Son of the For­est: Wil­liam Apess and the Fight for In­dige­nous Rights

New England Review - - Cultural History - Philip F. Gura

from The Life of Wil­liam Apess, Pe­quot O n April 10, 1839, Dr. J. S. Hurd, a New York City med­i­cal ex­am­iner, per­formed an au­topsy on a man at Wil­liam Gar­lick’s board­ing­house in lower Man­hat­tan. Gar­lick’s board­ing­house stood at 31 Washington Street, two streets east of the Hud­son River and bor­dered by Bat­tery Place and Moore Street. Washington Street was one of sev­eral thor­ough­fares in a neigh­bor­hood that was home to crowds of low-paid work­ers, a pop­u­la­tion mir­rored across the is­land along the East River, where eigh­teen­th­cen­tury Dutch and English in­hab­i­tants had built sturdy homes ad­ja­cent to flour­ish­ing slips, piers, and ware­houses. As com­merce in­creased, though, the “East Ward” had be­come over­crowded. Wealth­ier fam­i­lies moved up­town, as far north as Four­teenth Street along Broad­way, into neigh­bor­hoods de­lin­eated by the “grid” plan that the city’s Streets Com­mis­sion had in­sti­tuted for more or­derly de­vel­op­ment. Their pre­vi­ous homes then be­came board­ing­houses for an ever-shift­ing pop­u­la­tion of clerks, craft ap­pren­tices, cart men, dock­work­ers, sailors, and var­i­ous day la­bor­ers.

The de­ceased had lived at this ad­dress since Jan­uary with his sec­ond wife, El­iz­a­beth, to whom he had been mar­ried for at least two years. Within days of the in­quest into his death, scores of news­pa­pers in New York, New Eng­land, and down the East Coast were re­port­ing his demise. But be­speak­ing the man’s ob­scu­rity, what pub­lic­ity there was sur­round­ing his death ini­tially lay more in its cir­cum­stances, sig­naled by a no­tice in the Philadelphia North Amer­i­can, than in his iden­tity. “lo­belia again,” the col­umn read, for the in­quest had un­cov­ered that a “botanic physi­cian,” Dr. Asher Atkin­son, had ad­min­is­tered lo­belia, a home­o­pathic drug, to his pa­tient shortly be­fore his death. Many peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly mem­bers of the es­tab­lished med­i­cal pro­fes­sion, re­garded botanic medicine as quack­ery, and the head­line im­plied that Atkin­son’s min­is­tra­tions had ev­i­dently con­trib­uted to another pa­tient’s demise. In such cities as New York and Philadelphia, where ten­sions be­tween botanic and al­lo­pathic physi­cians were es­pe­cially great, many read­ers viewed this in­di­vid­ual’s death as but another ex­am­ple of the fail­ure of un­reg­u­lated med­i­cal prac­tice.

The in­quest, how­ever, con­cluded that he had died of “apoplexy,” a di­ag­no­sis com­monly used to de­scribe some­thing akin to a stroke and whose symp­toms were con­gru­ent with what Dr. Hurd had found in his ex­am­i­na­tion. The in­quest

ab­solved Dr. Atkin­son of any blame and damp­ened fur­ther at­tempts to place the lack of ef­fec­tive­ness of botanic medicine at the cen­ter of the story of this in­di­vid­ual’s death. In­stead, re­ports shifted to who he was. A no­tice in the Philadelphia North Amer­i­can de­scribed him as “a Nar­ra­gansett In­dian . . . oth­er­wise known about the coun­try as Apes the Mis­sion­ary Preacher.” “The de­ceased in his life­time was an au­thor,” the Albany Evening Jour­nal noted, who “wrote the Life of ‘King Philip,’ sev­eral ser­mons, &c, which he sold for his own in­ter­est.” The same pa­per men­tioned, al­beit er­ro­neously, that the man’s wife was a “good look­ing white woman,” a fact that, though tit­il­lat­ing to some gen­teel read­ers, would not have made the cou­ple un­usual in lower Man­hat­tan neigh­bor­hoods. Five Points, for ex­am­ple, was no­to­ri­ously mul­tira­cial. No news­pa­per, how­ever, men­tioned that six years ear­lier the de­ceased had be­gun a me­te­oric rise as a spokesper­son for Na­tive Amer­i­can rights and lib­er­ties.

