1854: A Train of Terrible Miseries


It may appear to those whom I have the honor to address a singular taste for me, an Indian, to take an interest in the triumphal days of a people who occupy, by conquest or have usurped, the possessions of my fathers and have laid and carefully preserved a train of terrible miseries to end when my race ceased to exist…. Let it not surprise you, my friends, when I say that the spot upon which I stand has never been rightly purchased or obtained. And by justice, human and Divine, is the property of the remnant of the great people from whom I am descended. They left it in the tortures of starvation and to improve their miserable existence; but a cession was never made, and their title was never extinguished.

My friends, your Holy Book, the Bible, teaches us that individual offenses are punished in an existence—when time shall be no more—and the annals of the earth are equally instructive that national wrongs are avenged, and national crimes atoned for in this world to which alone the conformation of existence adapts them. These events are above our comprehension, and for a wise purpose; for myself and for my tribe I ask for justice—I believe it will sooner or later occur, and may the Great Spirit enable me to die in hope.

—John Wannuaucon Quinney, from a speech given July 4, 1854 in Reidsville, NY. Read the full speech here.

Quinney was a Mohican diplomat, representative, and advocate. He is credited with being the first to use the term “Native American” (In a 1852 address to Congress).

Originally from the New England area, the Mohican were pressured to relocate to northeastern Wisconsin under the federal Indian Removal Program in the 1830’s. The tribe’s name—Muh-he-ka-neew—came from their original home: “People of the continually flowing waters.”

According to the Declaration of Independence, one of King George’s alleged wrongs had been his incitement of “insurrections” by Native Americans—who are referred to a “merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” The tragic irony, of course—repeated so often in history—is that the leaders of one insurrection could not see the justice of another.

Image: Portrait of Quinney by Amos C. Hamlin, Jr. (source)

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