Colonial Literature – Puritan Beginnings – Mather, Williams, & Rowlandson

25 Preface to A Key into the Language of America

Roger Williams

To my Deare and Welbeloved

Friends and Countrey-men, in old

and new England.

I Present 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 Countrey-  men have often, and excellently, and lately  written of the Countrey (and none that I know beyond the goodnesse and worth of it.)

This Key, respects the Native Language of it, and happily may unlocke some Rarities concerning the Natives themselves, not yet discovered.

I drew the Materialls in a rude lumpe at Sea, as a private helpe to my owne memory, that I might not by my present absence lightly lose what I had so dearely bought in some few yeares hardship, and charges among the Barbarians; yet being reminded by some, what pitie it were to bury those Materialls in my Grave at land or Sea; and withall, remembring how oft I have been importun’d by worthy friends, of all sorts, to afford them some helps this way.

I resolved (by the assistance of the most High) to cast those Materialls into this Key, pleasant and profitable for All, but specially for my friends residing in those parts:

A little Key may open a Box, where lies a bunch of Keyes.

With this I have entred into the secrets of those Countries, where ever English dwel about two hundred miles, betweene the French and Dutch Plantations; for want of this, I know what grosse mis-takes my selfe 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 with- in the two hundred miles (aforementioned) their Dialects doe exceedingly differ; yet not so, but (within that compasse) a man may, by this helpe, converse with thousands of Natives all over the Countrey : and by such converse it may please the Father of Mercies to spread civilitie, (and in his owne most holy season) Christianitie; for one Candle will light ten thousand, and it may please God to blesse a little Leaven to season the mightie Lump of those Peoples and Territories.

It is expected, that having had so much converse with these Natives, I should write some litle of them.

Concerning them (a little to gratistie expectation) I shall touch upon foure Heads:

First, by what Names they are distin- guished.

Secondly, Their Originall and Descent.

Thirdly, their Religion, Manners, Cu- stomes, &c.

Fourthly, That great Point of their Con- version.

To the first, their Names are of two sorts: First, First, those of the English giving: as Na- tives, Salvages, 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 comming of the English, French or Dutch amongst them) any Names to difference themselves from strangers, for they knew none} but two sorts of names they had, and have amongst themselves.

First, generall, belonging to all Natives, as Nmnuock, Ninnimissinnûwock, Eniskee- tom-paūwog, which signifies Men, Folke, or People.

Secondly, particular names, peculiar to severall Nations, of them amongst themselves, as, Nanhigganēuck, Massachusêuck, Cawa- sumsêuck, Cowwesēuck, Quintikóock, Qunn- ipiēuck, Pequttóog, &c.

They have often asked mee, why wee call them Indians Natives, &c. And understanding the reason, they will call themselues Indians, in opposition to English, &c. For the second Head proposed, their Originall 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 pars, it seemes as hard to finde, as to finde the wellhead of some fresh Streame, which running many miles out of the Countrey to the salt Ocean, hath met with many mixing Streames by the way. They say themselves, that they have sprung and growne up in that very place, like the very trees of the wildernesse.

They say that their Great God Cawtan- towwit created those parts, as I observed in the Chapter of their Religion. They have no Clothes, Bookes, nor Letters, and conceive their Fathers never had; and therefore they are easily perswaded that the God that made English men is a greater Gody because Hee hath so richly endowed the English above themselves : But when they heare that about sixteen hundred yeeres agoe, England and the Inhabitants thereof were like unto themselves, and since have received from God, Clothes, Bookes, &c. they are greatly affected with a secret hope concerning themselves.

Wise and Judicious men, with whom I have discoursed, maintaine their Originall to be Northward from Tartaria: and at my now taking ship, at the Dutch Plantation, it pleased the Dutch Governour, (in some discourse with mee 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 judgement of the Wise.

First, others (and my selfe) have conceived some of their words to hold affinitie with the Hebrew.

Secondly, they constantly annoint their heads as the Jewes did.

Thirdly, they give Dowries for their wives, as the Jewes did.

Fourthly (and which I have not so observedamongst other Nations as amongst the Jewes, and these:) they constantly seperate their Women (during the time of their monthly sicknesse) in a little house alone by themselves foure or five dayes, and hold it an Irreligious thing for either Father or Husband or any Male to come neere them.

