Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Journal of William Sturgis

William F. Sturgis
William Sturgis was born in 1782 and was a Boston merchant. At the age of seventeen he sailed to the North West Coast. This is an entry from the Journal of William Sturgis, where he accounts his visit to a North West Coast Indian Village, during the late Eighteenth Century and records his experience whilst being among the Natives. 

Within the first paragraph, there is clear indication that the Indians were not trusted by the American settlers. Sturgis states that when one of his fellow colleagues Mr Brumstead went to the village, a Native, named Altatsee, ‘agreed to stay on board the ship as a hostage’, for Mr Bumstead’s returning ‘safe to the Ship.’ Although Mr Brumstead was safely returned, in order for Sturgis to go visit also, Altatsee, left ‘his oldest son on board as a hostage’ for Sturgis’s ‘safe appearance’. Through the use of the word ‘hostage’, Sturgis implies that there is a threat. By keeping a Native hostage Sturgis suggests that this was the only way in which his safety was guaranteed. However, the Indians voluntary choice to be hostages, demonstrates there nonthreatening nature. In addition to this, there ‘safe’ return suggests that the settlers would have been harmed had they not kept a ‘hostage’. Overall, this demonstrates the settler’s apprehensive nature when they were near Indians. Furthermore, Sturgis’s need to sleep with his ‘cutlass’ on and his ‘pistol’ by his side, indicates his anxiousness of sleeping in a village full of Indians.

Contrary to the Settlers views, the Indians showed hospitality and welcomed the ‘white people’. The Indians did not want the ‘white people’ to be ‘afraid’, but wanted them to trust one another. Sturgis states that, Altatsee assured him that no-harm would have come to him, had Skittlekitts not been left in his room ‘aboard the vessel’. He goes on further to say that no-one would have ‘talked bad’ to him, as the Indians ‘treated all white people as brothers’. Although the Native’s lands were stolen, Sturgi’s visit to a Native American village indicates that they were welcoming people.

Although hospitable, the Indians did not have much and were deprived of necessities which the Americans settlers would have classed as inadequate. This is evident through the ‘astonishment’ Sturgis felt when entering a house which ‘beheld about forty people’. He had expected only ‘six or eight people’, this indicated how small the house must have been, and how little space the Natives had. In relation to this the Indians did not have good living conditions, Sturgis claims that when he went to sleep, they spread him ‘some blue cloth on the floor’ as ‘they didn’t have a lot and had to sleep on the floor’. Deprived of items which most people believe are essential, the Indians made do with what they had. An example of this would be ‘a kind of broth’ they made him, which the Natives thought was a ‘rich composition’, however Sturgis ‘did not relish it quite so well’. The Natives found a richness in the simplest of things. Altatsee showed Sturgis his ‘riches’, which consisted of ‘several garments made of the wool of the Mountain Sheep and marked in spots with Sea Otter's fur… An ornament for the waist made of leather, with several hundred of the small hooves on it that belong to the Deers' feet… a number of beautiful Ermine Skins… and a large silver spoon which he told me was a present from Captain Roberts.’ The Indians did not possess much in terms of gold and silver, however the items they did have, they considered valuable.

The Indians were overall simple people who were not considered smart or well informed on civilisation. Sturgis calls the Indians, ‘utterly ignorant’, as they did not know the nature of the disease, which had claimed one of their own. By labelling them as ‘utterly ignorant’, Sturgis implies that he is superior to them and more knowledgeable, however most diseases that the Indians contracted came from Europe. He then goes onto say that they were ‘very thankful’ for his help. The Indians gratitude towards him, demonstrated their kind nature.

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