Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Indians in the Family

Indians in the Family

Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion

Dawn Peterson

ISBN 9780674737556

Publication date: 06/01/2017

Request exam copy

During his invasion of Creek Indian territory in 1813, future U.S. president Andrew Jackson discovered a Creek infant orphaned by his troops. Moved by an “unusual sympathy,” Jackson sent the child to be adopted into his Tennessee plantation household. Through the stories of nearly a dozen white adopters, adopted Indian children, and their Native parents, Dawn Peterson opens a window onto the forgotten history of adoption in early nineteenth-century America. Indians in the Family shows the important role that adoption played in efforts to subdue Native peoples in the name of nation-building.

As the United States aggressively expanded into Indian territories between 1790 and 1830, government officials stressed the importance of assimilating Native peoples into what they styled the United States’ “national family.” White households who adopted Indians—especially slaveholding Southern planters influenced by leaders such as Jackson—saw themselves as part of this expansionist project. They hoped to inculcate in their young charges U.S. attitudes toward private property, patriarchal family, and racial hierarchy.

U.S. whites were not the only ones driving this process. Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw families sought to place their sons in white households, to be educated in the ways of U.S. governance and political economy. But there were unintended consequences for all concerned. As adults, these adopted Indians used their educations to thwart U.S. federal claims to their homelands, setting the stage for the political struggles that would culminate in the Indian Removal Act of 1830.


  • Indians in the Family is an astounding work of historical and cultural investigation. Dawn Peterson has woven together an eye-opening, original account of prominent white Americans’ adoptions of Native children in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century America, revealing the nuanced, consequential, and often unsettling interplay between Indian youth and white wards, family lives and national politics, and American colonialism and indigenous self-determination.

    —Tiya Miles, author of The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story


  • 2018, Winner of the Georgia Author-of-the Year Award
  • 2018, Winner of the Sally & Morris Lasky Prize


  • Dawn Peterson is an independent scholar and former Assistant Professor of History at Emory University.

Book Details

  • 432 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press