The de­ceased was forty-one-year-old Wil­liam Apess. Two years ear­lier, he had been one of the coun­try’s most im­por­tant Na­tive Amer­i­can in­tel­lec­tu­als, hav­ing pub­lished more than any other in­dige­nous writer be­fore the twen­ti­eth cen­tury and at­tained fame and no­to­ri­ety for cham­pi­oning his peo­ple’s tribal rights. In 1829, he had is­sued his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, the first Na­tive Amer­i­can to do so. He had led the suc­cess­ful chal­lenge of the Mash­pee In­di­ans against the state of Mas­sachusetts, through which the Mash­pees sought to re­store some mea­sure of self-gov­er­nance. Apess sub­se­quently had em­barked on a lec­ture ca­reer in New York, speak­ing on the history and cul­ture of Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

De­spite Apess’s ex­tra­or­di­nary sig­nif­i­cance, to­day he is known al­most ex­clu­sively among scholars of Na­tive Amer­i­can stud­ies, with ex­cerpts from his writ­ings taught in some sur­veys of Amer­i­can literature. But for both his his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance and his foun­da­tional role as a Na­tive Amer­i­can in­tel­lec­tual, Apess de­serves the same wide­spread recog­ni­tion as oth­ers in the an­te­bel­lum pe­riod who ques­tioned the sin­cer­ity of the na­tion’s on­go­ing com­mit­ment to democ­racy, a co­hort of re­form­ers that in­cludes Mar­garet Fuller and El­iz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton, cham­pi­ons of women’s rights; Frances Wright and Orestes Brown­son, of the dig­nity of la­bor; and Wil­liam Lloyd Gar­ri­son, Wen­dell Phillips, David Walker, and Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, of African Amer­i­can free­dom and equal­ity. These were re­form­ers who were un­afraid to speak the truth about the em­peror’s new clothes.

By chal­leng­ing the treat­ment of those peo­ple im­pov­er­ished and dis­en­fran­chised be­cause of their race, gen­der, or class, these re­form­ers risked vi­tu­per­a­tion, con­dem­na­tion, and even im­pris­on­ment, not be­cause they de­spised their coun­try but be­cause they loved it so much. In the 1820s and 1830s, Apess stood both with this co­hort and yet apart and above, his voice raised in protest par­tic­u­larly against the plight of the Na­tive Amer­i­cans, who all too many white peo­ple wanted to be­lieve were, by God’s fiat, doomed to ex­tinc­tion and, for the mo­ment, in­creas­ingly forced out of sight. But how and why did Apess end up as he did, per­ish­ing not only from the face of the earth but also al­most com­pletely from his­tor­i­cal mem­ory?

No one could have pre­dicted Apess’s suc­cess dur­ing his life. He was born into ab­ject poverty in 1798 in ru­ral Col­rain, Mas­sachusetts, of what the cen­sus re­ported as “col­ored”—prob­a­bly mixed-race—par­ents who had moved there from south­ern Con­necti­cut, near lands given in the eigh­teenth cen­tury to rem­nants of the Pe­quot In­di­ans. His par­ents re­turned to Con­necti­cut a few years later only to sep­a­rate, but not be­fore phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally abus­ing their young son, Wil­liam. Sub­se­quently, when his par­ents wan­dered away from the area, he lived with his grand­mother but found lit­tle more sta­bil­ity there. She beat Apess so se­verely that the town’s over­seers of the poor placed him with var­i­ous white fam­i­lies be­fore for­mally bind­ing him out to a se­ries of mas­ters as an in­den­tured ser­vant. Given the gen­eral predilec­tion for strong drink in that pe­riod and Apess’s own try­ing cir­cum­stances, in his teens he com­pounded his dif­fi­cul­ties by be­com­ing (as he later ad­mit­ted) an al­co­holic.

His life changed, how­ever, when he ex­pe­ri­enced a pow­er­ful con­ver­sion as a re­sult of Methodist preach­ing. As­sum­ing con­trol of his life for the first time, at the be­gin­ning of the War of 1812 he fled his in­den­ture and en­listed among New York troops. Still only a teenager, he be­came a drum­mer and marched forth­with to the Cana­dian front, the most im­por­tant theater of the war.

