Native Americans from the William Reese Company
Native Americans from the William Reese Company.
By Michael Stillman
The 259th catalogue from the William Reese Company of New Haven has arrived. It is titled Native Americans. For convenience, we will refer to these people as "Indians," as this is the name the natives were given in antiquity, though this makes about as much sense as calling them Pakistanis. Almost all of these works were written by settlers or Europeans, so the bias is frequently evident, though many writers were at least sympathetic to their plight. It can be difficult to look back at this era of American history as many of these works relate to treaties and other relationships between whites and Indians, filled with promises we now realize were almost always destined to be broken. Sometimes the Indians fought back, other times they attempted to cooperate, but in the end, the result was always the same.
This catalogue includes many examples of two of the most noted areas of Indian collecting -- Indian captivities, and religious tracts in native languages. Captivities, tales of horror by whites captured by Indians, sometimes accurate, other times invented, made popular reading in the 19th century, and helped to justify, in settlers' minds, their own cruelties. On the other side were the missionaries, well-meaning if not culturally sensitive, trying to save the natives from their heathen beliefs. We won't focus on these, but instead, here are a few of the other items Reese is offering in the pages of this catalogue.
From the first days of the Spanish conquests of the New World, the natives suffered terrible mistreatment. In the earliest days, many were made slaves, and few voices spoke out about this injustice. Bartoleme de las Casas was an exception. Las Casas was a Spanish priest who spent most of the years from 1502-1547 in the Caribbean and Mexico, becoming increasingly vocal and vehement in his condemnation of the cruelties perpetrated on the Indians by the Spanish. He continued to voice his opposition on returning to Spain, and while he was unable to make life wonderful for the Indians, he at least was able to bring about some reforms in their treatment. After returning to Spain, he engaged in a debate with another priest, Juan Gines de Sepulveda, who took a less beneficent view toward the Indians and black slaves. There were nine tracts of de las Casas' side of the debate published. Items 115-117 are the fifth, third, and sixth, all published in 1552, priced at $12,500, $12,500, and $9,500.
The first major war between American Indians and settlers began in 1675, and by 1676, the natives had been effectively removed as a major force in New England. The confrontation is known as King Philip's War, King Philip being another name for Wampanoag Chief Metacomet. The expanding settlement of eastern Massachusetts, which began with the arrival of the pilgrims in 1620, led to conflicts along the settlements' edges. In time this escalated to all out war, and in a preview of what would happen over and over for the next two centuries, the Indians were overwhelmed and pushed back into interior lands. Item 132 is Reverend Increase Mather's account, A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New England…When Philip, alias Metacomet…was Slain. This is the first English edition of 1676. With the Indians routed, Mather and his son Cotton could focus on more pressing threats, like witches. $20,000.
Native Americans from the William Reese Company
Increase Mather's account of King Philip's War.
Item 138 is one of the most important works concerning the American Indians. Thomas McKenney was the first head of the Office of Indian Affairs, but when Andrew Jackson (no great friend of the Indians) became President in 1829, he was dismissed from the post. McKenney then set out to capture as much knowledge of Indian culture as he could, for he correctly concluded that it would soon be substantially displaced by the culture of advancing white settlers. Along with James Hall, he created his History of the Indian Tribes, published from 1837-44. Most notably, the three volumes are filled with portraits of various chiefs and other leading Indians, including Sequoyah, Cornplanter and Osceola, most painted when they visited Washington. $150,000.
Item 189 is a 1794 report from Secretary of War Henry Knox, as presented to Congress by President George Washington. It is a fair and candid assessment of issues on the frontier with the Indians, a level of honesty that would fade in the years ahead as the Indians would be painted the aggressors to "justify" the taking of their land. Knox, however, was more honest in his assessment of the cause of Indian resentment. The report notes, "The desires of too many frontier White people to seize by force or fraud upon the neighboring Indian lands has been, and still continues to be, an unceasing cause of jealousy and hatred on the part of the Indians, and it would appear upon a calm investigation that until the Indians can be quieted upon this point and rely with confidence upon the protection of their lands by the United States, no well grounded hope of tranquility can be entertained. " The report goes on, "As we are more powerful and enlightened than they are, there is a responsibility of national character, that we should treat them with kindness and even liberality." $9,500.
Item 44 is a manuscript deed of sale for a large tract of land on Long Island, signed by several Indian leaders, to the Van Cortlandt family, a powerful clan in early New York. The date is June 1, 1703, and for 83 pounds, the Indians sold land on the south side of Long Island, in the area of today's Islip and Bay Shore. $37,500.
Item 32 was a duplicitously arranged treaty between the government and the Cherokees, a first step toward the forced removal that would be implemented in the 1830s. It is A Convention between the United States, and the Cherokee Nation of Indians, Concluded at the City of Washington, on the Seventh Day of January, 1806. In this treaty, signed by Secretary of War Henry Dearborn and Chief Doublehead, the Cherokees ceded their hunting lands in Alabama and Tennessee to the United States. The U.S. agent convinced the Cherokee Chiefs to sign the agreement by giving them bribes of money and land. The treaty so enraged many members of the tribe that they revolted against their leadership, with Doublehead being assassinated the following year. $9,500.
The Willam Reese Company may be reached at 203-789-8081, email email@example.com. Their website is www.reeseco.com.