Native American Diaspora

Roger Williams, A key into the language of America or, An help to the language of the natives in that part of America, called New-England. London: Gregory Dexter, 1643.  Original McGregor Library (A 1643 .W55)

Puritan dissident and founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams was unusual among European settlers in treating Native Americans as equals. Believing that England’s monarch had no right to grant Indian lands to New England’s colonists, Williams purchased his Rhode Island property directly from the Narragansett Indians. Respectful of their culture, he ultimately refrained from any attempt to Christianize them. In 1643 Williams became the first Englishman to publish a work on Indian languages. This topically arranged guide to the Narragansett language is not merely a phrase book, but a valuable and insightful ethnography.

The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Translated into the Indian languageCambridge [Mass.]: Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson, 1661.  Original McGregor Library (A 1661 .B52)

In contrast to Roger Williams, Puritan missionary John Eliot dedicated his life to converting New England’s Indians. Eliot helped establish settlements of “Praying Indians” and famously translated the Bible into the Massachusett language. Produced at the newly established Indian College adjacent to Harvard, with assistance from Indian apprentice James Printer, the Eliot Indian Bible was the first Bible printed in the Americas. The New Testament was published first, in 1661, followed two years later by the Old Testament. The McGregor Library owns copies of both the New Testament issue (pictured) and the complete 1663 Bible.

Cadwallader Colden, The history of the five Indian nations depending on the province of New-York in America. New York: William Bradford, 1727.  Original McGregor Library (A 1727 .C64)

Colden was appointed surveyor general of New York in 1720; four decades later he served as its colonial governor. He also distinguished himself as a scientist, making contributions in botany, physics, and medicine. Colden also authored this pioneering history of the five Indian nations—Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca—comprising the Iroquois League. In describing 125 years of relations among the Iroquois, British, and French, Colden furnished a valuable account of the Indians’ customs and culture. Some copies include this engraved map of the Iroquois country, one of the earliest maps published in the American Colonies.

Pennsylvania, A treaty, held at the town of Lancaster, in Pennsylvania … with the Indians of the Six Nations, in June, 1744. Philadelphia: B. Franklin, 1744.  Acquired 1943 (A 1744 .P455 T7)

Longstanding grievances between the Iroquois and the Virginia and Maryland colonies over the Shenandoah Valley came to a head in 1744. In order to avert war, colonial officials met with a delegation of 250 Iroquois at Lancaster, Pa. Negotiations continued for two weeks before the Iroquois agreed to sell the Shenandoah Valley for 200 pounds in gold, thereby renewing the “Covenant Chain” of treaties between the English and their Indian allies. This pamphlet contains the official record of the conference. The transcribed speeches of “Assaragoa” (the governor of Virginia) and Iroquois chief Tachanoontia vividly convey the climate of negotiation.

Andrew Jackson, Letter to Rachel Donelson Jackson, June 1818.  Acquired 1943 (MSS 1648)

Tensions between American settlers and Seminole Indians along the border with Spanish-held Florida erupted into war in 1818. Sent into Florida to punish the Seminoles, Andrew Jackson used the opportunity to seize all of West Florida for the United States. The ensuing diplomatic crisis led, not to war, but to Florida’s purchase from Spain in 1819. The same day he informed President James Monroe of his victory, Jackson wrote to his wife Rachel of his impending return home: “I have destroyed the babylon of the south, the hot bed of the Indian war & depredations on our frontier, by taking St Marks & pensacola.”

James T. De Shields, Cynthia Ann Parker. The story of her capture at the massacre of the inmates of Parker's FortSt. Louis: Printed for the author, 1886. Original McGregor Library  (A 1886 .D47)

Centuries of conflict between whites and Native Americans have yielded hundreds of “captivity narratives,” a genre in which the McGregor Library is strong. In May 1836, a month after the fall of the Alamo, Comanche Indians captured 10-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been living thirty miles east of present-day Waco, Texas, and killed her family. She quickly adapted to Indian life, entering into a happy marriage with a Comanche chief. Tragedy struck again in 1860 when Texas Rangers raided a Comanche camp, killing Parker’s husband and repatriating Parker and one of her children to white society. Parker, however, found herself unable to adjust.