Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe

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(b, Albany Country, now Guilderland, New York, 28 March 1793; d. Washington, D.C., 10 December 1864)


Schoolcraft’s father. Lawrence Schoolcraft, a descendant of English settles in Canada and New York, was a glass manufacuturer, who served in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Schoolcraft’s mother was Margaret Ann Barbara Rowe Schoolcraft, who was of English descent. School-craft was a natural scholar, who quite young gathered a small library of good books. he collected rocks and minerals, painted, and wrote poems and essays that were locally published. With Private instruction he prepared for Union College, and attended it for a time. He later studies informally under Frederick Hall at Middlebury College, Vermont.

Devoted to his father. Schoolcraft readily joined him in the manufacture of glass in 1809; both men superintended factories at several localities in New York and New England. Under the influx of cheaper foreign imports, all of these businesses collapsed soon after the War of 182.

In 1818 Schoolcraft set out westward to tour the lead mines of Missouri, where he hoped to become superintendent by federal appointment. His six-thousand-mile tour of the Mississippi valley, the Ozark Mountains, and the lead district, published in 1819 as A view of the Lead Mines of Missouri, brought him to the attention of Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who in 1820 assigned Schoolcraft as naturalist on the Lewis Cass expedition from Detroit to the source of the Mississippi River. The expedition turned back before reaching its goal. but twelve years later, at the request of Cass, who was by then secretary of war. Schoolcraft continued the search to Lake Itasca. considered the river’s source by the accompanying Indian guides.

Schoolcraft’s major scientific accomplishment resulted from his appointment as Indian agent in 1822 at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan Territory. The first and only agent in that post, for nineteen years he gathered notes on the Indian tribes, especially the Chippewa and their customs, languages,mythus, songs, and history. In this work Schoolcraft was greatly aided by his wife, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, granddaughter of an Ojibwa chief; her father. a cultured fur trader. also provided valuable help. From 1836 Schoolcraft was also acting superintendent of Indian affairs for the northwest. He negotiated a number of treaties on land and mineral rights, and devoutly religious himself, encouraged missionaries and their Indian schools.

In 1841 Schoolcraft left Michigan for New York in order to supervise his many publications. In 1847 he returned to the Office of Indian Affairs in Washington to compile information on all American Indian tribes. For over ten years he edited the six-volume Histroical and Statistical Information Respecting the History condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States an unasorted, lavishly illustrated compendium of material gathered by agents and staff of the Office of Indian Affairs and by himself. His second wife, Mary Howard Schoolcraft, helped him considerably in continuing the work despite his increasing paralysis. These books and Schoolcraft’s other publications on American Indian lore were Longfellow’s major reference sources for The Song of Hiawatha.

Schoolcraft was elected to the Lyceum of Natural History of New York and to the New-York Historical Society in 1820, upon the publication of his report on the lead district. He was founder of the American Ethnological Society in 1842 and was awarded the L.L.D. the University of Geneva in 1846.

Schoolcraft’s reports on mineral occurrences in both the Missouri and the Lake Superior region were among the earliest descriptions of mineral resources in the United States. He presented assays of lead ore, descriptions of the Missourimines, distribution of outcrops, local geography, and notes on other resources. From his first report in 1819, privately published, he learned the value of publication Henceforth he prodigiously contributed notes, observations, poems, and articles, to newspaper, magazines of his own founding, and established journals; he also published books and government reports. He often repeated material, and he made little effort to organize his observations. His name became widely known, and he developed correspondences with distinguished scientists, including Benjamin Silliman (1779–1864), and with literary figures. His extended reports on the two upper Mississippi expeditions considerably influenced new settlement into Michigan Territory.

Almost the only predecessor of Schoolcraft in making ethnological notes on American Indians was Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan Territory, who provided the agents in his area with questionnaires on Indian observations, and who undoubtedly sparked Schoolcraft’s interest. The latter’s own fondness for poetry led him to record especially the American Indian songs, myths, and legaends. His contributions to ethnology resulted chiefly from his having been an early observer in the field and his presenting widespread, written results from which latter workers could synthesize, after the westward expansion and conflict made observations less reliable.


I. Original Works. Schoolcraft’s monument to early ethnology is Historical and Statistical Information ... of the Indian Tribes of the United States, I-V (Washington, D.C., 1851–1855), VI (Philadelphia, 1857), to which Frances S. Nichols compiled an index, which is Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 152 (1954). In addition to Schoolcraft’s numerous shorter work, many of his observations of American Indians were also included in Personal Memories of a Residence of Thirty Years With the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers (Philadelphia, 1851). Algic Researches, 2vols (New York, 1839), includes Indian oral legends, compiled over many years. For the state of New York, Schoolcraft compiled Notes on the Iroquois (New York, 1846).

The descriptive accounts of his Mississippi River and Missouri trips are in A View of the Lead Mines of Missouri (New York, 1819), Narrative Journal of Travels Through the Northwestern Regions of the United the Sources of the Mississippi River (New York, 1821), and Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake the Actual Source of the Mississippi (New York, 1834).

