Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880

By Phillip H. Round | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
Six
PROPRIETARY AUTHORSHIP

“PROPRIETARY AUTHORSHIP” is a term that describes a special, social category of writing in which the creator has secured copyright, becoming “visible” in the public sphere as a political entity given legal rights by statute law.1 Such authorship emerged in America in the 1820s to offer “a radical redefinition of what it meant to communicate to a reading public.”2 In Indian Country, Tuscarora writer David Cusick was the first proprietary author of record. His book, David Cusick’s Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations (1828), was the first Native- authored, Native- printed, and Native- copyrighted text. Its title page explicitly points out that this work is “owned” by its author. This is “David Cusick’s History,” no one else’s. On the verso is the requisite paragraph from the New York district court that officially acknowledges Cusick’s copyright. This declaration of legal identity and ownership and the title’s forceful use of the possessive are counterpoised against Cusick’s selfdeprecatory introductory comments:

I have long been waiting in hope that some of my people who have
received an English education, would have undertaken a work as to
give a Sketch of the Ancient History of the Six Nations; but found no
one seemed to concur in the matter, after some hesitation I determined
to commence the work; but found the history involved with fables,
and besides, examining myself, finding so small educated that it was
impossible for me to compose the work without much difficulty…. I,
however, took up a resolution to continue the work, which I have taken
much pains procuring the materials, and translating it into English
language. I have endeavored to throw some light on the history of the

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