William & Mary’s Nottoway Quarter: The Political Economy of Institutional Slavery and Settler Colonialism

The dispossession of Native lands for the purposes of organizing English tobacco plantations was a deepening and broadening of merchant capitalism in Virginia.

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This essay examines the sources of two historical funding streams used to establish and support the College of William & Mary in Virginia, an institution founded in 1693 to educate elite English colonials and “Western Indians” in North America. Initially, the College was funded, in part, by taxation of colonized Indian lands, Virginia and Maryland colony tobacco exports, and the lucrative trade in hides and furs obtained from Native Americans. Expropriated labor from enslaved persons on tobacco plantations, and their profits, made substantive contributions to the maintenance and support of the college. With new research on William & Mary as a direct financial beneficiary of institutional slavery and the colonization of indigenous territory by non-Native settlers, we examine the intersection of slave labor and Indian treaty land through the documentary evidence about the College’s historical plantation, known as Nottoway Quarter.

In 1718, the College of William & Mary acquired the 2,119-acre plantation in what is today the “Southside” of the Virginia Tidewater region. Over a dozen years earlier, the landscape was first surveyed for English occupation as a result of the House of Burgesses’ removal of the political barrier called the Blackwater Line—a territorial division that separated the Virginia colony from Indian lands south of the Blackwater River. As an outcome of Bacon’s Rebellion and the subsequent 1677 Articles of Peace between the English King and Native leaders of the region, Indian settlements in proximity to the colony were to be surveyed and include a three-mile buffer around each town. The former “Crowns and Lands” of those indigenous polities would thereafter be held in trust by “the Great King of England.” Native signatories to the 1677 treaty included the Nansemond, Nottoway and Weyanoak—all indigenous communities residing below the Blackwater River. The other signatory was the “Queen of Pamunkey,” on behalf of her people and “several scattered Nations [who] do now again own their ancient Subjection.” The agreement, also known as the Treaty of Middle Plantation, was amended in 1680 to include seven additional tribal signatories and was further extended to all Native communities in Maryland. The treaty stipulated that the allied tribes were subservient but semi-sovereign as “tributaries” to the English king. Annually, tribal leaders demonstrated their fealty by presenting the Crown’s governor a tribute of twenty beaver furs and delivering three arrows in lieu of quitrents for their lands. 

Figure 1: Indian land and towns in Pamunkey Neck, Virginia and Maryland as it is planted and inhabited this present year 1670 (detail), Augustine Herrman, cartographer [London: Augustine Herman and Thomas Withinbrook, 1673]. Library of Congress.

The 1693 Royal Charter for the College of William & Mary identifies multiple lines of funding to support the planned school, including what today appears as a seemingly innocuous designation of quitrents from 20,000 acres in Pamunkey Neck and below the Blackwater River: “tenn [sic] thousand Acres of Land not yet legally taken up or possessed by any of our other subjects lying & being on ye South side of ye black-water Swamp, as also other tenn [sic] thousand Acres of land not yet legally taken up or possessed by any of our other Subjects lying & being in ye neck of land commonly called Pamunkey Neck between ye forks of Yorke River . . .” However, these were the same indigenous lands of the Nansemond, Nottoway, Weyanoak and Pamunkey identified and “Confirmed” in the 1677 Articles of Peace

Figure 2: The royal grant of Indian lands in Pamunkey Neck and below the Blackwater to the trustees of the College, Royal Charter for the College of William & Mary, 1693 (detail, page 11). Royal Charter Collections, c. 1693—1951, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, W&M Libraries, UA77.

The founders’ intent to propagate the Christian faith “amongst ye Western Indians” is clearly outlined in the first lines of the charter. What is less well known is that the College funding needs resulted in the transfer, survey, and patenting of 20,000 acres of trust lands from Native jurisdiction to the Trustees of the university. Even though the survey of multiple Native territories was decreed by the 1677 treaty, it took nearly 25 years to establish the boundaries for what would later be known as ‘Indian reservations’ and to open the remainder of Indian lands to English plantation. The delay was, in part, because of the need to establish and maintain peaceful relations between Englishmen and Indians through multiple regional conflicts of the 1670s and 1680s, but also because colonial officials, churchmen, and gentry argued about the dispensation of the quitrent taxes from the patenting process. Accommodation among the colonials was reached by 1705, and the survey and development of Southside lands that followed partially fulfilled the fiduciary lines identified in the 1693 Charter. Two areas of “College Lands” were formed out of Native territory in Pamunkey Neck (King William County) and below the Blackwater River (Surry County). King William lands above the Pamunkey Indian reservations were known as Upper College, and those university lands closer to the confluence with the York River, Lower College.

