Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


English Influence Upon Indians



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



The first English visitors to the coast of Virginia-Carolina were well received by the Indians, whom the early chroniclers, as Hariot, for example, describe as peaceful and amiable people. So, too, were in the beginning the natives of the New England coast, but in 1605 Capt. Weymouth forcibly carried off five Indians, and he soon had many imitators. The good character ascribed by Pastor Cushman in 1620 to the Indians of Plymouth colony was forgotten when theological zeal saw in the aborigines of the New World "the accursed seed of Canaan," which it was the duty of good Christians to exterminate.


When the political ambitions of the English colonists were aroused conflicts with the Indians soon occurred, and the former came to regard the latter as the natural enemies of the whites in the onward march of civilization. Unlike the French, they paid little attention to the pride of the Indians, despising the heathen ways and institutions more and more as their power grew and their land hunger increased. With a few noble exceptions, like Roger Williams and John Eliot, the clergy of the English colonies were not nearly so sympathetic toward the natives as were the French missionaries in Acadia and New France . Scotchmen, however, in the S., in the W., in the old provinces of Canada , and in the Hudson 's Bay Company's territories have played a conspicuous part as associates and leaders of the Indians. Even men like Canonicus were always suspicious of their English friends, and never really opened their hearts to them. The introduction of rum and brandy among the Indians worked infinite damage. Some of the New England tribes, such as the Pequot, for example, foreseeing, perhaps, the result of their advent, were inimical to the English from the first, and the extermination of these Indians ensued when the whites were strong enough to accomplish it. It appears, however, that the English colonists paid for most of the land that they took from the Indians (Thomas in 18th Rep. B. A. E ., 549, 1899). English influence on tribal government and land tenure was perceptible as early as 1641. The success of deliberately planned educational institutions for the benefit of the Indian during the early periods of American history does not seem to have been proportionate to the hopes and ideals of their founders: Harvard, Dartmouth, and the College of William and Mary all began, in whole or in part, as colleges for Indian youth, but their graduates of aboriginal blood have been few indeed, while they are now all high-class institutions for white men . The royal charter of Dartmouth College (1769) specifically states that it is to be "for the education and instruction of youths of the Indian tribes in this land," and "for civilizing and Christianizing the children of pagans." That of Harvard looked to "the education of the English and Indian youth in knowledge and godliness." Harvard had during the colonial period one Indian graduate, Caleb Cheeshateaumuck, of whom hardly more than his name is known (see James, English Institutions and the American Indian, 1894). The aim of the English has ever been to transform the aborigines and lift them at once to their own plane. When commissioners visited the Cherokee they induced these to elect an "emperor;" with whom treaties could be made. The Friends, from the time of William Penn (1682) down to the present (see Mooney in 17th Rep. B. A. E ., 193, 1898), seem to have furnished many individuals capable, like the Baptist Roger Williams (1638), of exercising great personal influence over the Indians. The Quakers still continue their work, e. g., among the eastern Cherokee (Mooney in 19th Rep. B. A.E., 178, 1900) and the Tlingit of Alaska. The New England Company established for the propagation of the gospel in America (1649), whose operations were transferred to Canada in 1822, carries on at the present time work on the Brantford Iroquois reserve and in other parts of Ontario , at Kuper id., Brit. Col., and elsewhere. Its Mohawk institute, near Brantford , has had a powerful influence among the Iroquois of Ontario. The pagan members of these Indians have recently been investigated by Boyle (Jour. Anthrop. Inst. G. B ., n. s., III, 283-273, 1900), who tells us that "all for which Iroquois paganism is indebted to European culture" is the possession of some ideas about God or the Great Spirit and "a few suggestions respecting conduct, based on the Christian code of morale." The constant mingling of the young men with their white neighbours and the going of the young women out to service are nevertheless weakening more and more the old ideas which are doomed "to disappear as a system long before the people die out." That they have survived so long is remarkable.


English influence made itself felt in colonial days in the introduction of improved weapons, tools, etc., which facilitated hunting and fishing and made possible the manufacture with lees labour and in greater abundance of ornaments, trinkets, and other articles of trade. The supplying of the Indians with domestic animals also took place at an early period. Spinning wheels and looms were introduced among the Cherokee shortly before the Revolution, and in 1801 the agent reported that at the Cherokee agency the wheel, the loom, and the plough were in pretty general use. The intermarriage of Englishmen and Indians has been greater all over the country than is commonly believed, and importance must consequently be attached to the effects of such intermingling in modifying Indian customs and institutions. Clothing and certain ornaments, and, after these, English beds and other furniture were adopted by many Indians in colonial days, as is now being done by the tribes of the N. Pacific coast.


English influence on the languages of some of the aborigines has been considerable. The word Kinjames, ' King James,' in use among the Canadian Abnaki, testifies to the power of English ideas in the 17th century. The vocabularies of the eastern Algonquian tribes who have come in contact with the English contain other loan-words. Rand 's English-Micmac Dictionary (1888) contains, among others, the following: Jak-ass, cheesawa ' cheese'; koppee, 'coffee'; mulugech, 'milk'; gubulnol, 'governor.' Brinton and Anthony's Lenape-English Dictionary (1889), representing the language of about 1825, has amel, 'hammer'; apel; 'apple'; -bit, 'beer'; mellik, 'milk'; skulin, 'to keep school,' which may be partly from English and partly from German. A Shawnee vocabulary of 1819 has for 'sugar' melassa, which seems to be English 'molasses'; and a Micmac vocabulary of 1800 has blaakeet, ' blanket'. The English 'cheese' has passed into the Nipissing dialect of Algonquian as tchis. The Chinook jargon contained 41 words of English origin in 1804, and 57 in 1883, while in 1894, out of 1,082 words (the total number is 1,402) whose origin is known, Eells cites 570 as English. Of recent years "many words of Indian origin have been dropped, English words having taken their places." In colonial days English doubtless had some influence on the grammatical form and sentence-construction of Indian languages, and this influence still continues: the recent studies by Prince and Speck of the Pequot-Mohegan ( Am. Anthrop ., n. s., VI, 18-45, 469-476, 1904), contain evidence of this. English influence has made itself felt also in the languages of the N. W. Hill-Tout ( Rep. Ethnol. Surv. Can . , 18, 1902) observes, concerning certain Salishan tribes, that "the spread and use of English among the Indians is very seriously affecting the purity of the native speech." Even the Athapascan Nahane of N. British Columbia have, according to Morice (Trans. Canad. Inst ., 529, 1903), added a few English words to their vocabulary.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 142-143. See the entry on English language and the Indians at the Encyclopedia of North American Indians' site.





© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College