Narrating Sovereignty: The Covenant Chain in Intercultural Diplomacy

In: Journal of Early American History
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  • 1 University of Hull

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This article considers Haudenosaunee recitals of the history of the Covenant Chain as a powerful communicative mechanism to define and assert sovereign identity and rights in the context of intercultural diplomacy. It reflects initially on the metaphorical language used to structure these historical narratives and how it enabled the Haudenosaunee to articulate self-understandings of their sovereignty. Contending that the narrative’s main power stemmed from its application in specific diplomatic contexts, the article then examines three instances when the Haudenosaunee recounted the entire history of the Chain during mid-eighteenth century treaty councils with the British. It explores the reasons underpinning the narrative’s use on these occasions and its overall implications. Finally, the article discusses the adoption of the narrative by one British diplomat, Sir William Johnson, considering his motivations for using the Covenant Chain and its intended effects.

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