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The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic
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Longlisted for the 2014 National Book AwardThe astonishing story of a unique missionary project--and the America it embodied--from award-winning historian John Demos. Near the start of the nineteenth century, as the newly established United States looked outward toward the wider world, a group of eminent Protestant ministers formed a grand scheme for gathering the rest of mankind into the redemptive fold of Christianity and "civilization." Its core element was a special school for "heathen youth" drawn from all parts of the earth, including the Pacific Islands, China, India, and, increasingly, the native nations of North America. If all went well, graduates would return to join similar projects in their respective homelands. For some years, the school prospered, indeed became quite famous. However, when two Cherokee students courted and married local women, public resolve--and fundamental ideals--were put to a severe test. The Heathen School follows the progress, and the demise, of this first true melting pot through the lives of individual students: among them, Henry Obookiah, a young Hawaiian who ran away from home and worked as a seaman in the China Trade before ending up in New England; John Ridge, son of a powerful Cherokee chief and subsequently a leader in the process of Indian "removal"; and Elias Boudinot, editor of the first newspaper published by and for Native Americans. From its birth as a beacon of hope for universal "salvation," the heathen school descends into bitter controversy, as American racial attitudes harden and intensify. Instead of encouraging reconciliation, the school exposes the limits of tolerance and sets off a chain of events that will culminate tragically in the Trail of Tears. In The Heathen School, John Demos marshals his deep empathy and feel for the textures of history to tell a moving story of families and communities--and to probe the very roots of American identity.

From the Hardcover edition.
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APA Citation (style guide)

John Demos. (2014). The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

John Demos. 2014. The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

John Demos, The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2014.

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John Demos. The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2014. Web.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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        John Demos is the Samuel Knight Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University. His previous books includeThe Unredeemed Captive, which won the Francis Parkman Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award, and Entertaining Satan, which won the Bancroft Prize. He lives in Tyringham, MA.

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fullDescription

Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award

The astonishing story of a unique missionary project--and the America it embodied--from award-winning historian John Demos.

Near the start of the nineteenth century, as the newly established United States looked outward toward the wider world, a group of eminent Protestant ministers formed a grand scheme for gathering the rest of mankind into the redemptive fold of Christianity and "civilization." Its core element was a special school for "heathen youth" drawn from all parts of the earth, including the Pacific Islands, China, India, and, increasingly, the native nations of North America. If all went well, graduates would return to join similar projects in their respective homelands. For some years, the school prospered, indeed became quite famous. However, when two Cherokee students courted and married local women, public resolve--and fundamental ideals--were put to a severe test.

The Heathen School follows the progress, and the demise, of this first true melting pot through the lives of individual students: among them, Henry Obookiah, a young Hawaiian who ran away from home and worked as a seaman in the China Trade before ending up in New England; John Ridge, son of a powerful Cherokee chief and subsequently a leader in the process of Indian "removal"; and Elias Boudinot, editor of the first newspaper published by and for Native Americans. From its birth as a beacon of hope for universal "salvation," the heathen school descends into bitter controversy, as American racial attitudes harden and intensify. Instead of encouraging reconciliation, the school exposes the limits of tolerance and sets off a chain of events that will culminate tragically in the Trail of Tears.

In The Heathen School, John Demos marshals his deep empathy and feel for the textures of history to tell a moving story of families and communities--and to probe the very roots of American identity.



