Specializing in Encounter Dynamics of Natives & Newcomers on the Wabanaki Frontier.
VICARIOUS FIRST ENCOUNTERS
–THE WABANAKIS IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
This is a “note” (rather than a “query”), regarding TEACHING and LEARNING about ETHNICITY – both one’s own and one’s neighbors.
The 120th Maine Legislature only recently (2001) has passed a law
requiring some inclusion of Maine Indian (Wabanaki) history &
culture in the public school curricula in the state.
Old style public school history too often implied that the Wabanikis either had been killed off as enemies or run off to Canada during the Colonial Era or else later dropped out of sight in the American “Melting Pot”. Many Wabanakis were killed, moved or merged, but very many did not leave Maine at all or returned if they did leave for a while – because they belong here in their own Wabanaki homeland.
It is only realistic, and better late than never, to recognize the ongoing presence & contributions of Maine’s “First Peoples”.
Certainly from c1975 onward some Maine school teachers included something about the Wabanakis, after the Maine Indian Land-Claims Cases started to grab headlines nationwide. But in the 1940s &‘50s it was rare indeed for teachers to mention any living Maine minority people – or at least that was my own experience as a student in Portland Public Schools in southern Maine. Probably that was because (despite the demographic upheavals of World War 2) Portland then was still an extremely homogeneous city in a still basically Old-Yankee state.
During the long era of teaching about Indians only (if at all) as peoples-of-the-past (like Classical Greeks), my own fascination with Maine’s colonial-frontier past was kindled, and it was encouraged by family, adult-friends, & teachers alike. The past-tense definitely prevailed. Indeed, I can remember only one of my K-12 teachers ever trying to relate past with present Maine Indians – by showing us some slides of living Wabanaki communities – and that was late in the spring of my senior year in high school (1953).
The silence about Maine’s minority peoples which I remember in my Maine schools of half-a-century-ago was little better preparation for us then than the extracurricular prejudices which all too often thrive to bias daily interethnic encounters among students today. Both silence and prejudice are totally non-adaptive behaviors to teach-&-learn, formally or informally, especially now. Neither of these behaviors stimulate responses needed for our individual/group/national survival in the new terroristic 21st Century.
The teaching-&-learning tools (books, lessons, etc) to do the best for future students must be carefully crafted to succeed. First Encounters, even if only vicarious, must leave a positive image, on-balance, to make further encounters between peoples & persons worthwhile. Therefore, specifically, the books that children read about other peoples & cultures have real consequences when real-life contacts occur between the readers and the read-abouts.
In 1978, I gave the paper that follows at the Tenth Algonquian Conference at Fredericton, New Brunswick, to a very appreciative audience of both studiers and studied. The paper is about ten childrens’-level books about White / Wabanaki frontier-encounters, published between 1904 and 1968. I reviewed them from the perspective of positive or negative impact on readers, resulting from each book’s presented image(s) of the Wabanakis. These ten books were among my own & my children’s early encounters with images of the Wabanakis. I later studied them to try to see who, if anyone(s), got short-changed.
Because several of these books center around interethnic encounters during the French & Indian Wars, I start with a time-list of eight relevant wars for overall historical & political orientation. All ten books were written about the perspective of the American Colonists, from the bias of their descendants. However, the intent of all the authors was not necessarily to preach partisan propaganda – learning respect for an enemy (or losing respect for an ally) was a desirable plot-goal of some of the authors. Each of these books & my review must be seen as an artifact of its own time-of-writing. Over time, from 1904 to 1968, some collective decline in authorial ethnocentrism may be noticed, but the most-recent books are not automatically better, nor are all of these ten books necessarily obsolete because of age alone.
Which (if any) of these ten books from 1904 to 1968 will still be useful to teach-&-learn a balanced image of the Wabanakis (& the French, & the British, & the Americans, & allied peoples) for future generations of Maine children? Answering that question, I hope, will help to hone-up the talents of decision-makers now at work on implementing the new Maine law to add teaching-&-learning about the Wabanakis to public school curricula. Of course there have been more such books published more recently than 1968, but let’s start by considering these ten older books, and my review thereof, at least for backgrounding.
OCTOBER 1978 PAPER AS REVISED IN 1979 PUBLICATION
as pages 142-151 of
PAPERS OF THE TENTH ALGONQUIAN CONFERENCE,
Edited by William Cowan (1979), Ottawa: Carleton University
THE WABANAKI IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE:
SOME PRELIMINARY COMMENTS
Alvin H. Morrison / SUNY – Fredonia
Some Children’s Books About the Wabanaki Algonquians / Historical Novel Category
Period of Story
Mary P W
THE BOY CAPTIVE OF OLD DEERFIELD (v1)
Grade 8 & up.
