In 1643 Roger Williams, founder of the colony of Rhode Island and a trader, published his Key Into the Language of America. Join Lorén Spears, Narragansett, educator, and executive director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island, in exploring this unique window onto early Native life in New England in this 98-minute on-line video produced by the Partnership of Historic Bostons on April 27, 2022.
(Above) Lori Rogers-Stokes welcomes author Spears and points out that the important notes added to this superb edition by a Narragansett editorial team led by Loren Spears and contributions by renown scholar Kathleen J. Bragdon, professor of anthropology and linguistics at William and Mary University, add a crucial Native perspective and comment on Williams’ historical and linguistic accuracy.
Williams intended his book to be used as a guidebook to language for traders, and recorded what he thought were useful phrases and their translation into English. But in its observations, insights, and preservation of the Narragansett/Algonquian language, it has become one of the most important documents of early Indigenous American culture, a testament to the power and vibrancy of Eastern Woodland Native life before the greater devastation of land loss, war, and disease of the late 17th century.
Here, language provides an opening on to a rich, nuanced, warm, and generous culture – so generous, as Williams remarked, that the Narragansett surpassed the so-called Christians in their welcoming of the visitor and willingness to share. Roger Williams’ colonial and Puritan worldview colored his observations, making the teasing out of his prejudices from the historical record part of the challenge of reading his book.