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, life- defining 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. Apess depicts the effects of racial prejudice on his own self- estimation ("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) 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 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) 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 “looking- glass” imply for this strategy? Find Apess’s most militant/radical arguments and indictments and explain his arguments: Of white Christians/Christianity Of the historical treatment of Indians Of racism Of 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 long- term 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?
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