THE BOY CAPTIVE IN CANADA (v2)
OoP, but at least two Reprint Editions made in 1970s.
Boston: Little, Brown &
THE TOMAHAWK TRAIL
NY: Frederick A Stokes Co
War # 3
Original Ed OoP.
Coryell, Hubert V
NY: Harcourt, Brace & Co
Wars # 3 & 4
Ages 12 – 16.
Original Ed OoP.
Kelly, Eric P
THREE SIDES OF AGIOCHOOK
NY: Macmillan Co
War # 7
Original Ed OoP.
SWORD OF THE WILDERNESS
NY: Macmillan Co
War # 2
Grade 7 & up.
Edmonds, Walter D
THE MATCHLOCK GUN
NY: Dodd, Mead & Co
War # 6
Grades 4 – 6.
HIS INDIAN BROTHER
NY: Abingdon Press
Original Ed OoP.
CAPT WAYMOUTH’S INDIANS
Grades 6 – 9.
FIVE KIDNAPPED INDIANS
Retitled at Reissue.
NY: Hastings House Publ’rs
Speare, Elizabeth G
Cambridge MA: Houghton Mifflin
War # 6
Grades 7 – 9.
Dell Paperback (1973) Ed also.
CAPTURED BY THE ABENAKIS
NY: Hastings House Publ’rs
War # 2
Grades 4 – 6.
It would be interesting to know how each of us first was introduced to the Algonquian people(s) whom we now study. Did most of the historians among us first meet their Indians “on paper,” and did most of the ethnographers and linguists meet theirs “in the flesh”? Or is there no such similarity of initial and current activities in the majority of cases? Perhaps such questions merit serious specific study, but for this presentation it will suffice to state that my own initial contact with the Wabanaki Algonquians was in my childhood, in historical adventure books for children.
Recently I discovered that the Wabanaki have received a rather large share of attention from children’s literature authors. Besides the few old classics from my youth, there are more recent additions. Wabanaki folklore adapted for children is a whole new separate category which I will not touch upon in this paper. Herein I will consider only “historical novels.” I now know of a total of ten full-fledged adventure stories for children, based upon historical events of frontier contact between Wabanaki and Whites (see accompanying book list). These are all by U.S. authors and publishers only, and thus are all in English. I hope that anyone knowing of additional books – especially Canadian ones – will tell me of them, and I request your suggestions for further study of this peculiar genre of artifacts. The present paper is more an announcement than an analysis, but I hope that it will prompt others to look into the bedtime storybooks pertinent to their own research areas – for entertainment if not for comparative data.
Wars with Actual (1-7) or Potential (8) Conflict
Between New-Englanders and Wabanaki
the Wabanaki (Dawnlanders)
Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Abenaki & Pennacook
# and Names
known in North America by these names
known in Europe by these names
King Philip’s War Northern Front
1st Maine Indian
(no European Counterpart)
King William’s War
1st French & Indian War
St Castin’s War
War of the League of Augsburg
War of the Grand Alliance
Queen Anne’s War
2nd French & Indian War
War of the Spanish Succession
Gov Dummer’s War
Grey Lock’s War
(no European counterpart)
King George’s War
3rd French & Indian
Gov Shirley’s War
War of the Austrian Succession
The French & Indian War
4th French & Indian
Seven Years’ War
War for American Independence
(French fought British, too)
War of 1812
2nd War for American Independence
(during Napoleonic Wars)
The key question to consider, of course, is “What image of the Wabanaki is being transmitted to impressionable young readers?” When we stop to consider why the Wabanaki are so popular as a literary adventure topic, we should not be surprised to find an overtly negative image projected by some American books. The Wabanaki not only inhabited the fascinating “wilderness frontier,” but dwelt in the overlap area of New France and New England. They became the “French Indian” raiders of New England’s frontier settlements throughout the entire series of colonial wars between France and England, and thus the Wabanaki easily get cast as the “savage enemy” in some of these American adventure stories. It takes a skillful author indeed to depict a well-rounded and truly-human image of the Wabanaki, in American children’s books.
On one dimension, our authors can be seen to address their topics using one or the other, or a combination, of two extreme types of approach, guaranteed to appeal to young audiences: 1) Telling a Spooky Story, and/or 2) Playing Indian. A balanced combination of these two extremes shows the most potentiality for depicting an objective image of the Indians. Either extreme alone fosters more-subjective potentialities. Thus, if the goal is only to Tell a Spooky Story, this easily can bias the tale against the exotic Indians. Alternatively, just trying to Play Indian can bias the story toward an unrealistically positive Indian image.
