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New Year's Day Among the Descendants of the Norman French

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

New Year's day among the descendants of the Norman French--Anti-philosophic speculations of Brydone--Schlegel on language--A peculiar native expression evincing delicacy--Graywacke in the basin of Lake Superior--Temperature--Snow shoes--Translation of Gen. i. 3--Historical reminiscences--Morals of visiting--Ojibwa numerals--Harmon's travels--Mackenzie's vocabularies--Criticism--Mungo Park.

January 1st. This is a day of hilarity here, as in New York. Gayety and good humor appear on every countenance. Visiting from house to house is the order. The humblest individual is expected to make his appearance in the routine, and "has his claims allowed." The French custom of salutation prevails. The Indians are not the last to remember the day. To them, it is a season of privileges, although, alas! it is only the privilege to beg. Standing in an official relation to them, I was occupied in receiving their visits from eight o'clock till three. I read, however, at intervals, Dr. Johnson's Lives of Rochester, Roscommon, Otway, Phillips, and Walsh.

2d. Brydone, the traveler, says, on the authority of Recupero, a priest, that in sinking a pit near Iaci in the region of Mount Etna, they pierced through seven distinct formations of lava, with parallel beds of earth interposed between each stratum. He estimates that two thousand years were required to decompose the lava and form it into soil, and consequently that fourteen thousand years were needed for the whole series of formations. A little further on, he however furnishes data, showing to every candid mind on what very vague estimates he had before relied. He says the fertile district of Hybla was suddenly turned to barrenness by an eruption of lava, and soon after restored to fertility by a shower of ashes. The change which he had required two thousand years to produce was here accomplished suddenly, and the whole argument by which he had arrayed himself against the Mosaical chronology overturned. Of such materials is a good deal of modern pseudo-philosophy constructed.

I received, this morning, a number of mineralogical specimens from Mr. Johnston, which had been collected by him at various times in the vicinity. Among them were specimens of copper pyrites in quartz, sulphate of strontian, foliated gypsum, and numerous calcareous petrifactions. He also presented me a fine antler of the Caribo, or American reindeer, a species which is found to inhabit this region. This animal is called Addik by the Ojibwas. Ik is a termination in the Ojibwa denoting some hard substance.

3d. Forster, in his "History of Northern Voyages," mentions some facts which appear to be adverse to Mr. Hayden's theory of a north-western current. The height of islands observed by Fox, in the arctic regions, was found to be greatest on their eastern sides, and they were depressed towards the west. "This observation," he says, "seems to me to prove that, when the sea burst impetuously into Hudson's Bay, and tore away these islands from the main land, it must have come rushing from the east and south-east, and have washed away the earth towards the west--a circumstance which has occasioned their present low position."

4th. I read the review of Schlegel's "Treatise on the Sanscrit Language." How far the languages of America may furnish coincidences in their grammatical forms, is a deeply interesting inquiry. But thus insulated, as I am, without books, the labor of comparison is, indeed, almost hopeless! I must content myself, for the present, with furnishing examples for others.

The Indians still continue their New Year's visits. Fresh parties or families, who come in from the woods, and were not able to come on the day, consider themselves privileged to present their claims. It should not be an object of disappointment to find that the Indians do not, in their ordinary intercourse, evince those striking traits of exalted and disinterested character which we are naturally accustomed to expect from reading books. Books are, after all, but men's holiday opinions. It requires observation on real life to be able to set a true estimate upon things. The instances in which an Indian is enabled to give proofs of a noble or heroic spirit cannot be expected to occur frequently. In all the history of the seaboard tribes there was but one Pocahontas, one Uncas, and one Philip. Whereas, everyday is calling for the exercise of less splendid, but more generally useful virtues. To spare the life of a prisoner, or to relieve a friend from imminent peril, may give applause, and carry a name down to posterity. But it is the constant practice of every day virtues and duties, domestic diligence, and common sense, that renders life comfortable, and society prosperous and happy. How much of this everyday stamina the Indians possess, it would be presumptuous in me, with so short an opportunity of observation, to decide. But I am inclined to the opinion that their defect of character lies here.

