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Archives Subject Guide: Indigenous Collections


Section written by Myron Groover, Archives and Rare Books Librarian.

McMaster possesses a modest collection of books (less than one hundred items in total) which pertain, in the broadest sense, to Indigenous peoples in North America, South America, and the Caribbean Islands. These are, by and large, painful reading by today’s standards; they are rife with misunderstandings, hostility, and overt factual errors — sometimes apparently honest, sometimes obviously deliberate. They do, however, provide an important testament to the intellectual lifeworld and experiences which conditioned their writing and printing. General categories these publications fall into include:

Philosophical works & scripture aimed at moral or religious education

Such books include religious works pertaining to supposed moral proclivities of Indigenous peoples or, especially, to the conversion of Indigenous peoples to Christian sects — generally Protestant, given our historical collecting focus. These include early printed works in Indigenous languages, including the sole work in our rare book collection purported to have any Indigenous authorship, the 1787 edition of Ne yakawea yondereanayendaghkwa oghseragwegouh… purportedly containing a translation of the Gospel of Matthew by Joseph Brant.

Political-historical works

Such books are often framed as historical essays purporting to directly recount narratives of European contact with Indigenous peoples, occasionally with speculation about pre-contact Indigenous societies. In such works, the author’s intent may not be strictly historiographical; they often serve as oblique or overt criticisms of various political or personal opponents. Benzoni’s Historia del Mondo Nuovo is an illustrative example of the genre. Other works in this vein may speculate about the “origins” of Indigenous peoples, an important component of attempts to fit Indigenous peoples into existing European worldviews. Johannes de Laet’s Notæ ad Dissertationem Hugo Grotii is an example. In some cases, the boundary between these works and the “travel and exploration narratives” described below is porous.

Travel and exploration narratives incorporating proto-ethnographic components

By far the largest category of works in this survey, such books often combine elements of geography, geology, natural history, and ethnography in attempting to “describe” lands and peoples recently encountered by European explorers or settlers. These range widely in accuracy and fidelity, depending on their authorship and intended audience. Some, such as John Long’s Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter, may incorporate elements of Indigenous languages.

Allegorical or fictive works

Such works are primarily a testament to the place of geographically distant Indigenous peoples in the popular imagination of Europeans and include plays or other fictional works revolving around imagined Indigenous characters. Voltaire’s Le Huron and its successor works are examples.

In the overwhelming majority of these texts, Indigenous peoples are represented chiefly as subject matter; in almost no cases are Indigenous people readily evident in the authorship of the work. Please note that this survey is representative rather than exhaustive.


Bacqueville de la Potherie, [Claude-Charles Le Roy]

Histoire de l'Amerique Septentrionale. (A Paris ... : Chez Nyon fils ..., 1753).

Benzoni, Girolamo

La historia del mondo nuouo / di Girolamo Benzoni, Milanese ; laqual tratta delle isole, & mari nuouamente ritrouati, et delle nuoue città da lui proprio vedute, per acqua, & per terra in quattordeci anni. (In Venetia : Ad instantia di Pietro & Francesco Tini, fratelli, [1572]).

Campbell, John

An account of the Spanish settlements in America : in four parts. (Edinburgh : Printed by Donaldson and Reid, for the author and A. Donaldson, 1762.)

Colden, Cadwallader

The history of the Five Indian nations of Canada : which are the barrier between the English and French in that part of the world … to which are added, accounts of the several other nations of Indians in North-America, their numbers, strength, &c. and the treaties which have been lately made with them. (London : Printed for John Whiston ... and Lockyer Davis ... and John Ward, [1750]).

Jefferys, Thomas

The natural and civil history of the French dominions in North and South America. : Giving a particular account of the climate, soil, minerals, animals, vegetables, manufactures, trade, commerce and languages, together with the religion, government, genius, character, manners and customs of the Indians and other inhabitants. (London : Printed for Thomas Jefferys, at Charing-Cross, [1760]).

[Pichon, Thomas.]

Genuine letters and memoirs, relating to the natural, civil, and commercial history of the islands of Cape Breton, and Saint John : from the first settlement there, to the taking of Louisburg by the English, in 1758. In which, among many interesting particulars, the causes and previous events of the present war are explained. (London : Printed for J. Nourse in the Strand, 1760.)

Ulloa, Antonio de

Noticias americanas: entretenimientos físico-históricos sobre la América Meridional, y la Septentrional oriental: comparacion general de los territorios, climas y producciones en las tres especies vegetal, animal y mineral; con una relacion particular de los Indios de aquellos paises, sus costumbres y usos, de las petrificaciones de cuerpos marinos, y de las antigüedades. Con un discurso sobre el idioma, y conjeturas sobre el modo con que pasáron los primeros pobladores. (Madrid : Imprenta Real, 1792).

Vefa, Garcilaso de la

Histoire des Yncas, rois du Perou : depuis le premier Ynca Manco Capac, fils du soleil, jusqu'à Atahualpa dernier Ynca: où l'on voit leur etablissement, leur religion, leurs loix, leur conquêtes ... On a joint à cette èdition l'Histoire de la conquete de la Floride. (Amsterdam : J.F. Bernard, 1727-1737).

Bartram, William

Travels through North and South Carolina : Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee country ... Containing an account of the soil and natural productions of those regions ; ... Embellished with copper-plates. (Dublin : For J. Moore, W. Jones, R. McAllister, and J. Rice, 1793).