Be­fore long, he was needed as a soldier. He traded his drum for a ri­fle and saw ac­tion in sev­eral bat­tles around Lake Cham­plain and in ex­pe­di­tions against Que­bec, the stac­cato of gun­shots re­plac­ing the per­cus­sion of his drum. Af­ter the Treaty of Ghent ended the war, Apess re­mained in the north woods, spend­ing time among the Hau­denosaunees in up­state New York and eastern On­tario. When he re­turned to Con­necti­cut months later, he for­mal­ized his com­mit­ment to Method­ism through baptism and be­gan to work as an ex­horter. He also vis­ited his mother, whom he had not seen in twenty years, and mar­ried Mary Wood, another In­dian, with whom he had at least two daugh­ters.

In 1825, the Methodist lead­er­ship as­signed Apess to a cir­cuit that took him to Long Is­land, the Hud­son River Val­ley, New Bed­ford, Providence, Bos­ton, and the is­lands of Nan­tucket and Martha’s Vine­yard, where he min­is­tered pri­mar­ily to Na­tive Amer­i­can and mixed-race con­gre­ga­tions. He be­came more and more con­fi­dent in his self-ex­pres­sion, and four years later he self-pub­lished A Son of the For­est (re­vised two years later), a spir­i­tual au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that re­lated the story of his life up to that time. He also preached and lec­tured in Bos­ton and soon came to the at­ten­tion of prom­i­nent re­form­ers like Wil­liam Lloyd Gar­ri­son, who in his in­flu­en­tial jour­nal, the Lib­er­a­tor, noted Apess’s speak­ing en­gage­ments along with those of the city’s abo­li­tion­ists. In 1833, he pub­lished a well-re­ceived ser­mon and the Ex­pe­ri­ences of the Five Chris­tian In­di­ans; or, A Look­ing-glass for the White Man, in which he re­counted the bi­ogra­phies of re­cent In­dian con­verts and con­demned the prej­u­dice to which they and other Na­tive Amer­i­cans re­mained sub­ject.

Apess’s com­mit­ment next brought him face-to-face with the Mas­sachusetts

gov­ern­ment. As part of his min­is­te­rial du­ties, in 1833—when the na­tion was in­creas­ingly ex­er­cised over the seizure of Cherokee lands and the tribe’s forced re­moval to west of the Mis­sis­sippi River—he vis­ited a Na­tive Amer­i­can con­gre­ga­tion on Cape Cod that was fight­ing on a smaller scale the same bat­tles that the Cherokee tribe had fought against usurpa­tion of its tribal rights and priv­i­leges. Apess there­upon as­sumed a lead­er­ship role in the Mash­pee fight to re­gain con­trol of tribal lands that white over­seers were pil­fer­ing. He vo­cif­er­ously ar­gued the tribe’s case for more self-gov­ern­ment to the state leg­is­la­ture and sub­se­quently was ar­rested and jailed for sev­eral months for his part in what be­came known as the “Mash­pee Re­volt.” He sub­se­quently pub­lished an ac­count of this strug­gle in his In­dian Nul­li­fi­ca­tion of the Un­con­sti­tu­tional Laws of Mas­sachusetts (Bos­ton, 1835), whose ti­tle sig­naled his aware­ness of re­cent public de­bates in na­tional pol­i­tics over the right of state nul­li­fi­ca­tion and in which he con­tin­ued his au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal nar­ra­tive, his life in­creas­ingly de­fined more by pol­i­tics than by re­li­gion.

Af­ter the Mash­pees won the right to self-gov­ern­ment, Apess re­turned to Bos­ton, where his in­flu­ence and no­to­ri­ety grew. In 1836, he de­liv­ered a re­mark­able “Eu­logy on King Philip,” in which, over­turn­ing the fil­iopi­etism through which his con­tem­po­raries cel­e­brated the achieve­ments of the Pil­grim Fathers, he touted the sev­en­teenth-cen­tury New Eng­land In­dian leader dur­ing King Philip’s War (1675–76) as one who was as great a pa­triot as Ge­orge Washington.