They have often asked me if it bee so with women of other Nations, and whether they are so separated: and for their practice they plead Nature and Tradition. Yet againe I have found a grtnitr Affinity of their Language with the Greek Tongue.

  1. As the Greekes and other Nations, and our selves call the seven Starres (or Charles Waine the Beare,) so doe they Mosk or Paukunnawaw the Beare.
  2. They have many strange Relations of one Wétucks, a man that wrought great Miracles amongst them, and walking upon the waters,, &c. with some kind of broken Resem- blance to the Sonne of God.

Lastly, it is famous that the Sowwest (Sowaniu) is the great Subject of their discourse.

From thence their Traditions. There they say (at the South-west) is the Court of their great God Cautóntouwit: At the South- west are their Forefathers soules: to the South-west they goe themselves when they dye; From the South-west came their Come, and Beanes out of their Great God Cautón- towwits field: And indeed the further North- ward and Westward from us their Corne will not grow, but to the Southward better and better. I dare not conjecture in these Vncertainties, I believe they are lost, and yet hope (in the Lords 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, Customes, Manners &c. I shall here say nothing, because in those 32. Chapters of the whole Book, I have briefly touched those of all sorts, from their Birth to their Burialls, and have endeavoured (as the Nature of the worke would give way) to bring some short Observations and Applications home to Europe from America.

Therefore fourthly, to that great Point of their Conversion so much to bee longed for, and by all New-English so much pretended, and I hope in Truth.

For my selfe I have uprightly laboured to suite my endeavours to my pretences: and of later times (out of desire to attaine their Language) I have run through vari- eties 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 solemne discourses I have had with all sorts of Nations of them, from one end of the Countrey to another (so farre as opportunity, and the little Language I have could reach.)

I know there is no small preparation in the hearts of Multitudes of them. I know their many solemne Confessions to my self, and one to another of their lost wandring Conditions.

I know strong Convictions upon the Con- sciences of many of them, and their desires uttred that way. I know not with how little Knowledge and Grace of Christ the Lord may save, and therefore neither will despaire, nor report much.

But since it hath pleased some of my Worthy Country-men to mention (of late in print) VVequashy the Péqut Captaine, I shall be bold so farre to second their Relations, as to relate mine owne Hopes of Him (though I dare not be so confident as others.

Two dayes before his Death, as I past up to Qunnibticut 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 friend VVequash lay very sick; I desired to see him, and Himselfe was pleased to be my Guide two mile where VVequash lay.

Amongst other discourse concerning his sicknesse and Death (in which hee freely bequeathed his son to Mr. Fenwick) I closed with him concerning his Soule: Hee told me that some two or three yeare before he had lodged at my House, where I acquainted him with the Condition of all mankind, & his Own in particular, how God created Man and Allthings : how Man fell from God, and of his present Enmity against God, and the wrath of God against Him untill Repentance : said he your words words were never out of my heart to this present; and said hee me much pray to Jesus Christ : I told him so did many English, French, and Dutch, who had never turned to God, nor loved Him : He replyed in broken English : so big naughty Heart, me heart all one stone! Savory expressions using to breath from compunct and broken Hearts, and a fence of inward hardnesse and unbrokennesse. I had many discourses with him in his Life, but this was the summe of our last parting untill our generall meeting:

Now because this is the great Inquiry of all men what Indians have been converted? what have the English done in those parts? what hopes of the Indians receiving the Knowledge of Christ!

And because to this Question, some put an edge from the boast of the Jesuits in Canada and Maryland, and especially from the wonderfull conversions made by the Spaniards and Portugalls in the West-Indies, besides what I have here written, as also, beside what I have observed in the Chapter of their Religion/ I shall further present you with a briefe Additional! discourse concerning this Great Point, being comfortably perswaded that that Father of Spirits, who was graciously pleased to perswade Japhet (the Gentiles) to dwell in the Tents of Shem (the Iewes) will in his holy season (I hope approaching) perswade, these Gentiles of America to partake of the mercies of Europe, and then shall bee fulfilled what is written, by the Prophet Malachi, from the rising of the Sunne in (Europe) to the going down of the same (in America) my Name shall great among the Gentiles.) So I desire to hope and pray,

Your unworthy Country -man

Roger Williams.




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