…and another called Favre
On, March 27, 1765, British Governor Johnstone was eloquent. He said:
“Wether the English or the French had prevailed was in the power of the Mighty Spirits who made the World & all the things therein, who maketh the Thunder to Roll & and the Storms to Blow, and the Seed to Rise & the Sun to enlighten the Earth & the Stars to Shine at Night.”
It was after the French and Indian War, and the British had been awarded West Florida in 1763. It was necessary for them to make friends with the native population, and for the natives to become accustomed to the replacement of the French as their allies. A Congress of Choctaw chiefs had been called at Mobile, and negotiations were in progress. It was the time for several chiefs to make their feelings known. Their oratory was striking. Present were Governor Johnstone, his Superintendant, chiefs, and interpreters.
The speakers can be observed speaking indirectly to the officials, but directly to a man named Favre. Because of the year, we reason that this was Jean Claude Favre, father of Simon and son of Jean Baptiste Favre. All three, in their time, were interpreters between the rulers and the Choctaw nations. The first had come to Louisiana with Iberville. [For records of three British grants in the will of Simon Favre, see postings on Lawrence County and the Favre family on this site.]
There are primarily two reasons to post this discussion. One is that the significance of the family of Favre, about whom much has been written on this site, can be understood in an historical context. Another is simply to give readers the opportunity to hear in their minds’ ears what a Choctaw chief had to say.
No savage was he.
Alibamo Mingo was called “savage,” as were all the Native Americans of the time, but I prefer to think that a literal meaning of the French word meant “wild,” in that they lived in a primitive land and lived off the land, and were uneducated in the way of the European newcomers.
Alibamo the Choctaw chief was not an ignorant, unthinking man. Unquestionably, his nation and others were war-like, but he was not merely the ruler of a band of subhuman savages. He was a man, like the reader or this writer. He was also an orator.
The British must have travelled with scriveners, essentially stenographers whose duties included recording of important meetings and the orders of the governor. Presumably, these were men educated on a more formal level than the interpreters. They may also have been schooled in shorthand, which had long since been invented. Written recordings must have taken three forms: the words of the chiefs, the nearest English equivalents, and the meanings as understood by the scribes.
It may be difficult to sort out precisely whose words are in the quote below. Obviously, they are those of either the interpreter or the scribe, and probably a combination of the two. Kept in context, they represent the wisdom of a leader of men who were faced with a new phase of enormous change and threat to their way of existence. Overall, the chiefs manifest a remarkable candor about their having been more primitive before receiving help from the white men, and give credit in surprising ways.
It was Monday, April 1, 1765, when Alibamo Mingo began to speak. He was not the first to speak, but I have chosen to report his oration in the beginning because he makes clear the connection and importance of the interpreter. It is evident that he was addressing Favre. The speech he delivered was recorded below. Language and spellings appear as they do in the Mississippi Provincial Archives.
“You Favre have always heard me Speak in every Assembly, Since you was a Boy, but now that I am Old without Teeth, half Blind, and all the Race Convened to give their Sentiments, perhaps it may not be proper for me to Speak. Nevertheless I feel myself so fired with the Occasion that I cannot refrain.
“I am of the Great Race of Ingulacta, I am the Master of the whole Choctaw Nation by Birth, by Long Employment & by Long Experience it is to me to give Instruction to the rest, I have made alliance with the other Race of Imongulacha, and we have agreed that our Talk Should be one, I heard the Words of the Chiefs with great Attention, and when I wished for my Eyes & Ears & my Teeth again.
“When I was Young, the White Men came amongst us bearing abundance along with them, I took them by the hand & have ever remained firm to my Engagements, in return all my wants and those of my Warriors & Wives & Children have been Bountifully Supplied. I now See another Race of White Men Come amongst us bearing the Same abundance, & I expect they will be equally Bountyfull which must be done if they wish equally to gain the affection of my people.
“I and my Men have used the Guns of France these Eighty Winters Back, I wish I was Young to try the English Guns & English Powder both of which I hope will flourish & rejoice the Heart of the Hunters thro’ the Land and Cover the Nakedness of the Women.
“With respect to the Land I was not Consulted in it, if I was to deliver my Sentiments evil disposed People might impute it to Motives very different from those which actuate me, it is true the Land belonged chiefly to those who have given it away; that the Words which were Spoken have been written with a Lasting Mark, the Superintendant marks every word after word as one would count Bullets so that no variation can happen, & therefore the words have been Spoken and the eternal marks traced I will not say anything to contradict, but, on the Contrary Confirm the Cession which has been made. What I have now to Say on that head is, to wish that all the Land may be Settled in four years that I may See it myself before I die.
“I Listened to all the parts of the Talks and Liked them exceeding well, except that part form the Superintendant, where he reported that those Medal Chiefs who did not behave well Should be broke & their Medals given to others. The Conversation I have held with Faver, in private, has rung every Night in my Ear, as I laid my Head on the bear Skin & as I have many Enemies in the Nation, I dreamed I should be the Person, which would bread my heart in my Old Age, to Loose the Authority I have so long held.
