This is an autobiography published by William Apess in 1829. I read the electronic version from Archives.org.
It starts with an introduction into his family’s background. He had a white grandfather who married the daughter of the Pequot chief, King Phillip. It then gets into Apess’ early life of how he and his family lived in abject poverty and how they became alcoholic. He was beat by his grandmother and then he was taken away by his uncle. For much of his early life, he is passed down as an indentured servant. For the rest of the autobiography, he himself becomes consumed by alcoholism, he’s constantly grappling with his faith, and he’s constantly trying to find work.
The appendix I had a problem with. I can understand that he’s referencing all of these writers from the English, Spanish, and French colonies throughout the Americas in order to argue that Indians are not as savage as they are depicted (indeed Apess even mentions that his own tribe, the Pequots, didn’t have a printing press to publish their accounts of suffering), but I noticed that it was about as long as the main text. I think it would’ve helped if a lot of that was seeped into the autobiography while the Appendix mainly dealt with the Pequots and basic history behind them.
Although he has all of these problems and grievances, Apess doesn’t seem to have a lot of enmity. I think he was very sad and that that was what brought him so close to religion. I think it’s a reason why he talks a lot about God. It makes him more human because it’s his only source of comfort.
One of the main themes that pop up is the fact that he blames Whites for introducing alcohol, engaging in warfare, taking land, and mating with native women. However, he does think that the ones he comes across have some degree of humanity, including the people who raised him.
The concept of Apess’ identity is also a main thread. He talked about how he was taught that Indians were savages (even though he is one), and how he ran away from a group of women because he thought they looked like Indians. The threat of being returned to savages was also what made him obedient. Later on in his life, he starts questioning himself. When enlisting in the army, he briefly wondered why he would join the same army that took his people’s land.
For every benefit that he has, he’s always thanking God. Apess talks a lot about God because he became a devout Methodist preacher. It is obvious that he used a lot of religious language, including Biblical verses. It was especially highlighted when it described Methodists, himself being included, being persecuted.
Apess mentioned in the beginning that he doesn’t like to be called an “Indian,” and talks about how that word had negative connotations because it was used as a derogatory word against him. He preferred being called a “native.” Throughout the novel, he calls Native Americans his “brethern of the forest,” which is where the title comes from.
The Pequots are a Native American tribe mainly located in Connecticut. They were one of the tribes that came into contact with the Massachusetts Bay Colony three hundred years ago. Dr. Boudinot, in the Appendix, described it as one of the principal nations of the east. They fought the colonists and their native allies in the Pequot War and lost and a lot were condemned into slavery.
Relation to Native American Heritage
There isn’t a lot about Apess’ background as a Pequot, but he does acknowledge that part of him frequently and addresses the way the White colonists treated them, even after they defeated them and took their land. I think the ending of his autobiography is a way of explaining that he’s giving those people a voice, somehow as a Pequot representative among the Americans.
Basically throughout the autobiography and the appendix, Apess made the case that the Native Americans are the chosen people because: 1. He claimed that Adam had the same skin color as them; 2. the word Pequot comes from a town in the Bible called “Pekod.” I can understand that he was trying to frame an identity and history of his people, but by modern standards, I have to be objective.
A Glimpse at Adaptation
This narrative is one that truly shows the struggles (external and internal) of a Native American living in American society. In some ways, a lot of people regardless of who they are can relate to William Apess.
Apess, William. “A Son of the Forest: The Experience of William Apess, a Native of the Forest.” G. F. Bunce, printer. 1831. University of Connecticut Library. Archives.org.