Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Chapter 6: The Oneida Accounts: Not a WDS

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Chapter 6: The Oneida Accounts: Not a WDS

Article excerpt

Three accounts from within the Oneida homeland, situated far to the east of Seneca territory, appear related to the WDS. The most extensive of these was recorded by the Reverend Samuel Kirkland (1741-1808): a report that describes a feast involving the meat of two dogs combined with the ritual sacrifice of a third dog. This account provides the only evidence for the presence among the Oneida of a ritual somewhat resembling the WDS. Important to our basic understanding of Oneida rituals is Kirkland's record of his personal observations that actually suggests the absence of the WDS. The single most significant record of a transitional ritual appears in his journal for 1800. Nine years earlier Kirkland had recorded another clue to the origins of the WDS but reveals that it was from among the Seneca, and not the Oneida. The 1791 record documents an observation made some 27 years earlier, when Kirkland had gone to live in the area of the Five Nations in 1764, as a young Presbyterian missionary, and took up residence among the Seneca. Kirkland relocated to an Oneida village in 1766.

During his very brief Seneca period, Kirkland made no reference to anything resembling the WDS. In 1783, however, he recounted some details of the Seneca midwinter rituals to Ezra Stiles (an account that has been presented earlier in this volume), together with the Seneca data on the WDS. During the 44 years between 1764 and 1808, he recorded only three observations that might relate in any way to the WDS among the Oneida.

Kirkland's 1791 account appears in some ways to be ancestral to the WDS, a ritual that never entered the Oneida midwinter ceremonies. The year 1791, just following the end of the War for Independence, was significant because the Oneida were notable for their general support during the war of the emerging United States. The stresses suffered by the other Five Nations affiliates following their defeat were considerable, but the problems were magnified among the Oneida. The Oneida, being significantly distinct in offering their support to the Colonists during the Revolution, may have expected far better treatment than they received from the new federal government. In 1791, Kirkland recorded a narration that reflects a vision that may relate to the origins of the WDS.12 The WDS became a feature of the midwinter rituals among the Seneca, emerging between 1798 and 1800.

The Pilkington (1980) edition of Kirkland's writings offers a limited view of the many versions of these accounts. Christine Sternberg Patrick's research (2009) has revealed at least 35 previously unpublished journals or early copies of Kirkland's diaries that were not mentioned by Pilkington. The following transcription was kindly provided by Dr. Patrick (personal communications, 11 October 2009, 13 March 2012), who is compiling the many copies of the Kirkland journals for a definitive publication. Dr. Patrick's records of Kirkland's journal for 13 June-14 October 1791, of which two copies are known, include the following, from "Copy, Papers of Samuel Kirkland, Dartmouth College, MS-867." A contemporary copy examined by Patrick is cited as "Copy, Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America, Massachusetts Historical Society, Ms N-176, Box 1." Patrick found the Dartmouth College version to have no significant differences from the version at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

22d [August 1791J. Monday; Last evening the Oneida Chief gave me an account of a vision, which one of the professed Pagans declared he had the day before yesterday; his story of which commands the attention of the whole village. The substance of the vision 1 transcribe, as related to me by this Chief, which he declares he had from the Pagan, whom he found sitting by the river side, naked &r painted in the Indian stile.

"My friend, are you surprized to see me here? My eyes have been opened into the true light. I have seen the path, in which our forefathers walked. …

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