Hawthorne's treatment of Native Americans as subjects in his writings
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Excerpt from The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Margaret B. Moore (courtesy of University of Missouri Press, 1998)

In this excerpt Margaret Moore provides an overview of Hawthorne's treatment of Native Americans as subjects in his writings.

The first few years after Hawthorne's Bowdoin career also saw many other issues come to the fore or become hotter than ever. Salemites began to talk about the plight of the Indians and the role of women, and to question somewhat faintly the status of the black portion of the population.

Nineteenth-century Salem was far enough removed from the Indian wars to allow a more dispassionate perspective on what had happened to the original settlers. Occasionally some Indians came through town. Two chiefs of the Penobscot tribe were present in February 1818. William Manning introduced them to Dr. Bentley, who said that 'they had none of the tinsel about them that the other company had, of whom they complained they were too noisy.' (12) Perhaps Nathaniel met them too; at least he would have heard about them.

There had long been some concern for the Indian in Salem. Dr. Samuel Worcester was corresponding secretary of the Prudential Committee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions from 1812 to 1821 and had directed its work from his church. He died on a visit to the board's Cherokee Mission in 1821. His associate minister, Elias Cornelius, wrote a book entitled The Little Osage Captive in 1822. Lucius Bolles with Thomas Baldwin of Boston formed in 1813 a Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel in India and Other Foreign Parts, which later concentrated on American Indians. During Hawthorne's so-called solitary years, much was written and done about the Indian. In 1826 an article in the Boston Monthly, 'The Aborigines of New England,' was copied by the Salem Gazette. 'Indians had no historians to tell the story of their wrongs,' asserted Elizabeth Elkins Sanders, the mother-in-law of Leverett Saltonstall, so she composed articles constantly but anonymously on the subject. Lydia Child had published a novel, Hobomok (1824), about an Indian in Salem. Sarah Savage wrote in 1827 a history for young people about King Philip in which she described him as a 'penetrating statesman, a great warrior, a noble, disinterested, self-denying patriot.' On December 25, 1829, there was declared a day of fasting for the Cherokees who were 'to be driven from their homes and torn from their heritage.' On February 12, 1830, Leverett Saltonstall read from Indian treaties at a meeting in Salem. In January 1831 a meeting on the plight of the Indians at the Tabernacle church was interrupted when the large crowd in the balcony caused it to break loose and fall. B. L. Oliver Jr. pleaded passionately for justice to Indians in 1832. (13)

Hawthorne made more use of the Indians than is generally acknowledged, even by him. In 'Our Evening Party Among the Mountains,' he observed, 'It has often been a matter of regret to me, that I was shut out from the most peculiar field of American fiction, by an inability to see any romance, or poetry, or grandeur, or beauty in the Indian character, at least, till such traits were pointed out by others. I do abhore an Indian story' (CE 10:428-29), He particularly mentioned King Philip in 'Young Goodman Brown,' 'The Gray Champion,' 'A Virtuoso's Collection,' Grandfather's Chair, and 'Main-Street,' among others ( CE 9:11; 10:77,483; 6:50; 11:72). In Fanshawe he somewhat dismisses the Indian when he says that at college there were a 'few young descendants of aborigines to whom an impracticable philanthropy was endeavoring to impart the benefits of civilization' (CE 3:336). *

In truth, Hawthorne never seemed to see the Indian as yet civilized, an opinion he shared with most of his countrymen, In some of the early stories he refers to Indian savagery, In 'An Old Woman's Tale' one character has the scar of a tomahawk on his head (CE 11:246), In 'Alice Doane's Appeal' an Indian massacre deprives young Alice and Walter of their parents (CE 11:271, 273), He refers to the war cry in 'The Seven Vagabonds' and in 'Young Goodman Brown' (CE 9:367; 10:83), At times he indicates the early view of some of the settlers that the Indian was with the Black Man or the Devil in the forest as in 'The Haunted Quack' or 'Young Goodman Brown' (CE 11:261; 10:85). The fear of captivity plays apart in 'Roger Malvin's Burial' and 'Etherege' (CE 10:342,344; 12:223). He even attempts to portray Indian characters such as the 'son of the wilderness' in 'The Seven Vagabonds' or 'Crusty Hannah,' who has mixed Indian and Negro blood, in 'Grimshawe' (CE 9:363; 12:344), Septimius Felton is part Indian, as is his Aunt Keziah (CE 13:72), Septimius Norton is descended from an Indian sagamore, Hawthorne describes the potency of this Indian blood at great length (CE 13:256--67).

But he also shows the Indians to be dignified and stately in 'Endicott and the Red Cross,' or in 'Main-Street' (CE 9:436; 11:50-51). He regrets the introduction of alcohol to the Indians in ' A Rill from the Town Pump,' or 'Old Ticonderoga' (CE 9:144; 11:190), His fiercest remarks are reserved for what the white man has done to the Indian. In 'The Gray Champion,' for example, he acknowledges 'the veterans of King Philip's war, who had burnt villages and slaughtered young and old, with pious fierceness, while the godly souls throughout the land were helping them with prayer' (CE 9:11). And in 'Young Goodman Brown' the devil confirms that 'it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip's war' (CE 10:77). In 'Main-Street' he comments rather sadly that 'the Indians, coming from their distant wigwams to view the white man's settlement, marvel at the deep track which he makes, and perhaps are saddened by a flitting presentiment, that this heavy tread will find its way over all the land; and that the wild woods, the wild wolf, and the wild Indian, will alike be trampled beneath it. Even so shall it be. The pavements of the Main-street must be laid over the red man's grave' (CE 11:55). He seemed to feel sadness rather than guilt, a sort of 'survival of the fittest' idea. The disappearance of the Indian may have been inevitable, but he deplored the sometime cruelty of the white man- or woman. In 'The Duston Family' it is Mrs. Duston, not the Indian, who is seen as the most cruel. (14) Hawthorne's portrayal of the Indian as savage and wild, even though sometimes surpassed by the cruelty of the settlers, especially women, was in contrast to some of the writings of that time, such as those of Lydia Maria Child. (128-131)

* "CE" refers to The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Notes:


12. WB, Diary, 4:502.
13. William Gerald McLoughlin, The Cherokees and Christianity, 1794-1870, 57-58; SG, February 15, 1831; [Elizabeth Elkins Sanders], "The Aborigines of New England," Boston Monthly (1826) as noticed in the SG, February 28, 1826 (which later became a book, Conversations); Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok; [Sarah Savage], Philip the Indian Chief; SG, December 25, 1829, February 26, 1830, and February 15, 1831; Benjamin Lynde Oliver Jr., The Rights of an American Citizen with a Commentary on State Rights, 406-11.
14. [NH], "The Duston Family," 395-97. Hawthorne obviously learned much about Indians in order to edit AMUEK. See, for example, in vol. 2, pieces on the Boston Tea Party, 317-19; Flat Head Indians, 327-28; Indian Hieroglyphics, 356; Indian Totem, 384; Wild Horseman, 432; Indian Superstitions, 476; the Antiquity of Scalping, 510; and many others.



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