George Copway

LaVonne Brown Ruoff states in her introduction to Copway’s autobiography that “as Christian converts” early Native autobiographers like Apess and Copway “consciously modeled their works on religious narratives.” As we discussed in class, the most well known of these narratives were the Bible and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress of 1678. As Ruoff notes, even families with very few books and little money often had copies of these books at home. The model of the “spiritual confession” helped to identify Native authors as “civilized Christians.” Readers of Native autobiography who recognized in the writer’s story references to these well known spiritual texts would view the Native author as a fellow Christian, ideally, and as “civilized.”

Ruoff also notes that Copway (and Apess and other writers who existed on the “margins” of American society, like former slaves) did not reflect the typical characteristics of Native Americans of his time, in terms of his education, literacy, and faith. Such writers “were not typical of the groups they characterized because they could read and write” (3).

Ruoff continues to explain that public interest, among white Americans, in “vanished ‘red men’” increased as a result of the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Why would this be? Ruoff writes that “the public embraced Copway” at the time of the publication of his autobiography in 1847.

The text you read for class was not Copway’s autobiography. Rather, you read excerpts from his 1860 Indian Life and Indian History.

How does Copway “authenticate” himself as an authoritative figure on the life of the Ojibway? You can learn much about his strategies to establish ethos from examining the title page of his book as well as his Preface. Copway’s stated purpose is to “awaken in the American heart a deeper feeling for the race of red men and induce the pale faces to use greater effort to effect an improvement in their social and political relations” (vii).

Does Copway replicate the white idea of the “vanishing ‘red men’”? How so or how not?

Does Copway suggest that the introduction of Christianity among tribespeople produced positive or negative results for Native Americans?

On page 32, Copway asks, concerning his fellow Ojibway, “Scarce is he camped, ere once again he is told to go farther west. When will the last order be given? When will the red-man have a home?” How does Copway characterize the right to land of Native people and the dynamics of white-Native contact at the time of his writing? Who are the aggressors?

In class we discussed Copway’s choice of epigraph for Chapter XI. Please examine the epigraph by Pope. What do you make of it? Why did Copway use it? Recall our class discussion on this matter.

Finally, in this chapter, Copway describes the reverence for elders among the Ojibway. He continues to explain that “we can judge somewhat of the character of a community by its buildings. Prisons, penitentiaries, and poor houses are a bad sign. Before law was introduced, the Indians had none of these” (141). If Copway is a proponent of education and Christianization, what do you make of this statement?