Jefferson and smallpox in late-18th century North America

A new post in the smallpox and American otherness series.

The interest that the expedition led by Lewis and Clark cultivated in medical knowledge and in the observation and treatment of contagious diseases such as smallpox and syphilis was largely due to Thomas Jefferson. The correspondences between the protagonists allow us to reconstruct in detail various aspects of cultural as well as logistic planning in the preparation of the expedition, with the extensive involvement of Jefferson, who gave Lewis, already his secretary, minute indications for the recording of information in the field and its preservation.[1] Promoter of the whole project, Jefferson was also a key figure in soliciting indications from scholars and colleagues from the American Philosophical Society in various disciplinary branches regarding the information that the expedition would hopefully have to collect on the populations encountered.

In the second half of the 18th century Jefferson was one of the main experimenters and promoters of smallpox inoculation in North America, also working to contain the opposition and widespread fears that the practice aroused.[2] At the age of 23, he travelled to Philadelphia to undergo inoculation, in a Virginia where the practice was widely opposed.[3] Years later he encouraged his wife Martha to undertake the procedure, and it is known that he had his daughters inoculated a few months after his wife’s death in 1782.[4] During the brief period in which he practised law (1767-1774), in 1768-69 he defended the victims of riots that had broken out in Norfolk County (Virginia) at the introduction of the practice, including the physician Archibald Campell, whose home had been set on fire.[5]

C. Williams, Vaccination, [London], F.L. Smyth Stuart Esq. ca1802. Satirical etching against the practice of vaccination based on cowpox. The monster in the centre, symbolising the vaccine, has bovine features, lion forelegs, and a body riddled with ‘Pestilence’, ‘Plague’, ‘Leprosy’, ‘Fetid Ulcers’, ‘Pandora’s Box’. The creature is fed with infants and defecates their horned bodies, the vaccinators who feed it and shovel out the bodies are themselves equipped with horns and tails. The man tipping a basket into the jaws of the monster in the foreground carries a rolled-up paper in his pocket indicating a large income in pounds. The man shoveling on the right is trampling botany lessons. The obelisk in the background bears the names of some well-known opponents of the practice, including Benjamin Moseley, a physician at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. Next to the obelisk, men demonstrating against the vaccine come from the ‘Temple’ at the top of the hill in the background, holding ‘Truth’ as a weapon. The shields bear the initials of the names also inscribed on the obelisk, suggesting their identities. The satire feeds on the fears raised by the anti-intuitive concept of variolation and the introduction of animal material into a medical practice. Copy at the Wellcome Collection, reproduced under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC 4.0).

Jefferson favoured an empirical approach to science and health. This not only in the case of variolation led him to support opinions and practices that contradicted the medical knowledge prevailing among his contemporaries, even though among these contemporaries were doctors belonging to his circle of acquaintances and friendships. This was the case with his aversion to bloodletting, or his support for dissection as a means of advancing anatomical knowledge.[6] He played a crucial role in the dissemination of inoculation and the vaccine, which he promoted at institutional level in numerous ways over the years. In 1769 he was a member of the committee that proposed a reduction in restrictions to the Virginia General Assembly.[7] In 1776, he was part of the congressional committee of enquiry investigating suspicions of a biological offensive by the British in Canada, which was supposed to be taking place through deliberate smallpox contagion.[8] A similar suspicion would also develop during the British invasion of Virginia.[9]

During his presidential term he followed, in his readings, the experiments of Edward Jenner[10] and John Lettsom that led to the development of a vaccine based on a mild form of cowpox. The catalogue of his personal library is revealing of his up-to-dateness. It includes Benjamin Waterhouse’s writings published since 1800,[11] Lettsom’s Observations on the cow-pock printed in London in 1801,[12] Louis Valentin’s Résultats de l’inoculation de la vaccine of 1802,[13] and a copy of John Redman Coxe’s Practical observations on vaccination, or, Inoculation for the cow-pock, printed in 1802 and given to Jefferson by the author, after he had sent him a provisional advance copy.[14] For the latter work, Jefferson granted Coxe permission to use a letter he had written to John Vaughan on November 5, 1801, as an important form of public endorsement. To a similar request by Vaughan, Jefferson had refused for fear of exposing himself to criticism because of his lack of qualifications as a doctor. The concession in 1802 is evidently a sign of a prevailing desire to exploit his public position in favour of vaccination practice.[15]

With Waterhouse Jefferson worked closely to directly test and promote the spread of the cowpox-based form of vaccine. From Waterhouse Jefferson receives the material with which he personally carries out the vaccination, mostly of African American slaves, and some relatives and neighbours at his residence in Monticello in 1801. He then obtained pathogenic material from the first treatments, with which he continued until he had about two hundred inoculations, and sent samples to colleagues elsewhere in Virginia and Washington DC.[16] Coxe’s Practical observations include, in addition to the letter to Vaughan, the data recorded by Jefferson during the Monticello experiments.[17] The open conduct and publicity of these experiments have already been evaluated as “essential for vaccine’s success in the United States” from the point of view not so much of an advancement or deepening of scientific knowledge as in the construction of a critical mass of evidence in favour of the efficacy of the practice.[18]

Jefferson promoted medical knowledge in Lewis and Clark’s expedition westward both as a tool of diplomacy and in terms of gathering information on diseases and remedies used by native peoples. This has been interpreted with regard to a general connection between the health of the individual and the Republican social body in the political planning of his presidency.[19] The same westward expansion was linked to the belief that an abundance of open land was necessary for the vitality of the republic and that settlement in healthy areas, unaffected by the unhealthy characteristics of east coast cities, should be encouraged: ‘By the early nineteenth century the search for a “salubrious” locale was a significant factor in the decision of where one settled in America. The geography of health became a metaphor that extended beyond the human body and connected to political and economic “health” and the advancement of the nation’.[20]


[1] See appendices in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, 193-287, especially Jefferson instructions to Lewis, June 20, 1803, pp. 347-352; and Ethnological information desired, n.p., n.d., pp. 283-287; see also Thwaites, Introduction, xxxiii-xxxiv.

[2] E. A. Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82, New York, Hill and Wang 2001, 1-43.

[3] Inoculation, in Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, accessed via Monticello,; D. Malone, Jefferson the Virginian, Boston, Little, Brown and Company 1948, pp. 99-100; J. E. Abrams, Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health, New York, New York University Press, 2013, p. 165.

[4] Thomas Nelson to Jefferson, February 4, 1776, in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, general editor B. O. Oberg, Princeton, Princeton University Press 1950, vol. I – 14 January 1760 to 25 December 1776, p. 286; Jefferson to James Madison, November 26, 1782, in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, general editor B. O. Oberg, Princeton, Princeton University Press. O. Oberg, Princeton, Princeton University Press 1952, vol. VI – 21 May 1781 to 1 March 1784, p. 207.

[5] F. L. Dewey, Thomas Jefferson’s Law Practice: The Norfolk Anti-Inoculation Riots, ‘The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography’, 91, 1, 1983, pp. 39-53.

[6] Abrams, Revolutionary Medicine, chapter 4.

[7] R. H. Halsey, How the President, Thomas Jefferson, and Doctor Benjamin Waterhouse Established Vaccination as a Public Health Procedure, New York, Published by the Author, 1936, pp. 33-34; W. Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, Richmond, Printed for the Editor, George Cochran 1822, VIII: 371-73, IX: 371-73.

[8] A. M. Becker, Smallpox in Washington’s Army: Strategic Implications of the Disease during the American Revolutionary War, ‘The Journal of Military History’, 68, 2, 2004, pp. 381-430, see pp. 409, 415.

[9] P. Ranlet, The British, Slaves, and Smallpox in Revolutionary Virginia, ‘The Journal of Negro History’, 84, 1999, pp. 217-226.

[10] M. Bennett, The War Against Smallpox: Edward Jenner and the Global Spread of Vaccination, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 2020.

[11] B. Waterhouse, A prospect of exterminating the small-pox; being the history of the variolae vaccina, or kine-pox, [Cambridge], Printed for the author, at the Cambridge Press, by William Hilliard […] 1800; B. Waterhouse, A prospect of exterminating the small pox. Part II, being a continuation of a narrative of facts, Cambridge, MA, Printed for the author, at the University Press, by William Hilliard 1802. For these and subsequent titles in Jefferson’s library: personal library catalogue at the Library of Congress, digitized via Library Thing,, ad vocem.

[12] J. C. Lettsom, Observations on the cow-pock, [London] 1801.

[13] L. Valentin, Résultats de l’inoculation de la vaccine dans les départemens de la Meurthe, de la Meuse, des Vosges et Haut-Rhin, Nancy […], Haener et Delahaye […], Messidor An X (Juillet 1802).

[14] J. Redman Coxe, Practical observations on vaccination, or, Inoculation for the cow-pock, Philadelphia, Printed and sold by James Humphreys at the corner of Walnut and Dock-streets 1802.

[15] Jefferson to John Redman Coxe, April 30, 1802, in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, general editor B. O. Oberg, Princeton, Princeton University Press 2010, vol. XXXVII – 4 March to 30 June 1802, pp. 364-365, “[…] if however the letter can be useful as a matter of testimony, or can attract the notice or confidence of those to whom my political source may have happened to make known, and thereby engage their belief in a discovery of so much value to themselves and mankind in general, I shall not oppose it’s being put to that use […]”. The letter appears in Coxe, Practical observations, 120-122; for a modern edition see infra.

[16] Jefferson to John Vaughan, November 5, 1801, in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, general editor B. O. Oberg, Princeton, Princeton University Press 2008, vol. XXXV – 1 August to 30 November 1801, pp. 572-573, in this volume also Jefferson to Dr. John Shore, September 12, 1801, pp. 277-278 and Jefferson to Waterhouse, September 17, 1801, pp. 311-312; on the Monticello experiments also Bennett, The War Against Smallpox, pp. 276 et seq.

[17] Coxe, Practical observations, folded synoptic tables on pp. 135 and passim, p. 147.

[18] R. Fields Green, “Simple, Easy, and Intelligible”: Republican Political Ideology and the Implementation of Vaccination in the Early Republic, “Early American Studies”, 12, 2, 2014, pp. 301-337, cit. p. 313.

[19] Abrams, Revolutionary Medicine, chapter 5.

[20] Abrams, Revolutionary Medicine, p. 194.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “in the raging time of the small pox”: Il vaiolo e la documentazione dell’alterità americana tra fine Settecento e primo Ottocento, Diciottesimo Secolo, 6 (2021): 67-82, doi: 10.36253/ds-12544; ISSN: 2531-4165. This article is available in full green open access:

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Jefferson and smallpox in late-18th century North America," in Geographies of Time, 01/07/2022,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Second sights across northern waters

An early-18th century supernatural philosopher between Scotland and Lapland

Duncan Campbell @ the third PiMO annual conference European sea spaces and histories of knowledge, Helsinki and Tallinn, 22-23 June 2022

This paper investigates the North and Baltic Seas as cultural and emotional connective spaces in a hitherto understudied work from the early 18th century, The Supernatural Philosopher, or the Mysteries of Magick. First published anonymously in 1720, then expanded in 1728, this text focuses on the figure of Duncan Campbell (c. 1680-1730), a deaf and mute soothsayer who was a popular attraction in London during the 1720s.

