|Paul Revere’s caricature of King Philip (1772)|
Last post, I wrote briefly about Philip F. Gura’s biography of William Apess, and I discussed some of the links between Apess and Hosea Easton. Along with the links between Apess and the abolitionist movement, I have been intrigued with the relationship between Apess and the literary production of the period. Gura speaks to this topic some; however, as a historian, he presents the historical facts surrounding the relationship. In this post, I will briefly outline my thoughts on how Apess, and specifically his references to King Philip, relate to the emergence of a distinct American literature during the early part of the nineteenth century. I will not go in to great detail, but the information will provide a quick view that I plan to explore further in the future.
But as it was, Philip did and endured enough to immortalize him as a warrior, a statesman, and we may add, as a high-minded and noble patriot. Whatever might be the prejudice against him in the days of terror produced by his prowess, there are both the magnanimity and the calmness in these times, to do him the justice he deserves. He fought and fell,–miserably, indeed, but gloriously,–the avenger of his own household, the worshipper of his own gods, the guardian of his own honor, a martyr for the soil which was his birth-place, and the proud liberty which was his birthright. (419)
|Image that appeared in Apess’s Eulogy|
Even if the authors presented their Native American characters as noble and highlighted their “prowess,” the Native Americans inevitably vanished at the end of the novel, poem, or play, reinforcing the belief that Native Americans would disappear under the feet of “civilization” as it methodically plodded towards them. Along with this, the texts arose out of national discussions surrounding Native American removal, specifically Cherokee and Creek, in the Southeastern United States. This is the mileu that Apess wrote within. This is the mileu that brings a heightened significance to his ancestry and to his eulogy for his ancestor. This is the mileu that Apess countered by showing the United States that Native Americans existed, and thrived, among them.
“Indian Biography.” North American Review 33.73 (1831): 407-449.