Native American Resources
at the American Antiquarian Society
Works on the Pre-Columbian period are not systematically collected.
The Society's comprehensive holdings on the European encounter with Native Americans in eastern North America are augmented by an excellent collection of works on the settlement of the American West. Other resources include U.S. government documents and treaties (AAS has been a federal depository library since 1814).
Other collections include an impressive number of mission press imprints in various Indian languages as well as missionary reports, the key works in Native American iconography (Catlin, Lewis, McKenney & Hall), an outstanding collection of Indian captivity narratives as well as fictional works concerning Native Americans, and superb holdings of local histories.
The online exhibition From English to Algonquian: Early New England Translations explores the contributions of those who labored in translating and printing works in the Algonquian family of native languages.
Bible. Algonquian. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old Testament and the New. Translated into the Indian Language ... Cambridge [MA]: Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson, 1661-1663. [catalog record]
This massive 1208-page work remained for six decades the largest and most ambitious product of the colonial American press. It was conceived and completed by the Rev. John Eliot (1604-1690) as one facet of his mission to the Massachusetts Bay Indians, funded by the Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England. Native Americans played key roles in its publication. Although the translation into the Massachusett dialect of Algonquian is usually credited to Eliot, he received substantial assistance from Job Nesutan, a native speaker and sometime student at Harvard's Indian College. Likewise, printers Green and Johnson relied heavily on their Nipmuc apprentice, James Printer (also known as Wowaus), to see this work through the press.
Cherokee Nation. Constitution of the Cherokee Nation, Formed by a Convention of Delegates from the Several Districts, at New Echota, July 1827. [New Echota, GA: Isaac H. Harris and John F. Wheeler, 1828]. [catalog record]
The first book printed in the Cherokee syllabary was devised by Sequoyah, and was preceded only by a few issues of the Cherokee Phoenix. The Cherokee Constitution was first published a few months earlier, in English; this second edition includes the English text, with a Cherokee translation by Elias Boudinot in parallel columns. The Cherokee printing office at New Echota, which opened in February 1828, was furnished with a press and specially cast Cherokee type obtained from Boston, and paper brought from Tennessee. It operated until seized by Georgia officials in 1835.
Chahta Almanac for the Year of Our Lord 1836: Adapted to the Latitude of the Choctaw Country. Union [OK]: Mission Press, John F. Wheeler, 1836. [catalog record]
This is the only known copy of this illustrated almanac in Choctaw, one of a handful of publications from Oklahoma's first printing press. Wheeler had managed the Cherokee press in New Echota, GA before establishing the Mission Press in Union in late 1835; during 1837 it was removed to Park Hill, where it flourished. This almanac was edited and translated by the Rev. Loring S. Williams, who noted: "It is a new thing among the Indians ... costs 12 ½ cents." Another almanac in Cherokee was issued concurrently.
Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall. History of the Indian tribes of North America, : with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. : Embellished with one hundred and twenty portraits, from the Indian gallery, in the Department of War, at Washington. Philadelphia: J. T. Bowen, 1848[-1850]. [catalog record]
McKenney & Hall's History, first published 1836-1844 in three large folio volumes, has been called "the grandest color plate book issued in the United States up to [that] time." Most of the 120 hand-colored lithographic plates faithfully reproduce original oil portraits (now lost) of Native Americans by Charles Bird King and James Otto Lewis. A less expensive, smaller format octavo edition was issued 1848-1850 and reprinted several times. AAS owns all of the early printings, as well as a very rare prospectus [catalog record] containing sample text and plates for the octavo edition.
Sarah Ann Horn. A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Horn, and Her Two Children ... by the Camanche Indians, After They had Murdered Their Husbands and Travelling Companions; with a Brief Account of the Manners and Customs of that Nation of Savages ... Written by E. House. St. Louis: C. Keemle, 1839. [catalog record]
Mary Rowlandson's 1682 Narrative was the first of several hundred Indian captivity accounts to be published in what became the United States. Sarah Ann Horn's very rare work is typical of the genre. Horn, her husband, and two sons emigrated from England in 1833, settling on the Texas frontier near Laredo. Disillusioned by Comanche raids and poor harvests, the Horns resolved to return home, only to be captured immediately after setting out. Horn never saw her husband or sons again, remaining a Comanche prisoner for 15 months before American traders purchased her freedom. Horn's Narrative was published shortly before her death in Missouri in 1839. Like other captivity narratives, Horn's narrative offers much useful information on frontier life and Native American customs.
