Page images

'investigated, a distinct character common to all, and apparently differing from any of those of the other continent, with which we are most fami- liar. It is not, however, asserted that there may not be some American languages, differing in their structure from those already known; or that a similarity of character may not be discovered between the grammatical forms of the languages of America, and those of some of the languages of the other hemisphere. The conjectures lately advanced concerning the Othomi deserve and require further investigation ; for it seems to be admitted, that, however different in other respects, its conjugations have the same character as those of the other languages of Mexico.

Although the materials already collected appear sufficient to justify the general inference of a similar character, they are as yet too scanty to enable us to point out, with precision, those features which are common to all the American languages, and those particulars in which they differ; or even to deduce, in those best known to us, the rules of their grammar from the languages, such as they are spoken. I have tried to show how far those points of similarity and differences were as yet ascertained, and have also, for one particular branch, attempted to deduce the rules of formation; or, in other words, to show, that, notwithstanding the apparent complexness and multiplicity of the inflexions of the Indian languages, they were, as in others, always regulated by analogy and modified by euphony. This branch of the subject is contained in the last section of the Introductory Essay, and in the Tables of Transitions now transmitted. I believe, that, with more ample materials and in abler hands, the inquiry might throw some light on the formation and philosophy of languages. Though far from being a competent judge, those of America seem to me to bear the impress of primitive languages, to have assumed their form from natural causes, and to afford no proof of their being derived from a nation in a more advanced state of civilization than our Indians. Whilst the unity of structure and of grammatical forms proves a common origin, it may be inferred from this, combined with the great diversity and entire difference in the words of the several languages of America, that this continent received its first inhabitants at a very remote epoch, probably not much posterior to that of the dispersion of mankind.

We are, however, left to most uncertain conjectures, not only in that respect, but in regard to every thing concerning our Indians prior to their first and recent intercourse with the Europeans. They had no means of preserving and transmitting the memory of past events. No reliance can be placed on their vague and fabulous traditions. They cannot even give an account of the ancient monuments, found in the valley of the Mississippi and of its tributary streams. The want of

documents elucidating the past history of tribes still in the hunter state, cannot be a matter of much regret. That of the commencement and progress of civilization in Mexico, and in some portions of South America, would, if recoverable, be highly interesting. I rather incline to the opinion, that that civilization grew out of natural causes, and is entirely of American origin.

In the brief notices of our Indian tribes, contained in the first five sections of the Introductory Essay, I have, for the reasons above stated, confined myself to the events subsequent to the first arrival of the European invaders. The authorities are always referred to. The “Relations de la Nouvelle France,” often quoted, are the collection of the original annual reports of the Jesuits in Canada, to their superiors in Europe, from the year 1633 to 1672, when they were superseded by the “ Lettres Edifiantes.” They have afforded to Charlevoix the principal materials for the corresponding portion of his valuable and faithful account of the Indians; but he had not exhausted all the information they contain. The Map annexed to the Essay shows, on a very small scale, the seats of the Indians at the time when first discovered; that is to say, at the beginning of the seventeenth century for the Atlantic states, and to the westward generally, at the end of the eighteenth.

It did not come within the scope of this Essay to delineate the habits and characteristics which distinguish the Indian race. Ample details will be found in the writings of the earliest English and French, and of the latest American and English travellers. I have only adverted to some peculiarities which appeared to deserve attention, and more especially to the means of subsistence of the Indians, to the causes of their gradual extinction, and to the only means by which, as it seems to me, the residue can be preserved. Notwithstanding the reckless cruelty and ravages of the first Spanish conquerors, the descendants of the native Mexicans are at present probably as numerous as their ancestors at the time of the conquest. For this no other cause seems assignable than the fact, that they had then already emerged from the hunter state, and had acquired the habits of agricultural and mechanic labor.

