Category Archives: Indians

Item of the Day: Red Jacket’s Reply to a Missionary at a Council of the Chiefs of the Six Nations (1805)

Found In: The American First Class Book; or, Exercises in Reading and Recitation: Selected Principally from Modern Authors of Great Britain and America; and Designed for the Use of the Highest Class in Publick and Private Schools. By John Pierpont. Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, and Wilkins and Richardson, Lord & Holbrook, 1831.

LESSON XXXII.

Reply to the Address of a Missionary at a Council of the Chiefs of “the Six Nations,” in 1805, —by Saghym Whothah, alias Red Jacket.  —PHILANTHROPIST

“Friend and Brother!

It was the will of the Great Spirit, that we should meet together this day. He orders all things; and has given us a fine day for our council. He has taken his garment from the sun, and caused it to shine with brightness upon us. Our eyes are opened that we see clearly; our ears are unstopped, that we have been able to hear distinctly the words you have spoken. For all these favours we thank the Great Spirit, and him only.

Brother! Listen to what we say. There was a time when our forefathers owned this great island. Their seats extended from the rising to the setting sun: the Great Spirit had made it for the use of the Indians. He had created the buffalo, the deer, and other animals for food. He had made the bear and the beaver; their skins served us for clothing. He had scattered them over the country, and taught us how to take them. He had caused the earth to produce corn for bread. All this he had done for his red children, because he loved them. If we had disputes about our hunting ground, they were generally settled without the shedding of much blood. But an evil day came upon us; your forefathers crossed the great waters, and landed on the island. Their numbers were small; they found us friends, and not enemies. They told us they had fled from their own country, through fear of wicked men, and had come here to enjoy their religion. They asked for a small seat; we took pity on them, and granted their request: and they sat down amongst us. We gave them corn and meat, and, in return, they gave us poison. The white people having now found our country, tidings were sent back and more came amongst us; yet we did not fear them. We tok them to be friends: they called us brothers; we believed them, and gave them a larger seat. At length their numbers so increasd, that they wanted more land: they wanted our country. Our eyes opened, and we became uneasy. Wars took place; Indians were hired to fight against Indians; and many of our people were destroyed. They also distributed liquor amongst us, which has slain thousands.

Brother! Once our seats were large, and yours were small. You have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have got our country, but, not satisfied, you want to force your religion upon us.

Brother! Continue to listen. You say you are sent to instruct us how to worhsip the Great Spirit agreeably to  his mind, and that if we do not take hold of the religion which you teach, we shall be unhappy hereafter. How do we know this to be true? We understand that your religion is written in a book. If it was intended for us as well as you, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us; and not only to us, but why did he not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book, with the means of rightly understanding it? We only know what you tell us about it, and having been so often deceived by the white people, how shall we believe what they say?

Brother! You say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the book?

Brother! We do not understand these things: we are told that your religion was given to your forefathers, and has been handed down from father to son. We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers, and has been handed down to us: it teaches us to be thankful for all our favours received, to love each other, and to be united: we never quarrel about religion.

Brother! The Great Spirit made us all; but he has made a great difference between his white and his red children: –he has given us different compexions and different customs. To you he has given the arts; tho these he has not opened our eyes. Since he has made so great a difference between us in other things, why may he not have given us different religion? The Great Spirit does right: he knows what is best for his children.

Brother! We do not want to destroy your religion, or to take if from you. We only want to enjoy our own.

Brother! We are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbours. We will wait a little, and see what effect your preaching has had upon them. If we find it makes those honest, and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again of what you have said.

Brother! You have now heard our answer, and this is all we have to say at present. As we are about to part, we will come and take you by the hand: and we hope the Great Spirit will protect you on your journey, and return you safe to your friends.”

 

(See also Item of the Day for November 10, 2006)

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Filed under 1830's, American Indians, Culture, Education, Indians, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Religion

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

John Smith and Pocahontas: A Review of the “Sometimes Governor” of Jamestown’s Works and Reputation

 The following essay by Casey Levinson of Hunter College has been awarded second place in the 2007 Eighteenth-Century Reading Room Essay Contest. Congratulations to Casey!