Another dimension complicates these simple alternatives, however. The Wabanaki homeland (or Wabanakia as I call it) was contested between France and England, whose respective colonial claims for western Acadia and northeastern New England overlapped in what is now the State of Maine. Thus there are three peoples involved in many of these stories, and the image of the Wabanaki is colored by an author’s European-factors biases, such as his ancestral nationalism and religious ties. All of this thickens the story plots delightfully, but frequently at the expense of the Indian image. Yet, antithetically, it can work to neutralize, even assist, rather than denigrate the image of the Native Americans, if the story is structured properly. For example, the emphasis could be upon the conflict between French and English, with the Wabanaki struggling to avoid being exploited by the French and expatriated (if not exterminated) by the English.
My ten-book list (q.v.) is arranged chronologically by original publication dates, and clustering is a noteworthy feature: four of the ten came out in 1934-36; three were published in 1955-57; one first appeared and two others were reissued in 1966-68. The remaining two books were unique special-occasion pieces: a 1904 bicentennial celebration work; and a 1941 parable of an Enemy at our Gates. While the timing of the latter two books is obvious, the reasons behind the three date-clusters must be researched. Again, I request your suggestions for further study of these culturally-relative affective documents. I will comment here only on the most salient general features of the lot, discussing only a few of the books in the process.
My prize for honors in being “most sophisticated” all around, and in making “best-rounded” presentation of the Wabanaki as fellow human beings, goes to two of the 1934-36 authors: Elizabeth Coatsworth and Eric P. Kelly. After forty-odd years, some of their words may not be precisely our first choices, but I do not feel that any valid charge of “condescension” could be sustained against them. Both authors have a fine record of depicting other ethnic groups with compassion, while nonetheless making it clear that no one people has more or less than a fair share of heroes, villains, fools, and average persons. Kelly’s specialty area has been Poland, and his best known book is The Trumpeter of Krakow (1928). Coatsworth has written many books about many peoples, but expresses great interest in Indians. Both authors were steeped in northern New England traditions, yet rise far above provincialism, as is attested by their international renown as children’s literature award winners.
Like several of the other writers listed, Coatsworth begins her Sword of the Wilderness (1936/1966) with a French-&-Indian raid on a New England frontier settlement and the “captivation” of the hero. Her prototype is the 1689-1698 captivity of John Giles from Pemaquid (Maine), but the story soon mushrooms to become a skillful composite of many other relevant events and issues of the general period. This is no modern rewrite of a contemporarily-popular frontier captivity narrative, but a well-done commentary on a difficult time and area, with all sides given credit for having virtues and vices. Her characters clearly express appropriate “emic” attitudes, but she tempers these with balanced explanations. Coatsworth is a truly artful author and has done her research well.
Kelly’s Three Sides of Agiochook (1935) is as atypical as it is interesting. The hero is an acculturated part-Abenaki student at Dartmouth College, and in autumn 1775 he is sent on an important errand. Dartmouth President Eleazar Wheelock wishes a former student of his, Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, to refrain from destroying the American settlements in the Upper Connecticut River Valley (as part of the British and Loyalist military activity during the inevitably-coming American Revolution). Our hero must deliver this message to Brant, in Canada, dodging American Loyalists and pro-British Indians all the way. The story is so well written, and so plausible, that I requested both Dartmouth’s archivists and colonial historian James L. Axtell to research its veracity for me. If true, getting this book back in print surely would have been a fitting American Bicentennial project, but both the College and Axtell believe that the story is only a fictitious composite, however well done.
Even more atypical, if less literary, is Anne Molloy’s book, which first appeared in 1956 as Captain Waymouth’s Indians, but was reissued in 1968 as Five Kidnapped Indians. Herein the usual roles are reversed, and Wabanaki become captives of the English. The Gorges-Popham English colonization interests had one of their exploration captains, George Waymouth, kidnap some Maine Indians in 1605, to bring to England for interrogation and to guide their future voyages to Maine. Precedents for this criminal affront were as old as the Age of Exploration itself. Molloy’s major character is Tisquantum (the famous Squanto) — by necessity, because so little is known about other captive Indians – and this is historically unfortunate, because he was not one of Waymouth’s five captives, even though Sir Ferdinando Gorges, in 1658, mistakenly stated that he was. James Rosier, who was present on the kidnapping vessel and published the official account of the voyage immediately, in 1605, clearly lists who the five Maine captives were.
Squanto was obtained similarly, but in Massachusetts at another time. Quite understandably, Molloy chose to use the Gorges list instead of Rosier’s; otherwise, she would have to fabricate all five characters from almost no data at all, and none of them would be as well known as Squanto of Plymouth fame. It is interesting to speculate that if Squanto had not had such a “forgiving nature,” we probably would not have heard as much about him, either. Because it highlights a less-well-known aspect of Indian-White interrelationships in the colonial period, Molloy’s book should be honorably mentioned, regardless of its inaccuracy in cast of characters.
