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John Quincy Adams and the Winnebagoes

Although Freedom’s Journal lived a relatively short life, it is important in that it was the first American newspaper written by blacks for blacks. From the beginning the editors felt, “…that a paper devoted to the dissemination of useful knowledge among our brethren, and to their moral and religious improvement, must meet with the cordial approbation of every friend to humanity…“.

Freedom’s Journal often included reprints from other newspapers like the one shown here.

The Winnebagoes at the Capital

The interview between the Winnebagoes and President John Quincy Adams is described very handsomely by a correspondent of the National Intelligencer. The address of the old Chief to the President is highly poetical. We copy as much of the article as our columns will admit.

An old chief stepped forth into the centre of the room, with a long uncouth pipe in his hand, which after a brief ceremonial not precisely intelligible, he brought near the President and waved over his head. It was the calumet of peace. Holding it then before him, and pointing to it, he began an harangue in low guttural tones, accompanied with much earnest gesture. He spoke in short paragraphs an Indian half blood reporting them in French, and a second interpreter conveying them in English.

“Father, I am glad to see you. I hold out the pipe, and I take your hand in friendship.

“Father, a cloud has been between us. It was thick and black. I thought once it would never be removed. But now I see your face. It looks upon me pleasantly.

“Father, a long way stretched between us. – There were these who told me it was blocked up. – They said the Red Men could not pass it. I attempted it. It is like the plain path which conducts to the Great Spirit.

“Father, when I came in sight of your home, it looked white and beautiful. My heart rejoiced. – I thought now I should talk with you.

“Father, the Great Spirit gave to his children, the Winnebagoes, a pleasant plant. It is good to smoke. I have it here,” – touching with his finger the bowl of the pipe – ‘I give it you in peace.’

“Father I am as old as you. My heart is true. They told me your heart was black. It is not so. We salute in friendship.

“Father, I say no more. My talk is little. I am a chief among my people. But one is here who will speak to you soon, and tell you better our thoughts.”

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.

The address being ended, a young Winnebago advanced in obedience to a signal from the old warrior, and lighted the pipe with fire struck from a flint. The pipe was then presented to the President, the chief still holding its stem. He inhaled a few puffs, and as the smoke curled gently upward, the savage group gazed with intentness and uttered a low murmur of satisfaction. The chief then handed the calumet to all the spectators in order, and lastly, to each of his tribe. It was next made over in form to the President, to be retained; who, requesting the Indian to lay one hand upon it again, while he pledged him with the other, proceeded to dictate to the interpreter his reply.

“Say to this Chief, I rejoice to see him. He and his brethren are welcome to me and my children.

“Tell him it has grieved me that a cloud has been between us; but I am pleased equally with him that it has been dissipated. It is dispersed like the fumes of the pipe we have smoked. May it never close down upon us more!

“Say – I am glad that he and his companions meet me on this propitious day. Bid him look to the face of the heavens. No cloud is there. The sun shines brightly upon us. The Great Spirit looks down and smiles upon our meeting.

“Say – I hope the same sun will light his path in peace to the abodes of his fathers. When he is gone, I will look upon this pipe with pleasure and should I hear ever after that in place of pacific, any hostile disposition break forth among his nation toward my brethren and children, I will say it is impossible. For I have the word of a Winnebago, which must be true, that his people pledge their amity with mine, and have left this pipe in token of sincerity.

“Say – I yesterday beheld with satisfaction, the sports of himself and his associates, as they practised their ancient war dance upon the green beneath my windows. But a higher pleasure I now experience – and one, the memory of which will endure – in cordially greeting him within these walls, and reciprocating assurance of plighted concord.”

Each of these periods, as soon as interpreted, drew forth a hoarse plaudit from the savage auditors. Once it swelled to a deafening howl, in acknowledgment of the compliment paid to the inviolate integrity of their word.

Source: Freedom’s Journal, December 19, 1828

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