John Wannuaucon Quinney (Mahican) (1797-1855)

    Contributing Editor:
    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 and Aupaumut.

    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.