From the Hardcover edition.
reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Cleopatra: A Life
      • content: "The masterful account of a utopian 19th century experiment in education -- one that goes painfully awry. A splendidly nuanced, wholly absorbing tale; patiently, brilliantly, John Demos coaxes unexpected lessons from a singular collision of enlightenment and assimilation."
      • premium: False
      • source: Joseph J. Ellis, author of Revolutionary Summer
      • content: "Demos has done it again, finding macroscopic meanings within a microscopic locale, which in this instance is a school in Cornwall, Connecticut, designed to civilize heathens into mainstream American culture in the early years of the nineteenth century. The best of intentions have the worst of consequences in this story, and the tragedies that almost inevitably ensue are like tombstones telling the saddest story of all. In my judgment, no one know how to manage this material as well as Demos, disdaining moralistic judgments and condescending appraisals in favor of an elegiac tone that makes us all complicitous in 'the tragedy.'"
      • premium: False
      • source: Richard D. Brown, author of The Strength of a People
      • content: "This moving, engrossing history of an early American experiment in multicultural education charts the collision between soaring aims and human limitations. An evangelical boarding school in a remote Connecticut town aimed at the romantic, hugely ambitious goal of converting the world's heathens to Protestantism. Instead, conflict over interracial marriage became emblematic of Americans' failure to fulfill their highest dreams. Embedding personal stories in the long history of Anglo-Americans encounter with "others," Demos weaves a compelling tale that invites us to reflect on the meaning of the nation's struggles towards equality."
      • premium: False
      • source: Maya Jasanoff, author of Liberty's Exiles
      • content: "The global meets the local as rarely before in The Heathen School, an eye-opening story about a stunningly cosmopolitan community in the heart of early national New England. John Demos uses his powerful literary gifts and insight to animate the experiences of people brought together by love, learning, and loss, across dramatic cultural divides. Imaginative, compassionate, and exquisitely written, this book will change your understanding of America's founding project to make a difference for the world--and to make our different peoples into a national whole."
      • premium: False
      • source: Jill Lepore, author of Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
      • content: "In 1816, in a small town in Connecticut, wide-eyed Christian missionaries opened a school for 'heathens,' hoping to train young men from the four corners of the world to spread the word of God. John Demos's deeply moving account of the school's rise and fall tells at once of its founders' grand ambitions and its students' tangled fates. 'The hills of little Cornwall/Themselves are dreams,' the poet Mark Van Doren once wrote. Demos, a consummate storyteller, has written a parable about the nature of the American experiment itself: the hills and valleys of our dreams."
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        December 9, 2013
        Demos, a Yale historian and master of micro-history (Bancroft and Parkman Prize winner for Unredeemed Captive), turns his attention here to a well-intentioned 1820s effort to create a Connecticut school to Christianize “heathens” (mostly Indians and Hawaiians) and send them forth to missionize. The sad, sometimes tragic, results could have been anticipated. Some of the young male students, two Cherokees foremost, became enamored of town daughters. The consequences, perhaps inevitably, were instances of racism, clerical fear, an overall public hubbub, leading to the school’s collapse. But not before two long and apparently successful marriages between the Cherokees and the towngirls were conducted. Those Indians eventually became noted leaders during their tribe’s searing dispossession and exile westward—of their “ethnic cleansing”—wherein one of them was murdered by a fellow tribesman. Demos tells this tale with scarcely hidden feeling. His research is characteristically prodigious, his writing disarming, and his story captivating and of national resonance. However, his first-person usage (a recent minor fashion among historians) intrudes on that story, and strange typographical mannerisms (long passages in small typeface) blemish a marvelous story that needed no such embellishments.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        Starred review from February 1, 2014
        A carefully constructed study--featuring a chilling denouement--of the disruptive effects of "civilizing" mission work among indigenous peoples. Demos (Emeritus, History/Yale Univ.; The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-hunting in the Western World, 2008, etc.) manages a sly, significant feat in this historical study/personal exploration. As part of a grandiose scheme to redeem and improve the status of "savages" such as American Indians, the early Americans devised a "heathen school" in Cornwall, Conn., for some of the exemplary members of various ethnic groups, beginning with five Pacific Islanders brought to the shores by trade ships. The Hawaiian native Henry Obookiah proved the most famous immigrant, having arrived around 1809, eager to be educated, Christianized and sheltered with Yale faculty. Eventually, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sponsored him, along with the other Hawaiians, for the Foreign Mission School, inaugurated in 1817. The school was run by philanthropic donations, and it taught a mix of English, arithmetic and geography, for the eventual purpose of conversion and evangelization. Gaining new students from some of the Indian nations, East Asia and elsewhere, the school helped undermine some of the stereotypes about the intelligence of "pagans" and served as a model experiment as well as a tourist attraction. However, the seeds of its success, namely assimilation and acculturation, also led to its downfall, as the "scholars" attracted white women partners and, thereby, scandal amid a deeply racist America. The two success stories, involving Cherokee scholars John Ridge and Elias Boudinot, both married white women and moved to the Cherokee Nation, gaining important leadership roles that, ultimately, steered the nation's fate toward removal and thereby invited the men's own violent demises. In "interludes" alternating with his historical narrative, Demos chronicles his visits to the places involved--e.g., Hawaii, Cornwall--in order to impart a personal commitment to this collective American tragedy. A slow-building saga that delivers a powerful final wallop.

        COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        Starred review from January 1, 2014

        Tantalizing glimpses of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions School in Cornwall, Connecticut, derisively known as the "heathen school," may be found in many books about the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Notable Native Americans such as Elias Boudinot and John Ridge were "civilized" there. Demos (Samuel Knight Professor Emeritus of History, Yale Univ.; The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America) provides a much-needed history of the school that identifies the lofty goals of its founders to educate bright people from around the world in order to return them, as Protestant missionaries, to their homes. Demos shows how the founders' dreams fell victim to racial bigotry within both the student body itself and in the greater Cornwall community. The school closed in the aftermath of the interracial marriages between Boudinot and Harriett Gold, and Ridge and Sarah Bird Northrup. Boudinot and Ridge subsequently returned to Georgia with their wives, became involved in Cherokee politics, and were signatories of the Treaty of New Echota (1835), which traded the Cherokee homeland in the East for land in present-day Oklahoma. VERDICT This brilliant work is highly recommended for all who study American history. They should read it with To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot in Letters, 1823-1839, edited by Theresa Strouth Gaul.--John R. Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY

        Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        February 1, 2014
        A chronicle of a school ordinarily interests few beyond those connected with it. This work is an exception. The Foreign Mission School of Cornwall, Connecticut, founded in the 1820s, represents a focal point for several cultural trends, including Christian evangelism, native-white relations, and even celebrity. Demos opens with a man who impressed Protestant eminences in New England. Hawaiian Henry Obookiah was a convert to Christianity whose memoir was immensely popular. His example beckoned the possibility of converting whole peoples, and so, under Congregational Church aegis, the heathen school was founded to train natives to be missionaries to their people. Demos discovers from letters and newspapers that the school ran into controversy (and a decline in donations) when two Cherokee students proposed to two young white women. Demos' description of the social convulsions that ensued renders intimate insight into attitudes of the period. The school disbanded, and the couples went to Georgia to be swept up in the Cherokee removal of the 1830s. A poignant, well-researched historical vignette of how changing the world weighs on the individual shoulders bearing the task.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

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Nearly two decades in the writing, The Heathen School is the award-winning historian John Demos's vivid story of how a small New England school for "heathens" embodies the larger story of America.

In Cornwall, Connecticut, a picturesque village best known today for its antique covered bridge, there once was an old "heathen school" created to "civilize" children from around the world. There were boys and young men from Hawaii, India, and China, as well as some Jews from Europe and of course plenty of Native Americans; they were to be educated and sent back to their own lands to help their own peoples. The students soon became virtual celebrities at a moment when America was just starting to see itself as an international power. Yet when two Cherokee students fell in love with local girls, things turned out quite differently than planned, setting off crises that would ultimately shape the fate of the Cherokee Nation. The Heathen School is a moving story of...

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