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Title: From Thomas William Magrath, Esq., Upper Canada, to the Rev. Thomas Radcliff, Dublin.
CollectionAuthentic Letters from Upper Canada [Rev. Thomas Radcliff]
SenderMagrath, Thomas Wm
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationfarmer
Sender Religionunknown
OriginErindale, Toronto, Upper Canada
DestinationDublin, Ireland
RecipientRev. Thomas Radcliff
Recipient Gendermale
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count2304
Genreaccount of Indian customs
TranscriptErindale, Toronto, January, 1832.
My dear Sir,
In your last, you express some disappointment at my
not saying any thing of my Indian friends. I really forgot
to do so—my father gives in an annual return of the state
of his mission to the bishop, in which is included that of
the Indian village of the Mississaguas. I send you a copy
The village consists, as well as I recollect, of twenty-four
houses, inhabited by about two hundred and thirty
individuals. It is situated on a high bank of the river
Credit, where what is termed the Pond of that river begins.
On the flat immediately below the present village, the
Mississagua Indians, and other tribes, were in the habit
of encamping for the purpose of salmon-fishing, during
the season.
Their camp, at that time, presented the most heterogeneous
mass of dirty wigwams, surrounded by heaps of
fish bones, offals of deer, and putrid filth of every description. How different is its present appearance! laid out in
beautiful enclosures, well cultivated by their own hands,
and having borne in the last harvest, the finest crop of
Indian corn ever raised in this country. It is gratifying
to perceive, that instead of the drunken and savage brawls,
which disgraced even their beastly orgies, happiness and
peace have sprung up among them, good order, sobriety,
and cleanliness in house and person. I think I hear you
say,—how was this surprizing change effected? I answer
by the Methodist clergy. Although I do not agree with
them in politics, or as to church government, it is but fair
to allow them every credit for their zealous exertions
amongst the Indians, which have been most successful in
several instances, as well at Rice Lake and Simcoe Settlements,
as here.
In passing through our village at an early hour, I have
often heard the morning hymn sung by an Indian family,
in a manner-that would surprise a European, and with
greater sweetness than in many churches. Their demeanour
is moral, their attendance at divine worship regular,
and their observance of the church service, grave and
There arc three chiefs resident in the village-—Lawyer,
Crane and Jones—my friend Lawyer is certainly a very
intelligent and clever fellow, but in council, they complain
of his being sometimes a little long winded. Crane is a
fine specimen of a true Indian. He stands six feet four
inches in height, with a lofty carriage that would do
credit to a guardsman, and "fearlessly looks heaven in the face”
Mr. Jones, happening to dine with us in company with
some friends, surprised the new comers of the party, by
the perfect ease, and unembarrassed manners, with which
he acquitted himself in all the modern attentions of the
table, conversing naturally with both ladies and gentlemen,
on light or graver subjects, with equal address.
They were also struck with his dress, the full costume
of an Indian chief—a coat (made in form of a shirt,) of
deer skin, dressed in the Indian method without the hair,
of a golden colour, and as soft as glove leather.
On the front and behind the shoulders, are lappets, ten
inches deep, beautifully punched in various patterns, like
coarse lace or net work—all seams, (instead of being
sewed) fastened with narrow stripes of skin cut into
fringe for that purpose.
The head-dress—a valuable silk, or fine cotton handkerchief,
in turban form, worn by some tribes with feathers.
Leggins,—reaching to the hip, and ornamented on the
sides, serve as trowsers. Mocassins—curiously ornamented
with porcupine quills, complete the drawing room habit;
whilst the tomohawk, scalping knife, tobacco pouch, and
rifle, equip the Indian for the woods. As he becomes
civilised, silver ornaments previously worn in profusion are
laid aside, and the European dress of his white brother is
I have frequently met John Brant, the Mohawk chief,
at the Government house, and in the first circles. He
attends all our assemblies, and dances quadrilles much
better than many of Garboi's pupils. His manners are
perfectly those of a gentleman, and our ladies have no
objection to "trip it on the light, fantastic toe," with a
thoroughbred Indian chief.
John Brant was returned as member for his county, to
the last parliament, and made some excellent speeches in
the house, but on a petition lost his seat, by some trifling
informality in the Election.
As amongst the "untutored" Indians are to be found all
the worst traits of uncivilized life, so are there to be met,
especially among the chiefs, noble specimens of dignified
and rational character; and those that I have mentioned
are not singular in this respect.
But whoever desires the true and characteristic picture
of the Indian, must read the inimitable portraitures of
Cooper, in his unrivalled novels. The accuracy of their
delineation I had the means of putting to the test.
On a hunting excursion through the woods for some
weeks, with two Indians, who carried my baggage, and a
few others who joined me; happening to have "The Last
of the Mohicans" in my pack, I read extracts to my party
at night, around the fire, and the astonishment they
expressed at a white man being able to describe their native
scenes and characters so precisely, was a greater compliment
to the talented author than any I can pay him; for
the Indian seldom foregoes his self-possession, or evinces
feelings of pleasure or pain by words or gesture. On this
occasion they were highly pleased, and expressed themselves
so. One night, when encamped on the shore of Lake Huron,
our literary party was interrupted by the sound
of many paddles, and we soon discovered that some new
arrival had taken place. On going out, I perceived eleven
canoes discharging their crews opposite our encampment.
In less than twenty minutes there were fires blazing in all
directions, and the cooking going on as if they had been
there as many weeks. Shortly after, two chiefs came forward,
shook hands with me in the free and friendly
manner an Indian generally does, and, at my request,
supped with me. They had come to that part of the lake
to take white fish, which is the best fish; and, there, most
Next morning I had a noble dish sent me as a present,
by the Chief, Wagna; and on his signifying that they
would take to the fishing ground at noon, I purchased
one of their bark canoes and paddles, for five dollars, and
joined the Fleet.
