Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  “Husquenawing”

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


By John Lawson (1674?–1712)

[From The History of Carolina. 1714.]

THERE is one most abominable custom amongst them, which they call husquenawing their young men, which I have not made any mention of as yet, so will give you an account of it here. You must know, that most commonly once a year, at farthest once in two years, these people take up so many of their young men as they think are able to undergo it, and husquenaugh them, which is to make them obedient and respective to their superiors, and, as they say, is the same to them as it is to us to send our children to school, to be taught good breeding and letters. This house of correction is a large, strong cabin, made on purpose for the reception of the young men and boys that have not passed the graduation already; and it is always at Christmas that they husquenaugh their youth, which is by bringing them into this house and keening them dark all the time, where they more than half starve them. Besides, they give them pellitory bark, and several intoxicating plants, that make them go raving mad as ever were any people in the world; and you may hear them make the most dismal and hellish cries and howlings that ever human creatures expressed; all which continues about five or six weeks, and the little meat they eat is the nastiest, loathsome stuff, and mixed with all manner of filth it is possible to get. After the time is expired, they are brought out of the cabin, which never is in the town, but always a distance off, and guarded by a jailor or two, who watch by turn. Now when they first come out, they are as poor as ever any creatures were; for you must know several die under this diabolical purgation. Moreover, they either really are, or pretend to be dumb, and do not speak for several days, I think twenty or thirty, and look so ghastly, and are so changed, that it is next to an impossibility to know them again, although you were never so well acquainted with them before. I would fain have gone into the mad house, and have seen them in their time of purgatory, but the king would not suffer it, because, he told me, they would do me or any other white man an injury, that ventured in amongst them, so I desisted. They play this prank with girls as well as boys, and I believe it a miserable life they endure, because I have known several of them run away at that time to avoid it. Now the savages say if it were not for this, they could never keep their youth in subjection, besides that it hardens them ever after to the fatigues of war, hunting, and all manner of hardship, which their way of living exposes them to. Beside, they add, that it carries off those infirm, weak bodies, that would have been only a burden and disgrace to their nation, and saves the victuals and clothing for better people, that would have been expended on such useless creatures.