“I cannot Immagine the Great King could Send the Superintendant to deceive us. In case we deliver up our French Medals & Commissions we expect to receive as good in their place, and that we Should bear the Same Authority & be entitled to the Same presents, If you wish to Serve your Old Friends you may give New Medals & Commissions & presents, but the worthy cannot bear to be disgraced without a fault, Neither will the Generous Inflict a Punishment without a Crime.
“There was one thing I would mention tho’ it cannot concern myself, & that is the Behaviour of the traders towards our Women, I was told of old by the Creeks & Cherokees, wherever the English went they caused disturbances for they lived under no Government and paid no respect either to Wisdom or Station. I hoped for better things, that those Old Talks has no truth in them. One thing I must report which has happened within my own knowledge, that often when the Traders sent for a Basket of Bread & the Generous Indian sent his own wife to Supply their wants instead of taking the Bread out of the Basket they their hand upon the Breast of their Wives which was not to be admitted, for the first maxim in our Language is that Death is preferable to disgrace.
“I am not of opinion that in giving Land to the English, we deprive ourselves of the use of it, on the Contrary, I think we shall share it with them, as for Example the House I now Speak in was built by the White people on our Land yet is divided between the White & the Red people. Therefore we need not be uneasy that thee English Settle upon our Lands as by that means they can more easily Supply our wants.”
Extracts of speeches by other chiefs
The first speaker among the chiefs was Tomatly Mingo of Ceneacha, a great medal chief in the district of the six villages. Part of what he said was: “I am the first of the Race of Imonglatcha it is true I am a poor Red Man who come into the World Naked, and since my rising into Manhood have Acquired no Necessary Arts to Supply those Wants; Yet I am going to deliver my Sentiments to my Father Boldly as a man who does not regard trifling Inconvenience.”
Another speaker was Nassuba Mingo. “What can I say which is worthy, after so many great Chiefs have delivered their sentiments or what can we Say which is worthy the attention of those who are Listning to our Talk.
“Formerly I was Young and hardy & went to War and changed my Sentiments by the hour, since I became old I began to see the Vanity of things, & act with Stability Void of Passion, I have declared myself an Englishman & I am so.”
Tabuka said: “Chiefs, Warriors and People Present, Be not Surprised at the manner, I shall address myself to the makers of Powder and Ball, I am of the Race of Muntgatacha and have a Right to Speak.
“Formerly we had no knowledge of things necessary for our Existence, we were unable even of making the first Necessary which is Fire; that in case of the Rain happening amongst us as it had on the two preceeding Day, to a degree to extinguish all our Fires, we must have been in the greatest distress Supposing we had not known the Art
Taught us by the White Man on that Subject which is now become so familiar and Usefull.
On March 27, 1765, Chulustamastabe, a Choctaw leader, begged that he might be heard. He said:
“…that he Considered himself only as a poor ignorant Savage, who has not even the means of Subsisting his Family, & is Conscious that he shall make but an indifferent Speech….there is much more Merit in Dying a Natural Death by keeping the Straight Path, than in Perishing under the Miseries of War….
“That when the Red Men speak they Sometimes disguise their Real Sentiments, but on this occasion his fathers may observe that he bears in his Hand a White Wing, Wherewith he fans the Words he Speaks and thereby prevents all bad Talks from Escaping his Lips, or Entering into his Heart….”
Returning to the Interpreters
The above may not add a great deal to our pursuit of the Favres, but it is in the accidental findings where sometimes is found joy in doing research.
One such is the fluency and articulation of the speeches of the chiefs. As a group, they seem to employ initially no self-aggrandizement, but then quickly launch into oratory. As one said in the convocation, speaking of other Choctaw chiefs, “All want to be orators.”
If there is a pattern in their deliveries, it consists of a bit of self-deprecation moving without pause to the punch line for the British to hear.
There is beauty in the chiefs’ words, even allowing for interpretation. But the fact that there was interpretation leads to several questions. One, how rich was the Choctaw language? It is evident that their thoughts as reported were deep in meaning, but is the eloquence that of the interpreter, or the scrivener, or the particular chief being reported.
Another consideration is the possibility that a more embellished writing was done after the interpreter had given his report.
Another question is prompted: if it was the interpreter who displayed the mastery of the English language, his eloquence would seem to show that he must have been a man of some education and refinement. This is difficult to believe about young cabin boys who were put out to live with tribes to learn the language. Indeed, the first Favre is believed to have been a cabin boy, and Higginbotham in his editing of the Iberville Journal identifies several more by name.
It is certainly a test of credulity to think that the Favre of the 1760’s would have been given such talents by his father, believed to have been one of those cabin boys.
So, the question remains, who are to be credited with the written words, and how close were those words to the meaning meant by the orator chief?
Earlier, the governor had proclaimed that all “was in the power of the Mighty Spirits.” At Pensacola on June 23, 1766, Governor Johnstone had more to say:
“Things being thus provided it is proposed that five hundred Regulars, and one hundred Choctaws, and two hundred Marines, and fifty Rangers, and two light Field Pieces with a proper Train, and one hundred and fifty Horses, should embark for the Chactaw Hatche River that runs into Rose Bay.
“That these should march forthwith against the Lower Creek Towns destroying Men, That these should march forthwith against the Lower Creek Towns destroying Men, Women, and Children.”
It appears he was taking things out of God’s hands. He was also asking the Choctaws to help fight his wars.