William Apess (Pequot) (1798-?)
A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Apess was a powerful orator and the first American Indian protest writer.
At a time when whites presumed Indians were dying out or being moved west
of the Mississippi, Apess attacks whites' treatment of Indians using forceful
language and rhetorical skill. He contrasts the abject degradation of Indians
with their natural ingenuity.
The instructor should address attitudes toward the Indians and explain
problems faced by Indians in the early nineteenth century. Consider presenting
historical material on what had happened to East Coast Indians. The Pequot
history (Apess's tribe) is briefly outlined in the section of the headnote
on teaching strategy.
Students often ask why Indians turned to Christianity and used it as
an appeal to their white audiences. See comments on the Occom
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
1. Indian-white relations--especially the impact of the Indian Removal
Bill. Apess is clearly reacting to the whites' attitudes reflected in the
bill to remove Indians from east of the Mississippi River and to the stereotypes
of Indians present in Indian captivity narratives.
2. Emphasis by American Indian authors and slave narrators on achieving
equality through Christianity.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
1. Use of persuasive, oratorical style and appeal to emotions of audience.
Note how Apess compares non-Indians' professed Christianity with their
unchristian treatment of Indians and blacks.
2. Use of a series of rhetorical questions to his audience about what
Indians have suffered.
3. Use of biblical quotations to support position.
1. Religious orientation of audience, which would have expected appeals
to biblical authority.
2. Prejudice toward Indians of early-nineteenth-century audiences.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Compare with speeches by Indians, Copway's
autobiography--sections on worth of Indian and picture of Indian family
life, which buttress Apess's arguments for treating Indians as human beings.
Compare with slave narratives, which also argue for essential humanity
of people of all races.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing
1. (a) Relationship between publication of this document and debate
over passage of Indian Removal Bill. Also relationship to miscegenation
bill in Massachusetts passed around this time.
2. (a) Compare/contrast the oratorical styles used by Apess and Douglass
and their treatment of Indian-white relations.
(b) Compare and contrast the oratorical style used by Apess and American
Indian orators such as Logan and Seattle.
(c) Discuss Apess's and the slave narrators' criticisms of the treatment
of Indians and slaves by white Christians.
(d) Discuss the influence of Christianity and its concept of the essential
equality of all men under God as expressed by Apess and Copway and by slave
narrators such as Douglass.
Listed in headnotes. Best general article on Apess is O'Connell's. Mine
deals with Apess's autobiography. On the context, the articles in The
Northeast are excellent.