King Philip’s own daughter
...Thoreau's Journal: 26-Jun-1856

Heard of, and sought out, the hut of Martha Simons, the only pure-blooded Indian left about New Bedford. She lives alone on the narrowest point of the Neck, near the shore, in sight of New Bedford. Her hut stands some twenty-five rods from the road on a small tract of Indian land, now wholly hers. It was formerly exchanged by a white man for some better land, then occupied by Indians, at Westport, which he wanted. So said a Quaker minister, her neighbor. The squaw was not at home when we first called. It was a little hut not so big as mine. Vide sketch by R., with the little bay not far behind it. No garden; only some lettuce amid the thin grass in front, and a great white pile of clam and quahog shells one side. She ere long came in from the seaside, and we called again. We knocked and walked in, and she asked us to sit down. She had half an acre of the real tawny Indian face, broad with high cheek-bones, black eyes, and straight hair, originally black but now a little gray, parted in the middle. Her hands were several shades darker than her face. She had a peculiarly vacant expression, perhaps characteristic of the Indian, and answered our questions, listlessly, without being interested or implicated, mostly in monosyllables, as if hardly present there. To judge from her physiognomy, she might have been King Philip’s own daughter. Yet she could not speak a word of Indian, and knew nothing of her race. Said she had lived with the whites, gone out to service to them when seven years old. Had lived part of her life at Squaw Betty’s Neck, Assawampsett Pond. Did she know Sampson’s? She’d ought to; she’d done work enough there. She said she was sixty years old, but probably nearer seventy. She sat with her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands and that peculiar vacant stare, perhaps looking out the window between us, not repelling us in the least, but perfectly indifferent to our presence.
She was born on that spot. Her grandfather had also lived on the same spot, though no in the same house. He was the last of her race who could speak Indian. She has heard him pray in Indian, but could only understand “Jesus Christ.” Her only companion was a miserable tortoise-shell kitten which took no notice of us. She had a stone chimney, a small cooking-stove without fore legs, set up on bricks within it, and a bed covered with dirty bed-clothes. Said she hired out her field as pasture; better for her than to cultivate it. There were two young heifers init. The question she answered with most interest was, “What do you call that plant?” and I reached her the aletris from my hat. She took it, looked at it a moment, and said, “That’s husk-root. It’s good to put into bitters for a weak stomach.” The last year’s light-colored and withered leaves surround the present green star like a husk. This must be the origin of the name. Its root is described as intensely bitter. I ought to have had my hat full of plants.

A conceited old Quaker minister, her neighbor, told me with a sanctified air, “I think that the Indians were human beings; dost thee not think so?” He only convinced me of his doubt and narrowness.


michael jameson said...

it is a sad journey through life when you are the last of your kind!,and lonely! even today we see certain people as savages and relate that to an animal not human?,who are the civilized ones? and have we really changed that much on the whole?, if you need the answer NO! oh im sure the readers of thoreau have, but most should look in the mirror and be ashamed !. michael jameson oldantiqueguy@hotmail.com

michael jameson said...

FROM MY HEART are we not of one race,do we not feel pain and loss,are we not scared,and do we not wish we could make peace with our pasts!, do we have to hate not to be hated,we are mankind and we are different or we are nothing!