Our express for Detroit, via Michilimackinack, set out at three o'clock this morning, carrying some few short of a hundred letters. This, with our actual numbers, is the best commentary on our insulated situation. We divert ourselves by writing, and cling with a death-grasp, as it were, to our friends and correspondents.

5th. Gitche ie nay gow ge ait che gah, "they have put the sand over him" is a common expression among the Indians to indicate that a man is dead and buried. Another mode, delicate and refined in its character, is to suffix the inflection for perfect past tense, bun, to a man's name. Thus Washington e bun would indicate that Washington is no more.

I read the Life of Pope. It is strange that so great a poet should have been so great a lover of wealth; mammon and the muses are not often conjointly worshiped. Pope did not excel in familiar conversation, and few sallies of wit, or pointed observation, are preserved. The following is recorded: "When an objection raised against his inscription for Shakspeare was defended by the authority of Patrick, he replied, 'horresco referens,' that he would allow the publisher of a dictionary to know the meaning of a single word, but not of two words put together."

In the evening I read a number of the "London Literary Gazette," a useful and interesting paper, which, in its plan, holds an intermediate rank between a newspaper and a review. It contains short condensed criticisms on new works, together with original brief essays and anecdotes, and literary advertisements, which latter must render it a valuable paper to booksellers. I think we have nothing on this plan, at present, in the United States.

6th. I received a specimen of slaty graywacke from Lake Superior. The structure is tabular, and very well characterized. If there be no mistake respecting the locality, it is therefore certain that this rock is included among the Lake Superior group1. It was not noticed in the expedition of 1820. I also received a specimen of iron sand from Point aux Pins.

The thermometer has stood at 25 deg. below zero a few days during the season. It was noticed at 10 deg. below, this morning. Notwithstanding the decidedly wintry character of the day, I received a visit from Mr. Siveright, a Canadian gentleman, who came across the expanse of ice on snow shoes. I loaned him Silliman's "Travels in England and Scotland," feeling a natural desire to set off our countrymen, as authors and travelers, to the best advantage. Mr. S., who has spent several years at the north, mentioned that each of the Indian tribes has something peculiar in the fashion of their snow shoes. The Chippewas form theirs with acute points fore and aft, resembling two inverted sections of a circle. The Crees make a square point in front, tapering away gradually to the heel. The Chippewyans turn up the fore point, so that it may offer less resistance in walking. Females have their snow shoes constructed different from the men's. The difference consists in the shape and size of the bows. The netting is more nicely wrought and colored, and often ornamented, particularly in those worn by girls, with tassels of colored worsted. The word "shoe," as applied to this apparatus of the feet, is a complete misnomer. It consists of a net-work of laced skin, extended between light wooden bows tied to the feet, the whole object of which is to augment the space pressed upon, and thus bear up the individual on the surface of the snow.

I devoted the leisure hours of the day to the grammatical structure of the Indian language. There is reason to suppose the word moneto not very ancient. It is, properly speaking, not the name for God, or Jehovah, but rather a generic term for spiritual agency in their mythology. The word seems to have been derived from the notion of the offerings left upon rocks and sacred places, being supernaturally taken away. In any comparative views of the language, not much stress should be laid upon the word, as marking a difference from other stocks. Maneton, in the Delaware, is the verb "to make." Ozheton is the same verb in Chippewa.

7th. History teaches its lessons in small, as well as great things. Vessels from Albemarle, in Virginia, in 1586, first carried the potato to Ireland. Thomas Harriot says the natives called it open-awk. The Chippewas, at this place, call the potato open-eeg; but the termination eeg is merely a form of the plural. Open (the e sounded like short i) is the singular form. Thomas Jefferson gives the word "Wha-poos" as the name of the Powhatanic tribes for hare. The Chippewa term for this animal is Wa-bos, usually pronounced by white men Wa-poos.

