English Letters and Indian Literacies

English Letters and Indian Literacies: Reading, Writing, and New England Missionary Schools, 1750-1830

Hilary E. Wyss
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
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    English Letters and Indian Literacies
    Book Description:

    As rigid and unforgiving as the boarding schools established for the education of Native Americans could be, the intellectuals who engaged with these schools-including Mohegans Samson Occom and Joseph Johnson, and Montauketts David and Jacob Fowler in the eighteenth century, and Cherokees Catharine and David Brown in the nineteenth-became passionate advocates for Native community as a political and cultural force. From handwriting exercises to Cherokee Syllabary texts, Native students negotiated a variety of pedagogical practices and technologies, using their hard-won literacy skills for their own purposes. By examining the materials of literacy-primers, spellers, ink, paper, and instructional manuals-as well as the products of literacy-letters, journals, confessions, reports, and translations-English Letters and Indian Literacies explores the ways boarding schools were, for better or worse, a radical experiment in cross-cultural communication. Focusing on schools established by New England missionaries, first in southern New England and later among the Cherokees, Hilary E. Wyss explores both the ways this missionary culture attempted to shape and define Native literacy and the Native response to their efforts. She examines the tropes of "readerly" Indians-passive and grateful recipients of an English cultural model-and "writerly" Indians-those fluent in the colonial culture but also committed to Native community as a political and cultural concern-to develop a theory of literacy and literate practice that complicates and enriches the study of Native self-expression. Wyss's literary readings of archival sources, published works, and correspondence incorporate methods from gender studies, the history of the book, indigenous intellectual history, and transatlantic American studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0603-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Technologies of Literacy
    (pp. 1-32)

    Written to the headmaster of the Cornwall Mission School in Connecticut by a young Ojibwe student in the mid-1820s, this letter is a dizzying spin through the broader issues of charity education at the center of this book. The student signs this letter as George Whitefield, a name undoubtedly given to him on his arrival at Cornwall in recognition of the British evangelical minister who had so irrevocably influenced missionary culture from the eighteenth century onward. The issue at hand is that Wheelock (another Native student at the mission school) has been harassing Whitefield, who now fears for his own...

  5. Chapter 1 Narratives and Counternarratives: Producing Readerly Indians in Eighteenth-Century New England
    (pp. 33-73)

    Eleazar Wheelock’s account books for Moor’s Charity School in the 1760s are a welter of detail. From buttons (small and large, horn, metal, and wood) to buckles (knee and shoe), pins, needles, combs (ivory and horn), sealing wax, razors, “barber’s scissors,” tea, handkerchiefs, shoes, cider, beans, butter, eggs, molasses, wheat, rye, and Indian corn, Wheelock carefully tallies in his daybook the exchanges that made the school possible. Of course, there were the essentials for any educational establishment: paper, goose quills, ink pots, ink powder, penknives, candles, and books. These books, sometimes carefully listed, more often simply referred to as “box...

  6. Chapter 2 The Writerly Worlds of Joseph Johnson
    (pp. 74-108)

    References to the pocket watches owned by a number of students and teachers affiliated with Moor’s Charity School are scattered among Eleazar Wheelock’s accounts. Throughout the eighteenth century, watches were markers of bourgeois status, one item in a growing consumer marketplace that provided hitherto unheard-of goods and services for the colonial populace. Although watches seem to have been relatively widely available,¹ they were still expensive and required care and attention, making it somewhat puzzling that members of Wheelock’s school would have such items. Norwich, just up the road from Wheelock’s school, is thought to have had the first watchmaker in...

  7. Chapter 3 Brainerd’s Missionary Legacy: Death and the Writing of Cherokee Salvation
    (pp. 109-149)

    In January 1770 Eleazar Wheelock wrote to a correspondent in New York, thanking him for some books he had recently sent, including one on David Brainerd. He added, “But You made one Mistake, dear Sir. You sent me Mr. Brainerd’s Life instead of his Journal among the Indians. His Life is common among us, but his Journal is not to be had in these parts: & that is it, which my Lord Dartmouth &c. desire to see.”¹ The “Life” to which Wheelock refers is Jonathan Edwards’s edition of Brainerd’s private diary first published in 1749, while the “Journal” was published...

  8. Chapter 4 The Foreign Mission School and the Writerly Indian
    (pp. 150-189)

    John Ridge bought a watch in 1818, on his journey from the Cherokee Nation to the Cornwall Foreign Mission School in Connecticut. When he arrived at the school that was to be his home for the next four years, the missionaries criticized this purchase, claiming it was an extravagance that required him to borrow funds to complete the journey. A few short months later Ridge copied out a poem called “Upon a Watch,” an aesthetic response to a matter of personal and cultural criticism.¹ This verse and several others he penned in the earliest months of his stay in Cornwall...

  9. After Words: Native Literacy and Autonomy
    (pp. 190-210)

    From the seventeenth century onward there is a clear pattern to missionary benevolence; an aggressive charity drive (usually with an accompanying pamphlet or petition touting the promise of a particular situation) drums up funds for people, buildings, and other resources. The charity takes on a life of its own, and charitable giving drives the shape of the institution rather than the needs of the people ostensibly at the center of the project. As Laura Stevens suggests, “money becomes the medium of, and a metaphor for, mutual redemption” (15). This guiding principle explains what otherwise appears to be the incoherence of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 211-230)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 231-242)
  12. Index
    (pp. 243-248)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 249-251)