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
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.
Remarks on linguistic historicisation, concluding the Languages and/in time series
By paying close attention to therelationship 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.
Geographical and/as chronological distance: a new post in the languages and/in time series
In 1703, the second volume of Lahontan’s Nouveaux voyages dans l’Amerique Septentrionale– a work destined to immediate wide circulation – featured a ‘Petit Dictionaire de la Langue des Sauvages’ based on the Algonquin language which, thanks to references made to it and numerous cases of plagiarism, enjoyed some success in its own right. According to Lahontan, all the other Canadian languages resemble the Algonquin just as Italian resembles Spanish. The title page of the first English edition (printed in London in 1703), emphasises the idea of Algonquin being a vehicular language, describing the vocabulary as ‘a dictionary of the Algonkine language, which is generally spoken in North-America’ (title page of the first volume) and ‘A short dictionary of the most universal language of the savages’ (second volume). The idea is further reinforced by passages comparing the role of the Algonquin language in North America to that of Latin and Greek in Europe. Current scholarship have read this hierarchisation both as the result of applying European classification criteria to the American context – thereby serving the purpose of cultural domination – as well as the Baron’s attempt to show off his knowledge of linguistic derivation theories. As for its content, Lahontan’s ‘Petit Dictionaire’ includes words of frequent usage, with particular attention devoted to the fields of commerce and trade, military life, and the exploration and surveying of lands. Elsewhere, in his Mémoires de l’Amérique septentrionale, Lahontan foregrounds the simplicity of the language, claiming it has no stress or accents, and that the limited vocabulary regarding the arts and sciences reflects the speakers’ ignorance of such subjects – an assumption already made by earlier commentators, including the authors of the Jesuit relations. The absence of any of the rhetorical ceremonial speech and flowery compliments, so common in European languages, also points to the speakers’ simplicity of customs and manners.
A similar approach was adopted a few years later by John Lawson, explorer and founder of two of the oldest European settlements in North Carolina, with interests in medicine, botany and natural history. In his Voyage to North Carolina, Lawson inserted a brief vocabulary giving the English translation of words in Tuskeruro(Tuscarora), Pampticough (Pamlico), and Woccon. The first of these, belonging to the Iroquois family, is a widespread trade language, while the second, part of the Algonquin family, is now extinct, meaning that Lawson’s testimony is one of the very few ever transcribed before the speakers’ community was decimated by smallpox and wars against the British and ended up being absorbed by the Tuscarora. As for Woccon, which belongs to the Siouan-Catawban family of languages, Lawson’s is still today the only surviving testimony. Along with numerals, and goods and objects in everyday use, Lawson’s vocabulary includes expressions such as ‘I will sell you goods very cheap’, or ‘All the Indians are drunk’, which gives a more vivid idea of the context of his contacts with them. Of course, as current scholarship has pointed out, it also gives us a sense of the writer’s mixture of appreciation and contempt for his interlocutors. While Lawson pays no systematic attention to linguistic genealogies and/or translation problems, his comments on indigenous American language skills are dismissive in the extreme. ‘Indians’ express themselves in a very rude manner. Travel accounts reporting of eloquence and elegant style are not trustworthy:
To repeat more of this Indian Jargon, would be to trouble the Reader; and as an Account how imperfect they are in their Moods and Tenses, has been given by several already, I shall only add, that their Languages or Tongues are so deficient, that you cannot suppose the Indians ever could express themselves in such a Flight of Stile, as Authors would have you believe. They are so far from it, that they are but just able to make one another understand readily what they talk about.
