William apess - The University of West Georgia

Report
WILLIAM APESS
Biography, historical contexts, questions
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)




Only recently emerging from literary, historical, and critical
obscurity.
A Son of the Forest: The Experience of William Apess, A
Native of the Forest, Comprising a Notice of the Pequot Tribe
of Indians (1829) has come to be recognized as the first
extended, written Native American autobiography
While articulating his sense of what it means to be a
"Christian Indian," Apess's writing also provides a scathing
and artful critique of the Puritan errand into the wilderness
and the construction of empire generally.
In rescuing the "native" from invisibility and caricature, Apess
in fact underwrites the possibilities for a re-legitimized
American egalitarianism at once political and religious.
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)

Biography section adapted from: Michael Berthold,
Villanova University Dictionary of Literary
Biography, Volume 243: The American Renaissance in
New England, Fourth Series. A Bruccoli Clark Layman
Book. Edited by Wesley T. Mott, Worcester
Polytechnic Institute. The Gale Group, 2001. pp.
19-24.
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)




Born on 31 January 1798 in Colrain, Massachusetts, he
was the first child of William and Candace Apes.
(Apess seemed to favor spelling his last name with a
double s, although he used "Apes" at times as well;
there is no definitive spelling of the name.)
Apess's father was half-white and joined the Pequot
tribe; Apess claimed his mother was a full-blooded
Pequot, although one critic has speculated that she may
have been African American.
When Apess's parents separated in 1801, Apess went
to live with his maternal grandparents in Colchester,
Connecticut.
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)



After a beating from his drunken grandmother that
left one of his arms broken in three places, the
young boy was bound out to a Mr. and Mrs.
Furman, and he was later indentured to two other
masters.
Apess in fact spent more of his formative years in
white households than in Indian ones.
Amid the many dislocations of his childhood, Apess
received only a slight education, attending school
during the winter term from the ages of six to
twelve.
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)







His life and his autobiography, Son of the Forest:
Ironically: defying the prejudice of the uneducated, illiterate savage,
we know about his life only through is writings
Autobiography amply reflects Apess's experiences of living between
cultures and attempting to judge and mediate them.
in part, the autobiography traces Apess's search for an elusive
home, a search resolved, if at all, only through his eventual, lifedefining conversion to Methodism.
Given the limitations of Apess's education, the very production of so
skilled a written autobiography is remarkable.
The unexplained attainment of not only literacy but also eloquence
is in fact one of the most enticing features of the autobiography.
Formally: a conversion narrative
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)




His life and his autobiography, Son of the Forest:
Formally: a conversion narrative; emphasis on its
protagonist's spiritual journey from sinfulness to grace
Evangelical Methodism's welcoming of the marginal and
dispossessed spurned by other Christian denominations and
its valuing of the "internal" witnessing of Christ as savior had
great appeal for Apess; it granted him recognition,
authority, and the opportunity to vindicate the "savage"
while vilifying the "civilized.“
At the exact moment of his conversion, Apess experiences a
"love" that "embraced the whole human family," echoing the
introductory insistence in the autobiography that "We are in
fact but one family; we are all the descendants of one
great progenitor."
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)


Apess's conversion to Methodism constitutes a
conversion to a kind of ultrademocracy that
reimagines the literal American democracy that
demeaned him.
His conversion also provides him with a vocation;
obtaining "license to exhort," Apess begins his
missionary work of spreading the word of the
Gospel (he is later officially ordained to preach by
the Protestant Methodist Church). His written
autobiography, thus, is orally grounded, his public
speech prefiguring his published text.
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)




Throughout A Son of the Forest, Apess effectively uses particular
moments from his life story as registers of larger American injustices.
Throughout A Son of the Forest, Apess effectively uses particular
moments from his life story as registers of larger American injustices.
Apess depicts the effects of racial prejudice on his own selfestimation ("I thought it disgraceful to be called an Indian") and
locates his early fear of other Indians and of his own Indianness in
the "many stories" that as a boy he was told about Indian cruelty
toward whites.
"But," adds Apess in the kind of reversal that often characterizes the
rhetoric of his autobiography, "the whites did not tell me that they
were in a great majority of instances the aggressors," and if they
"had told me how cruel they had been to the 'poor Indian,' I should
have apprehended as much harm from them."
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)

Stations of his life
running away from his masters
 enlisting in 1813 as a drummer boy in a New York militia
unit and seeing action in the battle of Lake Champlain
 backsliding from his conversion, and traveling about the
northeast as an itinerant worker
 Marries in 1821 (Mary Apess)



But: only little interest in details of his life)
autobiography resists the celebratory individualism
often identified as quintessentially American, partaking
instead of the Native American ethos that privileged
the communal over the subjective
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)


Apess's next publication, The Increase of the
Kingdom of Christ: A Sermon (1831)
sermon provides occasions for Apess to adjudicate
American abuses of the native population in light of
providential destiny:
 "have
not the great American nation reason to fear the
swift judgments of heaven on them for nameless
cruelties, extortions, and exterminations inflicted upon
the poor natives of the forest? We fear the account of
national sin, which lies at the doors of the American
people, will be a terrible one to balance in the
chancery of heaven."
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)

The Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the
Pequot Tribe (1833)
 Apess
uses autobiography as a means of discarding
mere self-expression and entering into other lives and
discourses.
 The text opens with a narration of Apess's own life,
Apess casting himself as the first of the five "Christian
Indians" of the work and as the "missionary.“
 Significantly, the remaining narratives are given over to
four female Christian Indians, making this text the most
gender-conscious of Apess's works--although gender
has much less ontological force for Apess than religion.
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)

The Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe (1833)


1) William Apess
2) Mary Apess (his wife)


3) Hannah Caleb


centers on the necessity of the Indian convert's loving white people as well as
her own and imagining a reciprocity of that love
4) Sally George (Apess's aunt)


Mary Apess's narration, like her husband's, emphasizes the value of
"affectionate" exhortation and the welcoming ecumenicalism of Christianity,
and her life is exemplary finally for the imperturbability of faith it embodies
Apess’s most heroic female convert; intuits some fundamental relationship
between religion and power
5) Anne Wampy
Noticeable for her broken speech; striking foil for Apess’s learnedness
Before conversion: "Me no like Christians, me hate 'em, hate everybody.“
After conversion: “me feel light . . . me love everybody, me want to drink no
more rum."

Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)

"An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man” (part of
Five Christian Indians) (1833)

Questions: (pp. 1053-1058)
Who is the primary audience of this essay? How would you
describe his rhetorical strategy? What does the term “lookingglass” imply for this strategy?
 Find Apess’s most militant/radical arguments and indictments and
explain his arguments:






Of
Of
Of
Of
white Christians/Christianity
the historical treatment of Indians
racism
the American nation
What is his vision for the future?



For American society
For Christianity
For race relations, etc.
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)





In 1833, the year that Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe was
published, Apess beThe Experiences of came embroiled in the political
controversies of Mashpee, the only surviving Indian town of Massachusetts.
His activist struggles for Indian rights are passionately manifest in the time
he spent with the Mashpees, who adopted him as one of their own tribe,
and in the text that activism yielded, Indian Nullification of the
Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts Relative to the Marshpee Tribe; or, The
Pretended Riot Explained (1835).
Apess wrote petitions, agitated for the rights of the Mashpees, and brought
their struggle into public consciousness--so much so that the Massachusetts
governor was prepared to call out troops to quell what in many white minds
was a revolt.
Marked as the firebrand of the uprising, Apess was arrested (on 4 July),
charged with "riot, assault, and tresspass," and made to serve thirty days in
jail and pay a substantial fine.
But the fomentation continued, and in March 1834 the Massachusetts
legislature granted the Mashpees the same rights of self-governance as
other citizens of the commonwealth.
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)



Apess's final work, Eulogy on King Philip, as Pronounced at
the Odeon, in Federal Street, Boston (1836)
published version of an oration he gave twice that year in
honor of the 160th anniversary of King Philip's death.
makes clear how acts of historicizing and commemoration
must intersect with and meliorate present history



“who, my dear sirs, were wanting of the name of savages--whites,
or Indians?“
exposing the perverse agency of Christianity in the conquest
of the native.
Apess castigates the missionaries themselves not only for
doing more harm than good but also for the way in which
the Europeans "could go to work to enslave a free people
and call it religion," rendering "Christianity" and
"enslavement" virtual synonyms.
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)




identifies King Philip as "the greatest man that ever lived
upon the American shores"; a later assertion of King Philip's
superiority to George Washington buttresses Apess's
defense.
Apess translates the legacy of King Philip for his
contemporary America and demands of white people that a
"different course must be pursued"--both legally and
spiritually.
Apess of course wants juster laws to prevail in the nation,
but he also wants a new amity between white and Indian.
through the militancy that desires concord, Apess attempts
throughout his work to remake America.
Biography: William Apess (January 31,
1798-1839)


Almost nothing is known about Apess after his
publication of the eulogy.
Obituaries have recently been uncovered that
record his death from alcoholism in New York in
1839.
Historical Contexts: The Pequot War




1636-37
Originated in conflicts over trade and colonization in
south-central New England; more generally: part of
conflict between Native peoples on the eastern
seaboard and encroaching European settlers (here:
Puritans/Pilgrims)
Pequots attempted to control wampum trade in the
early 1630s
Resistance of the Pequots against establishment of
Connecticut as a new colony (thus: they’d be squeezed
between CT to their west and MA to their east)
Historical Contexts: The Pequot War





MA demanded restitution for the supposed murder
of a white trader
Pequots denied accusation and the colonies
determined to punish them
Fighting began in September 1636 when an English
expedition burned Pequot homes and crops
Pequots besieged CT’s Fort Saybrook
In April 1637, Pequots raided Wethersfield, CT,
killing nine colonists
Historical Contexts: The Pequot War






