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
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:--
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
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
* * * * *
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
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
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
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
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
Years with the Indians