Descriptions of New England Indians, c. 1629-30, by William Wood
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Descriptions of New England Indians, c. 1629-30, by William Wood

Of the Pequots and Narragansetts, Indians Inhabiting Southward.

The Pequots be a stately, warlike people, of whom I never heard any misdemeanor, but that they were just and equal in their dealings, not treacherous either to their countrymen or English, requiters of courtesies, affable towards the English.

Their next neighbors, the Narragansetts, be at this present the most numerous people in those parts, the most rich also, and the most industrious, being the storehouse of all such kind of wild merchandise as is amongst them. These men are the most curious minters of their wampompeag and mowhacheis, which they form out of the inmost wreaths of periwinkle shells. The northern, eastern, and western Indians fetch all their coin from these southern mintmasters. From hence they have most of their curious pendants and bracelets. From hence they have their great stone pipes, which will hold a quarter of an ounce of tobacco, which they make with steel drills and other instruments. Such is their ingenuity and dexterity that they can imitate the English mold so accurately that were it not for matter and color it were hard to distinguish them. They make them of green and sometimes of black stone; they be much desired of our English tobacconists for their rarity, strength, handsomeness, and coolness. Hence likewise our Indians had their pots, wherein they used to seethe their victuals before they knew the use of brass. Since the English came, they have employed most of their time in catching of beavers, otters, and musquashes, which they bring down into the bay, returning back loaded with English commodities, of which they make a double profit by selling them to more remote Indians who are ignorant at what cheap rates they obtain them in comparison of what they make them pay, so making their neighbors' ignorance their enrichment. Although these be populous, yet I never heard they were desirous to take in hand any martial enterprise or exose themselves to the uncertain events of war, wherefore the Pequots call them women-like men. But being uncapable of a jeer, they rest secure under the conceit of their popularity and seek rather to grow rich by industry than famous by deeds of chivalry. But to leave strangers and come to declare what is experimentally known of the Indians amongst whom we live-of whom in the next chapter.

Of the Aberginians or Indians Northward.

First of their stature, most of them being between five or six foot high, straight bodied, strongly composed, smooth-skinned, merry countenanced, of complexion something more swarthy than Spaniards, black haired, high foreheaded, black eyed, out-nosed, broad shouldered, brawny armed, long and slender handed, out breasted, small waisted, lank bellied, well thighed, flat kneed, handsome grown legs, and small feet. In a word, take them when the blood brisks in their veins, when the flesh is on their backs and marrow in their bones, when they frolic in their antic deportments and Indian postures, and they are more amiable to behold (though only in Adam's livery) than many a compounded fantastic in the newest fashion.

It may puzzle belief to conceive how such lusty bodies should have their rise and daily supportment from so slender a fostering, their houses being mean, their lodging as homely, commons scant, their drink water, and nature their best clothing. In them the old proverb may well be verified: Natura paucis contenta ["Nature is satisfied with a few things"], for though this be their daily portion, they still are healthful and lusty. I have been in many places, yet did I never see one that was born either in redundance or defect a monster, or any that sickness had deformed, or casualty made decrepit, saving one that had a bleared eye and another that had a wen on his cheek. The reason is rendered why they grow so proportionable and continue so long in their vigor (most of them being fifty before a wrinkled brow or gray hair bewray their age) is because they are not brought down with suppressing labor, vexed with annoying cares, or drowned in the excessive abuse of overflowing plenty, which oftentimes kills them more than want, as may appear in them. For when they change their bare Indian commons for the plenty of England's fuller diet, it is so contrary to their stomachs that death or a desperate sickness immediately accrues, which makes so few of them desirous to see England.

Their swarthiness is the sun's livery, for they are born fair.* Their smooth skins proceed from the often annointing of their bodies with the oil of fishes and the fat of eagles, with the grease of raccoons, which they hold in summer the best antidote to keep their skin from blistering with the scorching sun, and it is their best armor against the mosquitoes, the surest expeller of the hairy excrement, and stops the pores of their bodies against the nipping winter's cold.

Their black hair is natural, yet it is brought to a more jetty color by oiling, dyeing, and daily dressing. Sometimes they wear it very long, hanging down in a loose, disheveled, womanish manner; otherwhile tied up hard and short like a horse tail, bound close with a fillet, which they say makes it grow the faster. They are not a little fantastical or custom- sick in this particular, their boys being not permitted to wear their hair long till sixteen years of age, and then they must come to it by degrees, some being cut with a long foretop, a long lock on the crown, one of each side of his head, the rest of his hair being cut even with the scalp. The young men and soldiers wear their hair long on the one side, the other side being cut short like a screw. Other cuts they have as their fancy befools them, which would torture the wits of a curious barber to imitate. But though they be thus wedded to the hair of their head, you cannot woo them to wear it on their chins, where it no sooner grows but it is stubbed up by the roots, for they count it as an unuseful, cumbersome, and opprobrious excrement, insomuch as they call him an Englishman's bastard that hath but the appearance of a beard, which some have growing in a staring fashion like the beard of a cat, which makes them the more out of love with them, choosing rather to have no beards than such as should make them ridiculous.

(*Note: Seventeenth-century European commentators described Indian skin color as white or tawny, never as red. The concept of "Red Indians" appeared in the eighteenth-century, initially in reference to red war paint. -Alden T. Vaughan)

[Source: William Wood's New England's Prospect, Edited by Alden T. Vaughan. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1977. pp. 80-83.] (courtesy of University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA)

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