Q&A with Edward E. Andrews, Author of Native Apostles

Ted AndrewsThe following is an interview with Ted Andrews, an assistant professor of history at Providence College in Rhode Island. Yesterday, Christopher Jones reviewed his book, Native Apostles: Black and Indian Missionaries in the British Atlantic World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013), and now Ted is speaking with The Junto about the process of writing it. Ted teaches early American, Atlantic, and Native American history, and he was recently awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to explore his next project on global missionary connections among early modern Protestants. Native Apostles is his first book.

JUNTO: Native Apostles is in no small degree an exercise in storytelling. In several of your chapters (the introduction, chapter 1, and chapter 4), you employ a writing technique that involves the telling of a story without immediately revealing the names of the characters involved. Could you speak a little about why you’ve sometimes framed these stories that way, and how storytelling informs your scholarship?

ANDREWS: I’m very happy you picked up on that, Rachel.  I think I started some of these chapters that way partially so I could lure the reader into what I consider to be these fascinating stories about people we didn’t really know that much about.  In doing so I was hoping that my audience might share in the excitement that I experienced as I was learning about these people.  I actually start off with a Black Atlantic character who was aspiring to be a missionary, and then reveal that it was none other than Olaudah Equiano.  I borrowed that device from one of my graduate advisors, Jeff Bolster, who started his work on black sailors (Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail) with a brief vignette on Frederick Douglass’s encounters with men of sail.  Starting with Equiano was a way to universalize this story by using a transatlantic celebrity who everyone knew at the time, and who most of my audience would have already been familiar with.  I wanted to start with him in order to offer the reader something familiar as an entry point to a historical topic that is less familiar.

One of the little crutches we all use, and one that I try to avoid in all of my work, is relying on the somewhat tired strategy of starting with the word “In” and then continuing with a date to set up the discussion (i.e., “In 1774, John Quamine found himself on a ship”).  Instead, I preferred to start the chapters off with different language, but also some other imagery, something more conceptual but compelling, like missionaries squabbling over tea, Africans experiencing seasickness, or two men from completely different worlds meeting each other for the first time.  As a teacher, I find that my students understand course material best when it is communicated through stories, anecdotes, and little vignettes, and I think that holds true for our scholarly endeavors, as well.

JUNTO: Your book contains an appendix titled “Table of Native Missionaries.” In it, you include wonderful descriptions of these missionaries, such as “Supposedly a bashful person” (in reference to Nishokon, whom the reader encounters in chapter 1). Can you describe the methods you used to track these missionaries?

ANDREWS: I have to thank Erik Seeman for pushing me to include the appendix, and for Harvard for allowing me to do so.  I certainly admit that the list is not completely exhaustive, but at least it’s a start!  When I began the project, I was fascinated by the idea of native missionaries.  We now know a good deal about missionaries like Mohegan minister Samson Occom and Moravian evangelist Rebecca Protten, but as I started digging I found so many more that appeared as tiny blips all over the radar.  I never stumbled upon a documentary smoking gun—I reread nearly every missionary account, journal, or other documentation regarding Protestant missions during this period—but there were thousands of references to native preachers, teachers, and schoolmasters sprinkled throughout the documentary record.  I needed a way to keep track of them.

There was really no sophisticated method to it other than to keep an Excel sheet open and populate it with names and other data as it came up.  So, the appendix saw its first life as a way for me to orient myself to who these people were and what they were up to.  I remember Laurel Ulrich once describing her initial research stages of the Martha Ballard book as walking into a room full of people, not being sure who everyone was, and not really knowing if you should care.  The appendix was a way for me to figure out who everyone was, where and when they were operating, and why I needed to care about them.

JUNTO: On the theme of stories, everyone knows that publishing a book necessitates major cuts as part of the revision process. Is there a story that didn’t make it into the book that you’d like to share?

