Anti-Catholicism and the Indian in early American literature

Paul Thifault, Fordham University


This dissertation focuses on the perceived association between Roman Catholics and Native Americans in the Anglo-American cultural imagination and examines how that association underscores the political and rhetorical strategies of early American writings from the first English settlements in North America through to the early decades of the American republic. Analogies between Catholicism and traditional Native American cultures appear in nearly every genre of early American writing. This project exposes the surprising range of these linkages and their utility in articulating various conceptions of communal Protestant identity on both sides of the Atlantic. The linking of Catholicism and native cultural practices is a persuasive strategy that is central to justifying the English colonization of Virginia (chapter 1), validating the missionary achievements of New England Puritans (chapter 2), negotiating the fragmentation of Protestantism in eighteenth-century North American wars with Catholic France (chapter 3), setting the limits of religious tolerance in post-Revolutionary America (chapter 4), and questioning the forced removal of Indians from native lands in the early republic (chapter 5). Thus, in analyzing treatments of the Catholic-Indian relationship this project shows how attitudes toward race and religion in North America continuously shape and re-shape one another in accordance with various discourses of British and American nationalism.

Subject Area

Religious history|American literature|Native American studies

Recommended Citation

Thifault, Paul, "Anti-Catholicism and the Indian in early American literature" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3549108.