The language of the Brothertown Indians' ancestors, 1722

Observations on the Indian Language, now published from the original ms. by John S.H. Fogg...


Experience Mayhew (1673-1758) was the third in a line of New England missionaries who preached to Indians on Martha's Vineyard, off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. He grew up speaking Wampanoag or Massachusett as well as English, and in 1722 wrote this explanation of how the language worked. The Niantics, Pequots, and other coastal peoples, some of whose descendants came to Wisconsin as the Brothertown Indians, spoke different dialects but could understand one another. Mayhew's description of the language spoken in coastal New England is the best short contemporary account of the language that the ancestors of today's Brothertown Indians spoke.

This very rare pamphlet with Mayhew's 1722 letter was published in Boston in 1884. Only 100 copies were manufactured, one of which was sent by the editor to the Wisconsin Historical Society. The editor's praise for the missionaries' efforts to "civilize" native peoples is a fine example of the views that prevailed in mainstream society at the time. As this digital reproduction clearly reveals, copies were printed on very fragile paper and today only 21 copies are known to survive. This is one of several works on American Indian languages to be found at Turning Points in Wisconsin History. Readers should note that these are historical documents rather than modern ones, and that they were produced by white observers rather than native speakers; students wishing to study a Native American language should rely on materials produced by the tribal language office.




Related Topics: Early Native Peoples
Territory to Statehood
Immigration and Settlement
First Peoples
Early U.S. Settlement
Treaty Councils, from Prairie du Chien to Madeline Island
Creator: Mayhew, Experience, 1673-1758.
Pub Data: Boston: Press of D. Clapp & Son, 1884. 100 copies printed. From a copy in the Wisconsin Historical Society Library, call. no. Rare Pam 52-1811
Citation: Mayhew, Experience. Observations on the Indian Language, Now published from the original ms. by John S.H. Fogg... (Boston: Press of D. Clapp & Son, 1884). Online facsimile at:  http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1676; Visited on: 11/27/2014
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