He first de­liv­ered the “Eu­logy” in Jan­uary at the Odeon (for­mally known as the Bos­ton Theater), an el­e­gant and spa­cious venue de­signed for mu­si­cal en­ter­tain­ments and other public events, and where Ralph Waldo Emer­son de­liv­ered his se­ries on “Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Men.” Com­ing when com­mem­o­ra­tions of the brav­ery and wis­dom of the Pil­grim Fathers and the Mas­sachusetts Bay Pu­ri­tans were com­mon­place as many Mas­sachusetts com­mu­ni­ties cel­e­brated their bi­cen­ten­ni­als, and just a few months af­ter the golden-tongued or­a­tor Ed­ward Everett’s 160th an­niver­sary “Com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Fall of the ‘Flower of Es­sex,’ at [Bloody Brook], in King Philip’s War,” a bat­tle in South Deer­field, Mas­sachusetts, in which many mili­tia men from Es­sex County on the Mas­sachusetts North Shore were killed, Apess’s ora­tion drew much at­ten­tion.

The prox­im­ity of the “Eu­logy” in time to Everett’s “Bloody Brook” speech and Apess’s vir­tu­ally im­me­di­ate pub­li­ca­tion of his ef­fort sug­gests that he in­tended a cor­rec­tive if not a di­rect chal­lenge to the way most New Eng­lan­ders un­der­stood their history and Na­tive Amer­i­can history in gen­eral. One of Everett’s rhetor­i­cal ploys, for ex­am­ple, also used in many of such com­mem­o­ra­tive speeches, was to ex­cuse whites’ past be­hav­ior to­ward and cur­rent treat­ment of Na­tive Amer­i­cans by pro­claim­ing the su­pe­ri­or­ity of Chris­tian civ­i­liza­tion and its even­tual and in­evitable tri­umph over that of the sons and daugh­ters of the for­est. Un­like in Span­ish-con­trolled Mexico, he wrote, where mil­lions of the pop­u­la­tion still “sub­sist in a mis­er­able vas­salage,” in the United States treaties with the Na­tives “will be en­tered into, mu­tual rights [will be] ac­knowl­edged; [and] the ar­ti­fi­cial

re­la­tions of in­de­pen­dent and al­lied states will be es­tab­lished.” And, be­cause God has so or­dained it, “as the civ­i­lized race rapidly mul­ti­plies, the na­tive tribes will re­cede, sink into the wilder­ness, and dis­ap­pear.”

Or at least that was the white cit­i­zens’ wish or, per­haps bet­ter, ra­tio­nal­iza­tion for their be­hav­ior. Obliv­i­ous, like so many New Eng­lan­ders, to any sense of the im­por­tance of the land to Na­tive Amer­i­cans, Everett thought their re­moval from an­ces­tral ter­ri­tory would be rel­a­tively pain­less. For the Pe­quots and Nar­ra­gansetts, and the Wam­panoags and the Nip­mucks “who live by hunt­ing and fish­ing, with scarce any thing that can be called agri­cul­ture, and wholly with­out arts, the re­moval from one tract of coun­try to another is com­par­a­tively easy,” he said, and a “change of abode im­plies no great sac­ri­fice of pri­vate in­ter­est or so­cial pros­per­ity.”

To his credit, Everett ac­knowl­edged that both sides were to blame for the level of vi­o­lence in King Philip’s War. “How­ever justly we may de­fend the mem­ory of our fathers against the charge of wan­tonly pur­su­ing a pol­icy of ex­ter­mi­na­tion,” he ex­plained, “it is not the less cer­tain that the march of events was well cal­cu­lated to ex­cite the jeal­ousy of the na­tive tribes.” Everett even re­peated the apoc­ryphal tale of King Philip sit­ting down and weep­ing, when he was told that one of the Na­tives had been shot, be­cause he re­al­ized that re­tal­i­a­tion then was in­evitable, in this case, against the town of Swansea. But nei­ther did Everett avoid men­tion­ing the Pu­ri­tans’ re­mand­ing of King Philip’s wife and young son into West In­dian slav­ery. They al­lowed “an In­dian princess and her child [to be] sold from the cool breezes of Mount Hope, from the wild free­dom of a New Eng­land for­est, to gasp un­der the lash be­neath the blaz­ing sun of the trop­ics.”