ANDREWS: If I may, I’d like to answer this in two ways.  First, one of the major themes I discovered was the generation of larger global conversations about missionary work that were happening very early on.  The people I discuss in Native Apostles were directly linked in to and aware of other missionary efforts in Asia, and specifically India.  I had a few pages on this in the original version, but I never felt like I tied it in as effectively as I could have.  Now I’m pursuing that issue as a separate research project, and I actually spent this summer in England working on it.

Secondly, I also had to revise what I wanted my revisions to be.  What I mean by that is that I initially wanted to add another chapter to fully explore black Methodists and Baptists that emerged in Virginia and the southern colonies in the 1760s as major evangelical leaders.  Albert Raboteau, Sylvia Frey, and Betty Wood have discussed them a bit, but I wanted to dedicate an entire chapter to them to investigate that development in more detail.  However, I already had to cut down the manuscript significantly, so some of these characters only get brief mention in the conclusion.  And yet, the upside is that talented and capable scholars like Christopher Jones will be able to fill in those gaps and tell those stories with much more nuance and analytical sophistication than I could!

JUNTO: In one fascinating episode, you describe missionary Philip Quaque convincing indigenous Africans to come and hear him speak by offering what was essentially a bribe of liquor. Yet you also say that white Christians conflated Native American and African American preachers, so I’m curious: did any Indian missionaries attempt a similar practice, given Native Americans’ troubled relationship with alcohol?

ANDREWS: It’s interesting, because I often found missionaries conflating blacks and Indians in missionary discourses, but on the ground they did leave room for local conditions and exigencies.  One of the biggest stumbling blocks to “conversion” (I use that term loosely, fully aware of its problems and that others, like my Providence neighbor, Lin Fisher, prefer “affiliation”) in Native societies was the poor example of Euro-American traders and settlers who came into contact with indigenous peoples.  Of course, one of the more problematic aspects of these encounters was the exchange of liquor.  I generally found that white and Native missionaries railed against alcohol usage among Native peoples as spiritually defiling and socially destabilizing.  So, I didn’t see them trying to bribe them with alcohol in Native American communities as an evangelical tool, but rather took a different tack by rejecting hard drink in the same way that later Native revivalists would.

JUNTO: This is your first book. Can you describe the process of turning the dissertation into a monograph? How did you end up deciding to work with HUP? And what advice would you offer to early career scholars engaged in similar processes?

ANDREWS: The process of transforming the dissertation into a book is, of course, not a uniform one, but I’m happy to share my experiences.  I took out or toned down a lot of historiographical language, cut some material on larger global connections, and completely rewrote the chapter on Quaque and much of the conclusion.  I’d say the main change was in the writing itself.  I was very lucky to have worked with renowned editor Joyce Seltzer on the book, who provided expert advice on prose, structure, and argument.  She’s one of the main reasons why I wanted to work with HUP, along with the fact that Harvard does an excellent job reaching out to wider audiences and making their works aesthetically appealing.  My two advisors—Lige Gould and Jeff Bolster—also had wonderful experiences with Harvard, so once they offered me the contract, there was really no alternative.  They were, and always had been, my number one choice.

As far as advice to other scholars engaged in the same process, I suppose I would suggest doing the same thing: make the manuscript as engaging and interesting as possible early on, and work with advisors and other trusted colleagues to frame it as clearly as possible as a major contribution to the field.  But, I think that those who are publishing their first books should also remember that the publishers ultimately want to sell books, so you have to consider how marketable your ideas are.  One of the reasons why HUP was drawn to Native Apostles is because it spoke to scholars interested in African American, Native American, religious, early American, imperial, and Atlantic history; they believed it had a broad appeal.  So my suggestion to early career scholars would be to work carefully on the prose, pay special attention to the introduction and the first few pages of each chapter (since these will set the tone for the rest of the book and these are the pages people read most closely anyways), and think in terms of the big picture: why would someone outside your immediate field of historical inquiry be interested in reading your work?  What big issues or problems does it seem to address?  The better our answers are for those questions, the more marketable (and publishable) our books will be.

JUNTO: You’re obviously standing on the shoulders of several historians in this book; for example, you describe missions “less as sites of western imperial oppression and more as a middle ground.” How do you see this book speaking to—and perhaps revising—historical tropes such as the middle ground, the cultural broker, and the idea of diaspora?

