Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in the Age of Jackson
(Oxford, 2017) is a dramatic and vibrant story of a little-known Kentucky school, the Choctaw Academy. Christina Snyder
, McCabe-Greer Professor of History at Penn State University, argues that this short-lived institution represented both the promise of a multi-ethnic American society, as well as the withering of that dream during the era of Jacksonian Democracy and Indian Removal. Snyder presents several characters, including the Choctaw scion Peter Pitchlynn, the enslaved nurse and sometime-plantation overseer Julia Chinn, and her mate and master, Vice President Richard M. Johnson. Each person’s story (as well as several others) underscores the complicated hierarchies of race and class in antebellum America, as their histories intertwine with that of the Choctaw Academy and its students. Winner of the 2018 Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, Great Crossings
is a richly told and thickly researched tale that upends simple narratives of pre-Civil War American society, Native nations, and enslaved people. In their place, Snyder tells of complex humans acting by turns graciously and selfishly, with cruelty and with kindness, as the diverse population of the antebellum American West fumbled its way into the modern era.
Stephen Hausmann is a doctoral candidate at Temple University and Visiting Instructor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently writing his dissertation, a history of race and the environment in the Black Hills and surrounding northern plains region of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.