Everett in­sisted, though, that de­spite such bar­bar­ity the Pu­ri­tans had made “as near an ap­proach to the spirit of the gospel, in their deal­ings with the In­di­ans, as the frailty of our na­ture ad­mits, un­der the cir­cum­stances in which they were placed.” “The grand de­sign with which Amer­ica was col­o­nized, and the suc­cess with which, un­der Providence,” that de­sign had been “crowned” in the cen­tury and a half since the fight­ing at Bloody Brook mat­tered more. For all Philip’s in­tel­li­gence and brav­ery as a leader and war­rior, from the day the Pil­grims landed at Ply­mouth his des­tiny and that of his peo­ple was as­sured. Everett’s com­mem­o­ra­tion of this sig­nal event, in which scores of white set­tlers had been killed, was meant for one thing: to make Amer­i­cans re­al­ize that God’s hand di­rected what­ever had been and was be­ing done to Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

The Lib­er­a­tor re­ported that Har­riet Martineau, a feisty English­woman then vis­it­ing the United States, had “boxed [Everett’s] ears soundly” for what she took as “his elec­tion­eer­ing ora­tion,” but her re­sponse was mild com­pared to that of Apess. He did not equiv­o­cate about who was to blame for what and as­sured his au­di­ence that he did not “arise to spread be­fore [them] the fame of a noted war­rior” like Philip of Greece or Alexan­der the Great or Ge­orge Washington, “whose virtues and pa­tri­o­tism [were] graven on the hearts” of his au­di­ence. Rather, it was to re­call an in­di­vid­ual they were not used to con­sid­er­ing,

some­one who was “made by the God of Na­ture,” a war­rior and leader with­out the ben­e­fits of what the white set­tlers deemed “civ­i­liza­tion.” Apess wanted them to re­mem­ber some­one who was among “the mighty of the earth,” a “rude yet ac­com­plished son of the for­est, that died a mar­tyr to his cause . . . as glo­ri­ous as the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion.”

Apess’s goal was to “melt the prej­u­dice” that ex­isted in the hearts of those who pos­sessed “this soil,” and only by the sup­posed “right of con­quest.” Sar­cas­ti­cally not­ing that in the “wis­dom of their civ­i­lized leg­is­la­tion” whites thought it no crime “to wreak their vengeance upon whole na­tions and com­mu­ni­ties, un­til the fields are cov­ered with blood,” he ob­served that they also found ways to shut their ears to the voices of “the ten thou­sand In­dian chil­dren and or­phans, who are left to mourn the hon­or­able acts of a few—civ­i­lized men.” Whites had to re­al­ize that the In­di­ans’ vi­o­lent de­fense was noth­ing but the same that had been dealt them, a fact that erased any mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence be­tween what the set­tlers de­fined as the ac­tions of “civ­i­lized” as op­posed to “nat­u­ral” men. “My im­age is of God,” Apess de­clared; “I am not a beast.” He un­veiled the vi­o­lence and hypocrisy that re­sulted from the whites’ belief that they did God’s work in “civ­i­liz­ing” the na­tion, dis­miss­ing the Na­tives’ lifestyle as bes­tial and claim­ing that all men who were “gov­erned by an­i­mal pas­sions” were “void of the true prin­ci­ples of God.” He too con­ve­niently for­got that the set­tlers had been so gov­erned when they mas­sa­cred women and chil­dren and forced fam­i­lies and na­tions from their lands.

Apess then schooled his au­di­ence in some un­de­ni­able though lit­tle­men­tioned facts of Amer­i­can history—how, for ex­am­ple, from the New Eng­land set­tlers’ first en­counter with the Na­tive peo­ples in the early sev­en­teenth cen­tury, they had shown them­selves to be noth­ing but “hyp­o­crit­i­cal Chris­tians,” drunk on their pur­ported su­pe­ri­or­ity over the tribes. Such power, how­ever, had not been given “to abuse each other,” he de­clared, but was only del­e­gated by God as “a weapon of de­fense against er­ror and evil.” “When abused,” it would “turn to [the whites’] de­struc­tion.”

Start­ing from this premise, Apess piled ex­am­ple upon ex­am­ple (some drawn from Sa­muel Drake’s book) of the colonists’ treach­ery un­til he reached the time of King Philip of the Wam­panoags, he “of cursed mem­ory” in Pu­ri­tan In­crease Mather’s ac­count but whose ded­i­ca­tion to the de­fense of his land and peo­ple Apess claimed was as ad­mirable and wor­thy of re­mem­brance and cel­e­bra­tion as that of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary pa­tri­ots. Ad­mit­tedly, from Washington Irv­ing’s ac­count of Philip in his Sketch Book and John Au­gus­tus Stone’s Me­ta­mora to such scarcely veiled fic­tional ac­counts as those of nov­el­ists Catharine Maria Sedg­wick in her Hope Les­lie (1827) and James Fen­i­more Cooper in The Wept of Wish-ton-wish (1829), whites had granted Philip some ad­mirable virtues, but they al­ways were ones that they pre­sented as iden­ti­fy­ing a race des­tined to pass from the newly “civ­i­lized” land­scape. Now Apess re­minded his au­di­ence that King Philip’s blood still ran in peo­ple like him, which thus gave the lie to the white at­tempt to write this war­rior into obliv­ion.