The prize for the worst image of the Wabanaki surely must go to Walter D. Edmonds for The Matchlock Gun (1941), and for its negative line: “Indians don’t wear breeches” (repeatedly sing-songed by a six-year-old Dutch colonial girl). However, this little book is superlatively well-written, by a New York author best known for his Drums Along the Mohawk (1936). The setting is outside New England and New Englanders, but the Indians are nonetheless Wabanaki. The book tells of a raid on the Dutch New Yorkers just west of Albany, by the St.Francis Abenaki in 1757. The story is true; the individual White characters were real persons and are quite believably depicted in vivid detail. Only the “French Indians” appear to be non-human, and that image is carefully cultivated.
Upon reflection, it becomes quite clear why Edmonds wrote this book when and how he did, even though his tribute to the “unbeaten” Dutch in the Foreword makes no mention of the 1940 Nazi invasion of Holland. Despite its historical authenticity, this book is only a parable, although children reading it are unaware of the point! It is a timely warning to All Settlers that The Enemy is thrusting, but can yet be parried by those brave enough to try. It is most unfortunate for the St.Francis Abenaki that they are set up as the faceless surrogate for Nazi monsters, because this book’s venom has no antidote: Children simply cannot forget The Matchlock Gun once they have been exposed to it in “Grades 4-6,” as teachers and students both will attest. In sum, the political propaganda potential of this bedtime story far exceeds that of more conventional means.
My award for best reinforcement of text with appropriate illustrations goes to Paul Lantz, who ornamented The Matchlock Gun for author Edmonds. These color and black-&-white pictures simply could not be more effective. They are rather crude, yet believable – except that the French Indians of 1757 most assuredly did not dress so primitively, in reality. But it is the apparent Indian shadow, not their real substance, that is the major issue in this book, so that this error in accuracy actually artistically enhances Edmonds’ story. The violent colors of the burning-building, bright-candle, and gun-blast scenes contrast dramatically with the domestic-darkness pictures to produce maximum spookiness. As stated before, The Matchlock Gun is an unforgetable book indeed.
While none of the older books utilized the talents of my favorite famous illustrator, N. C. Wyeth, one book does use the famous stylized line drawings of his contemporary, Henry C. Pitz. This book is Indian Brother (1935) by Hubert V. Coryell. The Pitz drawings caricature rather than illustrate, and with both author and illustrator against him, French Jesuit missionary Sebastien Rale never stood a chance of being treated objectively. One easily could assume from Indian Brother that running an Indian “gauntlet” would be a happier event than attending a Sunday school run by Father Rale. However, even the friendly Indians seem like bizarre creatures in the Pitz drawings. They may be clever, but I cannot come to like them.
Of the other books listed but not mentioned here thus far, little more needs saying beyond that they are generalizing historical novels based upon specific captivity narratives. Elizabeth G. Speare’s Calico Captive (1957) is the only book in the entire lot devoted to a female New England captive, and likewise it is the only one to be published in an inexpensive newsstand-paperback edition. For its uniqueness on both counts, I give it honorable mention. Regarding the availability of some of the other books, while some of them are now Out of Print in their original editions, they are still available in many libraries, and small reprint publishers may yet make some of these more readily available again, as has happened twice already with Mary P. W. Smith’s The Boy Captive (1904 & 1905 originals).
To conclude, this paper has attempted to call attention to a unique genre of cultural documents: children’s literature about Indians. The specific examples considered here all have dealt with Wabanaki frontier history, but even for this geographical area there are other categories – such as folklore and nonhistorical ethnography. None of these books are just simply reissues of contemporary frontier captivity narratives (a literary genre of its own), but at least add more-modern value-laden perspectives, and at best belatedly can attempt to humanize the image of the Indians they describe. The topic of “children’s literature” may sound patently simple and sterile, but its ramifications can be seen to be manifold, complex, and fertile. Children’s books, after all, are teaching devices – even blatant propaganda. As the first encounter that many children have with Indians, these books – good and bad – have immense potential to open or close young minds to accept (or not) a fully-human image of Native Americans.
NOTE: This has been a family project in the fullest sense, starting in my own childhood. My maternal grandfather, Fred Andrew Hamblen of Portland Maine, had an uncommon interest in children’s literature; he selected and gave me several of the earlier books listed herein. My mother, Ruth Hamblen Morrison, continued that interest and added to it considerably. The Matchlock Gun was particularly meaningful to me while my father, Alvin Alward Morrison MD, was an army doctor overseas in World War II. More recently, my teacher-researcher wife, Florence Walker Morrison, and our three daughters, Ann, Jane, and Ruth, all have been involved in reading these books with me (or for fun), and I am deeply appreciative of their help and suggestions.