Waselkov, Gregory A. and Kathryn E. Holland Braund (editors)William Bartram on the Southeastern Indians1995Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press

William Bartram (1739-1823) was a dreamer whose prose was as flowery as his interests, an acute observer whose innocence (or infuriating daftness, depending on your view of him) kept him from ever writing down an accurate calendrical date, an excellent naturalist who failed miserably as a farmer-and at every other business he attempted, a child of the Enlightenment whose single major work exerted considerable influence on English Romanticism in the early 19th century, and above all else, a late-18th century Pennsylvania Quaker. He is best known to anthropologists for his invaluable ethnohistorical descriptions of the Creeks and other Native American groups in the Southeastern United States. These descriptions form a major focus of his book Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws; Containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians, which was published in 1791 in Philadelphia. Travels narrates Bartram’s observations and experiences in the Southeast between 1773-1776 and is an enduring classic of American ethnohistory and nature writing. ||| Waselkov and Braund’s new book brings Bartram’s three ethnohistorical contributions together in one well-designed and thoroughly annotated volume that will be of considerable use to researchers and students. Chapter 1 gives key biographical and contextual details about Bartram, his life, and his ethnohistorical observations. Chapters 2-4 each focus on different Bartram papers. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction that describes the history and context of the Bartram paper that follows. Chapter 5 discusses the ethnohistorical significance of Bartram’s work.||| Chapter 2, which takes up about one-half of the book, presents the Native American excerpts from Bartram’s Travels. The editors do an excellent job of weeding out the natural history and providing transitional paragraphs that enable the reader to focus on the Native American material. Little is lost, even for natural history, by the editors’ decision to omit such passages as “I doubt not but if this bird had been an inhabitant of the Tiber in Ovid’s days, it would have furnished him with a subject for some beautiful and entertaining metamorphoses” (Bartram 1996:125).||| Chapter 3 explores John Howard Payne’s version of Bartram’s “Observations on the Creek and Cherokee Indians”. E. G. Squier’s heavily edited version is the one heretofore seen in print, so the publication of Payne’s copy of this manuscript is much more than just a minor addition to Bartramiana. Of particular importance are the drawings included in the Payne manuscript, and Waselkov and Braund do scholars a valuable service by publishing the versions of each drawing as they appear in the Payne manuscript, the Edwin H. Davis manuscript, and the E. G. Squier publication. The differences between the manuscript versions of these drawings and the Squier engravings are significant in several cases.||| Chapter 4 is a previously unpublished paper entitled “Some Hints & Observations, concerning the civilization, of the Indians, or Aborigines of America.” This document is initialed “WB” but is otherwise unsigned and its pedigree can be established only by the writer’s style, subject matter, and other circumstantial evidence of authorship. It certainly reads like a Bartram document. Its importance lies, I believe, more in what it reveals about Bartram’s biases than about Native Americans.||| Chapter 5 is, to me at least, the key chapter of the book. To use this book uncritically as a reference to Bartram’s writings on Native Americans without considering the issues raised in Chapter 5 is to misuse it. Waselkov and Braund characterize Bartram as a ‘relatively impartial’ observer in Chapter 1 (e.g., p. 1, ), and it is not until Chapter 5 that they explore, albeit briefly, the dimensions of bias that lie beneath the surface of his writings. Bartram’s Travels is one voice, a representation of Native Americans in which their actions are interpreted for the reader through the beliefs of the Society of Friends, the enlightenment, and colonialism. Consider, for example, the oft-mentioned lone-Seminole-met-on-the-trail case from the beginning of Travels (Waselkov and Braund, pp. 35-36). Bartram and the armed Seminole meet on the isolated path; the Seminole experiences an apparent inward struggle to decide whether Bartram is friend or foe; they part as equals because, as the Travels suggests, of the ultimate truth of the implicit assumptions of the Quakers and the Enlightenment. Although it is entirely possible that this episode may have been nothing more than a convenient and entirely fictional literary device used by Bartram to set the stage for his observations of Native Americans, it is also equally possible that this chance meeting really did take place. What is missing from the encounter and from the Travels in general is the Native American voice. Far from being overwhelmed by some sense of the universal brotherhood of mankind, the Seminole may have simply felt, as many people around the world do, that one should not kill harmless lunatics. Bartram was no more impartial an observer than were the most vehement of late 18th century American critics of Native Americans.||| William Bartram is enjoying quite a lot of scholarly attention these days. In 1996 alone, two books were published that complement nicely Waselkov and Braund’s 1995 contribution. The first is a new standard edition of Bartram’s work (Bartram 1996), the texts of which were selected and annotated by Thomas P. Slaughter. The second, entitled The Natures of John and William Bartram (Slaughter [once again]1996), is an important examination of the differing views of father and son and their impacts, not only on natural history, but also on the English Romantics. My own view is that one should read all three books. ||| As must be expected in a reference book of this nature, the annotations, bibliography, and index consume nearly one-third of its pages. The editors’ emphasis is not misplaced because these sections are the things that make the book a useful tool. The book’s overall design, its organization, and the quality of its production make it a valuable addition to the University of Nebraska Press “Indians of the Southeast” series. It is an excellent reference book that should be read by Bartram scholars and by researchers and students of the late 18th century Southeast.||| References Cited||| Bartram, William (1996) Travels and Other Writings. The Library of America, Vol. 84. Literary Classics of the United States, New York.||| Slaughter, Thomas P. (1996) The Natures of John and William Bartram. Knopf, New York.|||

Barry LewisDepartment of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA


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