Longinus remarks the sublimity of style of the third verse of Genesis i. I have, with competent aid, put it into Chippewa, and give the re-translation:--

            Appee dush             and then
            Gezha Monedo        Merciful Spirit
            Akeedood               He said
            Tah                          Let
            Wassay-au,              Light be,
            Appee dush             And then
            Wassay-aug             Light was.

It is not to be expected that all parts of the language would exhibit equal capacities to bear out the original. Yet in this instance, if the translation be faithful, it is clearly, but not, to our apprehension, elegantly done. I am apprehensive that the language generally has a strong tendency to repetition and redundancy of forms, and to clutter up, as it were, general ideas with particular meanings. At three o'clock I went to dine with Mr. Siveright, at the North West Company's House. The party was large, including the officers from the garrison. Conversation took a political turn. Colonel Lawrence defended the propriety of his recent toast, "The Senate of the United States, the guardians of a free people," by which a Boston paper said "more was meant than met the eye." The evening was passed with the ordinary sources of amusement. I have for some time felt that the time devoted to these amusements, in which I never made much advance, would be better given up to reading, or some inquiry from which I might hope to derive advantage. An incident this evening impressed me with this truth, and I came home with a resolution that one source of them should no longer engross a moment of my time.

Harris, the author of Hermes, says, "It is certainly as easy to be a scholar as a gamester, or any other character equally illiberal and low. The same application, the same quantity of habit, will fit us for one as completely as for the other. And as to those who tell us, with an air of seeming wisdom, that it is men, and not books, that we must study to become knowing; this I have always remarked, from repeated experience, to be the common consolation and language of dunces." Now although I have no purpose of aiming at extreme heights in knowledge, yet there are some points in which every man should have that precision of knowledge which is a concomitant of scholarship. And every man, by diligence, may add to the number of these points, without aiming at all to put on a character for extraordinary wisdom or profundity.

* * * * *

9th. Historical Reminiscences.--On the third of April, 1764, Sir William Johnson concluded preliminary articles of peace and friendship with eight deputies of the Seneca nation, which was the only one of the Iroquois who joined Pontiac. This was done at his residence at Johnson Hall, on the Mohawk.

In August, 1764, Colonel Bradstreet granted "Terms of Peace" to certain deputies of the Delaware, Huron, and Shawnee tribes at Presque Isle, being then on his way to relieve Detroit, which was then closely invested by the Indians. These deputies gave in their adhesion to the English cause, and agreed to give up all the English prisoners.

In October of the same year, Colonel Bouquet granted similar terms to another deputation of Shawnees, Delawares, &c., at Tuscarawas.

The best account of the general transactions of the war of that era, which I have seen, is contained in a "History of the Late War in North America, and Islands of the West Indies. By Thomas Mante, Assistant Engineer, &c., and Major of a Brigade. London, 1772:" 1 vol. quarto, 552 pages. I am indebted to Governor Clinton for my acquaintance with this work.

10th. I have employed the last three days, including this, very diligently on my Indian vocabulary and inquiries, having read but little. Too exclusive a devotion to this object is, however, an error. I have almost grudged the time I devoted to eating and sleeping. And I should certainly be unwilling that my visitors should know what I thought of the interruptions created by their visits. It is true, however, that I have gained but little by these visits in the way of conversation. One of my visitors, a couple of days since, made me waste a whole morning in talking of trifling subjects. Another, who is a gourmand, is only interested in subjects connected with the gratification of his palate. A third, who is a well-informed man, has such lounging habits that he remained two hours and a half with me this morning. No wonder that men in office must be guarded by the paraphernalia of ante-rooms and messengers, if a poor individual at this cold end of the world feels it an intrusion on his short winter days to have lounging visitors. I will try to recollect, when I go to see others, that although I may have leisure, perhaps they are engaged in something of consequence.

