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White Savage
William Johnson and the Invention of America
White Savage
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Fintan O'Toole - Author
Excelsior Editions
Price: $19.95 
Paperback - 416 pages
Release Date: March 2009
ISBN13: 978-1-4384-2758-4


Summary Read First Chapter image missing

Brings a strikingly original perspective to Johnson’s life, and suggests new ways of thinking about Johnson’s part in creating a nation he did not live to see.

William Johnson was scarcely more than a boy when he left Ireland and his Gaelic, Roman Catholic family to become a Protestant in the service of Britain’s North American empire. In New York by 1738, Johnson moved to the frontiers along the Mohawk River, where he established himself as a fur trader and eventually became a landowner with vast estates. Serving as principal British intermediary with the Iroquois Confederacy, he commanded British, colonial, and Iroquois forces that defeated the French in the battle of Lake George in 1755, and he created the first groups of “rangers,” who fought like American Indians and led the way to the Patriots’ victories in the Revolution.

As Fintan O’Toole’s superbly researched, colorfully dramatic narrative makes clear, the key to Johnson’s signal effectiveness was the style in which he lived as a “white savage.” Johnson had two wives, one European, one Mohawk; became fluent in Mohawk; and pioneered the use of American Indians as active partners in the making of a new America. O’Toole’s masterful use of the extraordinary documents written by Irish, Dutch, German, French, and American Indian participants in Johnson’s drama enlivens the account of this heroic figure’s legendary career. It also suggests why Johnson’s early multiculturalism unraveled, and why the contradictions of his enterprise created a historical dead end.

“The narrative moves with the spirited pace that such a storied life deserves, but does not fall prey to the legend making found in other Johnson biographies. Because he has not attempted an exhaustive biography, O’Toole avoids exhausting the reader. He presents his tale in short, impressionistic chapters that move between Johnson’s private and public lives.” — H-Net Review (H-AmIndian)

“…O’Toole’s prose pulls the reader along the journey of Johnson’s life.” — History

“O’Toole brings together great man history and real analytical rigor; this book should be a winner with academics and history hobbyists alike.” — Publishers Weekly

“A fascinating account.” — Booklist

“A biography that will enlighten specialists, especially those curious about the Irish roots of Johnson’s comfort with split allegiances.” — New York Times

Fintan O’Toole, columnist and drama critic for the Irish Times, is the author of many other books, including A Traitor’s Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. His work frequently appears in American magazines. He lives in Dublin.

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Table of Contents


1. Tears, Throat, Heart

2. Spectres and Apparitions

3. Amphibians

4. ‘Most Onruly and Streperous’

5. An Outlandish Man

6. How the White Man Came to America

7. The Holy Well

8. Raw Head and Bloody Bones

9. The Power of Absence

10. Force, Motion and Equilibrium

11. The Late Emperor of Morocco

12. Master of Ceremonies

13. An Upstart of Yesterday

14. The Precarious Salvo of Applause

15. Unspeakable Perplexity

16. The Largest Pipe in America

17. Miss Molly

18. Rowing Against the Current

19. Sir William and His Myrmidons

20. Niagara Falls

21. Barbarians

22. Seeds Worth Sowing

23. ‘Intoxicated with Providential Success’

24. A Stop to Their Very Being

25. What the Great Turtle Said

26. Many Civil Things

27. An Imaginary Line

28. The Patriarch

29. Negroes’ Handcuffs

30. Irish Dreamtime

31. A Death Foretold

32. The End of the World

33. The Afterlife


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