Original Document
Original Document
John Heckewelder, Excerpt from History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations, 1818.

John Heckewelder (1743-1823) based his observations about Indian character and customs on his experiences living among the Delaware and other converts to the Moravian missions in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. In the following passage, he offers his assessment of the Indians' social manners, which he finds in many ways to be more civilized than the stereotype of "savage" would allow.

"The Indians are not only just, they are also in many respects a generous people, and cannot see the aged and sick suffer for want of clothing. To such they will give a blanket, a shirt, a pair of leggings, mocksens [moccasins], etc. Otherwise, when they make presents, it is done with a view to receive an equivalent in return, and the receiver is given to understand what that ought to be. In making presents to strangers, they are content with some trifle in token of remembrance; but when they give any thing to a trader, they at least expect double the value in return, saying that he can afford to do it, since he had cheated them so often.rn They treat each other with civility, and shew much affection on meeting after an absence. . . .

They are not quarrelsome, and are always on their guard, so as not to offend each other. When one supposes himself hurt or aggrieved by a word which has inadvertently fallen from the mouth of another, he will say to him, "Friend, you have caused me to become jealous of you," (meaning that he begins to doubt the sincerity of his friendship,) when the other explaining and saying that he had no bad intention, all is done away with again.rn They do not fight each other; they say that fighting is only for dogs and beasts. They are, however, fond of play, and passing a joke, yet very careful that they do not offend.rn They are ingenious in making satirical observations, which though they create laughter, do not, or but seldom give offence. . . .

Genuine wit, which one would hardly expect to find in a savage people, is not infrequent among them. I have heard them, for instance, compare the English and American nations to a pair of scissors, an instrument composed of two sharp edged knives exactly alike, working against each other for the same purpose, that of cutting. By the construction of this instrument, they said, it would appear as if in shutting, these two sharp knives would strike each together and destroy each other's sharp edges; but no such thing: they only cut what comes between them. And thus the English and Americans do when they go to war against one another. It is not each other they want to destroy, but us, poor Indians, that are between them. By this means they get our land, and, when that is obtained, the scissors are closed again, and laid by for further use."

Credit: John Heckewelder, History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations who once inhabited Pennsylvania and the neighbouring States, revised and expanded edition (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1876), 102-04.
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