I submit the whole to the judgment of the Antiquarian Society, and have the honor to be respectfully, Sir,

Your very obedient servant,


of the Publishing Committee

of the American At uarian Society, Worcester, Mass. P.S. The deficiency in the enumeration of the Indian tribes bordering on the Pacific, between the sixtieth and forty-eighth degrees of lati

[ocr errors]

tude, has been alluded to. The vocabularies of Mr. Sturgis and of Mr. Bryant were received after the others had been prepared for the press, and the account of the Rev. Mr. Green had escaped my notice. In order to connect these with my general table, it must be observed that, of the four families enumerated by those gentlemen, Capt. Bryant's Sitka is identic with the Koulischen (xxvii. 62); that the Skiddegat, which was supplied by Messrs. Sturgis and Bryant, is designated in the table as Queen Charlotte's Island (xxix. 64); that the guttural Nass language, mentioned by Mr. Green as spoken between King George III.'s and Queen Charlotte's Islands, was unknown to me, and is omitted in the table; and that the Newittee of Capt. Bryant, appears to me to be a dialect of the Wakash, (xxv. 60,) or language of Nootka Sound.


The Indian Nations, partly on account of their geographical position, partly in reference to the materials which have been obtained, will be arranged under the following heads, viz.

1. Those who are altogether north of the United States, but not including those families which are partly in the British Possessions and partly in the United States.

2. The Algonkin-Lenape and Iroquois Nations.

3. The Southern Indians east of the Mississippi, and those on the western side of that river south of the Arkansas.

4. The tribes between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean. But of those west of the Rocky Mountains an imperfect general notice only can be given, as I have been disappointed in the expectation of obtaining vocabularies or recent correct information from that quarter.



THESE embrace only the two great families of the Eskimaux and of the Athapascas, and some small tribes, bordering on the Pacific Ocean, and situated north of the 52d degree of north latitude.

ESKIMAUX. The name of Eskimaux, given to the Indians of this family, is derived from the Algonkin word “Eskimantick," “ Eaters of raw fish."

They are the sole native inhabitants of the shores of all the seas, bays, inlets, and islands of America, north of the sixtieth degree of north latitude, from the eastern coast of Greenland, in longitude 21°, to the Straits of Behring, in longitude 1670 west.


VOL. 11.

On the Atlantic, the eastern Eskimaux extend also along the coast of Labrador, south of the sixtieth degree of latitude, to the Straits of Belleisle and within the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, almost as far south as north latitude 500.

The western division of the nation extends without interruption, along the shores of the Pacific, from the Straits of Behring, as far south as the extremity of the Peninsula of Alaska, in north latitude 57°; and may be thence traced eastwardly, under the names of Konagen and Tshugazzi (Tchougatches), till they disappear entirely in the vicinity of Behring's Bay and Mount St. Elias, in lat. 60°, and long, about 140°. A tribe belonging to this division, inhabits the western shores of the Straits of Behring, or that north eastern extremity of Asia, which lies north of the river Anadir. It is known under the name of " sedentary Tchuktchi,” and is as yet the only well ascertained instance of an Asiatic tribe, belonging to the same race as any of the nations of North America.

The identity of language, along such an extent of coast, contrasted with the great diversity found amongst small and adjacent tribes as we proceed farther south, is a remarkable phenomenon. The distance in a straight line, either from the Eskimaux seen by Captain Clavering on the eastern coast of Greenland, or from the Straits of Belleisle, to the Straits of Behring, or to the southwestern extremity of the Peninsula of Alaska, exceeds three thousand six hundred miles. But as the Eskimaux communicate with each other only by water and along the seashore, it will be found that the distance, between those of the Straits of Belleisle, and the Konagen who inhabit the island of Kadjak, or Kodiak, (north latitude 58°, west longitude 1520,) proceeding along the seashore, is not less than five thousand four hundred miles, without making any allowance for the sinuosities, bays, and inlets of the coast.

But the Eskimaux, who, though they hunt during their short summer, draw their principal means of subsistence from the sea, are rarely found farther from its shores than about one hundred miles. On Mackenzie's River, the mouth of which is in latitude 69° 40', the boundary between them and the Loucheux, their next inland neighbours, is in latitude 670, 27", but no Eskimaux huts are found south of 68° 15''; and their distance from the sea is still less on the Copper Mine River. They thus form a narrow belt surrounding the whole northern coast of America, from the 50th degree of north latitude on the Atlantic to the 60th on the Pacific.

« PreviousContinue »