University of Virginia Library

3914. INDIANS, Descent of.—

deduction of the origin of our Indians from
the fugitive Trojans, * * * and his manner
of accounting for the sprinkling of their Latin
with Greek, is really amusing. Adair makes
them talk Hebrew. Reinold Foster derives them
from the soldiers sent by Kouli Khan to conquer
Japan. Brerewood, from the Tartars, as well
as our bears, wolves, foxes, &c., which, he says,
“must of necessity fetch their beginning from
Noah's ark, which rested, after the deluge in
Asia, seeing they could not proceed by the
course of nature, as the imperfect sort of living
creatures do, from putrefaction”. Bernard
Romans is of opinion that God created an
original man and woman in this part of the
globe. Doctor Barton thinks they are not
specifically different from the Persians; but,
taking afterwards a broader range, he thinks,
“that in all the vast countries of America, there
is but one language, nay, that it may be proven,
or rendered highly probable, that all the languages
of the earth bear some affinity together”.
This reduces it to a question of definition, in
which every one is free to use his own: to wit,
what constitutes identity, or difference in two
things, in the common acceptation of sameness. All languages may be called the same, as being
all made up of the same primitive sounds,
expressed by the letters of the different alphabets.
But, in this sense, all things on earth are
the same as consisting of matter. This gives
up the useful distribution into genera and
species, which we form, arbitrarily indeed, for
the relief of our imperfect memories. To aid
the question, from whence our Indian tribes
are descended, some have gone into their religion,
their morals, their manners, customs, habits, and physical forms. By such helps it
may be learnedly proved, that our trees and
plants of every kind are descended from those
of Europe; because, like them, they have no
locomotion, they draw nourishment from the
earth, they clothe themselves with leaves in
spring, of which they divest themselves in autumn
for the sleep of winter, &c. Our animals,
too, must be descended from those of Europe,
because our wolves eat lambs, our deer are
gregarious, our ants hoard, &c. But, when for
convenience we distribute languages, according
to common understanding, into classes originally


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different, as we choose to consider them, as the Hebrew, the Greek, the Celtic, the
Gothic; and these again into genera, or families,
as the Icelandic, German, Swedish, Danish,
English; and these last into species, or dialects,
as English, Scotch, Irish, we then ascribe other
meanings to the terms “same” and “ different
”. In some of these senses, Barton, and
Adair, and Foster, and Brerewood, and Morton,
may be right, every one according to his
own definition of what constitutes “identity”.
Romans, indeed, takes a higher stand, and supposes
a separate creation. On the same unscriptural
ground, he had but to mount one
step higher, to suppose no creation at all, but
that all things have existed without beginning
in time, as they now exist, and may forever exist,
producing and reproducing in a circle,
without end. This would very summarily dispose
of Mr. Moreton's learning, and show that
the question of Indian origin, like many others,
pushed to a certain height, must receive the
same answer, “Ignoro”.—
To John Adams. Washington ed. vi, 121.
(M. May. 1813)

See Aborigines.