* * * * *

11th. History abounds in examples of excellence.--Xenophon says of Jason, "All who have served under Jason have learned this lesson, that pleasure is the effect of toil; though as to sensual pleasures, I know no person in the world more temperate than Jason. They never break in upon his time; they always leave him leisure to do what must be done."

Of Diphridas, the same author observes, "No bodily indulgence ever gained the ascendant over him, but, on the contrary, he gave all his attention to the business in hand." What admirable maxims for real life, whether that life be passed in courts or camps, or a humble sphere!

12th. I finished reading Thiebault's "Anecdotes of Frederick the Great," which I had commenced in December. This is a pleasing and instructive work. Every person should read it who wishes to understand the history of Prussia, particularly the most interesting and important period of it. We here find Frederick I. and II., and William depicted to the life. We are made acquainted also with national traits of the Russian, English, German, and French character, which are nowhere else to be found.

13th. The ancient Thracians are thus described by Herodotus: "The most honorable life with them is a life of indolence; the most contemptible that of a husbandman. Their supreme delight is war and plunder." Who, if the name and authority were concealed, but would suppose the remarks were made of some of the tribes of the North American Indians?

I divided the day between reading and writing. In the evening I went by invitation to a party at Lieutenant B.'s in the cantonment.

14th. The Chippewa names of the numerals, from one to ten, are--pazhik, neezh, niswee, newin, nanun, neen-goodwaswa, neezh-waswa, swaswa, shonguswa, metonna.

Dined at Mr. Ermatinger's, a gentleman living on the Canada shore, who, from small beginnings, has accumulated a considerable property by the Indian trade, and has a numerous Anglo-Odjibwa family.

15th. Completed the perusal of Harmon's Travels, and extracted the notes contained in memorandum book N. Mr. Harmon was nineteen years in the service of the North West Company, and became a partner after the expiration of the first seven years. The volume contains interesting data respecting the topography, natural history (incidental), and Indian tribes of a remote and extensive region. The whole scope of the journal is devoted to the area lying north of the territory of the United States. It will be found a valuable book of reference to those who are particularly directing their attention to northern scenes. The journal was revised and published by a Mr. Haskell, who, it is said here, by persons acquainted with Mr. Harmon, has introduced into the text religious reflections, not believed to have been made by the author at the time. No exceptions can be taken to the reflections; but his companions and co-partners feel that they should have led the individual to exemplify them in his life and conversation while inland.

Mr. Harmon says, of the Canadians--"All their chat is about horses, dogs, canoes, women, and strong men, who can fight a good battle." Traders and Indians are placed in a loose juxtaposition. "Their friendship," he states, "is little more than their fondness for our property, and our eagerness to obtain their furs." European manufactures are essential to the natives. "The Indians in this quarter have been so long accustomed to European goods, that it would be with difficulty that they could now obtain a livelihood without them. Especially do they need firearms, axes, kettles, knives, &c. They have almost lost the use of bows and arrows, and they would find it nearly impossible to cut their fire wood with implements made of stone or bone."

16th. Examined Mackenzie's Travels, to compare his vocabulary of Knisteneaux and Algonquin, with the Odjibwa, or Chippewa. There is so close an agreement, in sense and sound, between the two latter, as to make it manifest that the tribes could not have been separated at a remote period. This agreement is more close and striking than it appears to be by comparing the two written vocabularies. Mackenzie has adopted the French orthography, giving the vowels, and some of the consonants and diphthongs, sounds very different from their English powers. Were the words arranged on a common plan of alphabetical notation, they would generally be found to the eye, as they are to the ear, nearly identical. The discrepancies would be rendered less in cases in which they appear to be considerable, and the peculiarities of idiom, as they exist, would be made more striking and instructive. I have heard both idioms spoken by the natives, and therefore have more confidence in speaking of their nearness and affinity, than I could have had from mere book comparison. I am told that Mackenzie got his vocabulary from some of the priests in Lower Canada, who are versed in the Algonquin. It does not seem to me at all probable that an Englishman or a Scotchman should throw aside his natural sounds of the vowels and consonants, and adopt sounds which are, and must have been, from infancy, foreign.