Campbell’s extraordinary faculties were – The Supernatural Philosopher claimed – innate gifts, the result of a birth that combined two mystical cotés: the Scottish one – inherited from his father – and the Sami one – from his mother’s side. The work dwelled on the vicissitudes that brought Duncan’s father from the Shetland Islands on board a Dutch vessel to the Swedish lappmarks, where he met Duncan’s mother and their son was born. This tale outlined a sea connection between the Scottish subarctic archipelago and the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, embodied by Campbell, whose ‘second sight’ – the preternatural ability to see the future – was drawn from beliefs that were to some extent similar in both areas. The ‘second sight’ had attracted the interest of scholars since the investigations of Robert Boyle in the late 17th century, and rituals and beliefs of Sami culture had been popularised in England by the translation from the Swedish of Johannes Scheffer’s Lapland in 1674.

The proclaimed ability to see the future makes Campbell’s case a vantage point to observe the negotiation of what, in the age of reason, constituted credibility and credulity. This paper aims to thematize the connection between the faculty of the ‘second sight’ and Campbell’s claimed origins. In doing so, it interrogates the political significance of locating supernatural phenomena in spaces physically distant from the British capital, against the backdrop of wider colonial dynamics. This research will highlight the sharing of beliefs between the shores of the norther European seas, the permeability of the cultural boundaries of coastal regions bordering the North and Baltic Seas, and the representation of these bodies of water as spaces of liquidity of cultural and emotional identities.

William Bond, The Supernatural Philosopher: Or, the Mysteries of Magick, in All Its Branches, Clearly Unfolded […] All exemplified in the History of the Life and surprizing Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell, a Scots Gentleman; who, though Deaf and Dumb, writes down Any Stranger’s Name at first Sight, with their future Contingencies of Fortune […] (London: Printed for E. Curll over-against Catherine-Street in the Strand, 1728), copy at New York Public Library, via Googleboook.

A futuristic anti-Jesuit satire

The Memoirs of the Twentieth Century @ Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society/An Cumann Éire San Ochtú Céad Déag 2022 Annual Conference University College Cork, 17-18 June 2022

Designed as a hypothetical laboratory to test the author’s political and philanthropic ideas, and to satirize a number of coeval cultural and political trends, The Memoirs of the Twentieth Century is one of the first futuristic fictions known in European literature. Published anonymously in 1733, it was written by Samuel Madden, an Irish Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with Hanoverian and Whig sympathies. It consists of a collection of diplomatic letters written in the 1990s, sent to the Lord High Treasurer in London from British ambassadors from a number of countries, which the narrator claims to have received from the future. Through these correspondences, twentieth-century world scenarios spread out before the reader, in which British naval power rules the waves and international commerce, while the transnational scheming of the Jesuits threatens the independence of weaker European courts.

A fine example of the emergence of a new secularized future, pliable through human action, The Memoirs’ logical extrapolation is informed by a variety of underlying rationales, ranging from utopian achievements to the satiric mocking of the writer’s present. This paper addresses The Memoirs as anti-Jesuit satire, an aspect never touched upon by the (scarce) existing scholarship on this work. While the power of the printed word and the sharing of knowledge as a key to progress are portrayed in utopian terms in the virtuous practices attributed to the British rulers of the future, specular comments are offered on the astuteness with which the Jesuits adapt their propaganda to different cultural contexts and social spheres, not least through the use of the press.

The anti-Jesuit polemic thus contributes to the Memoirs’ fascinating reflection on the problem of the production, control and circulation of knowledge. This paper intends to outline a number of inter-textual references and argumentative and rhetorical strategies exploited by the Memoirs’ anti-Jesuit satire, and to highlight how, thanks to the fictional device of the projection into the future, this work fits originally into the long history of anti-Jesuit controversy in the Protestant world.

William Hogarth (British, London 1697–1764 London) Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism, March 15, 1762 British, Etching and engraving; second state of two; plate: 17 1/4 x 13 in. (43.8 x 33 cm) sheet: 18 7/16 x 13 3/4 in. (46.8 x 35 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, detail.

“I have lived among them in the raging time of the small pox”

Adair and Colden witnesses to epidemics in eighteenth-century North America: a new post in the smallpox series

The fur trader James Adair, who lived between the turn of the century and the 1770s in an area between present-day North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida, recorded smallpox as an imported disease among the First Nations he came in contact with. “I have lived among them in the raging time of the small pox”:1 Adair highlighted the first-hand experience that has made his History of the American Indians, published in London in 1775, one of the primary sources adopted in studies of the historical ethnography of the peoples of the South East.2

With the linguistic-cultural awareness that is typical of his compilation, Adair reported the mythographic conceptualisation of smallpox by the Cherokee (Cheerake):3

“The small-pox, a foreign disease, no way connatural to their healthy climate, they call Oonatàquára, imagining it to proceed from the invisible darts of angry fate, pointed against them, for their young people’s vicious conduct.”4

Regarding the Catawba (Katahba),5 he noted: “[they] are now reduced to a very few above one hundred fighting men – the small pox, and intemperate drinking, have contributed however more than their wars to their great decay”.6 Here he recorded, and underestimated, the consequences of the smallpox epidemic that had led to the evacuation of settlements in the Catawba Valley in 1759.7 In later years, archaeological evidence, particularly relating to sites and stratigraphies of burials in the area, will paint a picture of the massive demographic loss caused by the Great Southeastern Smallpox Epidemic of 1759,8 following a probable earlier wave in 1738. The latter was documented by Adair among the Cherokee (historiography will confirm a halving of the population due to the various epidemic waves that followed between 1697 and 1783):

“About the year 1738, the Cheerake received a most depopulating shock, by the small pox, which reduced them almost one half, in about a year’s time: it was conveyed into Charles-town by the Guinea-men, and soon after by the infected goods.”9

On the Creek (Muskohge) Adair noted that they had learned, following the advice of British traders, to suspend social contacts as a means of stopping the spread of the contagion. The Creek’s ability to limit losses in the event of an epidemic and their lesser inclination to conflict with other groups distinguished them from the conspicuous decline that characterises other nations: “All the other Indian nations we have any acquaintance with, are visibly and fast declining, on account of their continual merciless wars, the immoderate use of spirituous liquors, and the infectious ravaging nature of the small pox.”10

James Adair, History of the American Indians […], London, Printed for Edward and Charles Dilly, in the Poultry 1775, frontispiece. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).

A relevant precedent for Lewis and Clark’s expedition in terms of awareness of the diplomatic implications of contagion is found in Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nations. Colden, at the time of writing Surveyor General of the Province of New York,11 is based in part on francophone sources for the reconstruction of relations between Europeans and native peoples in the seventeenth century, and includes first-hand chronicle and testimonial aspects of the first half of the eighteenth century. Colden promoted an understanding of the variety of forms of socio-political organisation of native peoples as essential to the establishment of diplomatic relations, which he argued were crucial to the consolidation of the British presence in the area between New York and Canada. In the second and final edition of 1747, the History dwells on the concerns about the risk of smallpox infection expressed by the Governor of the Province of New York, George Clinton, on his way to the Albany negotiations in August-September 1746 with the representatives of the Six Nations. Among other things, the disease prevented the participation of a representative of the Mississauga (Messesague), a population of Algonquian stock from the area north of Lake Huron,12 and led to an early closure of activities for fear of the contagion spreading to the town, which could not be prevented.13

The testimonies of these observers during the eighteenth century allow us to place the case of Lewis and Clark against the background of a somewhat pre-existing attention and awareness. These were coupled with precise interests in the medical, experimental, proto-ethnographic fields, in particular on the part of Thomas Jefferson, helping to explain, in the expedition, the ample presence of medical aspects both in the diplomatic armamentarium, in the conceptual categories guiding the observation and description of the peoples encountered, and among the reasons for a desire to document. A prior awareness of the effects of diseases of European origin motivated the need to create an archive of American humanity, enabling future generations to continue their study, to reconstruct their genealogies and possibly unravel the mystery of their origins.


[1] J. Adair, The History of the American Indians by James Adair. Edited and with an Introduction and Annotations by Kathryn E. Holland Braund, Tuscaloosa, The University of Alabama Press 2005, p. 210.

[2] C. Hudson, James Adair as Anthropologist, «Ethnohistory», 24, 4, 1977, pp. 311-328.

[3] Of Iroquois linguistic stock, the Cherokee were largely involved in Anglo-French conflicts during the 18th century, usually on the side of the British. On smallpox among the Cherokee: W. R. Reynolds, Jr., The Cherokee Struggle to Maintain Identity in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Jefferson NC, McFarland, 2015, chapp. 2-4 passim.

[4] Adair, The History, p. 116, 210.

[5] C. L. Heath, Catawba Militarism: Ethnohistorical and Archaeological Overviews, «North Carolina Archaeology», 52, 2004, pp. 80-121.

[6] Adair, The History, p. 246, sul vaiolo presso i Chikkasah vedi anche p. 289 e p. 336 sui Choktah.

[7] M. E. Fitts, Defending and Provisioning the Catawba Nation: An Archaeology of the Mid-Eighteenth-Century Communities at Nation Ford, PhD thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2015, in particolare pp. 4, 18, 59, 79-80, 115, 124.

[8] P. Kelton, Epidemics and Enslavement: Biological Catastrophe in the Native Southeast, 1492-1715, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press 2007, p. 161; see also P. Kelton, Avoiding the Smallpox Spirits: Colonial Epidemics and Southeastern Indian Survival, «Ethnohistory», 51, 1, 2004, pp. 45-71.

[9] Adair, The History, p. 252, vedi anche pp. 267-268; The epidemic phenomenon is not mentioned by Henry Timberlake, another important witness to British-Cherokee relations in the 18th century: Henry Timberlake, The Memoirs of Lieut. Henry Timberlake who Accompanied the three Cherokee Indians to England in the Year 1762 […] London, Printed for the author 1765. Sul vaiolo presso i Cherokee: P. H. Wood, The Impact of Smallpox on the Native Population of the 18th Century South, in Early American Medicine: A Symposium, ed. by R. I. Goler and P. J. Imperato, New York City, Fraunces Tavern Museum 1987, pp. 22-28; Reynolds, The Cherokee Struggle, p. 24.

[10] Adair, The History, pp. 274-275, 343; Kelton, Avoiding the Smallpox Spirits.

[11] On the biographical and intellectual life of Colden (1688-1776), a well-educated Scottish emigrant with Enlightenment and royalist tendencies who was a politician in New York: J. M. Dixon, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press 2016; in particular on the correspondence with Benjamin Franklin in the 1950s concerning the regulation of trade with native populations in the New York and Albany areas: T. J. Shannon, Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754, 2000; Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press 2002, pp. 110-111.

[12] N. Salisbury, Native people and European settlers in eastern North America, 1600-1783, in The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, vol. I – North America, Part 1, ed. by B. G. Trigger and W. E. Washburn, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1996, pp. 399-460, see p. 441. Mappati da J. Mitchell, Map of the British and French Dominions in North America […], [London], Published by the Author, Sold by And: Millar 1755.