Carver, Jonathan

Travels through the interior parts of North-America in the years 1766, 1767, and 1768. (London, Printed for the author, and sold by J. Walter [&c.] 1778).

Three years travels throughout the interior parts of North America, for more than five thousand miles, containing an account of the Great Lakes, and all the lakes, islands and rivers, cataracts, mountains, minerals, soil and vegetable productions of the north-west regions of that vast continent; with a description of the birds, beasts, reptiles, insects, and fishes peculiar to the country. Together with a concise history of the genius, manners, and customs of the Indians inhabiting the lands that lie adjacent to the heads and to the westward of the great river Mississippi; and an appendix, describing the uncultivated parts of America, that are the most proper for forming settlements. (Printed by John Russell, for David West, No. 56, Cornhill, Boston 1797).

Charlevoix, Pierre-François-Xavier de

Histoire et description generale de la Nouvelle France avec le Journal historique d'un voyage fait par ordre du roi dans l'Amérique Septentrionnale. (Paris, Chez Didot, 1744).

The history of Paraguay : containing amongst many other new, curious and interesting particulars of that country, a full and authentic account of the establishments formed there by the Jesuits, from among the savage natives, in the very centre of barbarism: establishments allowed to have realized the sublime ideas of Fenelon, Sir Thomas More, and Plato. (Dublin : Printed for P. & W. Wllson, H. Saunders, W. Sleater, B. Grierson, J. Potts, D. Chamberlaine, and J. Williams, 1769).

A voyage to North-America: undertaken by command of the present King of France. Containing the geographical description and natural history of Canada and Louisiana. (Dublin : Printed for John Exshaw, and James Potts, 1766.)

Chetwood, W. R. [William Rufus]

The voyages, dangerous adventures and imminent escapes : of Captain Richard Falconer: containing the laws, customs, and manners of the Indians in America ; ... Intermix'd with the voyages and adventures of Thomas Randal, of Cork, pilot. (London : Printed for W. Chetwood ; T. Jauncy ; A. Bettesworth ; J. Brotherton, W. Meadows ; and J. Graves, 1720).

Franklin, Benjamin

Two tracts: information to those who would remove to America. : And, remarks concerning the savages of North America. (London : Printed for John Stockdale, 1784).

Frézier, Amédée François

A voyage to the South-Sea, and along the coasts of Chili and Peru : in the years 1712, 1713, and 1714… .  (London : Printed for Jonah Bowyer, 1717).

Joutel, Henri

Journal historique du dernier voyage que feu M. de LaSale fit dans le golfe de Mexique, pour trouver l'embouchure, & le cours de la riviere de Missicipi, nommeé à present la riviere de Saint Loüis, qui traverse la Louisiane : où l'on voit l'histoire tragique de sa mort, & plusieurs choses curieuses du Nouveau monde / par Monsieur Joutel, l'un des compagnons de ce voyage. (À Paris : Chez Estienne Robinot, libraire ... [1713]).

Long, John

Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the manners and customs of the North American Indians ... to which is added, a vocabulary of the Chippeway language. (London: Printed for the author and sold by Robson ... T. and J. Egerton ... White and Son ... [&c.], 1791).

Lahontan, Baron de [Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce de Lahontan]

New voyages to North-America. Containing an account of the several nations of that vast continent ; their customs, commerce, and way of navigation upon the lakes and rivers ... Illustrated with twenty three mapps and cutts. (London : Printed for H. Bonwicke ; T. Goodwin, M. Wotton, B. Tooke ; and S. Manship, 1703).

Meares, John

Collection de cartes géographiques, vues, marines, plans et portraits, relatifs aux voyages du capitaine J. Meares. … Précédée d'une table indicative de la correspondance des planches avec les diverses parties de l'ouvrage. (Paris : F. Buisson, An 3e de la République [1795]).

Voyages made in the years 1788 and 1789, from China to the N.W. coast of America.     
(London : At the Logographic Press : And sold by J. Walter, 1790).

Rochefort, Charles de

Histoire natvrelle et morale des iles Antilles de l'Ameriqve : ... avec un vocabulaire caraïbe. (A Roterdam : Chez Arnold Leers ; Et se vend a Paris : Par Anthoine Cellier, 1659).

Sanson, Nicolas

L'Amerique en plusieurs cartes nouvelles et exactes ; et en divers traittez de geographie et d'histoire. [Paris : 1683].

Stedman, John Gabriel

Narrative, of a five years' expedition, against the revolted Negroes of Surinam, in Guiana, on the wild coast of South America, from the year 1772, to 1777 : elucidating the history of that country, and describing its productions, viz. quadrupedes, birds, fishes, reptiles, trees, shrubs, fruits, & roots ; with an account of the Indians of Guiana, & Negroes of Guinea. (London : Printed for J. Johnson, St. Paul's Church Yard, & J. Edwards, Pall Mall, 1796).

Marmontel, Jean-François

Le Huron : comédie en deux actes et en vers, meslée d'ariettes. Représentée pour la premiere fois par les Comédiens italiens ordinaires du roi, le 20 août 1768. (A Paris : Chez Merlin, 1768).

Voltaire. [François-Marie Arouet.]

Le Huron ou l'Ingénu. (A Lausanne. [i.e. Paris : Lacombe], 1767).

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