Will you believe it? I never passed a more agreeable
time in my life, than when surrounded by this party, at
times 150 in number; nearly one hundred miles from any
settlement, and I myself the only white man (not very
white either) in the entire camp. My tent was pitched
on a green bank, about twenty yards from the wigwams,
with its door to the lake, into which I plunged every morning
from my bed, and either joined my companions during
the day, in hauling the net, or, taking my rifle to a deer
pass, never failed of sport, as some obliging Indians were
always ready to surround a portion of the Bush, and
drive the game in the direction where I stood. This was
generally at the entrance of the valley; and with two or three good marksmen below me, we seldom returned
lightly laden. I always beat the Indians at a running shot,
at which they are not expert; but whatever might be our
individual success, all we shot went into the general stock;
and whether I went out or not, my table, or rather my
mat, was regularly furnished, with fish, duck, or venison,
in profusion. With what pleasure I look forward to
another such excursion! At night the shore was brilliant
with the fishing lights in the canoes; and I had to walk but
twenty paces into mine, to enjoy as fine sport as the most
enthusiastic fisherman could desire.
After a residence of six weeks with my Red Brothers, I
prepared to return homeward, and felt much regret at
parting from them, so marked was their kindness to me,
and so good-natured their attention. When I fixed the
day, every 'one had something to give; and had I accepted
half what they presented, two canoes would have been
insufficient to carry away the provisions. I embarked at
five in the morning; when three miles distant from
shore, the sudden swell of the lake, and black appearance
of the sky foreboding storm, I directed the men at the
paddles to turn back, and before we had got within a
mile of shore, the waves (as is often the case in those
lakes) running mountain high, we made every possible
exertion, but very little way.
The wind was right ahead, the canoe small, and
freighted with six persons—but she rode it like a duck; we
at length reached the land, nearly exhausted, and I was
welcomed back with as much cordiality as if my absence
had been for weeks instead of hours. Had we not returned
we must have been inevitably lost; in a short time, however,
I was safely lodged again in my old quarters.
About dusk a canoe, with two Squaws on board, was
observed struggling to make the shore. On inquiry, I found
they belonged to our camp, had been about a mile along
the coast, for some fish which had been left behind, and
were blown out as they were rounding a headland close
to us. We could observe them throwing out the fish, and
the group on shore had hopes of their arriving in safety;
none, however, attempted to go to their assistance, knowing
that, in such a gale, both canoes would be endangered,
as by a sudden collision they would be upset or staved to
pieces; they, nevertheless, looked on with deep anxiety,
when, as the little vessel rose on the summit of a wave,
the foremost paddle snapt close to the hand of the Squaw
that plied it, and disappeared. She lay down in the canoe,
and her comrade could do no more than prevent it from
turning. In a moment a canoe was launched, by two men,
one of them the husband of her who still worked that
which was in distress; they were making some progress to
her relief, when it became so dark that we lost sight of
both. The shouts of the two men to discover where the
canoe lay were feebly answered by the unhappy women,
and then all was still.
I had a fire lighted on the beach, as a beacon to direct
them, in the excessive darkness of the night.—The group
around it formed the finest subject for a painter, that can
be imagined .—There we stood, about eighty in number,
gazing at the flame, blown by the wind in all directions,
the light thrown strongly, but fitfully, on the features and
figures of the Indians, but not a word was spoken.—At
length the grating sound of paddles reached our ears; the
light of the immense fire Mashed on the approaching
canoe, and the persons it contained—the two enterprizing
men, accompanied by one female!—Poor Segenauck,—
the wife of an attached husband, who hoped and tried to
save her,—was no more!
They landed—not a question was asked—all retired to
their wigwams in solemn silence. In a few minutes I was alone.
The manly and dignified manner in which this melancholy
occurrence was received—the solemn, but silent,
tribute o'f regret paid by all to the memory of one of their
tribe, thus suddenly called away, gave me a still more
favourable impression of my Indian companions, and sent
me to bed, with the storm in my ears, and its fatal result
occupying my waking and sleeping thoughts till morning
—I learned, then, from Segenauck's husband, that as soon
as the canoes came near each other, the Squaw at the
head, taking hold of the gunwale of that in which he was,
cautiously stept in, forgetting, in the hurry and danger of
the moment, to keep hold of that she had left, which,
losing the weight in front, rose at once out of the water,
was blown round and upset, without a possibility, on his
part, of saving his unfortunate helpmate.
The storm ceased in the night; the morning was very
fine. I left the camp at break of day, and was soon out of
sight of my kind and hospitable companions. I quitted
them with a degree of regret, in which, I have since
found, I was not singular. In Moore's "Life of Lord
Edward Fitzgerald," we find that unfortunate nobleman
expressing himself to the same effect; and I have heard
many say, that those who were long in the habit of
Indian society, were generally fascinated by it—as the
excursion which I have described to you has left on my
mind a similar impression; should I not, in the course of
a year or two, be able to prevail on some fair friend to
share with me the world's cares and pleasures, I shall
resume the blanket coat, the mocassin, the rifle, the snow
shoe, and only visit the haunts of the deceitful white man
when my red brother gets tired of me. It is but fair,
however, to state this clearly and candidly, as some considerate
and tender-hearted fair one wishing to prevent it.
might yet, by a flattering communication of her good
opinion, induce me to break through my present resolution
of living and dying an old bachelor!!

Believe me, my dear Sir,
Your's, &c. &c.