[13] C. Colden, The History of the Five Indian Nations of Canada, which are dependent on the province of New-York in America […],London, Printed for T. Osborne in Gray’s-Inn 1747, pp. 156, 180, 184, 188-189.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “in the raging time of the small pox”: Il vaiolo e la documentazione dell’alterità americana tra fine Settecento e primo Ottocento, Diciottesimo Secolo, 6 (2021): 67-82, doi: 10.36253/ds-12544; ISSN: 2531-4165. This article is available in full green open access:

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "“I have lived among them in the raging time of the small pox”," in Geographies of Time, 01/06/2022,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Second sight, seduction, and superstition

Fortune-telling, female curiosity and the story of Duncan Campbell in early 18th-century England

My current research on the future as an epistemological arena in the Age of Reason @ Convegno annuale della Società Italiana di Studi sul Secolo XVIII Trieste, 26-28 maggio 2022, Settecento oggi: studi e ricerche in corso

A fortune-teller who could predict the future, a deaf-mute skilled in mundane conversation, a seller of talismans and miraculous medicines, Duncan Campbell (c. 1680-1730) was a popular attraction in early 18th-century London. Placed at the centre of various biographical and autobiographical narratives, his figure took on a particular literary quality. A reputation built on a proclaimed ‘second sight’ that enabled him to see the future, and a specialisation on sentimental and matrimonial matters, make his case an excellent observatory on the negotiation of what, in the age of reason, constituted authority and credibility, credulity and superstition, and how gender was thematised within this negotiation.
This paper focuses on The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr Duncan Campbell, a fictional biography published by Edmund Curll in 1720 and long spuriously attributed to Daniel Defoe. The text offers an unusual glimpse into the contemporary discourse on the relationship between gender and the problem of credulity.

Against the backdrop of the conceptualisation of women as exponents of a vulnerable, manipulable and gullible public, The History outlines the problem of the relationship between the female public and popular beliefs inherent in predicting and controlling the future.

In defending Duncan Campbell’s credibility – boasting his Lappish birth and the efficacy of his predictions and recipes – The History insists on the disqualification of competing forms and actors in the field of divination. The book aims to counteract the seductions of Kabbalistic chimeras that too easily capture innocent and unprepared minds, the impostures of false diviners and swindlers, the dangers of the obscure arts of conjurers and inchanters, and the typically female superstitious practices that are passed down through generations.

“Credulous lady and astrologer”: a man telling a lady’s horoscope. Colour stipple engraving by J.P. Simon, 1786, after J.R. Smith. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain.

Plagues from the Old World and European identities in North America

A new post in the smallpox series: An epidemiological aspect was at work in the conceptualisation of a European self in the mirror of American otherness.

In the journal of his voyage to the Carolinas published in 1709, John Lawson connects the arrival of syphilis in America to Columbus, describing the striking consequences for the Santee,1 a Siouan population near the river of the same name in present-day South Carolina, which declined from about a thousand in the seventeenth century to less than ninety at the beginning of the eighteenth.2

On behalf of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, to whom he dedicated his New Voyage, Lawson set out from Charleston on 28 December 1700, and arrived at the mouth of the Pamlico River (Pampticough) on 24 February 1701,3 drawing a wide arc in Carolina territories. It crossed and described an unmapped area, about which Europeans’ knowledge was largely lacking. The observer clearly identified the role of diseases of European origin, smallpox above all, in the rapid decline of populations such as the Sewee, another nation probably of Siouan stock, whose numbers, estimated at around eight hundred in the seventeenth century, were reduced to seventy-five in 1715:4

the Sewees have been formerly a large Nation, though now very much decreas’d since the English hath seated their Land, and all other Nations of Indians are observ’d to partake of the same Fate, where the Europeans come, the Indians being a People very apt to catch any Distemper they are afflicted withal; the Small-Pox has destroy’d many thousands of these Natives.

John Brickell too, in his 1737 Natural History North-Carolina, largely based on Lawson’s text,5 developed Lawson’s attention to medical matters and added some original considerations. Speaking of the diseases afflicting European settlers and Indian nations in Carolina, while treating more extensively the most widespread at the time, gout and syphilis, he mentioned smallpox as a plague imported from Europe. The consequences in terms of demographic dynamics, in favour of the European colonists, were already clear: “The Small Pox proved very fatal amongst them in the late War with the Christians, few or none ever escaping Death that were seized with it. This Distemper was entirely unknown to them before the arrival of the Europeans amongst them”.6  The disease was fatal: “neither has the small Pox ever visited this Country but once, and that in the late Indian War, which destroyed most of those Savages that were seized with it”.7

The Plague seemed to have remained unknown, but the contribution of smallpox to the rapid decimation of American populations was clearly identified alongside other causes, which were part of the stereotypical image of the American “savage” in the eighteenth century: wars between nations – a state of perpetual belligerence – and intemperate alcohol consumption above all:8

[…] the Small Pox, their continual Wars with each other, their poysoning, and several other Distempers and Methods amongst them, and particularly their drinking Rum to excess have made such great destruction amongst them, that I am well informed, that there is not the tenth Indian in number, to what there was sixty Years ago.

The diachronic and diatopic variations in terminology are clear indications of the stratification and upheavals affecting the cultural construction of American societies as instances of a pre-civilised humanity on the part of Euro-American observers. The variety of American societies flattens out under labels such as ‘Indian’ or ‘Savage’9 Alongside the linguistic-conceptual category used to designate the ‘other’, there is an oscillation between the traditional designation of the colonists as ‘Christians’ and the use of a category that is decidedly less consolidated but destined to particular fortune: that of ‘Europeans‘. This agglutination is conspicuous in a colonial context in which the competition between imperial powers, British and French above all, was still far from being resolved. 10 An epidemiological aspect was at work in the conceptual schematisation of a European self in the mirror of American otherness.

John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina (London 1709). Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).


[1] For Native American nations, the exonyms currently used in secondary literature are adopted in the text, giving in brackets any variants adopted in primary sources. In general on nomenclatural confusion: M. Duchet, Anthropologie et histoire au siècle des Lumières, 1971; Paris, Albin Michel 1995, pp. 26 and ff..

[2] J. Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina, edited and with an Introduction by H. Talmage Lefler, 1709; Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press 1967, pp. [24-25], see also editorial note 22.

[3] New Style calendar year, for Lawson was 1700.

[4] Lawson, A New Voyage, p. [17], see here editorial note 11 on Sewees.

[5] J. Brickell, The Natural History North-Carolina: With an Account of the Trade, Manners, and Customs of the Christian and Indian Inhabitants […], Dublin, Printed by James Carson 1737. On the vexata quaestio of plagiarism of Lawson see: P. G. Adams, John Lawson’s Alter-Ego: Dr. John Brickell, «The North Carolina Historical Review», 34, 3, 1957, pp. 313-326.

[6] Brickell, The Natural History, p. 397.

[7] Brickell, The Natural History, p. 253.

[8] Brickell, The Natural History, p. 308.

[9] On the conceptual and linguistic evolution of ‘savage’: S. Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi, 1972; Turin, Einaudi 2014, p. 4 and passim; J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1999-2015, 6 vols., vol. 4: Barbarians, Savages and Empires, 2005, pp. 2-3, 158 and ff. On the ‘savage’ and the formulation of ideas of development and progress and with the framing of human variety within a universalist perspective in the eighteenth century: S. Sebastiani, The Scottish Enlightenment: Race, Gender, and the Limits of Progress, New York, Palgrave Macmillan 2013.

[10] Dynamics that can usefully be read in terms of a complex interaction between «inner-European process of Europeanization and something once referred to as the “Europeanization of the Earth”», W. Schmale, Processes of Europeanization, 2010, in EGO – European History Online,, ad vocem, par. 2.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “in the raging time of the small pox”: Il vaiolo e la documentazione dell’alterità americana tra fine Settecento e primo Ottocento, Diciottesimo Secolo, 6 (2021): 67-82, doi: 10.36253/ds-12544; ISSN: 2531-4165. This article is available in full green open access:

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Plagues from the Old World and European identities in North America," in Geographies of Time, 01/05/2022,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Smallpox, North America and a global Europeanness

A new post in the smallpox series: geographies of diseases in the eighteenth century and the dawn of a consciousness of globalisation

During the eighteenth century, the development of historical-geographical knowledge and philosophical disputes in the Old World connected the themes of disease, contagion and inoculation to discussions of the physical difference of the American humanity and the environmental and climatic conditions that determine it.

The Histoire Philosophique et Politique des établissemens & du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes connected, for example, the speed of the course of diseases to the climate in the Americas,1 exemplifying the reflections of the coeval neo-Hippocratic medical climatology of the Enlightenment that informed the treatment of these themes also in Abbé Prévost’s Histoire générale des voyages and in Robinet’s Dictionnaire universel des sciences.2 The climatic and environmental elements were seen to interact in a complex way with customs, habits and lifestyles, and with differences in constitution between genders and races. In Raynal’s Histoire, the geography of diseases, so to speak, is the product of a stratification and articulation of factors between natural history and physical and socio-cultural variety.3

This series discusses the theme of smallpox in some eighteenth-century witnesses, with particular regard to travel accounts significant for the observers’ interest in American societies. These accounts are placed against the backdrop of the attempts of description and systematic explanation mentioned above, but stand out for the weight they give to direct observation and testimony, often combining cognitive ambitions with tasks in policy, diplomacy, colonial administration, in the context of specific imperial apparatuses, and particular biographical experiences.

These examples constitute the background for a deepening of the theme in Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Here, the construction of medical knowledge closely linked to the expansion projects of the republican government.4  By adopting as sources the reports of the expedition, the correspondence between some of the protagonists, the coeval medical publications that influenced the preparation of the expedition, this particular perspective of analysis will allow to focus on smallpox as a catalyst of a proto-consciousness of European globalization processes by the actors involved. The awareness of the devastation brought by epidemic phenomena coming from the Old World plays an important role in the very genesis of the Jeffersonian project of documentation of the North American native populations whose extinction is noted or foreseen. Thus, in the journals kept by the participants, recur notations of the role of smallpox, alongside syphilis and other not always identified plagues, in the destruction of specific nations or human groups.


[1] G.-T. Raynal, Histoire Philosophique et Politique des établissemens & du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, A Geneve, Chez Jean-Leonard Pellet, Imprimeur de la Ville & de l’Académie, 1780, University of Chicago, ARTFL Project,, see t. 3, Livre onzieme, chap. XXXII – Maladies auxquelles les Européens sont exposés dans les isles de l’Amérique, p. 233; and XXXI – Caractères des Européens établis dans l’archipel américain.

[2] D. Droixhe, Les maladies des Antilles et de l’Amérique du Sud dans l’Histoire des deux Indes. Climat, environnement, santé, in Autour de l’abbé Raynal: Genèse et enjeux politiques de l’Histoire des deux Indes, éd. par A. Alimento et G. Goggi, FerneyVoltaire, Centre international d’étude du XVIIIe siècle 2018, pp. 125-169. On the connection between physical degeneration and climate in Raynal: A. Gerbi, La disputa del nuovo mondo. Storia di una polemica: 1750-1900, a cura di S. Gerbi, con un saggio di A. Melis, 1955; new ed. Milan: Adelphi 2000.

[3] Raynal, Histoire, t. 3, Livre onzieme, chap. XXXII. The moral geography of the behaviour of Europeans in the West Indies affects their exposure to disease, as they indulge in pleasures that habit makes less harmful to men born in those climates, t. 3, chap. XXXI, p. 234. On the other hand, scurvy also afflicts the savages of Hudson Bay because of the unhealthiness of some aspects of their lifestyle. However, the adoption of the moeurs of policés peoples is not necessarily beneficial to the natives: «Peut-être aussi les mœurs des peuples policés, sont-elles plus contraires que leur climat à la santé des sauvages?», t. 4, Livre dix-septieme, chap. VI – Climat de la baie d’Hudson. Habitudes de ses habitans. Commerce qu’on y fait, qt.. p. 187. See also on climate and health in Louisiana: t. 4, Livre seizieme, chap. VI – Etendue, sol climat de la Louysiane; VII – Caractère général des sauvages de la Louysiane, & celui des Natchez en particulier, esp. p. 98.