II. Secondary Literature. For an effusive biography of Schoolcraft, a long list of shorter biographical sources, and an extensive bibliography of his writings, see Chase S. Osborn and Stellanova Osborn Schoolcraft-Longfellow-Hiawatha (Lancaster, Pa., 1942).

Elizabeth Noble Shor

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft

views updated Jun 11 2018

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft

The American explorer and ethnologist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864) was one of the earliest writers on Native American culture and history.

Henry Schoolcraft was born on March 28, 1793, in Albany County, N.Y. His father was a glassmaker. After attending local schools, Schoolcraft took up glassmaking, which he combined with private study and lectures at Middlebury College.

Between 1810 and 1817 Schoolcraft managed factories in New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire and wrote a treatise on glassmaking. In 1818 he traveled westward to pursue his geological interests. A View of the Lead Mines of Missouri (1819) established his scientific reputation and won him a place with an expedition to the copper mines around Lake Superior. He wrote of this adventure in Narrative Journal of Travels through the Northwestern Regions of the United States … to the Mississippi River (1821).

By 1821 Schoolcraft was a well-known geologist, but he had become acquainted with the Native Americans living in the North, and in 1822 he was appointed Indian agent in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. In 1823 he married Jane Johnston. He pursued Native American studies, carried on negotiations between the Native Americans and the government, and was promoted to superintendent of Indian affairs for Michigan. As Indian superintendent, he negotiated several important Native American treaties transferring land to the state.

Although as Indian agent Schoolcraft deprived the Native Americans of vast tracts of land, he demonstrated a sympathetic, if somewhat paternalistic, concern for their welfare. His treaty of 1836 provided for a system of annuities to be paid individually to the Native Americans rather than in lump sums to tribal chiefs. He supported government schools and mission schools as well, in the belief that it was necessary to "Christianize" Native Americans in order to educate them. He urged the teaching of agriculture to compensate for the loss of their hunting grounds and took a strong stand against alcohol.

Schoolcraft is best remembered as a scholar of Indian ethnology. Among his numerous volumes containing descriptions of Native American life and culture are Algic Researches (2 vols., 1839); Oneóta (8 vols., 1844-1845); Notes on the Iroquois (1847); Personal Memories … of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes (1851); and Historicaland Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States (6 vols., 1851-1857). These accounts of Native American life and folklore contributed greatly to anthropological science. Schoolcraft died on Dec. 10, 1864.

Further Reading

Schoolcraft is a neglected figure, but Chase S. and Stellanova Osborn have a long, appreciative account in Schoolcraft, Longfellow, Hiawatha 1942). See also Edmund W. Gilbert, The Exploration of Western America, 1800-1850 (1933), and Rufus W. Griswold, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1849).

Additional Sources

Bremer, Richard G., Indian agent and wilderness scholar: the life of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Mount Pleasant: Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University, 1987.

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, Personal memoirs of a residence of thirty years with the Indian tribes on the American frontiers, New York: AMS Press, 1978. □

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe (1793-1864)

views updated May 21 2018

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864)


Ethnologist and geologist

Travels. Born in Watervliet, New York, and educated as a mineralogist and glassmaker, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft originally intended to become a federal superintendent of mines for the Missouri Territory. However, like many natural scientists who journeyed West, he developed an interest in North American geography and ethnology. Schoolcraft eventually received an appointment as an Indian agent on the northwestern frontier, a position that gave him extensive contact with Western lands and peoples. In 1820 he toured with a party that located the source of the Mississippi River. In 1831-1832 Schoolcraft led a second expedition there. Geographers regarded his account of this trip, published two years later, as one of the major geographic works of the decade. Schoolcraft also recorded examples of Indian folklore, which provided material for fiction writers such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Ethnological Work. Schoolcrafts observations of Indian life lacked the systematic approach of early anthropologists such as Lewis Henry Morgan. His eclectic interests proved useful for how he collected massive amounts of information. However, unwilling to venture into more theoretical approaches, Schoolcraft never suggested how his findings could be integrated into some larger purpose. His weaknesses became more evident following his 1847 commission by the U.S. government to collect materials relating to the history, present conditions, and future prospects of Indian tribes. Schoolcraft confronted an awesome task with this project, which demanded the better part of a decade to compile. Some reviewers praised his six-volume work for its research but criticized Schoolcraft for how he provided little overall guidance for policymakers. To his credit, any attempt to generalize about all of North Americas indigenous peoples and recommend policy measures would have been flawed, revealing whites meager understanding of Indian heterogeneity. Yet Schoolcrafts array of data marked one of the first holistic efforts to comprehend Indian cultures, one often utilized by later scholars and historians.


Richard G. Bremer, Indian Agent and Wilderness Scholar: The Life of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (Mt. Pleasant: Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University, 1987).

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