The American Antiquarian Society has nearly 500 children's books published between the 17th and early 20th centuries containing references to Native Americans. The books range from an Algonquian translation of the Puritan minister John Cotton's Spiritual Milk, printed in 1691, to a publisher's mock-up of 50 Famous American Indians by Albert Payson Terhune (1872-1942) from the McLoughlin Bros.' business archives. Native Americans were also central figures in accounts of domestic mission work by writers such as Sarah Tuttle, in religious biographies of Christian Indians published in the early 19th century, and in the American history textbooks written by popular authors like George Bancroft, Samuel Goodrich ("Peter Parley"), and Francis Lister Hawks ("Uncle Philip"). Native Americans also play fleeting, but significant roles in children's books like the early Pittsburgh imprint, The Child's Library of Useful Knowledge (1806), which contains an English translation of a Naudowessie prayer to the Great Spirit, and as figures in early 19th-century story books like Tales for Dorcas, published (and probably edited) by Mahlon Day, a Quaker who was committed to the fair treatment of racial minorities. By the latter half of the 19th century, popular picture books issued by publishers such as McLoughlin Bros. showed Native Americans as heroes and heroines to be celebrated, as in Paul Pryor's Pocahontas (1873), or as marginal figures vanishing into the frontier, as in A Peep at Buffalo Bill's Wild West (1887?).
The children's books at AAS are cataloged so that both textual and pictorial references to Native Americans are indexed using the Library of Congress subject heading, "Indians of North America." Because of its richly comprehensive holdings and detailed cataloguing, the AAS Children's Literature Collection is a wonderful resource for exploring the textual and visual portrayals of Native Americans meant for the eyes of America's youngest citizens.
The Graphic Arts collections contain a variety of imagery related to Native Americans. What follows is just a sampling and includes allegorical, imagined, and actual depictions. There are many ways to find these materials by using the Catalogue of American Engravings, the AAS General Catalog, and the various collection inventories on the AAS website. The term "Indians of North America" brings up many records in the Catalogue of American Engravings, in addition to several images in which America is represented by Native American females. A keyword search in AAS General Catalog for "Indians," limited to the graphic arts collections, results in over 150 records including portraits, battle scenes, and allegorical images on Civil War envelopes. Additional imagery can be found on the illustrated covers of music scores and on ephemera, such as currency. In addition to these single-sheet items, AAS's book collections include countless images of Native Americans.
This map, oriented so that north is to the right, was the first to be created in British colonial America. Even this primitive relief print is loaded with symbols that present a narrative of the colonization of New England, with communities situated on the Connecticut River and along the coast. Conflicts between European and native populations occurred frequently, and these are symbolized by the group of armed soldiers firing at natives on the lower right side of the map.
Samson Occom, 1723-1792. Mr. Occom's Address to his Indian Brethren. On the day that Moses Paul, an Indian, was Executed ... [Boston?: Nathaniel Mills?, 1772]. [catalog record]
Samson Occom (1723-1792) was Mohegan and the star pupil of Eleazar Wheelock's preparatory school at Lebanon, CT. He converted to Christianity during the Great Awakening and became an ordained minister and missionary, working for many years with the Montauk tribe on eastern Long Island. Rather than preach theology, he preferred to exhort people to righteous behavior as is emphasized in this verse adaptation of his best-known sermon. Moses Paul was born in Barnstable, MA in 1742, and joined the Provincial Regiment under Colonel Putnam. Later he went to sea in the service of merchants. He was tried, sentenced, and executed for the murder of Moses Cook in 1772.
Indian Family. Boston: G. Gleason, [1844-1849] [catalog record]
The publisher copied this print from a lithograph issued by Nathaniel Currier in New York. It is, therefore, a fine example of the movement of imagery from one major publishing center to another. Indian Family is also noteworthy for showing a family unit at work and at rest including the mother nursing her infant in the middle ground.
Nahmeokee Waltz. Boston: Henry Prentiss, 1843. Lithographed in color by Thayer & Co., Boston.
The music publishing firm of Henry Prentiss issued a series of anonymous piano scores titled The Indians. One piece, King Philip's Quick Step, obviously refers to King Philip's War. Another, Oseola Quick Step, refers to the well-known leader of the Creek Indians during the Second Seminole War, who died in 1838. Nahmeokee Waltz refers to a female character in John Augustus Stone's Metamora; or the Last of the Wampanoags, a play commissioned by the actor Edwin Forrest around 1830 that deals with the conflict between Metamora (a character loosely based on Metacom, or King Philip) and Massachusetts colonists. Nahmeokee was his wife and the daughter of Massasoit. Although Stone gave the story an historical framework, the plot was fictional.
Little Robe, (Hah-ket-home-mah). Photographed by W. H. Jackson for the United States Geological Survey, 1877.