John Smith and Pocahontas:

A Review of the “Sometimes Governor” of Jamestown’s Works and Reputation 

Most Americans who are familiar with John Smith know him from a paragraph in a high school textbook or from commercial dramatizations of colonial Jamestown such as the 1995 Disney animated feature “Pocahontas.” These popular treatments depict Smith and Pocahontas as two dashing twenty-somethings who fall madly in love but must hide their feelings from Powhatan, her father, and John Ratcliffe, the President of the Jamestown colony. Current historians, however, know that Pocahontas was only about thirteen years old when Smith met her, that they never had a romantic relationship and that the primary concerns within the Jamestown fort were starvation, disease and the amassing of what was later discovered to be fool’s gold. Smith himself, though absolutely an adventurer, was also a vain, dictatorial braggart and mercenary, castrated at twenty-nine by a gun powder explosion. Despite his efforts, the Virginia Company refused to rehire him and he died alone and unemployed with a reputation as a teller of tall tales. In fact, it has only been within the last twenty years or so that the historical community has begun to emerge from a contentious debate over the veracity of Smith’s words and many doubts still linger. This paper reviews Smith’s two different accounts of Jamestown’s first year, his 1608 A True Relation of such occurrences and accidents of note, as hath hapned in Virginia and his 1624 The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles and addresses one major question over which historians still struggle: Did the Pocahontas rescue in fact take place?

            Thomas Fuller, commenting in 1662 on the adventures Smith recounted in his 1630 autobiography, The True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith, wrote, “[Smith’s] perils, preservations, dangers, deliverances…they seem to most men above belief, to some beyond truth.”[1] A year after Smith’s death, a satirical epic poem appeared in London with a title character oddly reminiscent of the deceased. The braggart hero of David Lloyd’s 1631 comic romance, The Legend of Captaine Iones, fights Indians and Arabs, is wounded in the genitals and is sold into slavery, all events Smith recounted in his various works.[2]

            Yet his writings lived on, and as America developed, his legend steadily grew. In his 1803 history of America, Englishman John Davis writes, “of the first settlers in Virginia, the most distinguished character was Captain Smith, a man who seemed to inherit every quality of a hero; a man of such bravery and conduct, that his actions would confer dignity on the page of the historian.” Davis’ romanticized depiction of Smith conforms to the common public perception of his era. Smith’s tendency to magnify his exploits in his writings had translated over time into accepted popular belief. Davis declares in his history that “by [Smith’s] judgment, courage, and industry, he saved the new establishment.”[3] It was not until the post-Civil War era that a movement began among historians to once again question the veracity of Smith’s accounts. With this debate came the first doubts about the famous Pocahontas incident.

            In 1867, previously unknown historian Henry Adams made his career with an article in the North American Review attacking Smith as an historian and challenging the existence of his famous rescue from death by Pocahontas. Before Adams, historians had generally accepted that during Smith’s imprisonment with the Chesapeake’s Algonquin Indians, he had been brought before their chief, Powhatan, for execution, and that it was only by the last second intervention of the chief’s favorite daughter that Smith kept his life. The only source for this event was Smith’s own account, published in the Generall Historie in 1624. Adams cited the absence of the Pocahontas story in the much earlier True Relation as evidence that Smith was simply lying.[4]

            The following is a review of Smith’s two versions of the events of December, 1607 on the way to and in Werawocomoco, centering on his capture by Opechancanough and his near-execution in Powhatan’s hut. Again, the True Relation (henceforth Relation) is Smith’s first version of the events, written c. June 2, 1608, and the Generall Historie (henceforth Historie) includes Smith’s second version of the events, written around 1623-1624. In the summary that follows, all facts, events and commentary are essentially in accord unless otherwise noted.

From The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, edited by Philip L. Barbour, 3 vols. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986):

           

            In December, 1607, Smith hired two Powhatan Indians with a canoe to guide him down river with two other colonists, Jehu Robinson and Thomas Emry, to find the lake into which the river emptied. Farther down the river, Smith ordered his guides to dock the canoe so that he could explore the forest. He brought one of the two Indian guides with him, leaving the other behind with his two men.

            While he was alone with his guide in the woods, Smith was ambushed by Opechancanough and 200 Powhatan warriors. Suspecting a betrayal, Smith bound his guide to him as a shield. During the ensuing fracas, Smith was wounded in the thigh. For his part, he shot two Indians with his pistol. The Powhatans captured him and led him back to their village where they showed him the dead bodies of Robinson and Emry, full of arrows. The text in the Relation is marred by editorial cuts, after “Emry I saw not” and “all over the woods”:

                       

With kinde speeches and bread he requited me, conducting me where the Canow lay and John Robinson slaine, with 20 or 30. arrowes in him. Emry I saw not, I perceived by the aboundance of fires all over the woods, At each place I expected when they would execute me.[5]

            Weeks later, Opechancanough took Smith to Werawocomoco to present him to Powhatan. Here one finds the point in the 1624 Historie when the famous Pocahontas rescue occurs. Smith is restrained “by as many as could [lay] hands on him” and his head is placed on “two great stones” in front of Powhatan. As his guards approach with clubs “to beate out his braines,” Pocahontas, “the Kings dearest daughter” cradles Smith’s head in her arms and lays her own head over his, compelling Powhatan to call off the execution. The chief decides Smith will live on to provide hatchets and copper to his people.