Figure 3: College lands were in “K[ing]. William C[ounty].” between the forks of the York River and the “Black Water Swame Plantations” in Surry and Isle of Wight counties. The “College” buildings can be seen above “James To[w]n,” A New and Accurate Map of Virginia & Maryland (detail), Emanuel Bowen, cartographer [London: s.n., 1747]. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.

The Reverend James Blair, as the Commissary in Virginia for the Bishop of London and the first president of the College, was the primary colonial agent behind the Charter’s funding streams. Blair’s intent to funnel the Virginia quitrents towards ecclesiastical salaries and College purposes was thwarted by the colony’s elites. They favored maintaining the quitrents for the colony’s administration. King William approved the use of several thousand pounds of Virginia quitrents to construct the College. The 20,000 acres of Indian lands granted to William & Mary became Blair’s only reliable source of quitrent income for the school. To placate Blair and further support the university, additional monies were appropriated in 1718 for the purchase of patented lands which led to the College’s acquisition of a fledgling 2,119-acre Southside plantation from colonist Thomas Jones. Thereafter, this large property was known as the “Nottoway Quarter” due to its recent origins as indigenous land and its adjacency to the Nottoway River. These lands straddled the river within the recently formed Prince George (1703) and Surry counties, and after 1720, 1752 and 1754, Brunswick, Dinwiddie and Sussex counties; by 1780, a portion of the Nottoway Quarter rested in the newly created Greensville County. Combined, the granted and purchased lands provided the collegiate institution with rents and income from tobacco harvests on College-owned plantations. A significant portion of the annual budget for William & Mary was derived from the combination of tobacco tariffs, land rents, and yields of tobacco production and thus directly linked the College to enslaved labor and colonized indigenous lands.

Figure 4: Cultivated tobacco, Botanical Print from Hortus Eystettensis, c. 1640, Basil Besler, engraver. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation 1956-121.

The financial records of the College, while fragmentary, indicate that rents from “college lands” were paid in hogsheads of tobacco, shipped to England, and sold by the university’s agents in London markets at the going price of the day. “Surry Rents” yielded £50 to £70 annually or as high as £183; “King Wm. Rents” also ranged from £60 to £100 or possibly £150 or more during a good year. College-owned farm yields in tobacco, such as from the large plantation at the Nottoway Quarter, produced similar sums. The market and crop yield impacted the annual revenue, which typically produced less than £500 for the College in London tobacco clearing houses.

The Virginia collection points for tobacco tariffs due the College were located at warehouses along the waterways in the Tidewater. These points of collection were known as “warehouse districts.” William & Mary collected duties from the river districts of the Lower and Upper James, York, Rappahannock, Potomac, Pocomoke, and Accomack, with the heavier tonnage of tobacco leaving the lower tidewater. Collectors were assigned to each warehouse district and port, with collections returned to the Bursar at Michaelmas, Lady Day, and Christmas. Tobacco was taxed a pence or “penny” per pound for shipments destined for ports other than England; ships such as the Dear Betsey, Ogechee, and Friendship hailed from Liverpool, Georgia, and Virginia and were bound for British ports in Antigua, Barbados, and Granada, among others. Leading up to the midcentury, College accounts recorded less than a £300 per annum average for tobacco tariffs. From 1755 to 1765, the institution earned £3334.3.5 or “communibus annis £333.8.4.” However, in 1768, the total tax yielded more than £846. Tobacco tariff duties were added to the College ledger alongside crop yields from the Nottoway Quarter and rents from King William and Surry paid in tobacco.