[4] On of the evolution of Jefferson’s attitudes towards state power, international relations, territorial expansion and the use of force: F. D. Cogliano, Emperor of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson’s Foreign Policy, New Haven and London, Yale University Press 2014; for an in-depth study of Jeffersonian concepts and policies towards indigenous peoples: B. W. Sheehan, Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian, New York, W. W. Norton and Company 1973 (Sheehan’s theses are echoed by J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, New York, Vintage Books 1996, pp. 239, 404 note 54); A. F. C. Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press 1999.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “in the raging time of the small pox”: Il vaiolo e la documentazione dell’alterità americana tra fine Settecento e primo Ottocento, Diciottesimo Secolo, 6 (2021): 67-82, doi: 10.36253/ds-12544; ISSN: 2531-4165. This article is available in full green open access:

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Smallpox, North America and a global Europeanness," in Geographies of Time, 01/04/2022,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

«in the raging time of the small pox»

A new series on smallpox and the documentation of American otherness in the late Eighteenth century

The series in brief

This post inaugurates a series focussing on the perception of the effects of smallpox on the demographic decline of the native North American populations by some English-speaking writers in the eighteenth century. The series will highlight the awareness expressed by contemporary observers of the circulation of new infectious diseases imported from Europe into North America, and of the effects of these diseases – of which smallpox is a critical but far from unique case – on the decimation or incipient extinction of native peoples.

The aim of this series is to show how this awareness favoured, in English-speaking observers, the agglutination of the category of “European”, and an urgent need to document American human diversity before its disappearance.

Works by John Lawson, John Brickell, James Adair, and Cadwallader Colden are considered before dwelling on the Lewis and Clark expedition and on Thomas Jefferson’s role in the expedition’s cultural aims and interests in medicine.

Redman Coxe, Practical observations on vaccination, or, Inoculation for the cow-pock, Philadelphia, Printed and sold by James Humphreys at the corner of Walnut and Dock-streets 1802. illustration preceding the title page, comparison of the development of smallpox and vaccine sores
Redman Coxe, Practical observations on vaccination, or, Inoculation for the cow-pock, Philadelphia, Printed and sold by James Humphreys at the corner of Walnut and Dock-streets 1802. illustration preceding the title page, comparison of the development of smallpox and vaccine sores at 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 18-20 days after inoculation or contraction. In the same volume appear a letter by Jefferson in support of the vaccine practice and the data recorded by Jefferson during the Monticello experiments. Copy at Yale University, Cushing, Whitney Medical Library, no known restrictions on reproduction for academic use.

Diseases and epidemics in the Euro-American encounter: attributions of meaning and imperial constructions

The deep connection between geographical, historical, proto-ethnographic and medical knowledge of the American territory and its inhabitants, projects of colonial government and commercial expansion, is clearly visible in the accounts of the expedition led by Meriwether Lewis, together with Lieutenant William Clark between 1804 and 1806, in the Louisiana territory newly acquired by the young republic.

The institutional, scientific and symbolic value in North American history of the mission and the documentation collected could hardly be overestimated. Among Thomas Jefferson’s objectives in promoting it to Congress, geographical exploration and the establishment of diplomatic relations with native peoples go hand in hand with plans for colonial expansion, the search for a Northwest Passage to the Pacific and other possible advantages for the American fur trade.1

Among the expedition’s programmes there are also important aspects in the medical field, explored in depth by a historiography interested above all in the disciplinary history of medical knowledge and practices,2 with a prevalence of contributions written by doctors and medical historians, while reflections in the field of cultural history and aimed at reconstructing the perspective of the populations encountered by the expedition were rather rare.3 The expedition’s interests in the field of anatomical study and the inoculation of the smallpox vaccine as an instrument of diplomacy are set against the widely known background of the decimation of native populations by pathogens of European origin, of which smallpox is a sadly known and not unique occurrence.4  The role of germs, diseases, epidemics in the Euro-American encounter is in turn understandable as part of broader environmental and biological scenarios and processes of European expansion into America.5

The observation of the decimation of native populations by diseases to which European settlers were immune through early exposure dates back at least to Ralph Lane and Thomas Hariot’s 16th century. Equally old is the attribution of this mortality to a divine will, to a providential plan favourable to the colonists, proposed for example by Hariot.6 During the 17th century, disease had a profound effect on demographic dynamics in North America, and continued to reverberate on a cultural and religious level. While between 1616 and 1636 approximately ninety percent of the native populations of Massachusetts, Wampanoag and New England died from smallpox and other epidemics, Ferdinand Gorges, John Winthrop and William Bradford conceptualised what they observed in terms of a providential narrative. The semantisations of diseases and epidemics in a religious sense had profound repercussions on the dynamics of Christian missionary work.7  Interpretations of plagues as a form of punishment or divine sign in the Christian context, and later debates about the endemic origin of pathogens, fed the substratum of the hierarchisation of American ‘savages’ in a racial sense.8 Teleological visions of smallpox as written in the destiny of native populations were repeated until the late nineteenth century.9

The attribution of meaning to diseases and inequalities between groups in terms of mortality is to all effects part of the ideological tools of imperial constructions (not only) in the North Atlantic context. Individual and collective responses to epidemic phenomena incorporate elements at the intersection of medical theories, economic and political interests, and racial ideologies. Rationalisations of these phenomena, the cultural malleability of their interpretation always reveal specific social and political points of view. In the words of David Jones:10

Disparities can be seen as proof of natural hierarchy, as products of misbehaviour, or as evidence of social injustice. These assessments motivate or undermine interventions, influencing whether observers prevent an epidemic’s spread, treat its victims, or exploit its opportunities.


[1] M. Lewis and W. Clark, Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806, edited, with introduction, notes and index, by R. G. Thwaites, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company 1904, 7 vols., and vol. 8: Atlas accompanying the original journals, in quest’edizione: vol. I, Thwaites, Introduction, xvii-lviii, e V. H. Paltsits, Bibliographical Data, lxi-lxxxiv.

[2] E. G. Chuinard, Only One Man Died: The Medical Aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Glendale, CA, Arthur H. Clark Company 1979; B. C. Paton, Lewis and Clark: Doctors in the Wilderness, Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2001; D. J. Peck, Or Perish in the Attempt: The Hardship and Medicine of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Foreword by Moira Ambrose, Illustrations by R. F. “Bob” Morgan, Helena, MT, Farcountry Press 2002. Obiettivi divulgativi sono prioritari in Paton.

[3] Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country: The Native American Perspective, ed. by F. E. Hoxie and J. T. Nelson, Urbana, University of Illinois Press 2007; see also the namesake exhibition on Newberry Library’s website,; The Salish People and the Lewis and Clark Expedition, ed. by Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee and Elders Cultural Advisory Council, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

[4] R. T. Boyd, The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence: Introduced Infectiouus Diseases and Population Decline among Northwest Coast Indians, 1774-1874, Seattle and Vancouver, University of Washington and UBC Presses 1999; R. T. Boyd, Smallpox in the Pacific Northwest. The First Epidemics, «BC Studies», 101, 1994, accessed via Anthropology Faculty Publications and Presentations, 141,; D. S. Jones, Epidemics in Indian Country, 2014, Oxford Research Encyclopedia, American History, doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.27; W. H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, Garden City, NY, Anchor Press-Doubleday 1976, specialmente cap. 5.

[5] A. Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, Westport, CT, Greenwood 1972; J. Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel. The Fates of Human Societies, New York and London, Norton 1997; W. H. McNeill, The Global Condition. Conquerors, Catastrophes, & Community, Princeton, Princeton University Press 1992.

[6] D. S. Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics: Meanings and Uses of American Indian Mortality since 1600, Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press 2004, pp. 20-45, anche per le successive note su Lane, Bradford e Hariot.

[7] N. Salisbury, Spiritual Giants, Worldly Empires: Indigenous Peoples and New England to the 1680s, in The World of Colonial America: An Atlantic Handbook, ed. by I. Gallup-Diaz, London and New York, Routledge 2017, pp. 153-170 vedi pp. 156-160.

[8] Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics; J. E. Chaplin, Was Knowledge Power? Science in the British Atlantic, pp. 281-300, in The World of Colonial America, ed. by Gallup-Diaz, specialmente p. 286.

[9] Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics, 105.

[10] Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics, 3.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “in the raging time of the small pox”: Il vaiolo e la documentazione dell’alterità americana tra fine Settecento e primo Ottocento, Diciottesimo Secolo, 6 (2021): 67-82, doi: 10.36253/ds-12544; ISSN: 2531-4165. This article is available in full green open access:

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "«in the raging time of the small pox»," in Geographies of Time, 01/03/2022,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Vocabularies, Accounts, (Hi)Stories

Remarks on linguistic historicisation, concluding the Languages and/in time series

By paying close attention to the relationship between the vocabularies and the narrative accounts in travel journals, it is possible to trace the subtle changes gradually taking place in the relationship between the use of written sources and the value placed on direct observation. Writings such as Sagard and Carver’s represent different stages in a process of complex negotiation between first-hand experience as a validating factor of knowledge and pre-existing cultural notions. Far from being a linear process, this negotiation produced different outcomes in each case, making it necessary for an in-depth analysis of each source within its specific cultural and historical context. These early vocabularies are a fascinating example of the thematisation of issues connected to how orality is documented, and of the axiological and temporal hierarchisation of linguistic forms and media, as the Dixon-Beresford account makes particularly evident. Vocabularies also reflect the gradual definition of a system of scientific disciplines from which indigenous American forms of knowledge are excluded. As made plain by Colden and Carver’s reluctant use of French sources, this, in turn, helped to consolidate the idea of a distinct European – and, later, Euro-American – cultural identity and civilisation, notwithstanding the existence of competing imperial projects.

While the way these lists are presented indicates a certain degree of objectivity in the way they were compiled, they are also evidence of the communicative common ground which the writer wished and/or was able to construct. They reveal the traveller’s interests and they faithfully reflect the specific circumstances of the encounters which occurred. These encounters might or might not have fulfilled the writer’s professed ambitions, as was particularly evident in the widely differing experiences of Long and Dixon. In other words, the range and content of each vocabulary reflects the specific nature of the setting in which the collection was made – whether it was a fleeting encounter, kept short by other commitments, or a prolonged sojourn, with the purpose of talking about the soul and winning the savages over to Christianity, or a meeting designed to create stable networks for trading and political alliances. Until the end of the eighteenth century, many of these encounters were the very first contacts between Euro-Americans and native Americans. From Lawson’s to North Carolina and the travels of Carver, to Cook and Portlock and Dixon’s North Pacific coast expeditions and the exploration of the surrounding areas by Lewis and Clark, the compilers of these lists had often no European precedents to refer to.

Through what appeared in them and, above all, through what did not appear, these vocabularies represent the linguistic companion piece to the conceptualisation of the indigenous Americans as ‘primitives’. As Lahontan and Lawson made quite clear with their remarks, the language of these ‘savages’, still to be civilised, was interpreted as a reflection of their extraneousness to the arts and sciences, of their inability to think in abstract terms, and of an ability to reason as yet uncultivated. From this perspective, during the eighteenth century, the vocabularies are simply the continuation of long-lasting, pre-existing stereotypes which led to the temporal collocation of the first peoples of America in a stage of development located in the past with respect to the European one. Of course, linguistic compilations are also the result of increasing curiosity about human diversity around the world and of fresh attempts to study and classify this diversity.