As I intend to put down things in the order of their occurrence, I will add that I had a visitor to-day, a simple mechanic, who came to talk to me about nothing; I could do no less than be civil to him, in consequence of which he pestered me with hems and haws about one hour. I think Job took no interest in philology.

17th. Devoted the day to the language. A friend had loaned me a file of Scottish papers called the Montrose Review, which I took occasion to run over. This paper is more neatly and correctly printed than is common with our papers of this class from the country. The strain of remark is free, bold, and inquisitive, looking to the measures of government, and advocating principles of rational liberty throughout the world.

Col. Lawrence, Capt. Thompson, and Lieut. Griswold called in the course of the day. I commenced reading Mungo Parke's posthumous volume.

18th. The mind, like the body, will get tired. Quintilian remarks, "Variety refreshes and renovates the mind." Composition and reading by turns, wear away the weariness either may create; and though we have done many things, we in some measure find ourselves fresh and recruited at entering on a new thing. This day has been almost entirely given up to society. Visitors seemed to come in, as if by concert. Col. Lawrence, Capts. Clarke and Beal, Lieuts. Smith and Griswold. Mr. S.B. Griswold, who was one of the American hostage officers at Quebec, Dr. Foot, and Mr. Johnston came in to see me, at different times. I filled up the intervals in reading.

19th, Sabbath. A party of Indians came to my door singing the begging dance. These people do not respect the Sabbath2. The parties who came in, on New Year's day, still linger about the settlements, and appear to be satisfied to suffer hunger half the time, if their wants can be gratuitously relieved the other half.

20th. I continued to transcribe, from loose papers, into my Indian lexicon. A large proportion of the words are derivatives. All are, more or less, compounded in their oral forms, and they appear to be glued, as it were, to objects of sense. This is not, however, peculiar to this language. The author of "Hermes" says--"The first words of men, like their first ideas, had an immediate reference to sensible objects, and that in after days, when they began to discern with their intellect, they took those words which they found already made, and transferred them, by metaphor, to intellectual conceptions."

On going to dinner, I found a party of officers and their ladies. "Mine host," Mr. Johnston, with his fine and frank Belfast hospitality, does the honors of his table with grace and ease. Nothing appears to give him half so much delight as to see others happy around him. I read, in the evening, the lives of Akenside, Gray, and Littleton. What a perfect crab old Dr. Johnson was! But is there any sound criticism without sternness?

21st. I finished the reading of Mungo Parke, the most enterprising traveler of modern times. He appears to me to have committed two errors in his last expedition, and I think his death is fairly attributable to impatience to reach the mouth of the Niger. He should not have attempted to pass from the Gambia to the Niger during the rainy season. By this, he lost thirty-five out of forty men. He should not have tried to force a passage through the kingdom of Houssa, without making presents to the local petty chiefs. By this, he lost his life. When will geographers cease to talk about the mouth of the Niger? England has been as indefatigable in solving this problem as she has been in finding out the North West Passage, and, at present, as unsuccessful. We see no abatement, however, in her spirit of heroic enterprise. America has sent but one explorer to this field--Ledyard.

1: I found graywacke in situ at Iron River, in Lake Superior, in 1826, and subsequently at Presque Isle River, where it is slaty, and fine even grained, and apparently suitable for some economical uses.

2: About eighteen months afterwards, I interdicted all visits of Indians on the Sabbath, and adopted it as an invariable rule, that I would not transact any business, or receive visits, from any Indian under the influence of liquor. I directed my interpreter to tell them that the President had sent me to speak to sober men only.

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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851

Thirty Years with the Indians


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