As part of our Online Author Series, explore early-American history during a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Nicole Eustace as she discusses her 2022 award-winning book "Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America."
On the eve of a major treaty conference between Iroquois leaders and European colonists in the distant summer of 1722, two white fur traders attacked an Indigenous hunter and left him for dead near Conestoga, Pennsylvania. Though virtually forgotten today, this act of brutality set into motion a remarkable series of criminal investigations and cross-cultural negotiations that challenged the definition of justice in early America.
In "Covered With Night," Eustace reconstructs the crime and its aftermath, bringing us into the overlapping worlds of white colonists and Indigenous peoples in this formative period. As she shows, the murder of the Indigenous man set the entire mid-Atlantic on edge, with many believing war was imminent. Isolated killings often flared into colonial wars in North America, so colonists anticipated a vengeful Indigenous uprising. Frantic efforts to resolve the case ignited a dramatic, far-reaching debate between Native American forms of justice — centered on community, forgiveness and reparations — and an ideology of harsh reprisal, unique to the colonies and based on British law, which called for the killers’ swift execution. As Eustace powerfully contends, the colonial obsession with “civility” belied the reality that the Iroquois, far from being the barbarians of the white imagination, acted in sophisticated and humane ways as they tried to make the land- and power-hungry colonials understand their customs.
About the Author: Nicole Eustace is a professor of history at New York University. A historian of the early modern Atlantic and the early United States, she specializes in the history of emotion. She is author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America," as well as "Passion Is the Gale: Emotion, Power and the Coming of the American Revolution" and of "1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism."
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The library will also host a book discussion of "Covered With Night" on December 7 at noon. See details.
This event is part of DBRL's Online Author Series, supported by David Lile honorarium funds. A recording will be available for later viewing on the author series site.