Whether these efforts to take a systematic approach resulted in a destabilisation of the ethnocentric point of view of the Old World, or in a hierarchy that reinforced European primacy are not mutually exclusive options: nor are they always clearly distinct – as Lahontan’s ‘good savage’ and his Romanticised descendants make clear.[1] In conclusion, while a close reading of the primary sources makes clear the importance of avoiding any over-simplified reading of these processes, it also makes it possible to identify recurrent conceptual tropes and assign a central role to the historicisation of the Native American within the wider process of cultural construction of a global Europeanness.


[1] Tim Fulford, Romantic Indians: Native Americans, British Literature, and Transatlantic Culture 1756-1830 (Oxford, 2006).


This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Vocabularies, Accounts, (Hi)Stories," in Geographies of Time, 01/02/2022,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Lewis and Clark’s Lost Vocabularies

The temporal hierarchisation of the indigenous American other and the Lewis and Clark expedition: a new post in the Languages and/in time series

The endpoint of this survey is one of the most significant collections of indigenous American languages made at the end of the long eighteenth century: it was also the prelude to a whole series of systematic studies, grammars, and dictionaries that would go hand in hand with the establishment of linguistics and lexicography as autonomous academic-scientific disciplines in the nineteenth century. This endpoint was the collection of vocabularies prepared as part of the expedition west of the Mississippi led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark between 1804 and 1806. Promoted by Thomas Jefferson immediately after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the symbolic significance of the Lewis and Clark expedition in North American history can hardly be overestimated.[1]

Paradoxically, the historical noteworthiness of Lewis and Clark’s vocabularies is undiminished by the fact that they were lost before being published with the account. However, what can be gleaned from related sources place these vocabularies at the very crossroads of ethnographic curiosity, geographical and scientific exploration, colonial and commercial projects, and the temporal hierarchisation of the indigenous American other. Lewis and Clark’s journals and the rich array of other texts and maps amassed in the course of the expedition went through a particularly tormented publishing process, complicated by the death of Lewis in 1809.[2] The vocabularies were not included in the first edition (which drew on the journals and other sources, prepared by Nicholas Biddle and edited by Paul Allen).[3] An edition of the material pertaining to scientific observations as a supplement to the journals was planned under the supervision of Benjamin Smith Barton, naturalist and vice-president of the American Philosophical Society. After Barton’s premature death, Jefferson tried to gather together all the manuscript materials but, by then, the vocabularies (which according to Biddle were in Barton’s possession) had been lost. ‘They formed, I think,  a bundle of loose sheets each sheet containing a printed vocabulary in English with the corresponding Indian name in manuscript – recalled Biddle –. There was also another collection of Indian vocabularies, which, if I am not mistaken, was in the handwriting of Mr Jefferson’.[4]

Having passed through Biddle’s and/or Barton’s hands, then, or perhaps having remained in Clark’s possession, the twenty-three vocabularies collected during the expedition were never to arrive to the archives of the American Philosophical Society.[5]

What has survived is the empty form with lists of words in English which Jefferson designed to be filled in with the various native languages, the tantalising ghost of those ‘blank vocabularies’ mentioned in the ‘Documents relating to the equipment of the expedition’.[6] The journals, correspondence and prospectus for the edition prepared by Lewis all mention their being compiled in various locations during the journey.[7] Jefferson had planned to publish the Lewis and Clark vocabularies along with others he had compiled.[8] Sadly, his collection too was lost in 1809, on his trip back to Monticello after the end of his presidency:

I had thro’ the course of my life availed myself of every opportunity of procuring vocabularies of the languages of every tribe which either myself or my friends could have access to. They amounted to about 40 more or less perfect. But in their passage from Washington to this place, the trunk in which they were was stolen and plundered, and some fragments only of the vocabularies were recovered.[9]

The Lewis and Clark vocabularies were part of a broader project of systematic documentation which Jefferson had been promoting since the 1780s.[10] Within this framework, he also gradually perfected the above-mentioned blank form comprising around 280 commonly used English words, with empty spaces alongside for their translation, which was used by numerous collaborators of the American Philosophical Society.[11] On the one hand, linguistic knowledge was essential for the republican government penetration into those territories, which had seemingly become ripe for colonisation in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase. But this extensive knowledge was also meant to facilitate studies of the indigenous American historical past and of the genealogical relationships between languages (and nations) to ‘search for affinities between these and the languages of Europe and Asia’.[12]

I have long believed we can never get any information of the ancient history of the Indians, of their descent and filiation, but from a knowledge and comparative view of their languages.[13]

At the same time, the urgency of documenting these languages comes from the realisation of their speakers’ possible – indeed probable – extinction, given the processes set in motion by European expansion:

It is to be lamented then, very much to be lamented, that we have suffered so many of the Indian tribes already to extinguish […], it would furnish opportunities to those skilled in the languages of the old world to compare them with these, now, or at a future time, and hence to construct the best evidence of the derivation of this part of the human race.[14]

In point of fact, concludes Jefferson, an archive of indigenous American languages will make further research possible in the future.[15] What emerges from Jefferson’s project is thus a dual historical location of Native American languages: glotto-genealogical – designed to trace the origin of the first American societies through their languages – and programmatical – to be used at some point in the future for documentation and research. The role of linguistic compilers assigned to Lewis and Clark is the embodiment of that close connection between linguistics as natural history and new ideas of imperial expansion. The relatively independent status as texts of the expedition vocabularies, and the plan to publish them separately are indicative of a trend towards lexicographical collections being increasingly detached from the immediate context in which they were drawn up – the journey and its account – at the same time they are also, incidentally, the cause of the vocabularies loss.


[1] Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806 (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1904), 7 vols. In this edition see Reuben Gold Thwaites, ‘Introduction’, I, pp. xvii–lviii, and Victor Hugo Paltsits, ‘Bibliographical Data’, I, pp. lxi–lxxxiv. On Jefferson’s role: ‘Appendix’ in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 193–287, especially ‘Jefferson’s instructions to Lewis’, June 20, 1803, pp. 347–352; and ‘Ethnological information desired’, n.p., n.d., pp. 283–287; see also Thwaites, ‘Introduction’, pp. xxxiii–xxxiv.

[2] Paul Russell Cutright, A History of the Lewis and Clark Journals (Norman, 1976); Paltsits, ‘Bibliographical Data’, pp. lxvi–xciii; Gary E. Moulton, ‘Provenance and description of the journals’, in The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, ed. Moulton (Lincoln, 1983-2001), 13 vols, II, Appendix B, digital ed.: Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition,, section Journals; a partial publication is Message from the President of the United States (City of Washington, 1806); on which see also Paltsits, ‘Bibliographical Data’, pp. lxiii–lxv; the journal of sergeant Patrick Gass was published in Philadelphia in 1807.

[3] History of the Exploration under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, to the Sources of the Missouri (Philadelphia, 1814). Biddle’s version went through twenty editions in English by 1904.

[4] Letter from Nicholas Biddle to William Tilghman, April 6, 1818, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 408–410, quote on page 409; see also Jefferson to Abbé Correa da Serra, April 26, 1816, pp. 394–396, see 395; Jefferson to John Vaughan, June 28, 1817, pp. 400–401; Jefferson to Peter S. Duponceau, November 7, 1817, pp. 402–404, see p. 402.

[5] Cutright, A History, p. 88 note 33; Megan Snyder-Camp, ‘“No general use can ever be made of the wrecks of my loss”: A reconsidered history of the Indian vocabularies collected on the Lewis and Clark expedition’, Wicazo Sa Review, 30/2 (2015), pp. 129–139.

[6] Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, p. 232.

[7] Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, I, pp. 132, 277; IV, pp. 12, 273, 275, 363; VII, pp. 212, 337, 365 (here for the prospectus), 394–395, 397 (here Clark to Jefferson).

[8] Jefferson to Abbé Correa da Serra, April 26, 1816, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 394–396, quote on pages 394–395.

[9] Jefferson to Peter S. Duponceau, November 7, 1817, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 402–404, quote on page 403; see also Rivett, Unscripted America, p. 209.

[10] Rivett, Unscripted America, pp. 209–237.

[11] American Philosophical Society Historical and Literary Committee, American Indian Vocabulary Collection, a description can be found on the Society’s website: <>.

[12] Jefferson to Abbé Correa da Serra, April 26, 1816, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 394–396, quote on pages 394–395.

[13] Jefferson to Colonel Hawkins, March 14, 1800, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private, ed. H. A. Washington (Cambridge, 2011), pp. 325–327, quote on page 326.

[14] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the state of Virginia (1783) (Chapel Hill and London, 1982), p. 101, emphasis added.

[15] Gordon M. Sayre, ‘Jefferson and Native Americans: Policy and archive’, in Frank Shuffelton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Jefferson (Cambridge, 2009), pp. 61–72.


This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Lewis and Clark’s Lost Vocabularies," in Geographies of Time, 01/12/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Futuristic fictions and power relations through the globe

Some remarks on the long history of imagined conflicts to come, against the backdrop of the emergence of a world technology-mediated interconnectedness – closing the future wars series

La guerre infernale’s case study, explored in this series on future wars which comes to an end with this post, can today foster a better understanding of how the representation of the future begun to work as a pliable setting for speculative narratives, and how related genres emerged and found success in early-contemporary European cultural consumption.

This 1908 feuilleton invites today’s reader to mind a plurality of levels, exploiting critical tools at the intersection of different scholarly traditions, so that it might in turn be used to provide concrete evidence of phenomena involving complex historical traditions and communicative circuits. In other words, what one might call a global microhistory of Giffard and Robida’s fiction locates its object against the backdrop of a long history of ideas, as an apt expression of the emergence of a world technology-mediated interconnectedness in its specific early-contemporary European historical and cultural context, and as a unique embodiment of its author(s) ideas.

Speculations about the future between the late-modern and the-early contemporary periods – from Guttin’s Epigone to Macaria, from Madden to Mercier and Condorcet – represent through fiction the deep changes that affected ideas of time in the European mind in the age of colonial expansion. Knowledge from remote parts of the globe and close encounters with other societies generated an information flow towards the centres of imperial powers, which fed new attempts at comprehend and systematise the varieties of the human life. Literature and illustration exploited – and some time, in the hands of authors such as H. G. Wells, called into question – the consolidation of history as progress. A consequent hierarchisation of human experiences, from the mid-nineteenth century on, informed the juxtaposition of spatially and temporally distant civilisations in complex cultural artefacts such as international exhibitions and fairs.

Futuristic fictions interpreted the increasingly central role that science and technology had in shaping everyday life, and, on a different scale, power relations through the globe. Literary and visual cultural products to be found in popular magazines and illustrated book collections, such as Robida’s works, shared the thematization of the future and the imaginative use of techno-science as wonder to be found in international expos especially from the 1880s on.