Figure 5: Warehouse districts and tobacco export tariffs collected in support of the College of William & Mary, Account of collections of duties paid to the Bursar, 1769 July 28. Office of the Bursar Records, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary Libraries, UA 72.

Managing the College monies and lands was complicated and required the services of managers and overseers on both sides of the Atlantic who were skilled in the merchant practices of the day. The proximity of the school to the colony’s capital likely facilitated the construction of the necessary bureaucracy. In Williamsburg, a network of scribes, bookkeepers, clerks, note takers, and agents functioned in support of College and mercantile efforts. There were networks of managers and accountants associated with the Brafferton Estate in Yorkshire; tobacco agents in London; Virginia collectors of taxes on furs, skins, tobacco, and liquor; and managers of the properties in King William and Surry as well as the Nottoway Quarter. All received a commission or fee for their administerial efforts. These functions were needed on both sides of the Atlantic—at the ends and origins of the commodity chains in England and Virginia.

Figure 6: Scene of Virginia planters, merchants, clerks, and enslaved laborers at a tobacco warehouse with ships laden for export, A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with Part of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina (detail), Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, cartographers, Thomas Jeffreys, engraver and publisher [London: 1768]. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1968-11.

The “Nottoway Plantation,” as it was sometimes referred to in the documentary record, was subject to annual quitrents and poll taxes. Not part of the “College Lands” granted by the Royal Charter, the Nottoway Quarter was taxed, which contrasted with the university land grants in King William and Surry. Other taxed lands yielding rents and or produce were College-owned parcels in Isle of Wight and Elizabeth City counties, among other locales.

In addition to the rental income, annual tobacco yield, and some minor crops in wheat, the Nottoway Quarter and grant lands provided the College with fuel for cooking and heating, which reduced the cost for this necessary expense. Extant bursar records confirm that there were payments for specialized services, sometimes involving enslaved labor. This included a 1740 payment to Gabriel Maupin for cutting and hauling “33 Load of [fire] Wood.” Likewise, College President James Horrocks hired “two Negroes” in 1768 for “Cutting and Carting Wood on the College Lands for the Use of the said College.” In 1770, the College determined that “the sum of £5 be annually allow’d to Mr. Nicholson while he overlooks . . . the College wood.”

Most Nottoway Quarter expenses charged to the College involved the table fare and support of the enslaved plantation population, as well as the oversight of farm productivity. During the 1740s, a “Mr. Dempsey” was compensated annually for managing the plantation and acquiring various “Sundrys,” clothing for the laborers at the College Quarter and submitting bills for “Ferryages” to cross the James River between Williamsburg and Swan Point. In 1760, “Mr. Robert Walker” was “to overlook the College Quarter at Nottoway, & that he be allow’d the Rate of twenty Pounds [per] ann. for his Trouble.” A “Mr. Withers” took the position in 1768. Walker, Withers, and other College overseers kept accounts of “goods sent them,” “Goods imported per Mr. Nicholson’s” and nondescript “Expenses” charged against Nottoway Quarter yields. Tobacco harvests were carted by enslaved persons with “2 work oxen from thence” toward the James River warehouses for “Inspection . . . at Bolling’s point” before the crops’ “Voyage to G. Britain,” received under the care of College agents “Capel & Osgood Hanbury” in London.

The annual income of the Quarter was used by the College to support the plantation, as well as to fund the “Nottoway Foundation,” which typically provided four scholarships for White students of William & Mary. Recipients of the support were identified and recommended by the “President & Masters.” Thereafter, the students were called “scholars” and received financial support for their education. Some scholars of the Nottoway Foundation during the third quarter of the eighteenth century included William West in 1757, James Marshall in 1760, Thomas Davis in 1768, William Leigh in 1769, William Dawson in 1770, Walker Maury in 1770, James Innes in 1771, David Stuart in 1771, Thomas Hughes in 1772, William Starke in 1772, Thomas Clay in 1773, and Thomas Dixon in 1774. While sometimes called “Nottoway Scholars,” these individuals were not Nottoway Indians, but rather came from upper-class White families, most of whom had fathers and siblings of distinction within colonial society. Marshall served as the Second Usher of the Grammar School in 1770. Innes also became an Usher and, later, Attorney General of Virginia. It is noteworthy that some Nottoway Indian students in attendance at the Brafferton Indian School adopted the patronym “Scholar” and were doubtless aware of the connotation and the origins of the land that supported the Nottoway Foundation.

