2014

Tags: Native Americans, Indians, Iroquois, Revolutionary War, New York, Pennsylvania, education

During the recent virtual-blog tour held as part of my Visions of Teaoga book launch, I was asked to reflect on why I wrote this historical novel. A fine question. Here's my answer:

Teaoga is a place that smacked me upside the head. Grabbed me and shouted, “Listen!”

Seriously, I wrote Visions of Teaoga because of the story it has to tell. Multiple stories, in fact – a crazy cavalcade of stories. Ever since I was a boy, I’ve been the type to lie back in the grass and sense the mysterious hum of the land and the people who came before. If you’re at all like that, you know what I mean. Not that I’m all supernatural. I’ll feel a place’s vibe--but I’ll also study up on the facts of its history.

So when a road trip a few years ago took me into Teaoga, now the quiet, seemingly idyllic riverfront community of Athens, Pennsylvania, its past reached out and smacked me. You may not have heard of this town, but it stood on the front lines of many of the conflicts and upheavals that swept the Eastern Woodlands in the colonial and Revolutionary era. It was at various times an Indian stronghold, a Christian mission field, a treaty ground, the launching site for several scorched-earth campaigns, the last bastion of a failed breakaway state, and more.

That’s why I wrote about it—because Teaoga was truly a microcosm of our nation’s turbulent beginnings. I wrote about it because (more…)

"Airey purchases" of Indian land

August 29, 2014

Tags: Native Americans, Indians, Iroquois, treaties, land, New York

Lust for land can turn a people ugly, as the American Indians learned the hard way in their dealings with settlers. During the 1790 peace council at Teaoga in Pennsylvania – the fateful U.S.-Seneca summit depicted in my new historical novel Visions of Teaoga – President Washington’s negotiator, Timothy Pickering, acknowledges as much.

“Brothers, in times past, some white men have deceived the Indians, falsely pretending they had authority to lease or purchase their lands,” Pickering declares. “And sometimes they have seized on more land than the Indians meant to sell them; again falsely pretending that those lands were comprehended within the purchase. Such fraudulent practices have made our brothers angry, (more…)

"The Little Brother of War"

July 18, 2014

Tags: Lacrosse, Native Americans, American Indians, Iroquois, Sports


Is lacrosse big in your area? It certainly is in mine. And summertime is the season for LAX camps, where kids suit up and work up a sweat developing their stick-handling skills.

The game they’re playing, as you probably know, is American Indian in origin – the original America’s Game (sorry, NFL). But aboriginal lacrosse was so much more than a sport. I didn’t really understand that until I read a book called A Friend Among the Senecas. Its author, David Swatzler, tells how American Indian lacrosse “had a profound spiritual and religious dimension difficult for European Americans to appreciate.”

A Friend Among the Senecas was one of the first scholarly works I consulted in my research for Visions of Teaoga, my historical novel about Eastern Indians and settlers that Sunbury Press is releasing next month. Swatzler’s book is a fascinating chronicle of a Quaker effort (more…)

Remembering The Fourth with a Forked Tongue

July 4, 2014

Tags: Fourth of July, Native Americans, American Indians, Founding Fathers, Land Treaties, Revolutionary War, Eastern Woodlands, Queen Esther, Iroquois, George Washington


Ah, the Fourth of July – the grand occasion to display the American flag outside my front door, and to join the crowds at our neighborhood fireworks party. The grand day to celebrate what’s been called our nation’s birth certificate: The hallowed Declaration of Independence.

But wait. What’s that ugly sentence embedded midway through it? Tucked into Thomas Jefferson’s angry brief against King George, in a long litany of grievances, appears this charge:

"He has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions."

Yes, our very founding document encodes the American Indians as “Savages” – capital S as if it were their proper name. Did you ever learn that in history class? You, like me, may have been clueless, (more…)

Selected Works by Jim Remsen

Nonfiction
The chronicle of a group of fugitive slaves and the world they encountered in the wary North. Despite serving bravely in the Civil War, their battle for respect was never-ending.
A comprehensive, immensely practical self-help book for intermarried families and those who love them.
Historical fiction
A tween girl visits a seemingly out-of-the-way town on a summer vacation and has close encounters with its amazing past. This saga blends history, suspense, and a coming-of-age journey.

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