Philip F. Gura

Ask­ing his au­di­ence to con­sider a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of the past, Apess spared no sa­cred cows. “Per­haps if Doc­tor [In­crease Mather] was present,” he ob­served, the good man would re­al­ize that “the mem­ory of Philip was as far be­fore his [that is, more fa­mous than he], in the view of sound, ju­di­cious men, as the sun is be­fore the stars at noon­day.” And as for the mili­tia cap­tain Miles Stan­dish, he was “a vile and ma­li­cious fel­low” who, at the head of a band of “lewd Pil­grims,” de­lighted in mas­sacring Na­tives—women and chil­dren—at mid­night. “Do you be­lieve,” Apess asked his au­di­tors, “that In­di­ans can­not feel and see, as well as white peo­ple”?

Apess also cas­ti­gated those who praised the set­tlers for bring­ing the light of Chris­tian­ity to the sup­pos­edly be­nighted In­di­ans, re­mind­ing them that with the Bi­ble their an­ces­tors also brought “rum and pow­der and ball, to­gether with all the dis­eases” to which the Na­tive pop­u­la­tion suc­cumbed. Apess even sug­gested that these epi­demics, which swept off “thou­sands and tens of thou­sands,” were “car­ried among them on pur­pose to de­stroy them.” In re­gard to July 4 and De­cem­ber 22 (rec­og­nized as the date when the Pil­grims landed at Ply­mouth), he coun­seled each au­di­tor on these dates to “wrap him­self in mourn­ing,” not in cel­e­bra­tory col­ors, for to Na­tives these never could be days of joy.

When Apess turned to con­tem­po­rary mis­sion­ar­ies to the “hea­then,” he was no less se­vere. Why must Na­tives be driven from their lands be­fore they can hear the word of God, he asked, for “if God wants the red men con­verted,” He should be able do it “as well in one place as in another.” More­over, he wanted mis­sion­ar­ies to “use the col­ored peo­ple they al­ready have around them like hu­man be­ings, be­fore they go to con­vert any more,” and urged those in at­ten­dance to with­hold any do­na­tions to mis­sion­ary so­ci­eties un­til their rep­re­sen­ta­tives treated In­dian con­verts with the dig­nity they de­served.

Half­way through his ora­tion, hav­ing trav­eled much his­tor­i­cal ground, Apess fi­nally rose to his chief sub­ject, “his Majesty, King Philip,” whom he termed the “great­est man that ever lived upon the Amer­i­can shores.” Af­ter Philip had at­tempted to hold off vi­o­lence as long as he could, when he fi­nally had to de­fend his lands and peo­ple, he ut­tered these noble words:

Broth­ers, you see here this vast coun­try be­fore us, which the Great Spirit gave to our fathers and us; you see the buf­falo and deer that now are our sup­port. Broth­ers, you see these lit­tle ones, our wives and chil­dren, who are look­ing to us for food and rai­ment; and now you see the foe be­fore you, that they have grown in­so­lent and bold; that all our an­cient cus­toms are dis­re­garded; the treaties made by our fathers and us are bro­ken, and all of us in­sulted; our coun­cil fires dis­re­garded, and all the an­cient cus­toms of our fathers; our broth­ers mur­dered be­fore our eyes, and their spir­its cry to us for re­venge. Broth­ers, these peo­ple from the un­known world will cut down our groves, spoil our hunt­ing and plant­ing grounds, and drive us and our chil­dren from the graves of our fathers, and our coun­cil fires, and en­slave our women and chil­dren.

This was his mov­ing call to arms, and the re­sult was two years of King Philip’s War.