            Two days later, Powhatan “disguised himselfe in the most fearfullest manner he could…made the most dolefullest noyse” from behind a mat and, “more like a devill than a man,” informed Smith that the two were now “friends.” Powhatan returned Smith to Jamestown to bring him back “two great gunnes [canons] and a gryndstone” in exchange for lordship over the “County of Capahowosick.” Powhatan stated that he would henceforth regard Smith as his own son, with the new name “Nantaquoud.” Though it seems clear that Powhatan intended Smith to be his vassal, there is no evidence in either text that Smith understood this, nor does Smith make any statement that suggests he suspected the near-execution to be a premeditated ceremony. Despite his lack of comprehension of the ceremony, Smith seems to have remained factually accurate in his report. The Pocahontas episode does nothing to champion Smith’s character or ability and it lacks the romantic angle applied to it by later writers.

            In the earlier Relation, in place of the would-be execution and Pocahontas’ rescue, comes a somewhat jarring passage describing Powhatan’s kindness and congeniality. Editor Philip Barbour suggests that a cut was made here and John Healey, the editor, may have penned the passage. That the style and tone of the prose in this section differs distinctly from that which precedes and follows it indeed supports Barbour’s argument for editorial interference. The Relation was published as a pamphlet for the Virginia Company, with the purposes of generating positive publicity for the colony and attracting more settlers. It was based on a private letter of Smith’s that he did not intend for print. One must assume the Virginia Company would have preferred to sell the idea of an amicable Powhatan in their pamphlet rather than that of a blood-hungry war chief. It was also in the Virginia Company’s interest to publicly present the Indians as capable of adopting Christianity. In item III of the first Virginia Charter, the crown stresses the importance of converting the Indians to Protestantism and the Virginia Company hoped to retain the king’s favor.[6] The shift from Smith’s narration to Healey’s occurs between Smith’s identification of Powhatan as “a naked Salvage” and Powhatan’s welcoming words:

[Powhatan,] with such a grave and Majesticall countenance, as drave me into admiration to see such state in a naked Salvage, hee kindly welcomed me with good wordes, and great Platters of sundrie Victuals, assuring mee his friendship, and my libertie within four dayes.[7]

            Smith’s discourse has been characterized to this point by both tension and astonishment as he anticipates his own murder but is at the same time awestruck by the majesty and ceremony of the Powhatan court. The tone of the second half of the excerpt eschews the fearful awe of the first portion and it is as if the attack, capture and imprisonment is revealed to have been a misunderstanding. John Healey’s editorial intervention in the Relation suggests that the 1608 account is not the completely dependable source historians such as Henry Adams have believed it to be. Concerning details where Smith’s own heroism is not currently at play, the Historie is in fact more consistently reliable. The Historie’s authority is most pronounced in regards to the Pocahontas episode.

            It is to Smith’s credit that he did not portray his relationship with Pocahontas as romantic. That lingering perception was developed by later interpreters and historians. In his 1803 history, John Davis describes their tryst in a rendition consistent with the stage plays and other retellings of his time. When Pocahontas, “whose soft simplicity and innocence,” writes Davis, “cannot but hold captive every mind,” first laid eyes on Smith at Werawocomoco, “never did the moon gaze more stedfastedly on the water than she on the prisoner.” After she rescues him, Pocahontas hangs “wildly on the neck of the reprieved victim, weeping with a violence that choaked her utterance.” According to Davis, Powhatan then offered one of his two best “sqaws” to Smith, but he refused the offer, “to the unspeakable joy of Pocahontas.” However, it was not until she later brought him provisions at Jamestown that she was able to summon the courage to confess her feelings. At that point, Davis states, Pocahontas “gave loose to all the tumultuous extasy of love.”[8]

            There are two main points in the case against the Pocahontas incident. First, Smith never mentioned the rescue in publication until after Pocahontas had died. Obviously, she never had a chance to rebut his testimony. Second, since Pocahontas had made quite a splash during her visit to Europe in 1616, only months before she succumbed to disease, the attention-hungry Smith could have been motivated to latch on to her celebrity to advance his own career.

            However, the case for the Pocahontas rescue is stronger. As stated before, there is a very good chance that it was cut by John Healey from the original 1608 account. The Relation was published without Smith’s knowledge while he was still in Jamestown. Healey admits in his introduction to the pamphlet that “somwhat more was by [Smith] written, which being as I thought (fit to be private) I would not adventure to make it publicke.” Wyndham Robertson suggested as far back as 1860, before Henry Adams’ article, that Healey may have cut the Pocahontas incident out of the Relation.[9] Without Smith’s original letter, there is no way of knowing what Healey and the Virginia Company thought was unfit for the public.         