ANDREWS: When I was going through graduate school, I truly admired the recent work of people like Jon Sensbach, David Silverman, and Erik Seeman, among others, and I was hoping to produce a book that might speak to some of the intellectual concerns that drive their scholarship.  As I developed this project, I came to believe that native evangelists can complicate some of the traditional binaries that we have often employed to understand them (as hero-martyrs or as avaricious imperialists).  My central goal was to rethink the figure of the missionary itself, to challenge existing narratives while still operating within the framework of what I thought, and still think, is some excellent scholarship on cultural encounters.

Regarding the other concepts, I suppose that’s for readers to decide.  I was certainly informed by these themes of middle grounds and cultural brokers, and perhaps I was trying to add to our understanding of them rather than setting out to challenge or revise them.  As far as diaspora, I didn’t intend that to be a major trope of the work, so I’m certainly not trying to challenge any conceptual frameworks there.  But, again, I’m sure that readers will take from it what they will.

Finally, an Inside the Actors Studio-style speed round:

JUNTO: Cultural broker or cultural breaker?

ANDREWS: Both.  Put briefly, the book covers so many spaces over such a swath of time that we see native missionaries operating as both brokers and breakers, depending on the context.  On the one hand, there is no doubt that missionaries were cultural imperialists.  On the other hand, one has to wonder about the extent to which Christianity could be characterized as a Western, alien, or imperialistic religion to Indians on Martha’s Vineyard who had lived as Christians and had been led by their own native ministers for generations.  Okay, maybe I wasn’t faithful to the “speed round” theme here…

JUNTO: Creolization or ethnogenesis?

ANDREWS: Both.  See above.

JUNTO: Four books you kept on your desk while in the thick of the editing process?

ANDREWS: David Silverman, Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha’s Vineyard, 1600–1871; Daniel Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America; Erik Seeman, Death in the New World: Cross-Cultural Encounters, 1492-1800; Vincent Carretta and Ty M. Reese, The Life and Letters of Philip Quaque, the First African Anglican Missionary. But I would also like to make a plug for Rachel Wheeler’s To Live Upon Hope, Lin Fisher’s The Indian Great Awakening, and Travis Glasson’s Mastering Christianity.  All of these books served as inspirations, useful guides, and role models, as they came out as I was shaping the book.

JUNTO: Favorite character in your book?

ANDREWS: It has to be Philip Quaque, an African Anglican who struggled with his vocation as a missionary living in Cape Coast Castle, smack dab in the middle of the slave trade.  He also left dozens of letters behind (see Carretta and Reese) and provided an incredibly rich source base for my work.

JUNTO: And what’s next?

ANDREWS: I’m glad you asked!  I’m currently working on two projects simultaneously, one of which is closer to home in Rhode Island and the other takes me much farther afield.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m increasingly interested in global Protestant missionary connections, so I’m now trying to assess the peoples, texts, discourses, and ideas that served as bridges between Asia, England, and the Americas during the early modern period.

Additionally, I’m finally hoping to complete a book I’ve been working on for over ten years.  Native Apostles began when I was researching slavery and race in early Newport, Rhode Island, a project that started when I was just a lowly graduate student in Karin Wulf’s “Family in Early America” class at The American University.  The Newport project led me to the native missionary book, but I’m hoping to return to Newport to fashion a readable, engaging monograph that explores the tensions between race and religion in a bustling seaport that was known for its religious diversity and toleration.

JUNTO: Here, Ted, the Q&A ends. But when I do these sorts of things, I also like to ask my interviewees if there’s a question that I haven’t asked, that they’d like to answer. So if you’d like, feel free to pose your own question and to answer it.

ANDREWS: I’d just like to thank The Junto, specifically Rachel and Chris, for inviting me to discuss my book and for offering such thoughtful and perceptive commentary on it.  I’m a huge fan of the work you all do on the blog, and perhaps my greatest hope for Native Apostles is that it may one day get a tourney berth in the “March Madness” competition!

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