John Wannuaucon Quinney (Mahican) (1797-1855)
Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr.
Classroom Issues and Strategies
By the time students get to Quinney, they should be familiar with the
broad social issues of the period involving non-white peoples: slavery
and emancipation, American imperialism in the Hispanic Southwest, and Indian
removal and genocide. Quinney's speech can be placed thematically into
this broad context. It can also be presented as a text reflecting the culmination
of a long historical process of genocide and cultural discontinuity, beginning
with Columbus or Bradford.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Major themes include cultural decline, assimilation, genocide, racism,
Manifest Destiny, "progress," oral versus written history, Christianity
and native culture.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
In most ways the speech reflects the oratorical styles of the day, but
the reader might find it fruitful to analyze the ways in which Quinney
applies his comments to his specific audience, draws on their knowledge
of American history, and makes emotional appeals for justice.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
The central issue in Quinney's speech is the displacement of the Mahican
people throughout American history. Texts that touch on that displacement
in earlier periods-- Bradford's
or Rowlandson's and
other King Philip's War texts, for example--can provide background to show
how Quinney arrived at the views of history he expressed in 1854.
To demonstrate how other Indians looked at Quinney's themes of genocide,
cultural destruction, assimilation, and removal, students can analyze the
works of other Indian writers of the same period: Apess,
Boudinot, and Ridge.
For earlier generations, they should look at the works of Occom
Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing
Besides the ideas suggested above, the student might choose a writer
from the next or a subsequent generation-- Standing
Bear, for example--to reach conclusions concerning the effects of removal
as a final solution to the "Indian Problem" or to determine whether
the justice that Quinney appealed for was gained by Indians. In other words,
to what extent do later Indian writers play on the same themes as Quinney?
If such broad questions do not appeal to students, something as specific
as the way Jonathan Edwards
viewed the Stockbridges (Mahicans) might be fruitful to explore.