“On the Trail of the ‘Heathen School’:
Local History, American History, and World History”
Tuesday, June 10, at 7:00 P.M.
The lecture will be based on Demos's newly published book unraveling the forgotten story of a special school for “heathen youth” brought to New England in the early 19th century from all corners of the earth. Located in the little town of Cornwall, Connecticut, this uniquely fashioned institution embodied an early version of what we now call American exceptionalism. Convert them, educate them, civilize them, then send them back to found similar projects in their respective homelands, and the world will be saved in the shortest time imaginable: thus the goal of the eminent Protestant ministers in charge. After a seemingly brilliant beginning, however, the plans ran afoul of racism ̶ when some of the heathen students courted local women. The result was scandal, widespread controversy, and permanent closure of the school. In the aftermath two of the graduates, both Cherokees, returned to their Nation to lead the process of removal ̶ and paid for it with their lives. Demos will also reflect on the process of his research, including his time as a distinguished scholar at the Antiquarian Society and his visits to places central to the story. Copies of the book, entitled The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic (Knopf), signed by the author, will be available for purchase after the lecture.
John Demos is the Samuel Knight Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. Demos’s award-winning books cover topics ranging from family life in Plymouth County, Massachusetts to witch-hunting in the Western World. These works include A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (1970), the Bancroft Prize-winning Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (1982), Circles and Lines: The Shape of Life in Early America (2004), and The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-hunting in the Western World (2008). Demos is a member of the American Antiquarian Society, and was the AAS-Mellon Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence during the 2012 calendar year.