The American Antiquarian Society's collection of 223 photographs of Native Americans features the work of such photographers as William H. Jackson (1843-1942) and Jack Hillers (1843-1925) in addition to many unknown artists. Spanning from 1859 to 1900, the collection represents 39 tribes in several different formats, including stereographs, cabinet cards, and cartes-de-visite. These photographs illustrate 19th-century Native American culture, from traditional dress and daily life to formal portraits of notable tribal officials. Many of the images also depict the interaction between Native American culture and American culture. Photographs of reservation life, for example, show men in suits and women in high-necked dresses posed in front of clapboard houses. Some images—such as a portrait series of somber Modoc war prisoners photographed shortly before their execution—recall the grimmer reality of this interaction. Images of the collection are available through the Society's digital image archive.
Native American materials in the AAS manuscript collections exist in two principal areas. First is the record of Native Americans in New England in the period after contact and continuing into the nineteenth century, as exemplified in collections such as the John Milton Earl Papers. Secondly, particularly during the nineteenth century the Society collected and published a considerable amount of material relating to the archaeology of Native American culture in the Midwestern United States, and the original manuscripts, maps and drawings produced as part of this study are now in the AAS library.
Records of the Trustees of the Indians of Hassanamisco (Grafton) from 1718 to 1857. [catalog record]
This lengthy volume begins with the "Journal & Accts. of Spencer Phipps Esqr. Edward Goddard & Capt. Ephraim Curtis Trustees for the Indians of Hassanamiscoe, from December 12th 1727..." and it records divisions of land, payments to the Indians at Hassanamisco, and the expenses of trustees. The accounts include the names of many Native American (Nipmuc) individuals. For example, after the death of Moses Printer in 1729, the trustees consented to a proposal by John Hazelton "to take as an Apprentice an Indian Girl, daughter of Moses Printer called Betty Also Elizabeth, to provide for her good & Sufficient Meat Drink Apparrel Lodging Washing & all other necessaries, to teach her to read English & to learn her the Catechism, & upon her Arrival to the Age of Eighteen years to Dismiss her with two good Suits of Apparrel for all parts of her body the one for Sabbath days & the other for working days, & also to give unto her one yearling Calf, one Sheep one Lamb & one Pigg." This volume came to AAS in 1908 via Jeanie Lea Southwick, a descendant of John Milton Earle, who was commissioner to the Indians of Massachusetts from 1859 to 1862.
Historical notes on Native Americans and treaties, 1620-1691. [catalog record]
This volume is a compendium of historical notes on the English and French settlement of North America and the "state" of the tribes of North America from 1620-1691. Of particular interest in this volume are minutes of treaty negotiations between the English and Iroquois and Mahicans. These minutes appear to be based on a lost record book of the Albany Commissioners for Indian Affairs and cover the years 1677-1691. The volume was given to AAS in 1814 by Thomas Jefferson. In a letter accompanying the gift Jefferson wrote that "this being the department of our history in which materials are most defective, it may perhaps offer something not elsewhere preserved."
Caleb Atwater Letters and Drawings, 1818-1835. [catalog record]
Caleb Atwater was born in Massachusetts in 1788 and migrated to Ohio in 1815. He soon became interested in the Hopewell earthworks mounds in the vicinity of his home in Circleville and his "Description of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States" was published as part of the first volume of Transactions of the American Antiquarian Society in 1820. Atwater's drawings and descriptions of earthworks and artifacts are the only surviving evidence of much that was subsequently destroyed. In addition to Atwater's original manuscript as edited by Isaiah Thomas for the Transactions volume, AAS has some of the original artwork that accompanied Atwater's work. This drawing, by Miss Sarah Clifford, is of a vessel "found in an ancient work, about four feet below the surface" on the Caney fork of the Cumberland river. Like many of his contemporaries, Atwater was drawn to speculate on the origins of these artifacts and indeed the Native Americans. Atwater's conclusion based on this vessel: "Does it not represent the three chief gods of India, Brahma, Vishnoo and Siva?"
"Articles from the North West, Pacific Ocean, etc. for the American Antiquarian Society, 1818."
In 1815 Roderick McKenzie of Terrebonne, Quebec was elected to the AAS. Three years later he sent a substantial parcel of items to AAS. These included Native American artifacts as well as some mineral specimens, shells and coins, presumably collected by McKenzie in the course of his years in the northwest in the fur trade. This list, which accompanied the gift, was carefully transcribed into the first AAS donation book by Isaiah Thomas. The Society still receives enquiries about the artifacts, all of which have been transferred to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at Harvard or other institutions in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.
