Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Puritan Ideals and the Stockbridge Mohicans in the 1830's

I'm not certain, but my guess is that by the 1830's, a dance among the young New York Indians in Wisconsin Territory, would look as "civilized" as this dance held by "Negro" firefighters in Charleston, South Carolina around that same time (sketch by William Waud).

I think that on one hand, the Puritans may have had some beliefs that made them feel good, but, on the other hand, some of the things they considered sinful tend to be regarded as good clean fun nowadays. And so we've come to equate the Puritans with prudishness. That is basically what this post is about.

One story related by Rev. Cutting Marsh (in a letter to the ABCFM, July 8, 1833), illustrates how the leaders of the Stockbridge Mohicans had internalized what we today might refer to as 'Puritan ideals.' Marsh's own biases, of course are also made clear.

Marsh felt that "dancing parties, or what white people call balls," were a "relic of paganism." He noted that such parties were popular among the young people in the winter of 1833, but in the spring, one of the tribe's political leaders "took the constable, proceeded to the house, ordered them to disperse, which they did forthwith, and broke their violin." Marsh reported that the next time a dancing party was held "the violin shared the same fate and the young people were sent home."

Did you notice that Marsh himself was not involved in banishing the parties? By the 1830's, strict Calvinsm, or "Puritanism," was internalized among tribal leaders to the point where they chose to stop the dancing themselves.


dumneazu said...

Interesting correlation was the fact that the among the prohibitions set by Handsome Lake at the formation of the Iroquois Longhouse religion was an injunction against fiddle playing.

dumneazu said...

A photo of Brotherton member Lyman Fowler with fiddle: http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/a/n/d/Caroline-K-Andler-Dousman/PHOTO/0022photo.html