William Apess (Pequot) (1798-?)

    Contributing Editor:
    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 selections.

    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.

    Original Audience

    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.