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ON THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE STATE OF THE
MY DEAR FRIEND,
The little Indian story you mentioned to me, has turned my attention to the subject of the original Americans, to whom the events of the day have given a momentary accession of interest. There are few things connected with our history, that have occasioned more declamation, or more opposite statements. After a long and intimate knowledge of them, some have described the Indians as possessed of every virtue; while others degrade them below the rank of humanity, as destitute of every good quality, and practising all the vices, that can come under the heads of dishonesty, perfidy, and ferocity. One swears that the object before him is black; the other maintains that it is white; while the bystander, who knows that the two sides of the shield are of different colours, will perceive that both are right, from the position in which they have viewed it. In the mean time, the unfortunate race which is the subject of dispute, is mouldering away, and at no remote period will have no existence but in history.
There is something very saddening in the reflection, that the original possessors of this magnificent country, whom we acknowledged for the lords of the soil, when we bought their birthright for a mess of pottage, should be inevitably destined to destruction. It seems cruel, that we should not give them the benefits of civilization, and share with them, at least, the land that was once exclusively their own. Theoretical philanthropists have cried out against us, and practical ones have vainly endeavoured to avert the fate which seems marked out for the Indians. Nation after nation disappears, and, in a few years, the last remnants of these numerous tribes will be driven, with the buffalo and the deer, to the recesses of the Rocky Mountains. Once in a while a master spirit among them attempts, with vain struggles, to resist the destruction that is impending. In the truest spirit of patriotism he rouses his countrymen, but only leads them to their ruin; after scalping a few men, murdering a few women, and dashing out the brains of their children. Though he may be a good warriour, he proves but a false prophet in his predictions of success : he is either cut down, like the prophet Tecumseh, or hung, like the prophet Francis, and the ruin of his tribe is consummated.
It is remarkable, how few of the natives are to be found in our population, and how rarely they blend with it. The discolourings from Indian, are infinitely fewer than those arising from Negro mixture. The few that remain are not so numerous as the Gipsies in many parts of Europe, to whom they may
in many points be compared. Two or three, or sometimes a larger groupe, perambulate the country, offering medicinal herbs, baskets or brooms for sale, almost the only articles they manufacture. They are a harmless set of beings, and lead a life of hardship, though not of labour. I have sometimes thought, when I have seen some of these poor Indians, on the revolving turns of fate; that here were the descendants perhaps of the Sachems, who once held the country, and made treaties with our ancestors when they might have annihilated them, gaining a scanty livelihood from the charitable
purchases of their posterity. They preserve most of the traits of the Indian character, though imbedded in civilization, and knowing no other language than the English. They are seldom seen to laugh, are prone to intoxication, yet obliged, from poverty, to have intervals of sobriety; and in traversing the country, while they commonly make use of our roads, they retain a knowledge of its natural topography; and are never afraid of being lost in a forest, as they always know their direction, and often traverse the country, as was the primitive practice, from one stream to another, at the shortest carrying place; and still are acquainted with all the rivers and ponds, and the most probable places for finding game.
If then, so many tribes and nations have disappeared, leaving no other than these miserable vestiges, so that they and their language have become extinct; if within the wide limits of the old United States, there hardly exist Indians enough to form
one populous village, could this destruction have been prevented by the whites ?-Has civilized man made use of his superiority over the savage, only to despoil him ? Is the existence of a barbarous and civilized nation, in the same country compatible ? Is the red man of the American forests a species of the human genus susceptible of civilization? It may be of some assistance, in answering these questions, to consider what has been done towards civilizing the Indians ;-I cannot go into the inquiry at large, but will only give you a sketch of what has been attempted in the state of Massachusetts,—this is not much, yet is probably more than has been done by any other.
The first founders, either through fear, or some better motive, appeared to wish to deal peaceably and honestly with the natives. Though they came here with the European prejudices, and were in the habit of hearing the Pope and other sovereigns, claim the property of the country, without any
consideration for the natives who were in possession, yet they bought the land they occupied, and generally maintained their treaties with them. They would have followed a liberal course of policy, if it had not been for their peculiar religious fanaticism. Our forefathers were constantly likening themselves to the Israelites, one of the most cruel of nations, as shown in their own annals: like them, they were invading a country that did not belong to them, whose inhabitants they considered heathen, and therefore deserving of destruction.
The hardships of their situation made them harsh in their sentiments, and the sternest denunciations of the Old Testament were the passages most frequently in their mouths. The Indians were heathen, and on this account a feeling of scorn was engendered, that prevented any general sympathy for their condition. Humanity, however, was still felt in many upright, benevolent minds; and religion too guided some individuals to pursue the beneficent lessons of the New, rather than the exterminating injunctions of the Old Testament, in their treatment of the natives. Some good men were constantly endeavouring to ameliorate their condition
; among whom the venerable Eliot is most conspicuous. His zeal, learning, and industry enabled him to form a grammar of their languages, and to translate the Bible into it. He has been sometimes called the Indian Apostle ; and his primitive simplicity, devotedness, and entire disinterestedness, gave him claims to the appellation.
If, however, there was any chance from the exertions of such missionaries as Eliot, or such benevolent characters in civil life as Roger Williams, and some others, it was destroyed by the wars that were afterwards excited. The premature destruction of the Indians was chiefly brought about by the rivalries of foreign nations; who made use of them, in the most profligate and remorseless manner, to promote their own ambitious designs. The rivalries of the French and English occasioned the destruction of whole tribes, in the early ages of the colo