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  • Apess’s Eulogy on King Philip and the Politics of Native Visualcy
  • Clayton Zuba (bio)

Over the past decade William Apess’s Eulogy on King Philip has become a flash point in critical conversations concerning native sovereignty and indigenous rhetoric. However, as the Eulogy has become an object of political contention, scholars have lost sight of some of its most fascinating characteristics as a printed book. In particular, critics have overlooked the Eulogy’s participation in the vibrant visual culture of nineteenth-century America, and in turn how Apess’s contributions to visual culture inflect the book’s radical political commentary.

Scholars of literature, history, and Native American studies have largely agreed that the Eulogy subverts US imperialism through continually undermining the premises of racial difference and inferiority that serve as the foundation for denial of native rights.1 Scholars have plumbed the depths of the Eulogy for Apess’s sources. Barry O’Connell has shown that Apess appropriated from literary materials such as Washington Irving’s “Philip of Pokahonet” (Introduction xix n9). Deborah Gussman has argued that Apess engaged in a battle for history with Puritans like Cotton Mather (465–67). Maureen Konkle has studied how Apess adapted speeches performed orally by politicians such as Edward Everett (135–40). And scholars Jill Lepore (215–20) and Eric A. Wolfe (14) have placed the Eulogy in dialogue with New England contemporary dramatic performances such as “Metamora: Last of the Wampanoags,” a popular play that romanticized Indian genocide through the myth of the vanishing Indian.

As an antebellum work by a Pequot author that asserts the rights of Native Americans in the face of imperialism, the Eulogy has been recognized as a quintessential act of Native American literary nationalism.2 Approaching the Eulogy from an indigenous perspective, Drew Lopenzina has argued that Apess incorporated Haudenosaunee myths into the fabric of the Eulogy (“What to the American Indian Is the Fourth of July?” 693–95), while Lisa Brooks has asserted that Apess employed indigenous [End Page 651] imagery to construct New England as a native space to be shared by natives and Europeans (216). At times scholars have passionately disagreed about what kind of sovereignty Apess imagined for Native Americans. While critics such as Barry O’Connell have argued that Apess’s Eulogy envisions native inclusion within a multicultural United States, Maureen Konkle and Jace Weaver contend that the Eulogy is a call for native separatism.3 Despite such controversies, the concentrated attention from critics across disciplines has placed the Eulogy at the center of the canon of early Native American literature.

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Figure 1.

King Philip Dying for His Country. Frontispiece for William Apess’s Eulogy on King Philip (Boston, 1836). Photo by the author. Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society.

Yet as a printed book composed of both visual and textual signs, the Eulogy has received considerably less attention. In particular, scholars have devoted scant consideration to the book’s frontispiece illustration King Philip Dying for His Country (fig. 1). Printed on the reverse side of a blank cover in both of Apess’s 1836 and 1837 self-published editions, this wood-cut engraving is one of the most prominent features that contemporary readers encountered when opening the Eulogy. Even so, most studies of the Eulogy implicitly treat it as a text or speech, and neglect to acknowledge King Philip Dying. Such oversights perhaps stem from the illustration’s still-unknown origins. As is typical for early nineteenth-century book illustrations, [End Page 652] artist and engraver are unattributed within the Eulogy, and scholars have so far been unable to identify either. However, even those scholars who acknowledge the existence of King Philip Dying, among them O’Connell and Lepore, have rejected the illustration as an anomaly. In their penetrating interpretations of the Eulogy, these scholars discard the Eulogy’s visual contents for two reasons: one, the depiction of Philip’s death in King Philip Dying does not conform to the Eulogy’s textual description, and, two, the Eulogy’s errata notice states that “[i]n the frontispiece, the man at the head of Philip, should be an Indian” (O’Connell, Eulogy 303; Lepore 218). As...


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