Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James Axtell


In recent years, interest in early American Indian history and an emphasis on ethnohistorical methods have led to new approaches to the study of cultural contact in colonial America. Several scholars have used cross-cultural groups such as missionaries and white Indian captives as vehicles for analysis. Another group that moved relatively freely back and forth across the cultural divide was that of interpreters. From their intermediate position between European and Iroquois cultures, these men and women interpreted more than languages. Although linguistic skills were essential, successful mediation between Indians and Europeans also required a knowledge of the culture and customs of both groups. They performed a vital role as cultural brokers during all types of intercultural exchange and helped to mediate cultural differences during contact. This study focuses on interpreters among the Iroquois under the English administration of New York, 1664-1775.;Interpreters were most visible during Anglo-Iroquois treaty conferences, and a significant part of this study deals with the development of the interpreters' formal and informal roles at such councils. Interpreters participated in all phases of the conference proceedings, acting as messengers, negotiators, speakers, and translators during both public and private council sessions. In addition, they frequently performed essential services for both the Indian and European participants by acting as advisors on council protocol. In fact, they were primary agents behind the development of a standardized protocol of forest diplomacy during the first half of the eighteenth century.;Interpreters were also active in informal day-to-day exchanges between the British and the Iroquois. They aided missionaries, traders, and military men. They also became the husbands, lovers, fathers, and friends of individuals on both sides of the cultural divide. These less public, less formal exchanges, while difficult to illuminate fully, allow glimpses of the many levels at which mediation and cultural brokerage occurred and indicate how profoundly interpreters and others like them shaped cultural contact in early America. They not only assumed identities and played roles on the stage that spanned the cultural divide--they helped to construct it.



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