Native Voices from the Revolutionary Era: New Primary Source Texts



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PAUL HARVEY

I'm out for the next several days, but wanted to leave you with a couple of recommendations for the New Year, for some primary texts that might otherwise escape your attention.

Here's the first: The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Literature and Leadership in Eighteenth-Century Native America.

Some years ago, a scholar collected and published the indispensable writings of William Apess: On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot, featuring his famous autobiography A Son of the Forest and his blistering appreciation of King Philip. The new collected writings of Occom provide an excellent resource as well. Here's the description from the book jacket:

This volume brings together for the first time the known writings of the pioneering Native American religious and political leader, intellectual, and author, Samson Occom (Mohegan; 1723-1792). The largest surviving archive of American Indian writing before Charles Eastman (Santee Sioux; 1858-1939), Occom's writings offer unparalleled views into a Native American intellectual and cultural universe in the era of colonialization and the early United States. His letters, sermons, journals, prose, petitions, and hymns--many of them never before published--document the emergence of pantribal political consciousness among the Native peoples of New England as well as Native efforts to adapt Christianity as a tool of decolonialization. Presenting previously unpublished and newly recovered writings, this collection more than doubles available Native American writing from before 1800.

Occom's writings have been discussed in a number of places previously, most crucially in Joanna Brooks's American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African American and Native American Literatures. But this compilation allows for ready access to the complete body of works.

A related title from a few years back, of a figure less important then Occom but certainly worth study: To Do Good to My Indian Brethren: The Writings of Joseph Johnson 1751-1776 . From the Library Journal:

These transcriptions of diaries, letters, and sermons of Johnson, a Mohegan (Mohican) teacher and visionary leader, break stereotypes. With prominent ancestors and literate parents, Johnson lived in a community that valued both Mohegan and European cultures. His writing style, learned under the tutelage of Eleazer Wheelock, founder of Dartmouth College, is indistinguishable from that of other writers (Indian or white) trained in prerevolutionary missionary schools, but attention to editor/author Murray's interpretation reveals issues and facts about Mohegan life, including plans for "Brotherton," a Christian Indian town, realized only after the Revolution and Johnson's death. Murray (English, Queen's Univ., Kingston, Ontario) emphasizes the individual writer, following such examples as James Axtell's The Invasion Within (1985). Johnson's humility is striking, as is his commitment to his people. This book makes another Indian "voice" more accessible and gives helpful instruction in the genres and forms of early American writing. Recommended for all Native American collections and for academic libraries.

Finally, a related but lesser-known secondary text: Bernd Peyer, The Tutor'd Mind: Indian Missionary-Writers in Antebellum America.
I find historians often not aware of the ready availability of texts such as these, which are full of rich material for American religious history scholars. Brooks's work noted above is, for my money, the best introduction and analysis of the subject.

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