Satirizing the present, extrapolating possible consequences from coeval inventions and trends, offering a device to produce awe – or horror – in its readers, and putting techno-science at center stage in its narrative invention, Robida’s tomorrow is today all the more fascinating as it epitomizes a phase in the cultural history of the future in which the deep structures that informed the conceptualisation of historical time underpinned new forms of mass cultural consumption. In so doing, Robida’s imagination shows at work the genre’s distinct treatment of causal mechanisms in time: “These projections … playfully represent the colonisation of the future by the present, through the forceful extension of contemporary trends, and, at the same time, the returning feedback – colonisation of the present by the future, the reified anticipations, anxieties, and projects of our technoscientific problem-solving.”[1]

Between the seventeenth and the early nineteenth century, a long history of future-conflicts scenarios used to argue political options and to reflect on a secularised history, in which society might be shaped by human action. These works are precedent to the codification of future wars as a speculative fiction sub-genre with a recognisable set of conventions, appealing to a specific horizon of expectations. Technology as means of world interconnectedness as well as spectacle and source of wonder, anxieties fuelled by tensions between European powers and by the emergence of non-Western actors provided fertile ground to the fortunes of future-war narratives during the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. Imagined conflicts to come put into focus the critical relations between technology and globalisation and between technology and power relations that characterised a mature phase of European imperialistic expansion.

In La guerre infernale’s representation of future warfare and its effect on society, an imagination that extrapolates from the compression of a global space-time through technology is at work, drawing on exhibitionary mechanisms made popular by those international expos with which Albert Robida was familiar, such as Paris 1981, 1989, and 1900. Robida’s case illustrates how shared mechanism between fiction and expos might be interpreted in light of an isomorphism derived from the existence of a common matrix – a shared set of roots in the same cultural-historical context – as well as of a complex set of mutual influences, including the adoption of the same science-fictional mechanisms by the creative agencies involved.

Like other future-war narratives, La guerre projected fears of a techno-scientific driven modernity applied to armed conflicts. After 1918, war experienced in the heart of Europe will favour the pessimistic shift represented by L’Ingénieur Von Satanas. Yet, already before 1915, many recent experiences outside the European space (from Southern Africa with the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars, to Manchuria with the Russo-Japanese War, from French Indochina with the Franco-Siamese War to China with the Boxer rebellion) gave an immediate evidence to fears that took centre stage in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century European mass media. Giffard and Robida’s feuilleton, with its serialised formula, exploitation of sensational plot elements, and ability to tap into widespread anxieties, was again an excellent example of that in many ways.


[1]   Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), 91.


This post is adapted from Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22 (2019): 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 124-126. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706.

Full text available in open access:

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Futuristic fictions and power relations through the globe," in Geographies of Time, 01/11/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Translation and Appropriation in the (Indigenous) Eighteenth Century

Canadian Society for the 18th Century Study (CSECS) & Midwestern American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (MWASECS) Annual conference: 13–16 October 2021 @ University of Winnipeg. Translation and Appropriation in the Long Eighteenth Century

I am thrilled to be part of an incredibly stimulating and diverse programme. I look forward to share research experiences, questions, and perspectives at the Roundtable Researching in the Indigenous Eighteenth Century:

Thursday, 14 October 2021, 2:45-4:00 pm / jeudi, 14h45-16h (ET time = 7:45pm London time)
3F. Roundtable / Table ronde: Researching in the Indigenous Eighteenth Century
Moderator / Modérateur, modératrice : June Scudeler (Métis, Simon Fraser University)

Roland Bohr (University of Winnipeg)
Mary Baine Campbell (Brandeis University)
Dr. Peter I-min Huang (Tamkang University, Taiwan)
Giulia Iannuzzi (Birkbeck, University of London – Universities of Florence and Trieste)
Livia Jacob (Rio de Janeiro State University)
Fred Leonard (Haudenosaunee Historian and Author)
Peter Cooper Mancall (University of Southern California)

I will be presenting my lates research on indigenous languages in eighteenth-century European travel accounts on Friday, contributing to a stimulating panel on Places and peoples, part of the Indigenous Eighteenth century programme:

9:00-10:15 am / vendredi, 9h-10h15 (ET time = 2pm London time)
Session 5 / Séance 5
5E. Panel : Places and People
Moderator / Modérateur, modératrice : Mark Meuwese (University of Winnipeg)
Lauren Beck (Mount Allison University), Eighteenth-Century Indigenous Influences on Canada’s Place Names
Giulia Iannuzzi (Birkbeck, University of London – Universities of Florence and Trieste), ‘The language of Uncultivated Man, in Remote and Fresh Discovered Quarters of the Globe’: Nuu-chah-nulth People and the Conceptualization of Linguistic Otherness in the Account of Cook’s Third Voyage
Andreas Motsch (University of Toronto), Native American Belief Systems between Nature and Culture, Religion and Idolatry: Picard and Bernard’s Cérémonies et coutumes de tous les peuples idolâtres

Conference website at this external link

Full conference programme at this external link

James Cook and James King (ed. John Douglas), A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean … (London: 1784), appendix VI, “Vocabulary of the Language of Nootka and King George’s Sound, April 1778”. Copy at Biodiversity Heritage Library under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication license.

Comparative Ambitions and Merchandise in Late Eighteenth-Century North America

Vocabularies between scientific enquiry and colonial interests: a new post in the Languages and/in time series

The end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century saw a phase of increasing activity in the systematic compilation of vocabularies appended to travel accounts. The aims of scientific enquiry and commercial and colonial interests remained closely intertwined. This is the case, for example, of the James Cook’s third voyage, and of the expedition led by George Dixon and Nathaniel Portlock who followed the route opened by Cook’s third voyage. Leaving England in 1785, Dixon and Portlock aimed to explore the region of the Great Lakes, Quebec and the Pacific coast, to then continue on to China to sell American furs and buy tea in Macau. Dixon, who had been on board the Discovery with Cook, looked for support for the new expedition from the Royal Society by seeking the endorsement of Joseph Banks. The voyage was organised by Richard Cadman Etches and Company (also known as King George’s Sound Company), and before leaving, a licence was purchased from the South Sea Company. Exploiting the recently established North-Pacific routes to China for the fur trade was combined with objectives in exploration and scientific research.[1] In Cook’s journal, prepared for the press by John Douglas and published in 1784, the comparative tables of languages, part of the appendixes, reveal the composite and complex nature of the official account as a collective artifact. Composed by Douglas, they merge information recorded on the field by Cook and by the Resolution’s surgeon William Anderson with knowledge from other sources, and are explicitly offered as linguistic proof of the relationships connecting the history of different populations, such as the common origins of Esquimaux (Eskimos) and Greenlanders.[2]

A View of the Habitations in Nootka Sound
“A View of the Habitations in Nootka Sound,” engraving after Webber, in Cook, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, 8vo edition printed for John Stockdale, Scatcherd and Whitaker, John Fielding, and John Hardy (London, 1784), plate after page 252. The houses and canoes of the natives are seen from the sea. There is one group communicating with sailors on the shore, and a second group near other sailors arriving in a small rowboat. Conifers and hills in the background. Copy at Wellcome Library.

Both Dixon and Portlock published accounts as soon as they returned.[3] Dixon himself wrote the introduction and appendix of his text, while the main body – in epistolary form – is attributed to the trader William Beresford.[4] The mission resulted in a number of areas being mapped for the first time (including Port Mulgrave, Port Banks, and Norfolk Sound – present-day Sitka Sound), and in materials documenting location, languages, manners and customs of the local populations. Dixon (or, in fact, Beresford) described the difficulty he met with while acquiring samples of the languages, both because of trouble finding common ground in the course of initial contacts, and because of other commitments interfering in the schedule, leaving too little a time for study and research.

I often endeavoured to gain some knowledge of their language, but I never could so much as learn the numerals: every attempt I made of the kind either caused a sarcastic laugh amongst the Indians or was treated by them with silent contempt; indeed many of the tribes who visited us, were busied in trading the moment they came along side, and hurried away as soon as their traffic was over; others, again, who staid with us for any length of time, were never of a communicative disposition.[5]

Words to indicate numbers offered the ideal raw material with which to write a short comparative summary of the languages spoken in ‘Prince William’s Sound and Cook’s River’, ‘Norfolk Sound’, and ‘King George’s Sound’. Methodological issues raised by the transcription encouraged a reflection on the absence of objective criteria and on the writer’s own linguistic notions and skills.[6] As for pronunciation – remarked Dixon – indigenous Americans had more success with English than do many speakers from other European countries. This comparison actually led to the category of ‘European’ being used, a category which appears very rarely in other parts of the account, such as in reference to the indigenous Americans’ skin colour being slightly darker than the Europeans’, and in relating the havoc wreaked by the Europeans in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) by bringing new diseases with them.[7] In the essential vocabulary of the language spoken on the Sandwich Islands’ that Beresford managed to write down in September 1787, despite the almost total absence of abstract concepts, the word taboo stands out. It was a term of Polynesian origin (e.g. Tonga, Fiji) already noted by Cook and here translated with the English interdiction, since it had yet to become the loanword universally known in European languages today.[8] In August 1787, Portlock (whose account shows comparatively less interest in the language of the populations he encountered) wrote down a list of words from the language spoken by the inhabitants of Montague Island (Alaska).[9] He prefaced it by remarking that ‘[t]heir language is harsh and unpleasant to hear’, and that he was transcribing it ‘spelled as near the manner of their pronunciation as I could give’. Of the fourteen entries what stands out is the peremptory nature of the opening sequence: ‘Give or hand me / sea-otter / bring’, and the central position occupied by the objects and goods important for trading – ‘sea otter’, ‘beads’, ‘iron’, ‘blanket’, ‘young sea-otter’, ‘a box’, ‘marmot or ermine skin’. What emerges frequently in these accounts by Cook’s followers, are the problems posed by a flow of oral production which proves difficult to document in writing. In this respect, illuminating comparisons can be made with how these travellers described music. Often used to mark key moments in the political and social life of the populations encountered, singing and musical performances heightened the impression that the aural dimension may be only partially and imperfectly conveyed by written registrations, and it often bring to light particularly interesting examples of cultural ethnocentrism on the part of the Europeans.[10] While it was unclear whether the ‘Indians’ ‘make use of any hieroglyphics to perpetuate the memory of events’, a primacy was implicitly granted to writing in documenting the past, giving support to a hierarchisation that relegated indigenous American forms of communication to the realm of ‘uncultivated barbarism’.[11]

Near the end of the century, another very interesting example of vocabulary relatively neglected by scholars is the one compiled by John Long in his Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader. Relating the author’s adventures between the 1770s and the 1780s, the Voyages were published in London in 1791, possibly in the wake of the success of Carver’s account.[12] Notwithstanding translations appearing in French and German the very same year of the English first edition, and two twentieth-century editions in English, the limited attention paid to Long’s Voyages by scholars is perhaps due to it being the only known work by the author, whose life remains obscure in many respects.[13] The title, together with the vocabularies in the appendix and the dedication to Joseph Banks (who is also listed among the subscribers of the first edition), makes it clear that Long hoped to offer a systematic contribution to current knowledge of the indigenous American languages. Cognisance and proficiency in Native American matters went hand in hand with the advocacy in favour political alliances with the First Nations in order to strengthen British interests north of the Great Lakes after the American War of Independence.[14] Long’s role in the Independence War, leading an irregular British-Indian troop, will scandalise the author of the preface to the Chicago 1922 edition.[15] Whether Long had a formal education in England is unknown, but the impression gained from his account is that the most important part of his education (and certainly his language learning) took place in Canada, in the field, and was shaped by mercantile interests:

