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Jennifer Monaghan remind us, and access to the technologies of literacy (the right quill for a pen, proper ink, a flat surface for writing, light, paper, and, of course, the leisure to compose a letter) was a challenge for many of the Native correspondents of New England.There was always the fear of letters getting lost, stolen, misunderstood, or misplaced—especially with the formal mechanism of the postal system involved, as Eve Bannet and Lindsay O’Neill have both suggested.
Where once the assumption that Native Americans operated outside literacy systems was so powerful that all evidence of Native self-expression was overlooked in favor of English colonial assessments, it is now a core practice of contemporary scholars to first seek the words and expressions of Native people.
Letters are one form among many through which Native experience is marked and recorded, but they are an extraordinarily telling one.
Embedded within those letters are references to far more letters than those that remain.
These new discoveries have transformed the way modern scholars approach Native history.
Mine is probably the last generation in this country to have a felt experience of epistolary exchange now that electronic media have largely replaced handwritten exchanges as the communication mode of choice.
Of course my experience of epistolarity is hardly the same as the eighteenth- and nineteenth- century Native American subjects of my book, , for whom the only tie to family—sometimes for years at a stretch—was the letters that passed between them.
Each includes a high-quality digital image of the original document, a transcription of the documents, and useful annotations that help situate these works and the people involved.
“The Reverend Samson Occom,” lithograph based on an engraving made in Europe in the second half of the eighteenth century (ca. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.
Along with letters, the YIPP includes such odd snippets as runaway ads for Native American servants, with their detailed descriptions of eighteenth-century clothing.
Also included in that archive are petitions, legislative reports, and summonses.