Apess graph­i­cally de­scribed the last days of that con­flict. In swampy lands near Po­cas­set (Bourne), Mas­sachusetts, where Philip and his men had hid­den af­ter a fe­ro­cious bat­tle, he man­aged to es­cape through the only out­let and re­treated to the Con­necti­cut River, a strate­gic move that Apess claimed to be “equal, if not su­pe­rior, to that of Washington cross­ing the Delaware.” By such ac­tions, Philip showed him­self “as ac­tive as the wind, as dex­ter­ous as a gi­ant, firm as the pil­lars of heaven, and fierce as a lion.”

Apess did not avoid sen­si­tive points. In his dis­cus­sion of those taken cap­tive by the In­di­ans, like Mary Row­land­son, for ex­am­ple, whose or­deal many con­tem­po­rary or­a­tors in­voked, Apess ob­served that not only had her cap­tors treated her fairly well, all things con­sid­ered, but all such fe­male cap­tives had been “com­pletely safe, and none of them were vi­o­lated, as they ac­knowl­edged them­selves.” But was it so, he asked rhetor­i­cally, “when the In­dian women fell into the hands of the Pil­grims?” No, he an­swered cat­e­gor­i­cally, con­nect­ing such rape to the by-then com­mon sto­ries of what fe­male slaves suf­fered at the hands of their mas­ters.

Nor did the Na­tives of­ten get the op­por­tu­nity (as whites did) to res­cue their own peo­ple from cap­tiv­ity, for whites usu­ally im­pris­oned them, sold them into slav­ery, or sim­ply killed them. Here Apess men­tioned how Philip’s son was sent into slav­ery in the West Indies, just as af­ter the Pe­quot War peo­ple from Apess’s own tribe had been, in this case to the Span­ish in Ber­muda. “With shame,” Apess said, “I have to no­tice so much cor­rup­tion of a peo­ple call­ing them­selves Chris­tians.”

How­ever un­easy the au­di­ence was at this point, it soon had even more rea­son to squirm. Up to this point, Apess had spo­ken mainly of history, but what of the present? The re­sult of “all the slav­ery and degra­da­tion in the Amer­i­can colonies to­ward col­ored peo­ple” had led to the cur­rent vir­u­lent prej­u­dice against Na­tive Amer­i­cans, which he knew first­hand. He cited sev­eral ex­am­ples from his own ex­pe­ri­ence of white peo­ples’ cal­lous­ness when he or another Na­tive needed as­sis­tance. “Look at the dis­grace­ful laws,” he told those in the Odeon, “dis­en­fran­chis­ing us as cit­i­zens.” “Look at the treaties made by Congress,” he con­tin­ued, “all bro­ken.” Look at “the deep-rooted plans laid, when a ter­ri­tory be­comes a state, that af­ter so many years the laws shall be ex­tended over the In­di­ans that live within their bound­aries,” a ref­er­ence to the on­go­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of the Iro­quois in New York.

Chan­nel­ing Pres­i­dent Jack­son’s sup­port­ers, Apess ex­plained to the na­tion’s “red chil­dren” that whites “have a right to do with you what we please,” for “we claim to be your fathers.” In this pa­tron­iz­ing falsetto, he con­tin­ued: “We think we do you a great fa­vor, my dear sons and daugh­ters . . . to drive you out, to get you away out of the reach of our civ­i­lized peo­ple, who are cheat­ing you, for we have no law to reach them.” So “it is no use, you need not cry, you must go even if the lions de­vour you, for we promised the land you have to some­body else long ago, per­haps twenty or thirty years; and we did it with­out your con­sent, it is true,” but this has been the way “our fathers first brought us up, and it is hard

to de­part from it.” Apess’s hard-hit­ting sar­casm was un­re­lent­ing.

Sadly, the prej­u­dice he de­tailed seemed to have no end, for even as Apess spoke, new of­fen­sives against Na­tive peo­ples were break­ing out upon the fron­tiers. Why? Be­cause “the same spirit reigns there that reigned here in New Eng­land; and wher­ever there are any In­di­ans that spirit still reigns.” So what were en­light­ened New Eng­lan­ders to do? “Let ev­ery friend of the In­di­ans now seize the man­tle of Lib­erty,” Apess urged, and, honor­ing the courage and spirit of King Philip, “the great­est man that was ever in Amer­ica,” throw it over “those burn­ing el­e­ments that has [sic ] spread with such fear­ful ra­pid­ity, and ex­tin­guish them for­ever.” Apess then ended his ora­tion dra­mat­i­cally, sur­pris­ing the crowd with a recita­tion of the Lord’s Prayer in “[Philip’s] lan­guage,” that is, in Mas­sachusett, some­thing very few (if any) in the au­di­ences had ever heard.

