as appear more immediately applicable to the attempts made in the present day to effect their civil and religious advancement. If, by pointing out the errors of former times, it can at all serve as a beacon in future attempts at Indian civilization or conversion, one important step towards success is likely to be attained. These

are obvious from an examination of the works of the earliest writers, as well as those of later periods, who had much communication with the Indians. Travellers, who from curiosity — traders, who from views of commercial enterprise - military officers, who in the call of their professional duty — and the missionaries, who from religious motives, were led to explore the interior of that continent, have furnished ample materials for reflection on this subject; and by laying before the reader extracts from their works, it will no doubt enable him, by reference to the most authentic sources, to judge of the real nature of those endeavours which were made during the course of two centuries - and made in vain — to ameliorate the condition of the Indians of North America. . It may be satisfactory, in this place, to notice the recorded opinions of some of those writers, most of whom had long resided in that country; and to describe, in their own words, the favourable sentiments which their experience had taught them to entertain respecting the Indian character. These opinions, indeed, are directly opposite to what has

been so strenuously asserted by some celebrated authors, particularly by the Count de Buffon and Monsieur de Pauw; both of whom laboured to paint the natives of the New World as despicable, vicious, and brutal; pronouncing them far inferior to those of the Old, both in mental and corporeal qualities. But there cannot be required a more satisfactory refutation of the assertion made by these writers, than what is conveyed in the numerous and concurring statements of those who, from a long residence among the Indians, had fully qualified themselves to judge of their real character and endowments. *

The celebrated Lafitau, the Jesuit, who resided a considerable time as a missionary in North America about the beginning of the last century, and who states, that to his own experience he added that of Garnier, another Father of his order, who had lived sixty years among the Indians, has given the following description of them in his learned and curious work, “ The Manners of the American Savages compared with the Manners of Ancient Times."

“ They are possessed,” says he, “ of sound judgment, lively imagination, ready conception, and

. Mr. Jefferson, the late President of the United States, in his Notes on Virginia, and the Abbé Clavigero, in his History of Mexico, have ably combated the opinions maintained by Buffon in his Histoire Naturelle, and of De Pauw in his Recherches Philosophiques sur les Américains.

wonderful memory. All the tribes retain at least some trace of an ancient religion, handed down to them from their ancestors, and a form of government. They reflect justly upon their affairs, and better than the mass of the people among ourselves. They prosecute their ends by sure means; they evince a degree of coolness and composure which would exceed our patience; they never permit themselves to indulge in passion, but always, from a sense of honour and greatness of soul, appear masters of themselves. They are high-minded and proud; possess a courage equal to every trial, an intrepid valour, the most heroic constancy under torments, and an equanimity which neither misfortune nor reverses can shake. Towards each other they behave with a natural politeness and attention, entertaining a high respect for the aged, and a consideration for their equals which appears scarcely reconcileable with that freedom and independence of which they are so jealous. They make few professions of kindness, but yet are affable and generous. Towards strangers and the unfortunate they exercise a degree of hospitality and charity which might put the inhabitants of Europe to the blush." *

Lafitau, indeed, qualifies the character he thus

* Mours des Sauvages Américains, comparées aux Mours des Premiers Temps. Par le Père Lafitau. Vol. i. chap. 3. Paris, 1724,

gives of the Indians, by contrasting with these praises their defects and vices. He describes them as idle, suspicious, vindictive-and the more dangerous, as they well know how to conceal their intentions of revenge.

Cruel to their enemies, gross in their pleasures, vicious through ignorance : “but,” adds he, “ their simplicity and penury give them one advantage over us, – that they remain unacquainted with those refinements of vice which have been introduced by luxury and abundance.”

Père le Jeune, another of the celebrated Jesuit missionaries, who resided in Canada at a very early period, also remarks: “I think the savages, in point of intellect, may be placed in a high rank; education and instruction alone are wanting. Being well formed in their persons, and having their organs well adapted and disposed, the powers of their mind operate with facility and effect. Their reasoning faculties resemble a soil naturally fertile, but which has continued choked up with evil weeds since the beginning of time. These Indians I can well compare to some of our own villagers who are left without instruction ; yet I have scarcely ever seen any person who has come from France to this country, who does not acknowledge that the savages have more intellect or capacity than most of our own peasantry.


* Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'année 1634. Par le Père le Jeune, de la Compagnée de Jésus. Chap. 5. Paris, 1635.


Mons. Boucher, who, about the middle of the seventeenth century, held the situation of governor of Three Rivers, in New France, makes a similar observation. “ In general all the Indians possess a sound judgment; and it is seldom that you find among them any who have that stupid and heavy intellect which we perceive among some of our French peasantry. They stand more in awe of a simple reprimand from their parents or chiefs, than in Europe they do of wheels and gibbets.

Père Jerome Lallemant, who about the same period resided long as a missionary among the Hurons, thus writes : Many are disposed to despair of the conversion of this people, from their being prejudiced against them as barbarians; believing them to be scarcely human, and incapable of becoming Christians.

But it is very wrong to judge of them in this sort ; for I can truly say, that in point of intellect they are not at all inferior to the natives of Europe ; and, had I remained in France, I could not have believed that, without instruction, nature could have produced such ready and vigorous eloquence, or such a sound judgment in their affairs, as that which I have so much admired among the Hurons. I admit that their

[ocr errors]

Histoire Véritable des Moeurs et Productions de la Nouvelle France, &c. par Pierre Boucher, chap. 9. Paris, 1664.

« ElőzőTovább »