Less is known about the enslaved individuals who resided at the Nottoway Quarter during the eighteenth century. Like the Native students residing at the Brafferton Indian School, who many times were unnamed and listed only as “Indians,” the enslaved were described anonymously as “Negroes belonging to the College.” The names of the enslaved were rarely recorded prior to the American Revolution. The names that do appear in parish records are notations of births and baptisms: Bruton Parish for enslaved peoples in Williamsburg and Bristol Parish for any enslaved persons residing at the Nottoway Quarter. Only one birth and one baptism were recorded between 1718 and 1777, the years enslaved persons worked at the Nottoway Quarter for the College. In 1734 the Bristol Parish listed “Ben, male Slave belongg [sic] to the Colledge [sic] of Wm & Mary”—although many more individuals resided, had families, and toiled on the Nottoway tract of land. When the original acquisition of the land was finalized, President James Blair allocated £467 for the purchase of seventeen slaves to work the new venture. While the documentary evidence does not record the purchase of any additional bound labor for the Nottoway Quarter, expenditures recorded by the Bursar are large enough to assume that the enslaved workforce increased throughout the eighteenth century. By the late 1770s, over thirty enslaved individuals resided on the plantation, most likely the children and grandchildren of the original laborers.

Figure 7: View of the historic campus of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg: The Brafferton Indian School (left), the Main Building, now called the Wren (center), and the President’s House (right), The Bodleian Plate (detail), ca. 1740. Bartram, John, 1699-1777. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Scholars who have researched the relationship of William & Mary to slavery have assumed the original seventeen slaves purchased for the Nottoway Quarter were all of African descent. However, Virginia slave purchases, taxes and legal records of the period indicate enslaved Indians were commonly found on Tidewater farms and plantations and in Williamsburg. It is possible that James Blair’s initial investment in founding a College slave population may have included Native peoples. The actual number and percentage of enslaved Indians in the colony from 1718 through 1723 remains unknown, but “Indian slavery was ubiquitous” in Virginia, with thousands of Natives ensnared in chattel slavery. Between 1670 and 1715, it is estimated that 50,000 Southeastern Native peoples were sold into slavery. In comparison, approximately 10,000 enslaved Africans were imported into North America, including the Caribbean and New Spain, prior to 1700. Most Native captives from the North American interior were transferred to South Carolina, then exported to the West Indies. However, records indicate Native “Carolina slaves” were traded northward to Virginia and New England. As late as 1718, Indian slaves composed 28 percent of imported laborers along the Upper York River, adjacent to College Lands in Pamunkey Neck. Similarly, Surry County had the highest number of Native forced laborers during the period from 1680 through 1703, according to the tithes paid in the county register. It is therefore reasonable to speculate that in the earliest years, the rented College Lands in King William and Surry counties were worked, at least in part, by enslaved Indians. Their labor, along with an increasing number of Africans, paid the College rents in tobacco.

Figures 8a-b: Illustration of the Royal Seal of Virginia from Queen Anne, ca. 1702—1714 (8a-above) and George III, c. 1760—1775 (8b-below). The images depict the Indian Queens and Kings kneeling and presenting tobacco to the English monarchs, Colonial Seal of Virginia from Benson John Lossing, ed. Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (vol. 10) (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1912) care of Florida Center for Instructional Technology (https://etc.usf.edu/clipart/); Wax impression seal, Colony of Virginia, c. 1760—1775. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1951-302.

