Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians

A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians by Larry Nelson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't believe I just got around to reading this book that I've seen sourced in other history books many times. I've read a few other captivity narratives but this one is right up my alley in that it mostly happened in Madison County Ohio near Columbus. In fact, when I was in the middle of reading it, I happened to be off work for Christmas break so I took advantage of that timing and combined my hobby of geocaching and made the 90-minute drive to visit some of the places mentioned, including Alder's 210-year-old cabin and final resting place. It's always great when history becomes a hands-on experience.

Alder's 1806 cabin in Madison County
Since Indians in that period had no written language we have to rely on what was told to Europeans and Americans regarding day to day life. Many times that is filtered through misinterpretation, misunderstandings, or prejudice. Alder was captured by Shawnee in Virginia and adopted by Mingo at eight years of age in 1781. He assimilated and was treated well so I think we get a pretty accurate look at his experiences, good and bad. Nelson's version denotes other versions and additions of the story by others in an italic font to what the author believes is the truest account of Alder's life. The actual story of Alder's story is a bit complicated and the author explains this in the introduction.

Alder voluntarily left his adopted Mingo family in 1805 as white settlers arrived after the Treaty of Greenville. He reunited with his birth family in Virginia and returned to Ohio with them and his new wife 1806. He served as a Captain in the War of 1812. After the war, he became a farmer and befriended the famous pioneer Simon Kenton. Alder lived out his days in Madison County Ohio until his death in 1849.

We learn so much about regular life as an Indian in Ohio in the early 19th century from Alder's excellent narrative. Nelson also provides additional footnotes throughout the story that details further what Alder was referring to at times or what he meant when in the vernacular. Definitely, do not skip out on those notes if you get this version of the book.
Alder's grave in Madison County

All in all, this is a very easy read and should be required reading for any student of the history of the early United States and the old Northwest Territory.

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