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[ROGER WILLIAMS': Key into the Language of the Indians of New
England, has become exceedingly scarce. The only copy, of which we have any knowledge, is one presented to the library of the Historical Society. As it has been much sought after by the curious, we shall extract the most valuable part of it. It was printed in London, in 1643, in a small 18mo, volume ; and is divided into thirty two chapters. Each chapter contains a vocabulary, “framed chiefly after the Narraganset dialect," interspersed with observations on the manners and customs of the Indians. The chapter is concluded with spiritual observations, and three or four verses of rhymes. In the following extracts, the conclusions of the chapters are omitted, and the greatest part of the vocabulary. A sufficient number of Indian words is however retained, to serve as a specimen of the language.]
A KEY INTO THE LANGUAGE OF AMERICA : OR AN HELP TO THE
LANGUAGE OF THE NATIVES, IN THAT PART OF AMERICA, CALLED New ENGLAND. TOGETHER WITH BRIEF OBSERVATIONS OF THE CUSTOMS, MANNERS, AND WORSHIPS, &c. OF THE AFORESAID NATIVES. IN PEACE AND WAR, IN LIFE AND DEATH. By ROGER WILLIAMS OF PROVIDENCE IN NEW ENGLAND.
To my dear and well beloved friends and countrymen, in Old and New
you with a Key : I have not heard of the like yet framed, since it pleased God to bring that mighty continent of America to light. Others of my countrymen have often, and excellently, and lately, written of the country, and none that I know beyond the goodness and worth of it.
This Key respects the native language of it, and happily may unlock some rarities concerning the natives themselves, not yet discovered.
I drew the materials in a rude lump at sea, as a private help to my own memory, that I might not, by my present absence, lightly lose what I had so dearly bought in some few years' hardship and charges among the barbarians. Yet being reminded by some, what pity it were to bury these materials in my grave at land or sea ; and withal remembering how oft I have been importuned by worthy friends of all sorts to afford them some help this way ; I resolved, by the assistance of the Most High, to cast those materials into this Key, pleasant and profitaable for all, but specially for my friends residing in those parts.
With this Key I have, entered into the secrets of those countries, where ever English dwell, about two hundred miles, between the French and Dutch plantations. ' For want of this, I know what gross mistakes myself and others have run into.
There is a mixture of this language, north and south, from the place of my abode, about six hundred miles. Yet within the two hundred miles, aforementioned, their dialects do exceedingly differ ; yet not so but, within that compass, a man may, by this help, converse with thousands of natives all over the country; and by such converse, it may please the Father of mercies to spread civility, and in his own most holy season, christianity : for one candle will light ten thousand, and it may please God to bless a little leaven, to season the mighty lump of these peoples and territories.
It is expected, that having had so much converse with these natives, I should write some little of them.
Concerning them, a little to gratify expectation, I shall touch upon four heads :
First, by what names they are distinguished.
First, those of the English giving : as natives, savages, Indians, wild men, (so the Dutch call them Wilden) Abergeny men, pagans, barbarians, heathen.
Secondly, their names which they give themselves.
I cannot observe, that they ever had, before the coming of the English, French, or Dutch among them, any names to difference themselves from strangers, for they knew none ; but two sorts of names they had, and have amongst themselves.
First, general, belonging to all natives, as Ninnuock, Ninnimissinnuwock, Eniskeetompauwog, which signify men, folk, or people.
Secondly, particular names, peculiar to several nations of them amongst themselves, as Nanhigganeuck, Massachuscuck, Cawasuinseuck, Cowweseuck. Quintikoock, Quunnipieuck, Pequuttoog, &c.
· They have often asked me, why we called them Indians, nalives, &c. and understanding the reason, they will call themselves Indians, in opposition to English, &c.
For the second head proposed, their original and descent.
From Adam and Noah that they spring, it is granted on all hands. But for their later descent, and whence they came into those parts, it seems as hard to find, as to find the wellhead of some fresh stream, which running many miles out of the country to the salt ocean, hath met with many mixing streams by the way. They say themselves, that they have sprung and grown up in that very place, like the very trees of the wilderness.