According to Lawson, the notable difference in the languages used by neighbours ‘causes Jealousies and Fears amongst them, which bring wars, wherein they destroy one another’, ultimately favouring the Europeans. The language also bears witness to the influence that the European presence had already had: swearing is the first thing that natives pick up from the English, and they had no term for sodomy, before Europeans introduced the practice along with the word. The observation of language adds to the idea of the indigenous American as a good savage. Indeed, on the one hand he is to be pitied for being unpolished, uncivilised, and incapable of abstraction; on the other, he should be held up as an example of a man less corrupt than the European, possessing a pristine innocence. Lawson also makes the connection between knowledge of the American languages and plans to peacefully assimilate indigenous American cultures. A more enlightened colonial government would seek alliances with the native peoples by presenting the European – or, rather, the English – as a positive model:
[W]e should be let into a better Understanding of the Indian Tongue, by our new Converts; and the whole Body of these People would arrive to the Knowledge of our Religion and Customs, and become as one People with us […] we might civilize a great many other Nations of the Savages, and daily add to our Strength in Trade, and Interest; so that we might be sufficiently enabled to conquer, or maintain our Ground, against all the Enemies to the Crown of England in America, both Christian and Savage.
A similar connection between apprehension of the Indian nations’ customs and languages, and colonial administration and policies can be found in Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nations, partly based on written sources, and partly on the author’s first-hand experience as surveyor general of the New York province. Colden’s text is preceded by a short vocabulary of French names, with the English and/or Iroquois translation. His aim was to enable his readers ‘to read the French Accounts or compare them with the Accounts now published’. In Colden’s work the linguistic viewpoint is, in a sense, similar to the geographical one, and just as important in forming a knowledge of the territory and its history: they are both deemed essential to the success of the colonial project. The vocabulary includes names of nations, tribes, areas, villages and settlements, while footnotes are reserved for objects and activities pertaining to the everyday life, system of government and customs of the Five Nations. Subsequent reflections on Indian eloquence – from Cornelius de Pauw to Hugh Blair – did not usually devote much attention to Colden’s small vocabulary, borrowing rather from his transcriptions of speeches, being Indian eloquence the subject of much debate between fascination and scepticism. In later years, Colden became familiar with Raynal’s Histoire deux Indes, a work rich in remarks on savage languages reflecting an infant mind and a vivid and profound imagination, consistent with Colden’s comparison of Native American powerful and sublime speeches to those of ancient Romans and Greeks, part of a broader employment of tropes intertwining geographical and chronological distance, i.e. drawing analogies between Native American costumes, manners, character, and virtues and those of the Europeans’ ancestors.
After the Seven Year War, Jonathan Carver offered another example. A soldier and explorer born in Weymouth (today in Massachusetts), Carver published his Three years Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America in 1778. In just a few years, his account was translated into German, French and Dutch, and went through numerous editions on both sides of the Atlantic. The appendixes to the travel book include ‘A short Vocabulary of the Chipeway Language’ and ‘A short Vocabulary of the Naudowessie Language’. As regards the former, it seems likely that Carver borrowed heavily from Lahontan, although a mere case of plagiarism would not explain the slight differences between the two compilations in a few instances, especially some regarding vowels, which might indicate the insertion of features from other sources and corrections based on first-hand knowledge. In this respect, Carver’s Chippeway vocabulary is emblematic of his relationship with his Francophone sources: notwithstanding an open dislike for the French, he was familiar with their writings and drew upon them when needed. His vocabulary of the Naudowessie, on the other hand, is the first – however short – vocabulary of the Dakota language ever to appear in print. Carver documents a Dakota pidgin, learned according to an elementary process, as a set of ‘labels’ to be applied to ‘things’, without a grasp of grammar and rules. Entries include the common names of natural resources, terms to describe the environment, body parts, family names and social functions, and simple everyday activities. Sentences given as examples of how words are connected, are ‘correct in English, with the best possible substitutions of Dakota words as Carver knew them’.
In these eighteenth-century journals and travel accounts, the linguistic repertoires do not necessarily indicate an in-depth study of indigenous American cultures, but do reveal a growing interest in kinship systems, social organisation, and forms of government, which could all be useful to colonial policymakers for building alliances and gaining a foothold in a territory to make the European presence more secure. The compilation criteria adopted make it clear that the priority was to consolidate trade commerce and the exchange of goods, and extend the spaces of social interaction. There was an increasing awareness on the part of the British that good relations with indigenous American nations was a key factor in gaining the upper hand against competitors from different imperial structures.
