Thursday, July 20, 2006

The 1700's: Writings about Indians

I spent the last three days studying materials in the Yale libraries. It is fascinating to do this sort of research. There is so much here; I worked very intensely and it will be awhile before I can write about the materials I saw.

Briefly, I read the diary of a soldier, dated 1759-1762. In several places he refers to Indians they fought. He didn't say "savage" or "heathen" --- just Indian. He didn't use "bloodthirsty" or any of those loaded words that we see with great frequency in children's historical fiction. I'm not making any generalizations from reading one diary (and, I was reading quickly, skimming in parts, so may have missed something).

I read a "dialogue" between several missionaries. Dated 1795, it is an account of their work with "the Delawares, the 6 Nations, the Mahikands, and some smaller tribes." In it I did come across the word "heathen" but it wasn't used with much frequency. Instead, these missionaries used the word "Indian."

There is much to do and I will need much more time to read and work here. For now, I head back to Urbana. A note: the staff at the Sterling and Beinecke libraries are wonderful and very helpful. If you're in the area, stop by the Beinecke, go upstairs, and see the panorama pop-up book of a wild west show...

2 comments:

rindambyers said...

Just an added note to put the use of the word "heathen" in a wider perspective: Missionaries back then (and even today) came from different denominations, and calling Native Americans "heathen" was bland stuff compared to what some missionaries called their fellow missionaries!

Heretics...false prophets, etc., etc.

Probably still nothing compares in negative sterotyping to the language you find in so many Hollywood films...

Linnea Hendrickson said...

Debbie, I love your blog. It is a valuable resource. This is the second time I've come to read. Your research at Yale sounds fascinating, and I'm not sure much has been done with those old writings, at least in terms of looking at perspectives on Native Americans. What you've seen so far makes me wonder just when some of the stereotypes originated -- and how attitudes might have differed on the part of Spanish invaders of the Americas.