Apess then asked his au­di­tors to for­give his “bold and un­pol­ished state­ments,” for he trusted that they now un­der­stood that what he had re­lated of white be­hav­ior could hardly be ex­cused as “re­li­gious.” This truth did not merit “any pol­ish­ing what­so­ever”; it was as it was—sin­ful. Sadly, when one had been de­ceived as much as Na­tive Amer­i­cans had—and here Apess re­ferred to his own ex­am­ple—“it spoil[ed] all con­fi­dence” in white peo­ple. He had had some “dear, good friends among white peo­ple,” he ad­mit­ted; but al­ways he “eye[d] them with a jeal­ous eye,” for fear that they would “be­tray” him. “Hav­ing been so much de­ceived by them,” he asked plain­tively, how could he ever be­have oth­er­wise.

The only way to end such prej­u­dice on both sides, Apess con­cluded, was to have all men “op­er­ate un­der one gen­eral law,” for whites and Na­tives. When the au­di­ence asked it­self, “‘ What do they, the In­di­ans want?’” they had only to con­sider the un­just laws made against Na­tives and say, “‘They want what I want,’ in or­der to make men of them, good and whole­some cit­i­zens.” The na­tion’s racism would end when the Golden Rule be­came preva­lent. Given the history les­son that he of­fered his au­di­ence, Apess trusted them now to un­der­stand this.

By re­quest, he re­peated the speech later that Jan­uary in Bos­ton’s Boyl­ston Hall, an equally com­modi­ous venue with eight hun­dred seats, and again a month and a half later in the Hart­ford area, in Farm­ing­ton at Union Hall. In its call for white Chris­tians to ac­knowl­edge that God em­braces peo­ple of all col­ors and its re­fig­ur­ing of how one should re­write New Eng­land history, the pub­lished “Eu­logy” stands with Fred­er­ick Dou­glass’s “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” as one of the most search­ing in­dict­ments of the na­tion’s in­sti­tu­tional racism. This ad­dress marked Apess’s full emer­gence as a public in­tel­lec­tual. But as hap­pened for so many oth­ers caught in the grow­ing fi­nan­cial de­pres­sion, the Panic of 1837, Apess’s luck then turned. By 1836, he had left the Methodist min­istry. With­out reg­u­lar in­come, he also be­came em­broiled in law­suits on Cape Cod and had his goods at­tached for debt. Even­tu­ally, he mort­gaged all

his prop­erty in an at­tempt to re­main sol­vent. To es­cape this new tur­moil—and per­haps his cred­i­tors—he moved to New York with his new wife, El­iz­a­beth, where he ap­peared in the city’s lec­ture halls as a speaker on Na­tive Amer­i­can history and cul­ture. In that city, in a crowded board­ing­house on Washington Street, a life­time of hard­ship caught up with this bril­liant ca­su­ist for Na­tive Amer­i­can rights.

Apess was not some sport or relic—another ex­am­ple of the na­tion’s van­ish­ing “In­di­ans”—but some­one who strove to un­der­stand him­self as a mem­ber of an in­dige­nous na­tion within the United States of Amer­ica, and so to claim for him­self, his tribe, and Na­tive peo­ples in gen­eral a place in the new na­tion. Thus, un­like, say, Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, who dreamed that African Amer­i­cans might par­tic­i­pate fully as Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and so urged his peo­ple to grasp the still-un­ful­filled prom­ise of democ­racy, Apess’s loy­al­ties were to tribe and peo­ple, not to the United States per se. He left a legacy whose re­cov­ery has only re­cently be­gun to have its full ef­fect. Na­tive Amer­i­can ac­tivist and in­tel­lec­tual Robert War­rior puts it best. Apess, he writes, is “the Na­tive writer be­fore the twen­ti­eth cen­tury who most de­mands the at­ten­tion of con­tem­po­rary Na­tive in­tel­lec­tu­als,” and, I add, of con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­cans. Dr. Hurd’s ex­am­i­na­tion at 31 Washington Street, dispir­it­ing as it ap­pears, thank­fully marked the end of only the first phase of Apess’s in­flu­ence.

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