Daily Archives: March 7, 2007

Item of the Day: Bartram’s Travels (1794)

Full Title: Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, The Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws Containing An Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions; Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians. Embellished with Copper-Plates. By William Bartram.  The Second Edition in London.  Philadelphia Printed by James and Johnson. 1791.  London:  Printed for J. Johnson, In St. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1794.

Chap. III.

After fifteen miles riding, I arrived at the ferry, which is near the site of the fort.  Here is a considerable height and bluff on the river, and evident vestiges of an ancient Indian town may be seen, such as an old extensive fields, and conical mounds, or artificial heaps of earth.  I here crossed the river, which is about five hundred yards over, in a good large boat, rowed by a Creek Indian, who was married to a white woman; he seemed an active, civil, and sensible man. . . .

Being safely landed on the opposite bank, I mounted my horse, and followed the high road to the ferry on St. Ille, about sixty miles south of the Alatamaha, passing through an uninhabited wilderness. . . .In the evening I arrived at a cow-pen, where there was a habitation, and the people received me very civilly.  I staid here all night, and had for supper plenty of milk, butter, and very good cheese of their own make, which is a novelty in the maritime parts of Carolina and Georgia; the inhabitants being chiefly supplied with it from Europe and the northern states. . . .

It may be proper to observe, that I had now passed the utmost frontier of the white settlements on that border.  It was drawing on towards the close of day, the skies serene and calm, the air temperately cool, and gentle zephyrs breathing through the fragrant pines; the prospect around enchantingly varied and beautiful; endless green savannas, chequered with coppices of fragrant shrubs, filled the air with the richest perfume.  The gaily attired plants which enamelled the green had begun to imbibe the pearly due of evening; nature seemed silent, and nothing appeared to ruffle the happy moments of evening contemplation; when, on a sudden, an Indian appeared crossing the path, at a considerable distance from me.  On perceiving that he was armed with a rifle, the first sight of him startled me, and I endeavoured to elude his sight, by stopping my pace, and keeping large trees between us; but he espied me, and turning short about, sat spurs to his horse, and came up on full gallop.  I never before this was afraid at the sight of an Indian, but at this time, I must own that my spirits were very much agitated:  I saw at once, that, being unarmed I was in his power; and having now but a few moments to prepare, I resigned myself entirely to the will of the Almighty, trusting to his mercies for my preservation:  my mind then became tranquil, and I resolved to meet the dreaded foe with resolution and chearful confidence.  The intrepid Siminole stopped suddenly, three or four yards before me, and silently viewed me, his countenance angry and fierce, shifting his rifle from shoulder to shoulder, and looking about instantly on all sides.  I advanced towards him, and with an air of confidence offered him my hand, hailing him, brother; at this he hastily jerked back his arm, with a look of malice, rage, and disdain, seeming every way discontented; when again looking at me more attentively, he instantly spurred up to me, and with dignity in his look and action, gave me his hand.  Possibly the silent language of his soul, during the moment of suspense (for I believe his design was to kill me when he first came up) was after this manner:  “White man, thou art my enemy, and thou and thy brethren may have killed mine; yet it may not be so, and even were that the case, thou art now alone, and in my power.  Live; the Great Spirit forbids me to touch thy life; go to thy brethren, tell them thou sawest an Indian in the forests, who knew how to be humane and compassionate.”  In fine, we shook hands, and parted in a friendly manner, in the midst of a dreary wilderness; and he informed me of the course and distance to the trading-house where I found he had been extremely ill-treated the day before. 

I now sat forward again, and after eight or ten miles riding, arrived at the banks of St. Mary’s, opposite the stores, and got safe over before dark . . .The trading company here received me with great civility.  On relating my adventures on the road, particularly the last with the Indian, the chief replied, with a countenance that at once bespoke surprise and pleasure, “My friend, consider yourself a fortunate man:  that fellow,” said he, “is one of the greatest villains on earth, a noted murderer, and outlaws by his countrymen.  Last evening he was here, we took his gun from him, broke it in pieces, and gave him a severe drubbing:  he, however, made his escape, carrying off a new rifle gun, with which, he said, going off, he would kill the first white man he met.”

On seriously contemplating the behaviour of this Indian towards me, so soon after his ill treatment, the following train of sentiments insensibly crowded in upon my mind.

Can it be denied, but that the moral principle, which directs the savages to virtuous and praise-worthy actions, is natural or innate?  It is certain they have not the assistance of letters, or those means of education in the schools of philosophy, where the virtuous sentiments and actions of the most illustrious characters are recorded, and carefully laid before the youth of civilized nations:  therefore this moral principle must be innate, or they must be under the immediate influence and guidance of a more divine and powerful preceptor, who, on these occasions, instantly inspires them, and as with a ray of divine light, points out to them at once the dignity, propriety, and beauty of virtue.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1790's, American Indians, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Travel Literature