Wednesday, January 03, 2007

One of the Oldest Items in Our Collections

In the vault of the Sandusky Library Archives Research Center is a manuscript copy, dated 1787, of a phrase book, containing translations of words, phrases, and speeches, from English to a local Native American language, possibly the Wyandot/Huron language. This item was donated to the library in 1943, by Dr. Marjorie Anderson (1892-1954) -- a professor at Hunter College in New York, a poet, author, former employee at the Sandusky Library, and native Sanduskian. (She was the great-granddaughter of Dr. George Anderson, Sandusky's first physician -- he died in the cholera outbreak of 1834, after treating infected patients.)

The manuscript is attributed to E.R. Jewett, but the accuracy of this claim is far from certain -- the only signatures with the Jewett name are written in pencil along the margin of a page, and don't seem to match the rest of the handwriting. Who E.R. Jewett was is also unclear -- there was a businessman in Buffalo named Elam R. Jewett, who owned a publishing company and engraving business; this E.R. Jewett, however, appears to have been born around 1811, much later than the date of this manuscript. Could there have been an earlier E.R. Jewett, who travelled around the Sandusky Bay in 1787? Or was this phrase book written by someone else (whose name we do not know), but later owned by E.R. Jewett of Buffalo? Or is there another explanation? (Anybody out there looking for a research project?)

Also, some of you might be wondering, "How could this manuscript be marked 'Sandusky, 1787' when we know that the city of Sandusky was not founded until 1818?" In fact, in that era most of the region around Sandusky Bay and along the Sandusky River was identified simply as "Sandusky." It is possible (or even likely) that this phrase book was written in or around what is now known as the city of Fremont, which was called Lower Sandusky until 1849, and was the site of a Wyandot village in the 18th century. (The city named Upper Sandusky -- farther up the Sandusky River -- still exists, of course.) For those who study Native American languages and cultures, and the early interactions between those peoples and the European settlers, this document may prove an invaluable resource. Although access to the original item is restricted due to its age and fragility, the entire document (21 leaves on 32 digital images) is available in digital format at the library.

Update: Oops. . . . I forgot about the Reverend Edward R. Jewett, who was a founder of the Bethel Church on Water Street (between Decatur and Jackson) in Sandusky in 1852. The image below shows Reverend Jewett some thirty years later. So we might be able to assume that the phrase book was in the Reverend Jewett's possession at some point, but we still do not know the complete provenance of this document.
Update 2: Here is an enlarged view of a portion of a page from the phrase book:


Anonymous said...

In the 1780s an Indian Agent and interpreter, John Dodge, (1752-1795) was based in the Sandusky region. He was known to be fluent in the Wyandot language and was used as an interpreter often. He also was quite a writer. He wrote a tract about having been captured by the British and tortured. He wrote numerous letters to Congress. In 1787, he is believed to have been in the Kaskaskia/Ste. Genevieve area (where he died). Toward the end of his life, he may have been hard up for cash. It is possible that he wrote the phrase book and that he or his widow or family gave it or sold it to someone else, perhaps Jewett. has a number of his letters, in his own writing (image no. 493097) as does the Library of Virginia website (documents system no. 000508201, 000508207, and others). I cannot see your image well enough to be able to compare the handwriting (and Dodge's varied a bit, seemingly according to how much he had been drinking) but with good copies, it might be possible to determine whether or not he was the author of the phrase book.

Would it be possible for us to discuss this further, please?
Thank you

Sandusky Library Archives Research Center said...

A more detailed image of a portion of a page from the phrase book has been added to the end of the article. I hope that is clearer for you. For more information, you could contact me at:

Dave said...

Hello, I was told a story about why American Indians would not settle the present day site of the City of Sandusky. It was said that sickness was prevalent here (unknown type - I figure it was and the Indians would only come here to hunt and fish and then leave. Is the there any truth to this story and if not which tribe settled in the Sandusky proper area? I know they settled in Huron and then toward Fremont but not here?