Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Conjectures of the Savage, His Original

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Conjectures of the Savage, His Original

By Daniel Gookin (1612–1687)

[Born in Kent, England, about 1612. Died at Cambridge, Mass., 1687. Historical Collections of the Indians in New England. Written in 1674.]

CONCERNING the original of the Savages, or Indians, in New England, there is nothing of certainty to be concluded. But yet, as I conceive, it may rationally be made out that all the Indians of America, from the Straits of Magellan and its adjacent islands on the south, unto the most northerly part yet discovered, are originally of the same nations or sort of people….

The color of their skins, the form and shape of their bodies, hair, and eyes, demonstrate this. Their skins are of a tawny color, not unlike the tawny Moors in Africa; the proportion of their limbs, well formed; it is rare to see a crooked person among them. Their hair is black and harsh, not curling; their eyes, black and dull; though I have seen, but very rarely, a gray-eyed person among them, with brownish hair. But still the difficulty yet remains, whence all these Americans had their first original, and from which of the sons of Noah they descended, and how they came first into these parts.

There are divers opinions about this matter.

First, some conceive that this people are of the race of the ten tribes of Israel, that Shalmaneser carried captive out of their own country, A. M. 3277, of which we read in II. Kings, xviii. 9–12; and that God hath, by some means or other, not yet discovered, brought them into America; and herein fulfilled his just threatening against them, of which we may read, II. Kings, xvii. from 6 to the 19 verse; and hath reduced them into such woful blindness and barbarism, as all those Americans are in; yet hath reserved their posterity there: and in his own best time, will fulfil and accomplish his promise, that those dry bones shall live, of which we read Ezek. xxxvii. 1–24. A reason given for this is taken from the practice of sundry Americans, especially of those inhabiting Peru and Mexico, who were most populous, and had great cities and wealth, and hence are probably apprehended to be the first possessors of America.

Secondly, another apprehension is, that the original of these Americans is from the Tartars, or Scythians, that live in the north-east parts of Asia; which some good geographers conceive is nearly joined unto the north-west parts of America, and possibly are one continent, or at least separated but by some narrow gulf; and from this beginning have spread themselves into the several parts of the North and South America; and because the southern parts were more fertile, and free from the cold winters incident to the northern regions, hence the southern parts became, first planted, and most populous and rich. This opinion gained more credit than the former, because the people of America are not altogether unlike in color, shape, and manners, unto the Scythian people, and in regard that such a land travel is more feasible and probable than a voyage by sea so great a distance, as is before expressed, from other inhabited places, either in Europe, Asia, or Africa; especially so long since, when we hear of no sailing out of sight of land, before the use of the loadstone and compass was found. But if this people be sprung from the Tartarian or Scythian people, as this notion asserts, then it is to me a question, why they did not attend the known practice of that people; who, in all their removes and plantations, take with them their kine, sheep, horses, and camels, and the like tame beasts; which that people keep in great numbers, and drive with them in all their removes. But of these sorts and kinds of beasts used by the Tartars, none were found in America among the Indians. This question or objection is answered by some thus: First, possibly the first people were banished for some notorious offences; and so not permitted to take with them of these tame beasts. Or, secondly, possibly, the gulf, or passage, between Asia and America, though narrow, comparatively, is yet too broad to waft over any of those sort of creatures; and yet possibly men and women might pass over it in canoes made of hollow trees, or with barks of trees, wherein, it is known, the Indians will transport themselves, wives and children, over lakes and gulfs, very considerable for breadth. I have known some to pass with like vessels forty miles across an arm of the sea.

But before I pass to another thing, suppose it should be so, that the origination of the Americans came from Asia, by the north-west of America, where the continents are conceived to meet very near, which indeed is an opinion very probable; yet this doth not hinder the truth of the first conjecture, that this people may be of the race of the ten tribes of Israel: for the king of Assyria who led them captive, as we heard before, transported them into Asia, and placed them in several provinces and cities, as in II. Kings, xvii. 6. Now possibly, in process of time, this people, or at least some considerable number of them, whose custom and manner it was to keep themselves distinct from the other nations they lived amongst; and did commonly intermarry only with their own people; and also their religion being so different from the heathen, unto whom they were generally an abomination, as they were to the Egyptians; and also partly from God’s judgment following them for their sins: I say, it is not impossible but a considerable number of them might withdraw themselves; and so pass gradually into the extreme parts of the continent of Asia; and wherever they came, being disrelished by the heathen, might for their own security pass further and further, till they found America; which being unpeopled, there they found some rest; and so, in many hundred of years, spread themselves in America in that thin manner, as they were found there, especially in the northern parts of it; which country is able to contain and accommodate millions of mankind more than were found in it.

And for their speech, which is not only different among themselves, but from the Hebrew, that might easily be lost by their often removes, or God’s judgment.

A third conjecture of the original of these Indians, is, that some of the tawny Moors of Africa, inhabiting upon the sea coasts, in times of war and contention among themselves, have put off to sea, and been transported over, in such small vessels as those times afforded, unto the south part of America, where the two continents of Africa and America are nearest; and they could not have opportunity or advantage to carry with the small vessels of those times any tame beasts, such as were in that country. Some reasons are given for this notion. First, because the Americans are much like the Moors of Africa. Secondly, the seas between the tropics are easy to pass, and safe for small vessels; the winds in those parts blowing from the east to the west, and the current setting the same course. Thirdly, because it is most probable, that the inhabitants of America first came into the south parts; where were found the greatest numbers of people, and the most considerable cities and riches.

But these, or any other notions, can amount to no more than rational conjecture; for a certainty of their first extraction cannot be attained; for they being ignorant of letters and records of antiquity, as the Europeans, Africans, and sundry of the Asians, are and have been, hence any true knowledge of their ancestors is utterly lost among them. I have discoursed and questioned about this matter with some of the most judicious of the Indians, but their answers are divers and fabulous.