Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

Robert Dale Parker

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Jane Johnston Schoolcraft


Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (b. 1800–d. 1842) was the first known American Indian literary writer. She wrote poetry and short fiction and translated Ojibwe songs into English. Her Ojibwe name was Bamewawagezhikaquay, which she translated into English as Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing through the Sky, a lyrical rather than a literal translation. She was born in Sault Ste. Marie in what is now northern Michigan. Schoolcraft’s mother, Ozhaguscodaywayquay, grew up in what is now northern Wisconsin, the daughter of Waubojeeg, a famous war chief and leader in civil life who was known for his eloquence in story and song. Schoolcraft’s father, John Johnston, was an Irish fur trader. Despite living in an area that white people saw as the farthest reach of the frontier, John Johnston collected a huge library. He raised his children with superb educations in English and European literature, history, and theology, as Ozhaguscodaywayquay, who did not speak English, immersed them in the traditions of Ojibwe song and storytelling. In 1822 the American government came to Sault Ste. Marie with army troops and a federal Indian agent, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Henry immersed himself in the study of Ojibwe language and culture, and in 1823 Jane and Henry married. To pass the long northern winters in 1826 and 1827, Henry assembled a handwritten magazine, the Literary Voyager, or Muzzeniegun, consisting mostly of his own writings but with work by others as well, including works by Jane, mostly poems and stories. Depending heavily on Jane and her family, Henry became an influential founder of American cultural anthropology. In 1839 he published the first large-scale collection of written-down and translated Indian stories, Algic Researches. The surviving manuscripts show that Jane and her brother William wrote some of the stories. Jane probably varied in how much she gave traditional stories the stamp of her own personality and style, much as oral storytellers and writers blend their own styles with styles they have heard or read before. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow based his most famous poem, The Song of Hiawatha (1855), on Henry’s work, including stories written by Jane and William. In 1833 Schoolcraft and her family moved to Mackinac Island, and in 1841 they moved to New York City. Schoolcraft was unrecognized in her lifetime except by friends and family, and her writings offer a window onto a highly literate Indian world that invites us to reenvision the cultural memory of early America.

Article.  3658 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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