On my arrival at Montreal, I was placed under the care of a very respectable merchant to learn the Indian trade, which is the chief support of the town. I soon acquired the names of every article of commerce in the Iroquois and French languages, and being at once prepossessed in favour of the savages, improved daily in their tongue, to the satisfaction of my employer, who approving my assiduity, and wishing me to be completely qualified in the Mohawk language to enable me to traffic with the Indians in his absence, sent me to a village called Cahnuaga, or Cocknawaga, situated about nine miles from Montreal […] where I lived with a chief whose name was Assenegetbter, until I was sufficiently instructed in the language, and then returned to my master’s store, to improve myself in French, which is not only universally spoken in Canada, but is absolutely necessary in the commercial intercourse with the natives, and without which it would be impossible to enjoy the society of the most respectable families, who are in general ignorant of the English language.[16]

This passage reveals quite clearly not only the author’s favourable attitude towards the Native Americans, as the vocabularies further attests, but also the presence of an intriguing plurilingualism in the eighteenth-century Montreal, where a command of French was essential, both to do any trade at all and to be a part of polite society. While the vocabularies in Long’s Voyages are still appendixes tacked on to the narrative, there is a noticeable shift in emphasis in comparison to the vocabularies described thus far. The presence of the vocabularies takes centre stage in the title page, as well as in how the book is organised: they occupy around a third of the total pages and have a complex inner organisation of their own. They are meant not only to translate English terms into Esquimeaux (Eskimo), for example, or into Iroquois (Mohawk), but also to enable the reader to make comparisons between different native languages. They include synoptic tables placing side by side English, Iroquois, Algonquin, and Chippeway; English, Mohegan, and Shawanee; English, Mohegan, Algonquin, and Chippeway. Long’s linguistic evidence integrates credited secondary sources (Lahontan, Carver, Jonathan Edwards), uncredited ones (Pehr Kalm), and original materials.[17] Kalm’s Travels into North America are referenced as source of an anecdote proving ‘that the Indians possess strong natural abilities, and are even capable of receiving improvement from the pursuits of learning’.[18] Other authors known and discussed by Long include at various points in the narrative are James Adair and Robert Rogers.[19]

John Long, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader (1791), p. 196. Copy at John Carter Library.

Only for the Chippeway (an Algonquin language also known as Ojibwa and used as a vehicular trade language in the area north of the Great Lakes) is the list translating from the English accompanied by a list translating into English.[20] Most of the space is devoted to vocabularies meant to be used by European speakers, while the compilation’s fundamental connection to trade activities is made clear by the number of words related to the typical merchandise, and by a vocabulary particularly devoted to the names of furs and skins in English and French. Some entries inadvertently document pidgins and borrowings, such as tomahawk, clearly a borrowing from an Algonquin language, which is given as the English translation for the Algonquin Agackwetons and the Chippeway Warcockquoite.[21] Long’s interest is almost exclusively directed at words in common use, and abstract notions are excluded. The time expressions pertain to the ordinary, everyday dimension (such as ‘again, or yet’, ‘always, wherever’, ‘day, or days’, etc.), while the presence of a word such as ‘késhpin’, ‘if’, does not necessarily imply the hypothetical construction of probable or unreal scenarios.[22] Its use might well be limited to expressions of uncertainty or wish, as is the only occurrence reported by Long in a speech.[23]

The contexts, aims, scope, and manners of communication are perfectly exemplified by the ‘Familiar phrases in the English and Chippeway languages’ which illustrate what ethnolinguists today would call ‘speech acts’.[24] These phrases read in many instances like the simulation of a typical communicative exchange, with an opening exchange marked by a tone of friendly familiarity:

How do you do, friend?

In good health, I thank you.

What news?

I have none.

The two anonymous speakers exchange news and insights regarding the territory, the hunting and fishing seasons, and their respective families and personal experiences, before going on to discuss business. They call each other ‘friend’. The end of the phrasebook contains a series of expressions for paying personal respects. The content and general tone of the exchange suggest that perhaps Long’s adoption by the Ojibwa chief Madjeckewiss around the end of the 1790s was more than just a ruse to gain confidence and favourable trading conditions – as the practice was often exploited by European traders eager to become part of indigenous American kinship systems.[25] For Long, it might have marked a significant stage in a process regarding how the trader perceived and represented himself.[26]

I love you.

Your health, friend.

I do not understand you.[27]

Revealingly, the final expression on this list is a statement of incomprehension, an idea missing from Long’s previous lists, perhaps indicating an awareness of the length still to be travelled along the path of intercultural comprehension.


[1] Dictionary of Canadian Biography, IV, 1771-1800 (Toronto, 1979) and 1801-1820 (Toronto, 1983), electronic ed. 2003, <>, s.v. respectively ‘Dixon, George’ and ‘Portlock, Nathaniel’, by Barry M. Gough. On the expedition: Stephen Haycox, James K. Barnett, and Caedmon A. Liburd, Enlightenment and Exploration in the North Pacific, 1741-1805 (Seattle and London, 1997), pp. 13, 41–42, 122–123; Barry M. Gough, The Northwest Coast: British Navigation, Trade, and Discoveries to 1812 (Vancouver, 1992), pp. 75–77.

[2] James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 1784), 3 vols, see III, pp. 531–555 for the comparative tables; [John Douglas], ‘Introduction’, in Cook and King, A voyage, I, pp. i–lxxxvi, see pp. lxxiii–lxxiv, lxxxv. On Douglas’ role: J. C. Beaglehole, ‘Textual Introduction’, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery, ed. Beaglehole, 4 vols (Cambridge, 1955-67; electronic reprint, 2017), III – The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780,tome I, pp. cxcviii–ccx; on Anderson: Glyn Williams, Naturalists at Sea: Scientific Travellers from Dampier to Darwin (New Haven and London, 2013), pp. 124–125.

[3] George Dixon [and William Beresford], A Voyage round the World, but More Particularly to the North-West Coast of America (London, 1789). Dixon’s account was translated into French the following year.

[4] For this attribution: Philip Edwards, The Story of the Voyage: Sea-Narratives in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1994), p. 127; Dictionary of Canadian Biography, s.v. ‘Dixon’; Albert J. Schütz, The Voices of Eden: A History of Hawaiian Language Studies (Honolulu, 1994), p. 36; Dan L. Thrapp, Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, I, A–F (Lincoln and London, 1991), p. 406.

[5] Dixon, A voyage, pp. 227–228.

[6] Dixon, A voyage, p. 241; similar remarks accompany the vocabulary of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), p. 270.

[7] Dixon, A voyage, pp. 241, 238, 276–277.

[8] Cook and King, A Voyage, III, pp. 10, 537, 553; Dixon, A Voyage, pp. 269–270.

[9] Portlock, A voyage, p. 293 also for subsequent quotes in the text. This list possibly documents a language belonging to the ample stock of Athabaskan-Eyak-Tingit, to which some forty varieties belong today, between Alaska and Hudson Bay, and along the Pacific coast, from British Columbia to the South-West; Mithun, The Languages, pp. 1, 26, 307, 346.

[10] Dixon, A Voyage, pp. 160, 189, 190, 228, 242–243 and subsequent table, 259, 269, 277, 313 (here on China).

[11] Dixon, A Voyage, p. 243 on ‘hieroglyphics’, p. 245 on the ‘uncultivated barbarism’; on coeval claims that there could be no history without writing see Ann Thomson, ‘Thinking about the history of Africa in the eighteenth Century’, in Abbattista (ed.), Encountering Otherness, pp. 253–266.

[12] J[ohn] Long, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader (London, 1791). On Carver’s fortune possibly favouring the publication: John Long’s Voyages and Travels in the Years 1768-1788, ed. Milo Milton Quaife (Chicago, 1922), pp. xviii–xix.

[13] Subsequent editions are: Early Western Travels, 1748-1846,II: John Long’s Journal, ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland, OH, 1904); John Long’s Voyages,ed.Quaife; German and French translations are published in 1791 and 1792 respectively; on Long’s biography: Michael Blanar, ‘Long’s Voyages and Travels: Fact and fiction’, in Jennifer S. H. Brown, W. J. Eccles, Donald P. Heldman (eds), The Fur Trade Revisited: Selected Papers of the Sixth North American Fur Trade Conference (Mackinac Island, 1994), pp. 447–463.

[14] Long, Voyages, pp. 9–10.

[15] John Long’s Voyages, pp. xii–xiii.

[16] Long, Voyages, p. 4.

[17] Long, Voyages, pp. viii, ix, 4, 10, 62, 83, 84, 130, 131. For a detailed listing of Long’s linguistic materials and their sources: Peter Bakker, ‘Is John Long’s Chippeway (1791) an Ojibwe pidgin?’, in William Cowan (ed.), Actes du vingt-cinquième congrès del Algonquinistes (Ottawa, 1995), pp. 13–31, esp. pp. 14–16; at p. 14 note 2 Bakker differs from Gille, who defines Long ‘the most cunning plagiarist of the Petit Dictionaire’, Johannes Gille, ‘Zur Lexikologie des Alt-Algonkin’, Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, 71 (1940), pp. 71–86, see p. 75. Jonathan Edwards, Observations on the Language of the Muhhekaneew Indians (New Haven, 1788).

[18] Pehr Kalm, Travels into North America (Warrington and London, 1770-71), 3 vols; Long, Voyages, pp. 28–29.

[19] Long, Voyages, pp. 29, 31, 71–72, 149, 155 for references to James Adair, and p. 155 for a mention of Robert Rogers.

[20] Campbell, American Indian Languages, pp. 29, 401 note 135, 153. On Chippeway as a vehicular and inter-tribal language during the nineteenth century: Richard A. Rhodes, ‘Algonquian trade languages revisited’, in Karl S. Hele and J. Randolph Valentine (eds), Papers of the 40th Algonquian Conference (Albany, 2010), pp. 358–369. Bakker, ‘Is John Long’s Chippeway (1791) an Ojibwe pidgin?’, p. 30.

[21] Campbell, American Indian Languages, p. 11.

[22] Long, Voyages, pp. 196–208: ‘A table of words shewing, in a variety of instances, the difference as well as analogy between the Algonkin and Chippeway languages, with the English explanation’; pp. 227–252: ‘Table of words: English: Chippeway’; pp. 253–282: ‘Table of words: Chippeway: English’.

[23] Long, Voyages, pp. 134, 234. For usage in hypothetical scenarios: John Horden, A Grammar of the Cree language (London, 1913), p. 33; John Summerfield, alias Sahgahjewagahbahweh, Sketch of Grammar of the Chippeway Languages (Cazenovia, 1834), pp. 11–13, 16–17.

[24] Long, Voyages, pp. 283–295, also quoted below in the text.

[25] Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green, North American Indians: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2010), electronic ed., pp. 99–109, 162.

[26] The linguistic analysis of the vocabularies and of the Chippeway texts scattered through the narrative leads Bakker to believe that ‘it is likely that the vocabularies, the dialogues and the speeches were all put together independently by the same person, most probably Long […] not the publisher or an editor’, Bakker, ‘Is John Long’s Chippeway (1791) an Ojibwe pidgin?’, p. 30.

[27] Long, Voyages, p. 294.


