Imágenes de página

taken to Stonington, and sentenced to be shot. When told of his sentence, he answered that he liked it well; he should now die before his heart was soft, or he had said any thing unworthy of himself. The Pequots then shot him. Oneco, the son of Uncas, beheaded him, and the traitorous Nianticks burnt his body to ashes, and presented his head as a token of their fidelity to the English authorities at Hartford. Thus died Canonchet, the son of Miantonomi, and the last grand sachem of the Narragansets.

Such is a brief and imperfect history of the subjection and extermination of the Narragansets. They were our earliest friends; they received us in the day of tribulation, in the person of our founder and his family. Through him they welcomed us with the salutation of the pipe of peace; through him they gave to us this fair land, now brightened with towns and cities, and teeming with busy and happy life. On the bosom of their nation they nursed and cherished our infancy; their strength had no terrors for our weakness. Our childhood fearlessly sported with the mane of the lion, even whilst he was stung to madness by the outrages of its persecuting kindred. They partook, perhaps unconsciously, of our sufferings in the great cause of religious freedom. They were the friends of heretics, and expiated their offence in the blood of their most illustrious chief. Indeed, Rhode Island owes too great a debt to this unfortunate people to tread rudely upon their ashes, or to deny them a distinct historical monument, and a feeling and faithful epitaph. We can now redress none of their wrongs, but we can do to their memory the justice of speaking the truth.


THE IDEA OF THE SUPERNATURAL AMONG THE INDIANS. In a lecture sometime since delivered in another place, I gave some account of the Narragansets, the most considerable tribe of aborigines found at the settlement, within the limits of New England. I gave some account of their resources, and their government, and briefly pointed out those elements in their character which gave them, as a community, or rather as an association of communities, a capacity for resisting change to a greater extent than belonged to any of the other New England tribes; and I followed this by a rapid history of their subjugation and final extirpation by the Whites. But there was one feature in their character, not however peculiar to them, but which nevertheless bore such an important part in modifying the action of that combination of causes which effected their ruin, that I deemed it highly worthy of a separate consideration, and of a philosophical analysis. I allude to their idea of the supernatural-an idea which involved their religion, their faith in a future state, together with all those superstitious beliefs and practices, which with them, as under various forms they ever do in every community, sprang spontaneously from the all teeming soil of the religious sentiment. Most of the prominent features of society took form and complexion from this idea; most of their institutions had their basis in it; and it need not be said, that whatever is founded in the religious sentiment rests upon the very ground-work of human nature, and so stubbornly resists change, that it is often easier, abundantly easier, to destroy the foun. dation itself than to alter or modify that which rests upon it. This, to a great extent, was realized by the Narragansets, and their kindred tribes, and hence their civilization became exceedingly difficult, and their extirpation almost inevitable.

Can such an idea be without its interest to the philosophic historian? Though of itself silent and invisible, yet if it did in fact pervade and take form in their whole social frame, then it was essentially the same idea which, under the antagonist operation of Christian civilization, resolved itself into action, and spoke in the sanguinary events of their history. It was the same idea which, standing forth in the form of a rude humanity, resisted, wept, bled, suffered, and

fact or sug.

was finally extirpated only by the extermination of the race. No history of the aborigines of New England can be complete, that fails to trace this idea to its origin, and to define its character.

In illustrating and analyzing this idea, I shall not confine myself to the limits of any tribe, nor to any particular period, but shall go wherever similar idea may be found, and embrace any gestion that may present itself in connection with it, serving to define its character or throw light upon its philosophy. We take this liberty of necessity. The light which early New England historians afford us is very imperfect. They were generally rigid opinionists, and sometimes bigots. The aborigines could not be free in their communications to those who ridiculed their rites as the whims of children, or abhorred them as the incantations of sorcery, and the suggestions of the prince of darkness. Even the liberal minded Roger Williams could say, that after once being in their houses, and beholding what their worship was, he durst never after be eye-witness,“ lest he should be accounted a partaker of Satan's inventions and worship." Yet none of the early writers are so copious on this subject as Williams, and Cotton Mather copies the heretic almost verbatim, without making the slightest acknowledgement of his obligations to him.

But facts illustrative of their religious notions may be gathered from a very wide range. The Narragansets were a branch of the Algonquin or Chippeway stock; and the members of this family were diffused, at the era of the discovery, as appears by their language, over the whole country, from the Penobscot to the Chesapeake, and from the ocean to Lake Superior.

But the limits of this lecture do not admit of an extensive collection of facts, neither does its object require it. My purpose is to show that their general idea of the supernatural sprang from the inherent energies of the mind, called into action by the sublime and mysterious around and within them; and that it thus constituted an essential part of their nature. In doing this I shall trace the idea as it developed itself in their mythology, in their worship, in their magical incantations, and in their belief of the immortality of the soul.

