Item of the Day: An Account of the European Settlements (1758)

Full Title:  An Account of the European Settlements in America. In Six Parts. I. A Short History of the Discovery of that Part of the World.  II.  The Manners and Customs of the Original Inhabitants.  III.  Of the Spanish Settlements.  IV. Of the Portuguese.  V.  Of the French, Dutch, and Danish.  VI.  Of the English.  Each Part contains An Accurate Description of the Settlements in it, their Extent, Climate, Productions, Trade, Genius and Disposition of their Inhabitants:  the Interests of the several Powers of Europe with respect to those Settlements; and their Political and Commercial views with regard to each other.  Vol. II.  The Second Edition, with Improvements.  London: Printed for R. and J. Dodsley in Pall-Mall. MDCCLVIII.

PART II. The Manners of the Americans.

CHAP. I.

The persons of the Americans. Their dress and way of living. Their manner of covering. Their hospitality. Their temper. Their religion and superstitions. Their medicince.

The Aborigines of America, throughout the whole extent of the two vast continents they inhabit, and amongst the infinite number of nations and tribes into which they are divided, differ very little from each other in their manners and customs; and they all form a very striking picture of the most distant antiquity. Whoever considers the Americans of this day, not only studies the manners of a remote present nation, but he studies, in some measure, the antiquities of all nations; from which no mean lights may be thrown upon many parts of the ancient authors, both sacred and profane. The learned Lafiatu has laboured this point with great success, in a work which deserves to be read amongst us much more than I find it is.

The people of America are tall, and strait in their limbs beyond the proportion of most nations: their bodies are strong; but of a species of strength rather fitted to endure much hardship, than to continue long at any servile work, by which they are quickly consumed; it is the strength of a beast of prey, rather than that of a beast of burthen. Their bodies and heads are flattish, the effect of art; their features are regular, but their countenances fierce; their hair long, black, lank, and as strong as that of a horse. No beards. The colour of their skin a reddish brown, admired amongst them and improved by the constant use of bear’s fat and paint. 

When the Europeans first came into America, they found the people quite naked, except those parts which it is common for the most uncultivated people to conceal. Since that time they have generally a coarse blanket to cover them, which they buy from us. The whole fashion of their lives is of a piece; hardy, poor, and squalid; and their education from their infancy is solely directed to fit their bodies for this mode of life, and to form their minds to inflict and endure the greatest evils. Their only occupations are hunting and war. Agriculture is left to the women. Merchandize they contemn. When their hunting season is past, which they go through with much patience, and in which they exert great ingenuity, they pass they rest of their time in an entire indolence. They sleep half the day in their huts, they loiter and jest among their friends, and they observe no bounds or decency in their eating and drinking. Before we discovered them they wanted spiritous liquors; but now, the acquirement of these is what gives a spur to their industry, and enjoyment to their repose. This is the principal end they pursue in their treaties with us; and from this they suffer inexpressible calamities; for having once begun to drink, they can preserve no measure, but continue a succession of drunkenness as long as their means of procuring liquor lasts. In this condition they lie exposed on the earth to all the inclemency of the seasons, which wastes them by a train of the most fatal disorders; they perish in rivers and marshes; they tumble into the fire; they quarrel, and very frequently murder each other; and in short, excess in drinking, which with us is rather immoral than very destructive, amongst this uncivilized people, who have not art enough to guard against the consequence of their vices, is a public calamity. The few amongst them who live free from this evil, enjoy the reward of their temperance in a robust and healthy old age. The disorders which a complicated luxury has introduced and supports in Europe, are strangers here.  

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1 Comment

Filed under 1750's, American Indians, Colonial America, Explorations, History, Posted by Matthew Williams

One response to “Item of the Day: An Account of the European Settlements (1758)

  1. Thanks for sharing these great ideas. I’m bookmarking this for future reference. Some of these I already do, so the point resonated most strongly with me. Keep feeding the creativity.
    I am currently on holiday so, for this reason, I’ve nothing better to do than surf the web for art, lie around and update my blog. Well, more or less anyway.
    Doug C

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