They say, that their great God Cawtantowwit created those parts, as' I observed in the chapter of their religion. They have no clothes, books, nor letters, and conceive their fathers never had : and therefore they are easily persuaded, that the God that made Engiish men, is a greater God, because he hath so richly endowed the English above themselves. But when they hear, that about sixteen hundred years ago, England and the inhabitants thereof were like unto themselves, and since have received from God, clothes, books, &c. they are greatly affected with a secret hope concerning themselves.
· Wise and judicious men, with whom I have discoursed, maintain their original to be northward from Tartaria. And at my now taking ship at the Dutch plantation, it pleased the Dutch governour, in some discourse with me about the natives, to draw their line from Iceland ; because the name Sackmakan, the name for an Indian prince about the Dutch, is the name for a prince in Iceland.
Other opinions I could number up. Under favour I shall present, not mine opinion, but my observations, to the judgment of the wise. -- First, others and myself have conceived some of their words to hold affinity with the Hebrew.
Secondly, they constantly anoint their heads, as the Jews did.
Thirdly, they gave dowries for their wives, as the Jews did. · Fourthly, and which I have not so observed amongst other nations as amongst the Jews and these, they constantly separate their women, during the time of their monthly sickness, in a little house alone by themselves, four or five days, and hold it an irreligious thing for either father, or husband, or any male, to come near them.
They have often asked me, if it be so with women of other nations, and whether they are so separated : and for their practice they plead nature and tradition. . ... Yet again I have found a greater affinity of their language with the Greek tongue.
1. As the Greeks and other nations and ourselves call the seven stars, or Chatles' wain, the bear ; so do they, Mosk, or Paukunnawaw, the Bear.
2. They have many strange relations of one Wetucks, a man that wrought great miracles amongst them, walking upon the sea, &c. with some kind of broken resemblance to the Son of God:
Lastly, it is famous that the southwest, Sowwaniu, is the great subject of their discourse. From thence their traditions. There they say, at the southwest, is the court of their great God Cawtantowwit. At the southwest are their forefathers' souls. To the southwest they go themselves, when they die. From the southwest came their corn and beans, out of the great God Cawtantowwit’s field : and indeed the further northward and westward from us, their corn will not grow ; but to the southward, better and better. I dare not conjecture in these uncertainties. I believe they are lost ; and yet hope, in the Lord's holy season, some of the wildest of them shall be found to share in the blood of the Son of God.
To the third head, concerning their religion, customs, manners, &c. I shall here say nothing, because in those thirty two chapters of the whole book, I have briefly touched those of all sorts, from their birth to their burial.
Therefore, fourthly, to that great point of their conversion, so much to be longed for, and by all New English so much pretended, and I hope in truth :
For myself, I have uprightly laboured to suit my endeavours to my pretences : and of later times, out of a desire to attain their language, I have run through varieties of intercourses with them, day and night, summer and winter, by land and sea. Particular passages tending to this, I have related divers, in the chapter of their religion.
Many solemn discourses I have had with all sorts of nations of them, from one end of the country to another, so far as opportunity, and the little language. I have, could reach.
I know there is no small preparatior in the hearts of multitudes of them. I know their many solemn confessions to myself, and one to another, of their lost wandering conditions.
I know strong convictions upon the consciences of many of them and their desires uttered that way.
I know not with how little krowledge and grace of Christ, the Lord may save ; and therefore neither will despair, nor repori much.
But since it hath pleased some of my worthy countrymen to mention of late in print, Wequash, the Pequut captain, I shall be bold so far to second their relations, as to relate my own hopes of him, though I dare not be so confident as others.
Two days before his death, as I passed up to Quunnihticut* river, it pleased my worthy friend, Mr. Fenwick, whom I visited at his house in Say-brook fort, at the mouth of that river, to tell me, that my old
* Connecticut. The author's mode of spelling Indian words is carefully preserved.