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‘Accused of Being Half-Indian’
Native American Legacy and Identity in Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America


Thanks to Lynn Lockhart for making this wonderful document available for my study.

In Kalm’s 407 page documentation of his year of exploration in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York from 1848 through spring of 1849, he demonstrates a keen fascination for “Native American” and “First American” or “Old American” lore, ethnography, crafts and medicine. Himself Swedish, he interviewed the eldest Swedes of New Jersey, people being up to 100 years old to discover the history of cultivation and ethnography. On four points he corroborates Gotlieb Mitterberger’s account:

-1. That the founding generation of Europeans lived as long as the Indians, to great old age, exceeding even 100 years with many of the first settlers seeing great, great grandchildren, and that with the diminishment of the forest and the fisheries and the expansion of agriculture and introduction of brandy and rum that both races saw a great diminishment in their physical stature, health and longevity between 1640s and the 1740s.

-2. That the Indians had very European facial features, and that other than skin color [which both attributed to paint and nakedness] and their superior stature and muscularity, the Indians were very like Europeans.

-3. That bricks, wells, tombs, pottery, stone walls and fitted doors—many of these turned up by plows and during well-digging operations—indicating either that the natives had once had a higher level of technology or that they had been preceded by a higher culture. According to the Indians Kalm interviewed, these things were already in existence when their people migrated into the area. Kalm and other scholars suggested that the European facial features of the natives was close enough to Middle Eastern Caucasians to suggest that some tribe of Israelites long ago settled in this land. He also suggests marooned Europeans as a source for these artifacts.

-4. That after a generation among the forests of North America, that settlers began losing their religion and behaving like free-spirited Indians, seeking to be their own master.

Kalm made some additional observations concerning the Indians and pre-settlement times:

-1. That very tall grasses existed under the high forest canopy which supported Elk and Bison in limited numbers but that this resource was destroyed by Swedish introduced cattle.

-2. That vast salmon, oyster and mussel fisheries once supported large coastal populations of natives in much the same way as the Pacific Northwest.

-3. Other than beating Indian women and children with clubs and sticks for taking fruit from their orchards, the Swedes got along famously well with the local Indians but that Indians from elsewhere, unknown to the Swedes, would make raids on Swedish homesteads to abduct children.

-4. That numerous types of very useful trees, such as white cedar had already been depleted to extinction and that New Jersey was practically denuded of its native forests.

-5. Negroes had to bury their dead outside of towns and that they often intermarried with Indians, even though the first Indians who saw negroes found them even more disturbing to their worldview than Europeans, with both having extreme color tones that seemed unnatural.

-6. Bees were called by the Indians of the Eastern Woodlands, English Flies, for there were not previously bees in Northeastern North America. There does appear to have been honey in Florida, according to a secondary source, Piers Anthony’s Tathum Mound. Another secondary sours, Eckert, in A Sorrow in our Heart, points out that bees warned Indians of impending habitat destruction and invasion. According to modern environmentalists plant life is not possible without bees, yet the mystery of beeless North America, the largest rorest in the world, remains.

Kalm was remarked somewhat comically that the first generations of Swedes were accused of being “half-Indian” by the Dutch and English who came afterwards, in that they had adapted native materials to make European style clothing, suggesting a style of dress very similar to later Cree Indians, with heavy European clothing styles made of a mix of native and European fabrics and animal skins.

Kalm uses the terms “white” and “black” as racial designations often, far in excess of earlier commentators who favored Negro and Christian. He seems to be adopting the term White over Christian largely due to the dilemma posed by the Christian conversion of house servants to the elite, who would take their man servants to church with them. He also mentions how Negro women were referred over Negro men as their children entered the world as free slaves. Both Kalm’s Christian attitudes and class sensibilities predict late modern and postmodern American race politics, in which the elite European Americans habitually ally with African Americans against the middle and lower classes of European Americans.

Kalm has determined that bed bugs were imported from Europe, that fleas and lice were indigenous and that cockroaches were imported from the West Indies, that Pennsylvanians bathed every Saturday and that the cost of hired labor was ruinous and encouraged the traffic in servants. The picture of the Mid-Atlantic Plantation emerges as a farm of some hundreds of acres, owned by a nuclear family, keeping a house served by a negro servant and negro maidservant and a gang of unfree European-American servants employed in land clearance and agriculture under the supervision of an eldest son or a hired overseer.

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