This Very Ground, this Crooked Affair: A Mennonite Homestead on Lenape Land

Book, 2021, 396 pp
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This Very Ground, This Crooked Affair connects the centuries-old history of the author's Pennsylvania Mennonite homestead with that of the land's indigenous Lenape inhabitants, interweaving documented Pennsylvania history with the national pursuit of a Doctrine of Discovery--and the story of Mennonites who had themselves fled suffering and landlessness with the fates of Native Americans continent-wide.

In previous books, such as Maintaining the Right Fellowship: A Narrative Account of Life in the Oldest Mennonite Community in North America (1984) and The Earth is the Lord's: A Narrative History of the Lancaster Conference, Ruth minimally acknowledged the Indigenous people displaced by his ancestors. In contrast, in This Very Ground, This Crooked Affair he has continued to tell about William Penn, other colonists connected with Penn, and Mennonite immigrant settlers--but this time has placed the Lenapes of the Delaware Valley at the center rather than the margins of the story.

"As Kathleen Norris observes, 'The fact that one people's frontier is usually another's homeland is mostly overlooked.' But why should the lament of the displaced be any less of the story's music than the grateful praise of the displacers?" - John L. Ruth, in the Preface

"Here, John Ruth, approaching the end of a long life, hears in his head the echoes of the stories he has told, and is dissatisfied with his omissions, the gaps, the acceptance of invisibility. This book is his vow to do better. His deep history is no dutiful, perfunctory, or obliging land acknowledgment, some chastened convert’s newfound understanding of the Doctrine of Discovery and its error of terra nullius—the settler’s fantasy of 'vacant land' or 'uninhabited terrain.' Rather, this history is the working out of Ruth’s lifelong wrestling with his realization that his tiny homestead is an Original People’s homeland. —Raylene Hinz-Penner, Author, Searching for Sacred Ground: The Journey of Chief Lawrence Hart, Mennonite (excerpt from the Foreword)

"Ruth dares us to remember how the Original People of Turtle Island responded to the English Quakers and Swiss-German Mennonites breaking into their world. How could such strangers learn to live in peace? How can a human being 'own' land? What is justice for all? After a lifetime of unearthing facts, with inspired insight Ruth builds the foundation stories of who and what we are today. Listen to him—very carefully." — Rudy Wiebe, Author, Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest

"Mennonites seeking to settle on Lenape land, on what 'belonged' to William Penn, held in their bones the deep shatterings of being forced off land they loved. In Penn's Province they found a new Gottesgarten, a wooded and streamed paradise. But the garden was not empty. The land was not vacant. In erudite, short chapters, author John Ruth leads readers to the fields, woods, cities, and streams where the choices and legacies of Quaker leader William Penn, Lenape headman Sassoonan, and Mennonite settlers converge. This book names the Lenape, and, through diligent research and perhaps some historical imagination, recovers lost voices. It represents atonement, the attempt of one masterful storyteller to retell, beg forgiveness, and circle the story once again." — Kimberly D. Schmidt, Director, Washington Community Scholars' Center; Professor of History, Eastern Mennonite University

"A bold, frank, honest account of how Pennsylvania Mennonites, including the author's ancestors, got entangled in colonization policies that dispossessed the Lenape (Delaware) Indians of life, land, and culture. By including the Indian point of view and insightful analysis (musings), Ruth provides a model for truth-telling narratives about other communities established by Mennonite settlers on lands taken from Indians." — Marvin E. Kroeker, Author, Comanches and Mennonites on the Oklahoma Plains

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