Will of Pomantaquash, 1668 [catalog record]
In this will dated October 29, 1668, Pomantaquash (also known as Pamantaquash), sachem of the Wampanoags in what is now Plymouth County, Mass., leaves his lands to his brother Tuspaquin. A notation on the verso says that Pomantaquash "desires that neither Tuspaquin nor his sons be prest to sell the said lands so mentioned by any English." The will was witnessed by a number of Native Americans and by John Morton of Plymouth. This document is in the Curwen Family Papers.
Newspapers and Periodicals
Ne Jacuh'nigo'ages'cwathah = The Mental Elevator (Buffalo-Creek Reservation, NY) 1841-1850. [catalog record]
Asher Wright was a missionary sent to western New York by the New York Missionary Society and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions during the early 19th century. An adept linguist, Wright prepared a variety of works in the Seneca language, including grammars, hymnals, translated portions of the New Testament, and legal compilations. Between 1841 and 1850 he edited The Mental Elevator, a bilingual periodical issued irregularly from the Seneca Mission-House on the Buffalo-Creek Reservation. Only 19 issues were published, of which AAS holds nine. Most of the content was religious in nature, but articles on local laws, temperance, news, and obituaries were also included. The mission press issued occasional pamphlets and hymnals until its destruction by fire in 1856.
AAS holds a complete run of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first newspaper published by Native Americans. In 1825 the Cherokee Council pledged $1500 for the purchase of a printing press and type; the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions also pledged assistance. By 1828 a printing shop had been erected in New Echota and stocked with type and a cast iron press shipped from Boston. Elias Boudinot, a Cherokee schoolmaster, was selected as editor of the newspaper. Half of its content was to be set in the 85-character Cherokee syllabary devised by Sequoyah. From the beginning, the newspaper sought a wide audience. It served first as an advocate for the Cherokee nation, fighting especially against its removal from the eastern states. By 1829 its coverage had broadened to other Native American issues, prompting a title change to Cherokee Phoenix and Indians' Advocate. The paper ceased publication on May 31, 1834. There were thoughts of reviving it the next year, but the Georgia Guard confiscated the press and threw out the type.
Dakota Tawaxitku Kin, or the Dakota Friend (St. Paul, MN) 1850-1852. [catalog record]
The first periodical published in the Dakota language, published by the Dakota Mission but printed in St. Paul on the press of the Chronicle and Register. Half of each four-page issue was set in Santee Dakota, edited by G.H. Pond, and half in English, edited by E.D. Neill. It lasted for just 20 issues, of which AAS owns seven. The final issue notes that "The Dakota Mission deems it undesirable while the Indians are unsettled, to continue the Friend." The Dakota sections include portions of the Bible translated into Dakota, grammar and vocabulary lessons, news items, and general interest stories. The English sections contain several interesting articles about the history, mythology, lifestyle, and recreation of Native Americans in the Minnesota region, such as a detailed description of a ball and stick game that might have upwards of three hundred participants.
Copway's American Indian (New York, NY) 1851. [catalog record]
This newspaper was published by George Copway (Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh), an Ojibwa chief. Born in Ontario in 1818, Copway later converted to Christianity and attended the Ebenezer Academy in Illinois. Copway's American Indian aimed to be a clearinghouse of information about Native Americans for a white audience. Its masthead bore the motto: "Devoted to the General History of the North American Indian and American Literature. Neutral in Politics and Creeds." Copway managed to obtain letters of encouragement from Francis Parkman, William Cullen Bryant, Washington Irving, and other literary notables. The Literary World favorably reviewed the inaugural issue but predicted an early demise: "The letters from various writers of more or less importance figure on the first page, promising assistance (although we much doubt whether our friend, Ka-ge-ga-gah-bowh, will live to derive much advantage from some of them). The other portions of the paper are well-filled: and, altogether, the undertaking is a 'sure card' if carefully managed. It starts well: and we hope it may 'continue in well-doing.'" Ultimately, Copway's American Indian had a short life: only 12 issues were published before expenses outstripped paid subscriptions.
Two especially useful bibliographies for Native American serial publications are
- Daniel F. Littlefield and James W. Parins, American Indian and Alaska Native Newspapers and Periodicals, 1826-1924 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984). Includes publication histories.
- James P. Danky and Maureen E. Hady, Native American periodicals and newspapers, 1828-1982: bibliography, publishing record, and holdings (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984). This work is more complete in terms of titles and bibliographic descriptions, and while it lacks publication histories, it provides library holdings for both original issues and microfilm.
Images of Native Americans (Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)
McKenney & Hall: History of the Indian Tribes of North America (University of Cincinnati)
Photographing the American Indian: Portraits of Native Americans, 1860-1913 (Massachusetts Historical Society)