The settler colonialism of the early eighteenth century promoted the use of Native labor where possible and indeed, an association existed between cultivating tobacco and American Indians. Map engravings and tobacconist advertisement iconography of the era also conflated trappings of Native peoples with laborers in tobacco fields, so that both enslaved Africans and Native Americans appear adorned with Indian-esque attire, feathers, and tobacco leaves. Furthering the mindset of potential planters from the upper South, those colonizers who read John Norris’ treatise Profitable Advice for Rich and Poor (1712) took note of his recommendation for establishing an enslaved agricultural workforce, composed of American Indian and African laborers in equal numbers. Norris suggested purchasing less-expensive enslaved Native females alongside African enslaved males to “work in the field” and “settle him a Plantation,” where after several seasons “the Slaves and Stock [would be] yearly encreasing [sic].” Additional female Indian slaves were recommended “as Cooks for the Slaves and other Household-Business.” Scholars of collegiate institutional slavery have recently suggested that James Blair may have considered “breeding women” as part of his plan “when he purchased slaves for the Nottoway plantation.” In this reading of the documentary record, the original seventeen slaves “reproduced themselves” for approximately three generations. 

Figures 9a-c: Tobacco cards of Africans in Native attire: Wm. Grible’s Best Virginia Tobacco Barnstaple, Francis Bedford, woodcut (9a-top); George Goldwyer’s best sweet scented Tobacco at the Golden Griffin & Crown in Wine street Bristol, Francis Bedford, woodcut (9b-middle); The Black Prince. Best Tobacco London, Francis Bedford, woodcut (9c-below). Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1980-165.6, 1980-165.23, 1980-165.37.

It remains unclear if Blair included enslaved Natives in his initial purchase of human labor for the Nottoway Quarter, but it is not an unreasonable supposition. The Virginia legal category of “slave” included “negroes, mulattoes, and Indians” in slave-related Acts passed by the House of Burgesses until the American Revolution. The 1772 watershed “freedom suit” of Robin v. Hardaway confirms that enslaved American Indians were present in the Nottoway Quarter’s Dinwiddie County after 1718. George Mason argued the case, which emancipated twelve individuals matrilineally descended from Native American laborers enslaved illegally. These twelve individuals were not known to be connected with the Nottoway Quarter, but as an early plantation in the vicinity during a period of heavy Indian slaving, the presence of enslaved Natives there is plausible.

Nottoway Quarter records rarely identified the exact nature of plantation “Expenses,” but instead focused on the export and yield of tobacco and scholarship bills for “table.” Examples of specific allocations to the Quarter include a bill in 1755 that “paid Nottoway Negroes for Hops £2.17.6” and another in 1775 “To Nottoway Quarter for pork, beeves, Mutton & Butter £84.10.” The degree to which these College expenditures represented individual acts to supplement subsistence on the part of enslaved people is unclear. Later records indicate enslaved laborers of William & Mary were allowed to privately work garden plots and sell their produce to the College. The specificity of the inventory—beyond the Plantation “Sundrys,” “Expenses” or “Table”—suggests that these slim notations may be interpreted as the ability of enslaved laborers of the Nottoway Quarter to sell and grow comestibles for the table. Other identified purchases for the Quarter came in the form of textiles for clothing for the enslaved. A note in 1740 recorded “87 ½ Yrds Cottons £9.9.7.” A more detailed 1773 “Clothing” document listed “Pleans [Plains],” “buttons,” “Osnabrugs,” “Shoe buckles,” “Knee buckles,” “hatts,” “stockings,” “shoes” and “Dowlass” for approximately thirty individuals of the “Nottoway Quarter,” priced at “£30.18.2.” 

Figure 10: Invoice for clothing supplied to the Brafferton Indian students and the enslaved laborers of Nottoway Quarter, <em>Clothing for the Ingen Boys, 1773.</em> Brafferton Estate Collection, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, William &amp; Mary Libraries, UA 113.

Bills for “ferryages” appear to be listings of overseers or the enslaved coming to the College on business. Conversely, the records suggest that faculty members rarely visited the Nottoway Quarter. A document from 1742 notes two enslaved individuals, “runaway from Nottoway,” arrived in Williamsburg with a complaint to the faculty about conditions on the plantation. President James Blair and the College Masters appointed Thomas Dawson and John Graeme to “Visit the Plantan:, to enquire into the Matters of Fact, and to endeavour [sic] to put things to rights.” No further information was recorded concerning a resolution of this matter. It appears faculty oversight of the Nottoway Quarter was minimal. The only instance of a Nottoway manager being ordered to make a report on the state of affairs at the Quarter was in 1768. Aside from the 1742 occurrence, no other eighteenth-century documents have been found referencing Nottoway Quarter runaways or those who were reported as absent without leave and nor were any runaway ads posted in The Virginia Gazette. However, one Bursar record from 1765 notes the payment of a charge of thirteen shillings and four pence to the Nottoway Plantation “For takng up a runaway.” It is unclear whether this amount was directed at compensating Nottoway residents for tracking a locally escaped slave or expenses associated with recovering a Quarter laborer.

