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Adventures of a Deaf-Mute and Other Short Pieces

by William B. Swett

Publication Year: 2017

In Adventures of a Deaf-Mute, Deaf New Englander William B. Swett recounts his adventures in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the late 1860s. Given to us in short, energetic episodes, Swett tells daring stories of narrow escapes from death and other perilous experiences during his time as a handyman and guide at the Profile House, a hotel named for the nearby Old Man of the Mountain rock formation. A popular destination, the hotel attracted myriad guests, and Swett’s tales of rugged endurance are accompanied by keen observations of the people he meets. Confident in his identity as a Deaf “mute,” he notes with wry humor the varied perceptions of deafness that he encounters. As a signing Deaf person from a prominent multigenerational Deaf family, he counters negative stereotypes with generosity and a smart wit. He takes pride in his physical abilities, which he showcases through various stunts and arduous treks in the wilderness. However, Swett’s writing also reveals a deep awareness of the fragility and precariousness of life. This is a portrait of a man testing his physical and emotional limits, written from the vantage point of someone who is no longer a young man but is still very much in the prime of his life. This collection also includes “Mr. Swett and His Diorama,” an article from 1859 in which Swett describes his miniature recreation of the Battle of Lexington, as well as Manual Alphabets, a pamphlet published in 1875 on the history of manual alphabets that includes short biographies of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc, two pioneers of Deaf education in the United States. The work is accompanied by a new introduction that offers a reflection on Swett’s life and the time in which he lived.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press


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Title page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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Kristen C. Harmon

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pp. vii-xxxii

Each summer in the three years immediately following the end of the American Civil War, Deaf New Englander William B. Swett (1824–1884) worked as a carpenter, handyman, and guide for the famed Profile House, a hotel and tourist destination in the Franconia Range of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The hotel took its name from a craggy collection of rocks on top of Cannon Mountain that resembled the profile of an old man, and this iconic image, known...

Part One: Adventures of a Deaf-Mute in the White Mountains

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First Summer

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pp. 3-18

Early in the year 1865, the proprietors of the Profile House, in the Franconia Mountains, finding repairs and additions necessary to their hotel, advertised for a large gang of workmen.

I received a pressing invitation to go up and work. The wages were good, and expenses paid both ways.

I hesitated—there was work enough at home; I had never been out of work a single day, having always been sought for to do all kinds of work both in and out...

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Second Summer

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pp. 19-49

The Travelling season at the Mountains begins about the last of June, or by the middle of July, and ends in September, or early in October. While at home, during the summer or fall, waiting the close of the travelling season, that I might return to the Mountains and watch the approach of winter, I laid my plans, and provided things which experience and observation had taught me were necessary in mountain wanderings: strong clothing, not easily torn by bushes and briars...

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Third Summer

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pp. 50-62

Early in the spring, I was again called to return to the Profile House. Bitter experience, in former seasons, had taught me that I might expect snow-storms and wintry weather, and so I took the precaution to be provided for such contingencies. A thick riding-blanket and warm mittens are excellent companions on such a journey.

Arriving at Franconia by stage, from Littleton, I was not a little amazed to find solid cakes of ice, large and small, scattered all over...

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My Last Adventure, and a Trip around the mountains

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pp. 63-68

As cold weather was approaching, and the work so far completed to the satisfaction of the proprietor of the hotel, all the workmen were dismissed, and informed their services would not be required next year; so I concluded on bidding adieu to the Mountains.

I had calculated on making further explorations, in other inaccessible places, if I had time and opportunity, but finally gave up the idea, getting somewhat wearied...

Part Two: Mr. Swett and His Diorama

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Address by Mr. Swett

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pp. 71-78

[We gave a notice in the last Annals, of the miniature Battle of Lexington, constructed by Mr. William B. Swett, a former pupil of the American Asylum. Mr. Swett came to Hartford, and exhibited his work to the pupils and teachers of the Asylum, on Christmas day, and at the same time delivered an Address, which he had previously committed to writing. We insert it here, not merely for the gratification of his friends and fellow mutes; the frank simplicity with which he has laid...

Part Three: Manual Alphabets and Their History, with Sketches, Illustrations, and Varieties

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Manual Alphabets

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pp. 81-85

From an acquaintance with the manual alphabets which are contained in this book [see pages 83, 84] much amusement and instruction may be derived. Their use, by hearing and speaking children, directs attention to the written form of words and greatly aids them in forming the habit of spelling correctly, which is of so much importance to them in after life.

Deaf-mutes, for whose benefit these alphabets were at first invented, frequently misplace words, and construct their written sentences...

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Varieties of Language

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pp. 86-87

Speech, doubtless, was the first form of language; reading and writing came long afterwards. Deaf-mutes, in all nations, were long regarded as inaccessible to language: that idea was long since exploded. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and the modes of expression are now almost as various as the thoughts to be expressed. There is written language, spoken language, the language of signs, and many others.

To understand fully the importance or value of anything it is only necessary to...

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Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet

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pp. 88-90

This good man, whom every deaf-mute regards as a benefactor in no small degree, and whose name and memory are cherished by that unfortunate class all over the country, was born in Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 10, 1787. His family early removed to Hartford, Conn., which city was ever after the residence of the son.

His attention was early called to the existence of a neglected and unfortunate class of people called deaf and dumb; his warmest sympathies were enlisted in their behalf, and he...

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Laurent Clerc

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pp. 91-92

This compeer and associate of Dr. Thomas H. Gallaudet, to whom the latter owed much of his success in exciting an interest in the public mind in the education of the deaf and dumb, was born in La Balme, Canton of Cremieu, Department of Isere, France, December 26, 1785. At the age of twelve he entered the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Paris, then under the charge of the Abbé Sicard, and ultimately came to be one of the best teachers...

Institutions for the Deaf and Dumb

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pp. 93-94

Photo of the Old Man in the Mountain

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pp. 95-96

E-ISBN-13: 9781563686849
E-ISBN-10: 1563686848
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563686832
Print-ISBN-10: 156368683X

Page Count: 128
Illustrations: 4 figures, 1 illustration
Publication Year: 2017

OCLC Number: 967557266
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Adventures of a Deaf-Mute and Other Short Pieces

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Swett, William B., 1824-1884.
  • Deaf -- United States -- Biography.
  • White Mountains (N.H. and Me.) -- Description and travel.
  • Hiking -- White Mountains (N.H. and Me.).
  • Sign language.
  • Finger spelling.
  • Gallaudet, T. H. (Thomas Hopkins), 1787-1851.
  • Clerc, Laurent, 1785-1869.
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