Item of the Day: Travels of an Indian Interpreter (1791)

Full Title:

Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, Describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians; with an Account of the Posts Situated on the River Saint Laurence, Lake Ontario, &c. To which is added, a Vocabulary of the Chippeway Language. Names of Furs and Skins, in English and French. A List of Words in the Iroquois, Mohegan, Shawanee, and Esquimeaux Tongues, and a Table, shewing the Analogy between the Algonkin and Chippeway Lanugages. By J. Long.

London: Printed for the author; and sold by Robson, Bond-street; Debrett, Piccadilly; T. and J. Egerton, Charing-cross; White and Son, Fleet-street; Sewell, Cornhill; Edwards, Pall-Mall; and Messrs. Taylors, Holborn, London; Fletcher, Oxford; and Bull, Bath, 1791.

Of the Indians of the Five and Six Nations.

I shall now give a particular account of the Indians of the Five and Six Nations, and the reasons why they are so called, in order to enable the reader to form an idea of their consequence in a political point of view, as well as their importance on account of the fur trade; because of the vicinity of the American territories from Georgia to New England, gives the United States a great command and influence from their situation, and renders them more to be dreaded than even the French were in the zenith of their power, when it was universally known they had such an interest among the savages, as induced them to call the French their fathers, and of which so much yet remains, as to prompt them to retain a predilection in favor of the traders of the Gallic race who are settled among them.  

In 1603, when the French settled in Canada, part of the Five Nations resided on the island of Montreal, and were at war with the Adirondacks (who lived on the Uttawa, or grand river leading to Michillimakinac); these, considered the Five Nations as very insignificant opponents, and incapable of serious revenge, and they were held in as much derision as the Delawares, who were usually called old women or the Shawanees (who lived on the Wabach River), who were obliged to wear petticoats for a considerable time, in contempt of their want of courage, and as a badge of their pusillanimity and degradation.  But as no people can bear the imputation of cowardice or effeminacy as a national character, the chiefs determined to rouse their young men, and stimulate them to retrieve, or establish, a reputation; and inspiring them with heroic notions, led them to war against the Satanas, or Shaounons, whom they subdued with great ease. This success revived their drooping spirits, and forgetting how often they had been defeated by the Adirondacks, commenced hostilities against them; and availing themselves of the mean opinion their enemies entertained of their valour, gained the victory in several actions: and at last carried on a successful war against them even in their own country, obliging their former conquerors to abandon their native land, and seek refuge on the spot where Quebec is now situated.

Soon after the French arrived and had settled at Quebec, they formed and alliance with the Adirondacks against the Five Nations. The first engagement proved decisive in favour of the Adirondacks against the Five Nations. The first engagement proved decisive in favour of the Adirondacks, owing entirely to the use of fire arms having been introduced among them by their new allies, which the Indians of the Five Nations had never before seen. This alliance, and the consequent defeat was far from subduing or disheartening the Five Nations, but rather seemed to inspire them with additional ardour, and what they were deficient in military skill and suitable weapons, they supplied by strategem and courage. Although the French gained several advantages over them in the course of more than fifteen years, they at length were glad to bring the contest to a conclusion, by making a peace with them.

This shews that the Savages of the Five Nations are not easily to be conquered, and proves the necessity of preserving them in our interest, as long as we shall deem it expedient, from policy, to keep possession of Canada. This being admitted, it is certain that no method will more effectually conduce to that end, than retaining such barriers in our hands as will enable us to afford them protection, and supply them with arms and ammunition, and other necessaries, in time of danger.   

The Indians who lie to the north of Philadelphia, between the provinces of Pennsylvania and the Lakes, consist of three distinct leagues, of which the Senekas, Mohawks, and Onondagoes, who are called the fathers, compose the first; the Oneidoes, Cayugas, Tuscororas, Conoys and Nanticokes, which are one tribe, compose the second, and these two leagues constitute what is called the Six Nations. The third league is formed of the Wanamis, Chihokockis, or Delawares, the Mawhiccons, Munseys, and Wapingers, to which may be added the Mingoes. The Cowetas, or Creek Indians, are also united in friendship with them.

Mr. Colden says, the nations who are joined together by a league or confederacy, like the United Provinces of Holland, are known by the names of Mohawks, Oneydoes, Onondagoes, Cayugas, and Senekas; that each of these nations is again divided into three tribes or families, who are distinguished by the names of Tortoise, Bear, and Wolf; and that the Tuscororas,  after the war they had with people of Carolina, fled to the Five Nations, and incorporated with them, so that in fact they now consist of six, although they still retain the name of the Five Nations. This union is of such long duration as to leave little or no traces of its origin.  

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Filed under 1790's, Canada, Colonial America, Indians, Posted by Matthew Williams, Travel

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