With Mohegan and Narragansett allies, the English attacked
the Pequot town of Mystic on 26 May 1637
With most combatants away, Mystic’s three hundred to seven
hundred inhabitants were largely old men, women, and
children
Most of them perished when the English burned the town.
English and Indian allies routed the remaining Pequots by
July
In the Treaty of Hartford (1638), surviving Pequots were
divided as slaves or tributaries among the English and their
Indian allies
The English forces’ brutal suppression of the Pequots (really:
a form of genocide) forestalled any further Indian resistance
in the area until King Philip’s War in the 1670s
Historical Contexts: The Pequot War
(Massacre at Mystic Village; Contemporary Engraving commissioned by
John Underhill, one of the leaders of the campaign)
Historical Contexts: The Pequot War:
William Bradford, from Of Plymouth Plantation


Chapter XXVIII Anno Domini 1637 [The Pequot War]
“They approached the same with great silence and surrounded it both with
English and Indians, that they might not break out; and so assaulted them
with great courage, shooting amongst them, and entered the fort with all
speed. And those that first entered found sharp resistance from the enemy
who both shot at and grappled with them; others ran into their houses and
brought out fire and set them on fire, which soon took in their mat; and
standing close together, with the wind all was quickly on flame, and thereby
more were burnt to death than was otherwise slain; [. . .] those that scaped
the fire were slain with the sword, some hewed to pieces, others run through
with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatched and few escaped. It
was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful
sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching
the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory
seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who
had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their
hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an
enemy.”
Historical Context: King Philip’s War








1675-1676
Also called “Metacom’s War”
Result of increasing encroachment of white settlers on Native
American lands since the Pequot War
Pressures on Indians to cede their land
King Philip (Metacom), was the son of Wampanoag Chief Massasoit,
who had made peace treaties with the Pilgrims at Plymouth
A Christian Indian (named “James, the Printer”) informed the
Plymouth authorities that Philip was plotting to attack the Pilgrims
The informer was murdered; the two accused were executed
In June 1675, the Wampanoag began attacking towns in Plymouth
colony.
Historical Context: King Philip’s War




Although the so-called “Praying” (i.e. Christian) Indians
wanted to aid the colonists, MA and Plymouth authorities did
not trust them and interned them on Deer Island in Boston
Harbor (where many perished from starvation and disease)
After colonists launched surprise attack and killing several
hundred Indian warriors, Metacom escaped and launched
frontier warfare (attacking settlements and taking numerous
captives, destroying English crops)
Starvation and disease eventually decimated the Indian
forces and began negotiating with the English
Metacom and his family were captured; Metacom’s severed
head was displayed in Boston Commons for months; his
family was sold into slavery in the Caribbean
Historical Context: King Philip’s War



Deaths of about 5,000 Indians and 2,500 colonists
(i.e. 40% and 5 % of their respective populations)
One of the bloodiest wars in American history
relative to population size
The English precluded future resistance by executing
and enslaving those most actively hostile and by
replacing the alliances and trade networks they had
previously cultivated with Native Americans with
reservations and legislation that rendered all
natives as outcast subjects.
Historical Context: King Philip’s War


Show scene from We Shall Remain: America Through
Native Eyes, Episode 1: “After the Mayflower.”
(PBS Home Video, Dir. Chris Eyre)
Historical Context: Indian Removal Acts
and Trail of Tears




In the 1820s, land speculators called for the elimination
of Native American communities that “impeded” white
settlement
Particularly at issues: the so-called Five Civilized Tribes
(Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaws and Seminole
Indians)
Thomas McKenney, head of the federal Indian Office
from 1824 to 1830, viewed Indians as children and
proposed their removal west of the Mississippi River
In 1829, newly elected president Andrew Jackson
endorsed the Indian removal campaign
Historical Context: Indian Removal Acts
and Trail of Tears








Indian Removal Act signed into law 28 May 1830
Empowered the president to exchange Western lands for lands held by
eastern tribes
In two important supreme court cases, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831)
and Worcester v. Georgia (1832), Chief Justice John Marshall, while
denying Cherokee claims to be an independent nation, did partially uphold
their claims on the basis of prolonged occupancy.
Georgia repudiated the decision and Jackson refused to enforce it against
the state of Georgia
In 1838, the United State forcibly removed most of the Cherokee
population to the Indian territory in OK.
The Trail of Tears reduced Cherokee population by over 30%
After the forced expulsion to Indian territory, many tribes suffered longterm trauma, discord, and violence between pro-removal and anti-removal
factions.
Although some whites opposed (see Emerson’s letter to President Van Buren)
removal, the overwhelming majority supported Jackson’s policies.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Letter to Martin Van Buren. President
of the United States. Concord, Mass. 23d April, 1838.

Questions:
How does Emerson’s respond to the news of Cherokee
removal being enforced by President Van Buren? How does
he describe his and other people’s response?
 What does he say about the effects of the enforcement of
the Indian Removal Acts on the character of the whole
country?
 What does he say about the government’s role? (Compare
to Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government”)!
 What kind of authority does he call upon to oppose the
government’s decisions? (moral, civic, religious, etc.)
 What is “Romantic” about Emerson’s letter? Do we see him
in a different role here, or does this reflect any of the other
texts and arguments we have already encountered?


similar documents