The Crimsoned Hills of Onondaga: Romantic Antiquarians and the Euro-American Invention of Native American Prehistory

by De Villo Sloan


In the early 19th century, Euro-Americans in the United States pushing westward encountered the ruins of vast earthworks and finely made artifacts. Reflecting their biases, most believed they could not possibly have been made by Native Americans. These discoveries generated widespread public interest, and the Romantic Antiquarians sought to provide an explanation.

They speculated civilization was brought to prehistoric America by Egyptians, the Lost Tribes of Israel, Phoenicians, Polynesians, Romans, and Vikings, among others. While origins were bitterly disputed, Romantic Antiquarians contended the colonies were destroyed by a migratory wave of barbarians––Native Americans.

In The Crimsoned Hills of Onondaga, Professor De Villo Sloan applies literary analysis to antiquarian writing––a body of work most often associated with the history of archaeology. As a result, the reader gains fresh and surprising insights into Euro/Native American relations and the formation of U.S. national identity pertaining to culture. At the same time, the book enlarges the domain of American Romanticism and sheds new light on the ideological use of gothic fiction.

Focusing on New York State and the Iroquois, The Crimsoned Hills of Onondaga includes studies of De Witt Clinton’s A Memoir on the Antiquities of the Western Part of the State of New York (1818); Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities, And Discoveries in the West (1833); Joshua V.H. Clark’s Onondaga (1849); and E. G. Squier’s Aboriginal Monuments of the State of New York (1849). The Cardiff Giant hoax is re-examined along with other 19th century archaeological frauds associated with antiquarians.

This highly original book will be a valuable addition to collections in archaeology, American history, and literature.


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