This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Comparative Ambitions and Merchandise in Late Eighteenth-Century North America," in Geographies of Time, 01/10/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Racial Fears and Techno-Apocalypses

A new post in the future wars series: yellow perils, bacteriological weapons, and futuristic inventions, before and after WWI

By 1908, the stereotypes and racialised representation of Asian populations used in Albert Robida’s feuilleton La guerre infernale – such as the demographic pressure and willingness to sacrifice millions of individuals (instalments 16, 24), the comparisons with insects such as ants (instalment 23, Les fourmis jaunes), the topoi of Oriental cruelty – were well established in popular Western yellow peril narratives and propaganda.[1]

In La guerre, bacteriological weapons are used to reduce their numbers (instalment 25, A nous le choléra!) but soon these weapons pollute the waters and affect the “whites” as well. Among yellow-perils coeval narratives, Jack London’s “The Unparalleled Invasion” ought to be mentioned for a similar idea of an annihilation of Chinese people operated – successfully in London’s case – by Western powers with bacteriological weaponry, after the realisation of China’s potential for world domination thanks to its demographic strength. Written around 1907 and first published in 1910, London’s short story is mainly set in 1976, and it is framed as written retrospectively from a yet even more distant future. According to John Swift “The Unparalleled Invasion” “clearly gives expression to an uneasy premonition, in London, in his culture, or in both, of the precariousness of white racial supremacy; but, more interestingly, it pays homage in language and plot to an emergent science and scientism that made racial anxieties simultaneously more frightening and more manageable.”[2] The parallel might help today’s reader to better grasp the significance of the yellow peril theme at the time, and to see how a grotesque exaggeration and satirical elements are exploited by Giffard and Robida’s in expressing in words and images racial fears.

The fear of an overwhelming wave is aptly represented by the image of an artificial hill made by soldier with their bodies, which the Chinese army erects on its march towards Moscow so that the officers can get a better view of their surroundings (instalment 28, Les Chinois à Moscou). The scene is described with horror by the narrator, who is following the Chinese army as a prisoner with other Westerners. In Moscow, horrible tortures and painful deaths await them, drawing on the topos of Oriental cruelty, not unprecedented in Robida’s work, nor isolated in popular French and Western publications, where, by the end of the 1880s, Chinese torture had become a fairly common topic in  public discourse, thanks not only to the interest in Chinese society and culture created by developments in East-West political and cultural relations such as the opening of a Chinese embassy in London in 1877 and the Chinese section at the 1878 Paris International Exhibition, but also to the proliferation of specific tropes in popular literature[3] (instalments 28 and 29, Dans l’avenue des supplices).

Albert Robida, illustration for La Guerre infernale by Pierre Giffard (Paris: Èdition Méricant, 1908), published in issue 28, “Les Chinese à Moscou”, 895. A Chinese army with prisoners in cangues advances towards Moscow; text reference: “Ce fut dans cet équipage que nous entrâmes à Moscou”. On this image see also Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Cruel Imagination: Oriental Tortures from a Future Past in Albert Robida’s Illustrations for La Guerre infernale (1908)”, 2017, external link to full open access version.

Throughout the novel, nature is bent and shaped by technology: tunnels of gigantic proportions are excavated both by the Germans when they attack France, and in England where the Tube is re-purposed as a bomb shelter, transferring the entire capital underground (instalments 8 and 9).[4] The famous London fog is cleared with specially developed acetylene guns (instalment 10). To ward off Japanese battleships, the Americans create a cage of fire on the water using a system of oil pipes off the coast of Florida. Thanks to the genius of an inventor by the name of Erikson, the US Department of Power and Electricity manages to jam the Japanese compasses, and to freeze the water by suddenly removing the oxygen from it. Thousands of Japanese corpses are burnt, poisoning the air with a terrible stench. Similarly, by altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and by electrifying the soil, thousands of casualties are caused on land, in a terrible exercise of “scientific massacre” (La tuerie scientifique, instalment 17).

La guerre infernale, as the precedent La guerre au vingtième siècle, with its rutilant imagination, and its narrative frame ultimately neutralising tragedy and destruction as part of a dream from which the protagonists wakes in the last pages, testifies Robida as – in I. F. Clarke’s words –

one of the very few … who found it possible to be funny about ‘the next great war.’ [5]

It is worth noting that the experience of the First World War will radically change his approach. Immediately after the conflict, Robida published a short illustrated in-folio album – Le Vautour de Prusse – and a 302-pages novel – L’Ingénieur Von Satanas – developing the same anti-Prussian reflections, and revisiting the war theme with a more pronounced anti-militarist spirit.[6] L’Ingénieur’s second prologue, taking place in the fictional “Peace Palace” in La Hague where a pacifist international conference is inaugurating the palace, in 1909, seems to suggest a direct reprise of La guerre, followed by its pessimistic fulfilment. Scientists, politicians, philosophers, and millionaires from all around the world are championing a pacific progress and greeting the beginning of a new global golden age, brought about by techno-scientific progress. But scientific marvels become means of mass destruction in the hand of the greedy Prussians, corrupted by the evil engineer Von Satanas, a diabolical figure recurring through the ages, that might as well be seen as the embodiment of human nature’s dark side and inclination towards violence and conflict. In 1929, Europe and the whole world have become home to a new prehistoric and barbaric civilisation, a post-apocalyptic land, with survivors living underground. Endless irregular lines of trenches, bomb craters, burrows and tunnels disfigure the Earth surface and render the similar to the Moon’s.

Without losing the adventurous edge that characterised La guerre as well as other Robida’s earlier works, L’Ingénieur offers a rather more pessimistic and sinister take not so much on science per se – which is presented as the key to a possible future of harmony and prosperity – but on the human ability to put differences aside and resist belligerent instincts.

The next post in the future wars series will summarise some conclusions about Robida’s work and war imagery as a laboratory for a global and futuristic mind set.

Albert Robida, L’ingénieur von Satanas: roman (Paris: 1919). Copy at Bibliothèque nationale de France via Gallica. “Le gas! le gas! – crient-ils”.


[1]  Thoralf Klein, “The ‘Yellow Peril’,” EGO – European History Online, external link; John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats, eds., Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear (London: Verso, 2014); John W. Dower, “Yellow Promise / Yellow Peril: Foreign Postcards of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05),” MIT Visualizing Cultures, 2008, see especially section ‘Yellow Peril’, external link. See also Michael Keevak, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011).

[2]  John N. Swift, “Jack London’s ‘The Unparalleled Invasion:’ Germ Warfare, Eugenics, and Cultural Hygiene,” American Literary Realism 35, no. 1 (2002): 59-71, qt. 60; see here 67 for remarks on the narration’s grotesque detachment, elements of a dark Swiftean approach, and an ironic distance between London and his narrator. On London, the Russo-Japanese war, and yellow peril fears see also Daniel A. Métraux, “Jack London: The Adventurer-Writer who Chronicled Asian Wars, Confronted Racism-and Saw the Future,” The Asia-Pacific Journal  8, no. 4.3 (2010): 1-10.

[3]  André Lange, “Le rire et l’effroi. Supplices et massacres orientaux dans l’oeuvre d’Albert Robida”, in Le Supplice Oriental dans la littérature et les arts, ed. Antonio Dominguez Leiva and Muriel Detrie (Neuilly-lès-Dijon: Editions du Murmure, 2005), 135-169 ; Jérôme Bourgon, “Les scènes de supplices dans les aquarelles chinoises d’exportation”, 2005, Chinese Torture / Supplices Chinois, accessed January 21, 2020, external link.

[4]  On the precedent of the tube in La vie electrique see also Dominique Lacaze, “Albert Robida, Explorer of the Twentieth Century,” part I, “Technical Innovation” and part II, “The Invention of a Society,” Futuribles 366 (2010): 61-70, and 367 (2010): 65-76, see I, 65.

[5]  I. F. Clarke, “Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900,” Science Fiction Studies, 24, no. 3 (November, 1997): 387-412, see 398.

[6]  Albert Robida, Le Vautour de Prusse (Paris: Georges Bertrand, 1918); Robida, L’Ingénieur Von Satanas (Paris: La Renaissance du Livre, 1919), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, identifier: ark:/12148/bpt6k14217576. A brief mention is in Philippe Willems, “A Stereoscopic Vision of the Future: Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” Science Fiction Studies 26, no. 3 (November 1999): 354-378, see 376-377, note 18.


This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 122-124. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access:

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Racial Fears and Techno-Apocalypses," in Geographies of Time, 01/09/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Dialing in Early Seventeenth-Century Europe

Early-modern luxury timekeeping

An ivory diptych dial made soli deo gloria by Paulus Reinman (active 1575-1609), in Nuremberg around 1602, at the time an important centre of manufacturing specialised in scientific instruments, including sundials such as this one.

This sundial is part of a remarkable Italian collection of objects for measuring and representing time, at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan. Photo by Geographies of Time, all rights reserved.

Pocket dials, formed by two leaves that fold flat when not in use with a string between the inner surfaces casting a shadow, were used to tell the time and, among other things, to regulate mechanical clocks, whose rapid technical development had by no means caused the abandonment of gnomon-based methods.

This dial worked at a multitude of latitudes, between Danzig and Sicily, listed on the vertical leaf. The finely decorated details and the very use of ivory for a secular luxury object indicate how it was intended for a wealthy clientele. The possibility of using it in a number of different places points to a potential user who was cosmopolitan in his or her interests, perhaps a noble with a refined aesthetic palate and friendships in various courts and cities of Europe, or perhaps a wealthy merchant with trades and interests around the Mediterranean, eager to show off his economic possibilities by surrounding himself with expensive objects.

The dial, around 11.5 x 9 cm, was to be oriented to the north by means of the compass encapsulated into the base. The string that served as gnomon had one end fixed immediately above the compass, while the other was inserted in one of six numbered holes on the vertical leaf to obtain different angles that made it usable at six different latitudes: the time was read by the shadow projected on one of the six rings on the horizontal surface. The list of cities on the vertical face indicates, for each place, the number corresponding to the hole to be used (54, 51, 48, 45, 42 and 39˚ N).

Ivory diptych dial by Paulus Reinman, detail. Photo by Geographies of Time, all rights reserved.

But this small object incorporated a remarkable plurality of functions. On the horizontal leaf the concave area with a fixed vertical pin is another sundial indicating the hour in two different systems which divided the day in 24 units: the Babylonian, beginning at sunrise, and the Italian, beginning at sunset.

On the vertical leaf two smaller sundials also constructed with fixed vertical brass pins indicated the number of hours of day-light in a given day of the year, between 8 and 16 depending by the position of the sun in the ecliptic (the one on the left, also with the signs of the zodiac represented around the edge) and the so-called “temporary” or “Jewish” hours – the division of the day in 12 parts, varying in length according to the time of the year (on the right).

On the top of the vertical surface there may be a windrose to identify the prevailing winds, and on the bottom an epact to calculate the date of Easter, such as in a very similar piece today at MAT – The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (accession number: 03.21.24), or perhaps a lunar volvelle with gilt-brass disc, such as in the specimen at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge (Holden-White collection no. 1935-42, accession no. 1688).

The two sundials on the vertical face are decorated with scenes of gallant life: a musician playing a string instrument with buildings in the background on the left and two lovers sitting on the right. The plants in both scenes perhaps intend to evoke the passage of time, recalling ideas of seasonality and cycles of life.

Thus, a multitude of technical and cultural trends converge in a minute object: the circulation of materials and luxury goods in Europe; the need for a standardized computation of time across geographical and political borders; the coexistence of mechanical and gnomonic systems of time calculation in the 1600s, and of different units of measurement of the year and day.

Further readings

Bruce Chandler and Clare Vincent, “A Sure Reckoning”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26, no. 4 (1967), 154-169.

Epact: Scientific Instruments of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, at Oxford, dir. Jim Bennett, 1998, current version 2006,, see “Paulus Reinman”, ad vocem.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Dialing in Early Seventeenth-Century Europe," in Geographies of Time, 23/08/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license