Saturday, February 28, 2009

Voyagers to the East, Part XXII

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

If you had lived in France during the sixteenth century, and had been a person of at least moderate wealth (sufficient to allow you to travel throughout the kingdom), there is an excellent chance you would have been able to meet, or at least see, a Native American traveler during your lifetime. There were approximately 100 Indian visitors to France between 1505 and 1613, beginning with a Carijo chief's son, baptized as Binot de Gonneville, whose biracial descendant became an abbot. The mariner Thomas Aubert brought 7 Micmacs -- the first North American sojourners in France - to Rouen in 1508, and Verrazzano may have brought back a southeastern Algonquian boy in 1524. Explorer Jacques Cartier apparently took a Brazilian Indian girl to France in 1527, though her subsequent fate is unknown (Olive Dickason, The Myth of the Savage and the Beginnings of French Colonialism, 210). Nine years later, Cartier kidnapped Huron chief Donnaconna, his two sons (who had previously been to France), two other chiefs, and five children, and brought them to St. Malo. Most of this cohort died within a few years, but one of the Huron children, a girl, apparently survived to adulthood in France (Dickason, 210-11).

The number of Indian arrivals increased as the French fishing and fur-trading businesses in North America, and French trade with Brazil, expanded later in the century. In 1547 King Henri II granted an audience to Diogo Alvares, a Portuguese shipwreck survivor who had been adopted by the Tupinamba Indians, and his Tupinamba wife Paraguacu, whom Catherine de Medici gave her own name. Henri invited both to remain in France, but they chose instead to return to Brazil (Dickason, Myth of the Savage, 211-212). Henri encountered a much larger cohort of Brazilian Indians in 1550, during his royal entry into Rouen, when he was greeted by several hundred "Indians" - mostly disguised Frenchmen and women, but including 50 actual Tupi-Guarani - who staged a mock battle for him. (At some point during his reign, possibly during this very procession, Henri II received several Tupinamba captives as gifts, and gave them to various nobles as servants.) Henri's successor, Charles IX, also had presented to him several Native American captives, including a Brazilian "king," during his own entries into Troyes and Bordeaux in March 1564 and April 1565, respectively.

Public viewing of Native Americans in 16th-century France peaked with these processions, but there were at least a dozen more Indians who arrived in the kingdom by the early seventeenth century. According to Jacques Noel, between 1550 and 1587 French fur traders brought several North American Indians to the port of St. Malo, where they were baptized and lived at least part of their lives; they included a Micmac or Beothuk man, Jehan, who was baptized in 1553 (Dickason, 211). Around 1570, sailors brought to France a Micmac chief, Messamoet, who subsequently returned to Canada and became an active intermediary between his kinsmen and French traders. Shortly after the turn of the seventeenth century, Henri IV received several Montagnais boys brought to France by Francois Grave du Pont and other survivors of Pierre de Chauvin's short-lived colony on the Saguenay River. One of these boys became a companion to the Dauphin (and died in 1603); two others learned French and returned to Canada in 1603 with Grave du Pont and Samuel de Champlain, whom they served as translators during a diplomatic feast, or tabagie, at Tadoussac. (David Hackett Fischer, Champlain's Dream [New York, 2008], 117, 126, 139.) And a decade later, in 1613, six Tupinambas came with missionaries to Paris, where they exchanged their "native" garb (including feathers and maracas, possibly inauthentic) for French clothing and were baptised, with the King and Queen serving as their godparents. (Dickason, Myth of the Savage, 214-17) For the French, the transport of Indians to the metropole was often accompanied by baptism and presentation to the monarch - that is, the submission of exotic strangers to both the Church and the monarchy, in rituals that sometimes conjoined the authority of both institutions and were intended to strengthen both.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Relevance and Irrelevance of...Zzzzz....

Behold: the most boring History News Network story ever.

(Word to the wise: if your historical essay introduces its subject with the words "Among those whose contributions have largely been overlooked or underrated," the odds are your readers are going to overlook your essay, too.)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Of Beowulf and Fred the Sheep


Via the leading weblog on early medieval Spain, "A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe," comes this intriguing story about about a proposal to date medieval manuscripts through DNA extraction. Since medieval scrolls and books were printed on parchment - animal skin - Timothy Stinson of North Carolina State University hypothesized that it would be possible to determine undated manuscripts' approximate date of origin by extracting animal (principally sheep) DNA from them, then comparing their genetic signature to that of books of known provenance. Stinson presented his proposal at the conference of the Bibliographical Society of America on January 23rd, and it's already generated some press.

The idea apparently isn't new, however; Michael Drout of Wheaton College and his colleague Greg Rose developed it in 2001, and tried to obtain funding for DNA manuscript dating in 2007. Drout noted a significant problem with the proposal in his weblog: nine or ten centuries' worth of handling results in the deposition of quite a bit of human DNA deposition on the edges of books, which in turn leads to cross contamination with sheep DNA. Still, Drout thinks the problems with creating a DNA manuscript database can be surmounted, given enough time and money.

(The illustration above is from the Arni Magnusson Institute, Iceland)