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Early Native Literacies in New England

A Documentary and Critical Anthology

edited by Kristina Bross and Hilary E. Wyss

Publication Year: 2008

Designed as a corrective to colonial literary histories that have excluded Native voices, this anthology brings together a variety of primary texts produced by the Algonquian peoples of New England during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and very early nineteenth centuries. Included among these written materials and objects are letters, signatures, journals, baskets, pictographs, confessions, wills, and petitions, each of which represents a form of authorship. Together they demonstrate the continuing use of traditional forms of memory and communication and the lively engagement of Native peoples with alphabetic literacy during the colonial period. Each primary text is accompanied by an essay that places it in context and explores its significance. Written by leading scholars in the field, these readings draw on recent trends in literary analysis, history, and anthropology to provide an excellent overview of the field of early Native studies. They are also intended to provoke discussion and open avenues for further exploration by students and other interested readers. Above all, the texts and commentaries gathered in this volume provide an opportunity to see Native American literature as a continuity of expression that reflects choices made long before contact and colonization, rather than as a nineteenth—or even twentieth-century invention.Contributors include Heidi Bohaker, Heather Bouwman, Joanna Brooks, Kristina Bross, Stephanie Fitzgerald, Sandra Gustafson, Laura Arnold Leibman, Kevin McBride, David Murray, Laura Murray, Jean O'Brien, Ann Marie Plane, Philip Round, Jodi Schorb, David Silverman, and Hilary E. Wyss.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This project emerged from our sense that the extraordinary range of materials relating to colonial Native America that Native tribal historians and university scholars have unearthed warranted a far larger audience than they have hitherto received. The richness, subtlety, and depth of Native textual production in early New England and the window that these texts open to a world...

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pp. 1-13

In 1769 a young Narragansett woman named Sarah Simon spent an agonizing afternoon trying to explain to the white minister responsible for her Christian education just how far short of providing a new spiritual framework for her life his efforts had fallen. Her letter survives in the Dartmouth College archives. In 1794 Hendrick Aupaumut, a Stockbridge/Mahican tribal leader who had...

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1. The Mohegans

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pp. 15-83

Before English contact, the Mohegans of Connecticut—certainly one of the most widely recognized of the New England tribes today (thanks, in no small part, to the Mohegan Sun Casino)—were closely tied to the Pequot Tribe, having migrated with them from the upper Hudson River Valley some time around 1500. They split from the Pequots under the leadership of their sachem...

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2. The Narragansetts

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pp. 84-104

According to Narragansett tradition, the deity Cautantowwit created humanity. Dissatisfied with his earlier stone creations, Cautantowwit broke the original man and woman and made a second version of humanity from a tree. From the great Cautantowwit, humans received corn and beans; Cheepi, a force of darkness, connected them to a spirit world and was therefore central to...

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3. Natick

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pp. 105-129

We have titled this section after the name of the first “praying town,” Natick, established by Christian Indians and John Eliot some twenty miles west of Boston. The title acknowledges that no one traditional term fully represents the people included in this chapter. Unlike the groups named in the other sections of this anthology, Natick Indians have a specific colonial origin: The...

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4. The Pequots

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pp. 130-161

The center of Pequot communal life was the area between the Thames and the Mystic rivers in present-day Connecticut. At the time of colonization, the Pequots numbered approximately thirteen thousand, and they controlled some two thousand square miles of territory. Undeniably a powerful force in colonial New England, they were a commanding presence before European contact...

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5. The Wampanoags

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pp. 162-197

The Wampanoag people lived in settlements that stretched from southeastern Massachusetts (including Cape Cod, Nantucket Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands) to portions of Rhode Island. According to Wampanoag tradition, Moshup, a benevolent giant, shaped the coastline by moving boulders to facilitate his whale hunting, guided the people to Martha’s...

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6. Intertribal Conversations

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pp. 198-250

We believe that it is important to recognize not only the significance and the persistence of tribal identities but also that individual tribal histories tell only part of the story of New England as an “Indian world.”1 Literacy practices, particularly the adoption of alphabetic literacy, cut across tribal identities and linked Native peoples of New England during the early colonial period...


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pp. 251-268


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pp. 269-272


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pp. 273-276

E-ISBN-13: 9781613760758
E-ISBN-10: 1613760752
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558496477
Print-ISBN-10: 1558496475

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 631371659
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Early Native Literacies in New England

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Algonquian languages -- Writing.
  • Algonquian languages -- Texts.
  • Algonquian Indians -- Communication.
  • Algonquian Indians -- Material culture.
  • Algonquian Indians -- Colonization.
  • Written communication -- New England -- History.
  • New England -- Antiquities.
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