The Nottoway Quarter was thus firmly situated within, and a product of, settler colonialist ideology. Returning to the extant documents—the bursars’ ledgers, faculty minute books, and College papers—allowed us to look more deeply into these processes. While the documents of William & Mary are not obscure, by using the lens of political economy to evaluate the College’s historical finances, new details emerged about the institution’s reliance on expropriated Native treaty lands and enslaved agricultural labor. The dispossession of Native lands for the purposes of organizing English tobacco plantations was a deepening and broadening of merchant capitalism in Virginia. Colonial taxation of tobacco grown by forced labor on colonized Indian lands, conjoined with quitrents derived from treaty lands transferred from the Crown’s trust to the College were added to yields from William & Mary tobacco sales in London. In nearly all instances, College tobacco was grown and harvested by enslaved peoples. Examining the positionality of the Nottoway Quarter to the early financial support of the fledgling College of William and Mary makes clear the deeply intertwined social relations of slavery, political economy, and settler colonialism. Presently, The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation and the Bray School Initiative are efforts underway at William & Mary to study and respond to the College’s troubling history as it relates to slavery and its legacies. A new consideration of the interconnectedness between the Charter’s call to educate “the Western Indians” and the phrase extolling efforts for the “maintenance and support of the College in all time coming” also requires an acknowledgment of that troubling history and a response to Indigenous communities.


Further Reading:

Gregory Ablavsky,  “Making Indians White: The Judicial Abolition of Native Slavery in Revolutionary Virginia and Its Racial Legacy,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 159 (no. 5, 2011): 1457-531.

C.S. Everette, “‘They shalbe slaves for their lives’: Indian Slavery in Colonial Virginia,” in Indian Slavery in Colonial America, ed. Alan Gallay (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009).

Alan Gallay,  The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670–1717 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

Susan H. Godson et al., The College of William & Mary: A History, vol. 1: 16931888 (Williamsburg, VA: King and Queen Press, 1993).

The Lemon Project, William & Mary.

Danielle Moretti-Langholtz and Buck Woodard, eds., Building the Brafferton: The Founding, Funding and Legacy of America’s Indian School (Williamsburg: The Muscarelle Museum of Art, 2019).

E. Morpurgo, Their Majesties’ Royall Colledge: William and Mary in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Washington, D.C.: Hennage Creative Printers, 1976).

Jennifer Oast, Institutional Slavery: Slaveholding Churches, Schools, Colleges, and Businesses in Virginia, 1680–1860 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Kristalyn Shefveland, Anglo-Native Virginia: Trade, Conversion, and Indian Slavery in the Old Dominion, 16461722 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018).

Buck Woodard, “Indian Land Sales and Allotment in Antebellum Virginia: Trustees, Tribal Agency, and the Nottoway Reservation,” American Nineteenth Century History 17 (no. 2, 2016): 161-80.


This article originally appeared in December 2022.

Buck Woodard is a Professorial Lecturer of Anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C. and chair of the Virginia Indian Advisory Board’s Workgroup on State Recognition for the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Recent work includes “An Alternative to Red Power: Political Alliance as Tribal Activism in Virginia” (2020) and as co-author of Building the Brafferton: The Founding, Funding, and Legacy of America’s Indian School (2019).

Danielle Moretti-Langholtz is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at William & Mary in Williamsburg. She is also the Director of the American Indian Resource Center and the Director of the Native Studies minor. As well, she is the Curator of Native American Art at the Muscarelle Museum of Art and the co-author of Building the Brafferton: The Founding, Funding, and Legacy of America’s Indian School (2019).

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