The references to French texts in the writings of British or British-American authors show that there was a dual shift occurring as regards cultural identity: writers like Colden and Carver, despite their dislike and mistrust of French sources, and despite testifying to the open competition existing between imperial projects, still referred to their rivals to supplement their knowledge of American history and geography. The contact with American radical otherness, and the exclusion of indigenous American intelligence from the European system of knowledge gave impetus to the perception of a closeness between cultures of the Old World and ultimately to a sense of Europeanness.
Ideas of a European identity also underpin the practice of using the ‘good savage’ as a mirror in which the defects and shortcomings of the observer’s home society could be reflected. While the ‘Indian’ might be seen as trapped in an infant’s stage of development, the abuses, vices, and wrongs perpetrated by colonisers, as described by Lawson for example, challenge the European example as desirable point of arrival in the process of civilisation.
 Louis Armand de Lom d’Arce, baron de Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages de Mr. Le Baron de Lahontan dans l’Amérique Septentrionale (A La Haye:, 1703), 2 vols. On Lahontan: Réal Ouellet (ed.), Sur Lahontan: comptes rendus et critiques (1702-1711) (Québec, 1983); on the Voyages circulation: Claudio De Boni, ‘Viaggio alla scoperta del buon selvaggio, ovvero l’immaginario utopico del barone di Lahontan’, Morus: Utopia e Renascimento, 7 (2010), pp. 145–156, see 148; on Lahontan’s vocabulary: Wolfart, ‘The beginnings of Algonquian lexicography’, esp. pp. 120–121.
 Ursula Haskins Gonthier, ‘Une colonisation linguistique? Les Mémoires de l’Amérique septentrionale de Lahontan’, Études françaises, 45/2 (2009), pp. 115–129, see p. 119; H. Christoph Wolfart, ‘Lahontan’s Bestseller’, Historiographia Linguistica, 16/1-2 (1989), pp. 1–24, see pp. 4–5.
 Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages, II, p. 197; Gonthier, ‘Une colonisation linguistique?’; see the critical edition in Lahontan, OEuvres completes (Montréal, 1990), 2 vols, I, pp. 735–762 for a comparison with Jean-André Cuoq’s Etudes philologiques sur quelques langues sauvages de L’Amérique (1866) and Georges Lemoine’s Dictionnaire Français-Algonquin (1911).
 Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages, II, p. 199 ; Denise Cloutier, ‘Lahontan et les langues amérindiennes’, in Lahontan, OEuvres completes, II, pp. 1271–1277, see p. 1274, also for a comparison with Lejeune’s Relation (1634).
 Little is known of Lawson’s biography before 1700, see Hugh Talmage Lefler, ‘Introduction’, in Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina (Chapel Hill, 1967), pp. xi–liv, esp. pp. xv–xxxix.
 John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country (London, 1709), see pp. 225–230.
 On Tuscarora: Lyle Campbell, American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America (Oxford and New York, 2000), p. 24, see also p. 151; Marianne Mithun, A Grammar of Tuscarora (New York, 1976); Marianne Mithun, The Languages of Native North America (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 16, 44–46, 100, 189, 199, 253, 388, 467, 532–34, 603, 605; on Pamlico and Woccon: Marianne Mithun, The Languages of Native North America (Cambridge, 1999),pp. 319, 327, 333, 501, 506. On Tuscarora and Woccon see also Harald Hammarström, Robert Forkel, Martin Haspelmath, Glottolog 3.3, <http://glottolog.org>.
 On ‘Indian’: Elizabeth Prine Pauls, ‘Tribal Nomenclature: American Indian, Native American, and First Nation’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 17 January 2008, <https://www.britannica.com>; Michael Yellow Bird, ‘What We Want to Be Called: Indigenous Peoples’ Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Identity Labels’, American Indian Quarterly, 23/2 (1999), pp. 1–21.
 Cadwallader Colden, The History of the Five Indian Nations of Canada, which are dependent on the province of New-York in America (London, 1747), p. xi (first part autonomously published in New York in 1727). On Colden: John M. Dixon, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York (Ithaca and London, 2016); on the correspondence with Benjamin Franklin as regards American Indian nations in New York and Albany: Timothy J. Shannon, Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754 (Ithaca and London, 2002), pp. 110–111.