            But the strongest evidence for the veracity of the Pocahontas story are Smith’s claims in the 1620’s that, prior to Pocahontas’ 1616 visit to the royal court, he gave Elizabeth I a “little booke” proclaiming the honorableness of the Indian Queen. Smith claimed his “little booke” explained how Pocahontas had saved his life by hazarding the beating out of her brains for his own. Though Smith’s “little booke” has not been preserved, Leo Lemay is right to insist that “it strains one’s credulity to believe that Smith in 1624 would lie about a letter written to the queen eight years before,” because surely, if this “little booke” were a lie, one of Smith’s contemporaries would have immediately exposed it. There was indeed a multitude of persons involved either with Virginia or the royal court circle such as Dr. Theodore Goulston, Henry Rolfe (John’s brother) and Samuel Purchas who had been close to Pocahontas or the queen and who were still alive when Smith published these statements. They would have known if Smith were lying and they would have said something about it. However, there is no record that any of them did.[10]

            Though he never seemed to recognize it, what John Smith experienced at Werawocomoco was most likely an Indian adoption ceremony. In such a ceremony, a captive is guided through a mock execution, spared his life and then accepted into his captor’s community, the effect being that a feudalistic political alliance is formed between the pardoner and the pardoned. The events following Smith’s reprieve suggest this was precisely the case and that Powhatan was attempting to incorporate Smith into his ruling underbody. Recordings of other contemporaneous examples of Indian adoption practices can be found in F. W. Hodge’s 1907 Handbook of American Indians. Jarvis Morse noted that “in connection with adoption practices…similar commutations of the death sentence can be found to have occurred both before and after the one in question.”[11]

            Critics of John Smith have rightfully pointed out that he had a tendency to exaggerate his accomplishments, embellish dramatic moments, and even invent heroic exploits for himself, especially toward the end of his life. These faults are more true, however, of Smith’s True Travels than of the Generall Historie. As well, the Pocahontas incident is almost entirely exempt from such temptations. Leo Lemay argues that sheer embarrassment may have been the cause of the rescue’s omission from the True Relation.[12] One should take into account as well the fact that Smith’s proclivity to declare unpopular truths kept him unemployed in middle age. Among his many complaints about the Virginia Company’s mismanagement, his criticism of the emphasis on gold mining must not have gone over well with either his employers or the crown. Gold, silver and copper were the only goods given their own section in the first Virginia charter. The crown and the Virginia (then London) Company were clearly inspired by the successes of the Spanish and judging by the charter, precious minerals were the main aim of the venture. The king, competing with Spain for global domination of both religion and wealth, was only concerned with a twenty percent tax on the gold and silver harvest and converting Indians to the Church of England.[13] Thus, though Smith was capable of telling tall tales, it was his habit of reporting truths that stifled his career. In light of these factors, but especially Smith’s “little booke” and Healey’s editing, we should confidently accept that the Pocahontas rescue did indeed occur.

           


 

Works Cited:

Adams, Henry. “Captain John Smith.” North American Review. CIV (1867): 1-30.

Davis, John. Travels of four and a half years in the United States of America; During 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802. London: R. Edwards, 1803.       

Lemay, J.A. Leo. Did Pocahontas Save Captain John Smith? Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

Morse, Jarvis M. “John Smith and His Critics: A Chapter in Colonial Historiography.” Journal of Southern History. I (1935): 123-137.

The Parliamentary Register; or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Lords. Vol. II. London: J. Almon, 1775.

Smith, John. The Complete Works of Captain John Smith. Edited by Philip L. Barbour. 3 vols. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.        

Vaughan, Alden T. “John Smith Satirized: The Legend of Captaine Iones.” The William and Mary Quarterly. 3rd Ser., Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1988): 712-732.


[1]J.A. Leo Lemay, Did Pocahontas Save Captain John Smith? (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992), 94.

[2]Alden T. Vaughan, “John Smith Satirized: The Legend of Captaine Iones,” The William and Mary Quarterly. 3rd Ser., Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1988): 712-732.

[3]John Davis, Travels of four and a half years in the United States of America; During 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802 (London: R. Edwards, 1803), 259, 261.

[4]Henry Adams, “Captain John Smith,” North American Review. CIV (1867): 1-30.

[5]John Smith, The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, edited by Philip L. Barbour, 3 vols. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), vol. I, 45-47 and vol. II, 146-147.

[6]The Parliamentary Register; or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Lords. Vol. II. (London: J. Almon, 1775), 68.

[7]John Smith, The Complete Works, vol. I, 47-53 and vol. II, 150-151.

[8]Davis, 272-278.

[9]Lemay, 19.

[10]Lemay, 37-38.

[11]Jarvis M. Morse, “John Smith and His Critics: A Chapter in Colonial Historiography,” Journal of Southern History. I (1935): 125.

[12]Lemay, 27.

[13]The Parliamentary Register, 73.

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Filed under 1600's, Colonial America, Essay Contest, Indians, Posted by Caroline Fuchs