The Narragansets acknowledge one Supreme Spirit, Giver or Master of life. Him they regarded as the supreme source of all power

and of all good. They supposed the earth on which they dwelt to be an island resting on the bosom of the great deep. It was this Omnipotent Spirit who drew it from the abyss of the mighty waters ; clothed it with forests and herbage, and caused its mountains, valleys, plains, lakes, rivers and bays, to teem with all manner of living things. They regarded themselves as his children, created by his hands; and believed that earth, and flood, with all their abundance, had been provided by him as an inheritance for their special use.

They seem to have recognized in this Great Being a sort of Omnipresence. He was the Great Man who looked down from above. They witnessed his anger in the flash and roar of the thunder cloud. His presence was felt in the stupendous mountain, its overhanging clifts and solemn groves.

His voice was heard and his strength was felt in the roaring cataract, where the forests stood trembling for leagues around. Nor was He absent from the vast and unexplored cavern where ever-during silence reigned, save when broken by those mysterious echoes, which, resounding from its unknown depths, told of the invisible Being that made it his temple. In short, wherever they found the sublime and mysterious combined, there they recognized the presence of this invisible Being. But though ascribing to him this sort of ubiquity, they yet believed that his chosen abode was in the Island of Sowanui, in the far southwest, whence came the balmy breezes of the summer, fructifying the earth and giving life and joy to its inhabitants.

They ascribed to him a human form. Under this form they seem to have regarded him as the Chief Manitto of all human manittos, or spirits. He was, therefore, the Chief Manitto or Spirit among the spirits of the blessed. It was around the grand council fire of the Great Spirit that the souls of their departed chiefs and warriors assembled to rehearse the exploits which they had performed while on earth, and to banquet on the luxuries of their paradise.

But this Great Manitto was likewise represented under certain typical forms. It was under these forms that they often saw him in their dreams. He sometimes, however, actually assumed them; as when such assumption became necessary in order to accomplish some great purpose, or to manifest himself in some interesting attribute. Thus it is said to have been a tradition of the Chippeways, that before earth was created, all was one vast expanse of waters—waters without a shore—and that when the Great Spirit willed to draw the earth from their abyss he took the form of a mighty eagle, and moved over the great deep, with eyes flashing fire, and wings rustling thunder, and that on touching the surface with the plumage of his breast, earth, filled with all living things, at once arose and floated on its bosom.

This form seems to have been typical of his power. But there was another which was probably emblematical of his boundless benevolence, or of the absence of all evil. Thus by the Indians of New England he seems to have been symbolically represented as the great Hare, or divine Hare; nor ought this to provoke our ridicule; we have the lamb and the dove in the Scriptures. We ought rather to infer that there is a tendency in all mind to represent the attributes of the Creator by those living organisms which, perhaps, have more particularly taken birth from those very attributes which they are thus used to represent.

But whenever they found a mysteriously operating cause, they discovered some manitto or spirit, subordinate to the Supreme. They thus found manittos all around, and even within their own bodily organization. The Indian could not doubt that the voluntary agent which existed within him—which constituted his essential self and presided over his frame was a manitto. But he placed his hand upon his heart—he felt its pulsations—and he asked himself the question, which science and philosophy through all time has asked but never answered, What causes this beating? It was something wonderful, and the Indian called it a manitto. He discovered another in his wrist; in short, he found many manittos within his own body, besides the voluntary principle which presided over and ruled the whole. On the like principle, diseases, which deranged the healthful action of their manittos, were evil spirits afflicting the sick.

To every thing that had motion apparently its own, they seem to have ascribed a distinct vital and voluntary principle, and whenever it was of a nature to call forth their wonder or astonishment, they called it a manitto, or divine power. Thus the sun, and the moon, and the stars, as they ran through their changes in the heavens, and called up the mind of the savage at once to contemplate their beauty and recognize their blessings, were the most beneficent of manittos, or divine powers. The boundless


that lashed the shores with never-ceasing waves, and swelled and shrunk like a vast mass of breathing life, was a manitto of all but omnipotent power. Each quarter of the heavens had its manitto, who came in balmy breeze and gentle showers, or rode forth on the wings of the tempest, carrying terror and destruction in his career.

The term manitto was of such general application, that it may be questioned whether the Indian's simple philosophy did not teach him, that every property by which one thing was distinguished from another was itself divine. Thus each species of animals had its manitto : as the manitto of the deer, the manitto of the beaver, the manitto of the buffalo. And whenever any individual of the species was distinguished for excellence in its kind—as a deer for its speed, a fox for its cunning, a buffalo for strength-in such the ruling deity of the species

« AnteriorContinuar »