 Mr. de P*** [Cornelius de Pauw], Recherches philosophiques sur les Américains (Berlin, 1771), tome I, p. 121; Hugh Blair, Essays on Rhetoric (Dublin, 1784), pp. 49–50. As regards Iroquois polity, noteworthy is also Adam Ferguson’s use of Colden’s History in An Essay on the History of Civil Society (London, 1767), pp. 141–143.
 Helen Cowie and Kathryn Gray, ‘Nature, nation and nostalgia: Narratives of natural history in Spanish and British America (1750‐1800)’, Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 36 (2013), pp. 545–558, see p. 555; Guillaume-Thomas-François Raynal, Histoire philosophique et politique des établissemens et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes (Geneva, 1780), 5 vols, see for example IV, chapter ‘VI. Gouvernement, habitudes, vertus, vices, guerres des sauvages, qui habitoient le Canada’. For general reference on conformité, resemblance between the ancients and distant people, between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century: Ginzburg, ‘Provincializing the world’.
 Jonathan Carver, Three Years Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America (Philadelphia, 1796); on the publication’s success see: Edward Gaylord Bourne, ‘The travels of Jonathan Carver’, The American Historical Review, 11/2 (1906), pp. 287–302.
 Percy G. Adams, Travelers & Travel Liars 1600-1800 (Berkley and Los Angeles, 1962), p. 84; Bourne, ‘The Travels of Jonathan Carver’; John Parker, ‘Introduction’, in Jonathan Carver, The Journals of Jonathan Carver and Related Documents, 1766-1770 (St. Paul, 1976), pp. 1–56.
 Raymond J. DeMallie, ‘Appendix II: Carver’s Dakota dictionary’, in Carver, The Journals, pp. 210–221, see p. 210. Naudowessies are also known as Sioux, shortened version of ‘Nadouessioux’, possibly a French variation from an Ojibwe term; Robert Sayre, Modernity and Its Other: The Encounter with North American Indians in the Eighteenth Century (Lincoln and London, 2017), p. 350 note 34; Campbell, American Indian Languages, pp. 88, 399 note 106.
 Alexander Cook, Ned Curthoys, and Shino Konishi, ‘The science and politics of humanity in the eighteenth century: An introduction’, in Cook, Curthoys, and Konishi (eds), Representing Humanity in the Age of Enlightenment (2013; London, 2015), electronic ed.
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). https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.13138.
Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.
Phrasebooks for European travellers in eighteenth-century North America and the cultural construction of a global Europeanness.
This article explores the vocabularies of Native American languages published as part of the travel accounts written by explorers, traders and colonial policymakers in North America over the eighteenth century. Starting with the renowned Voyages by the Baron de Lahontan, the analysis takes as its endpoint the journals of the famous expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The aim of this study is to foreground what these lexicographic compilations reveal about European encounters with societies categorised as radically different from – and less civilised than – the traveller’s own: an ‘otherness’ sometimes exploited as a mirror and term of comparison that challenged the observer’s ethnocentrism. Drawing on existing scholarship about the cultural history of Euro-American encounters in the modern age, this study puts forward an original analysis of the temporal conceptualisations underpinning vocabularies of ‘savage languages’, in terms of both historical diachronicity and time as a culturally constructed frame of human experience.
This focus on the lists of words and phrases included in travel accounts, journals and relations makes it possible to question the relationship between the recording of linguistic evidence and travel narratives, and explore the complex negotiations between empirical observation and pre-existing cultural categories and stereotypes. A close reading of these often-neglected primary sources helps us to identify recurrent conceptual tropes and assign a central role to the historicisation of the Amerindian within wider processes of cultural construction of a global Europeanness.
Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021). https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.13138.
“Savages”, Anglo-French competition, and the circulation of knowledge in the eighteenth-century North Atlantic
At the dawn of the Franco-Indian and the Seven-Years Wars – which would place the North Atlantic at the centre of a new, global balance between European powers – the North American space is fought over by means of historical narrations and forms of geographic-historical knowledge.