Sedgwick, Catharine Maria: Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Sedgwick, Catharine Maria. Hope Leslie, pp. 198-201. New York: White, Gallaher, and White, 1827.

In the following excerpt from her novel Hope Leslie, the Native American character Magawisca demands liberty from her white male captors.

The governor replied, with a severe gravity, ominous to the knight, "that the circumstances he had alluded to certainly required explanation; if that should not prove satisfactory, they would demand a public investigation. In the mean time, he should suspend the trial of the prisoner, who, though the decision of her case might not wholly depend on the establishment of Sir Philip's testimony, was yet, at present, materially affected by it."

"He expressed a deep regret at the interruption that had occurred, as it must lead," he said, "to the suspension of the justice to be manifested either in the acquittal or condemnation of the prisoner. Some of the magistrates being called away from town on the next morning, he found himself compelled to adjourn the sitting of the court till one month from the present date,"

"Then," said Magawisca, for the first time speaking with a tone of impatience, "then, I pray you, send me to death now. Anything is better than wearing through another moon in my prisonhouse, thinking," she added, and cast down her eyelids, heavy with tears, "thinking of that old man—my father. I pray thee," she continued, bending low her head, "I pray thee now to set my spirit free. Wait not for his testimony"—she pointed to Sir Philip—"as well may ye expect the green herb to spring up in your trodden streets, as the breath of truth to come from his false lips. Do you wait for him to prove that I am your enemy? Take my own word, I am your enemy; the sunbeam and the shadow cannot mingle. The white man cometh—the Indian vanisheth. Can we grasp in friendship the hand raised to strike us? Nay—and it matters not whether we fall by the tempest that lays the forest low, or are cut down alone by the stroke of the axe. I would have thanked you for life and liberty; for Mononotto's sake I would have thanked you; but if ye send me back to that dungeon—the grave of the living, feeling, thinking soul, where the sun never shineth, where the stars never rise nor set, where the free breath of heaven never enters, where all is darkness without and within"—she pressed her hand on her breast—"ye will even now condemn me to death, but death more slow and terrible than your most suffering captive ever endured from Indian fires and knives." She paused—passed unresisted without the little railing that encompassed her, mounted the steps of the platform, and advancing to the feet of the governor, threw back her mantle, and knelt before him. Her mutilated person, unveiled by this action, appealed to the senses of the spectators. Everell involuntarily closed his eyes, and uttered a cry of agony, lost indeed in the murmurs of the crowd. She spoke, and all again were as hushed as death. "Thou didst promise," she said, addressing herself to Governor Winthrop, "to my dying mother, thou didst promise, kindness to her children. In her name, I demand of thee death or liberty."

Everell sprang forward, and clasping his hands exclaimed, "In the name of God, liberty!"

The feeling was contagious, and every voice, save her judges, shouted, "Liberty!—liberty! grant the prisoner liberty!"

The governor rose, waved his hand to command silence, and would have spoken, but his voice failed him; his heart was touched with the general emotion, and he was fain to turn away to hide tears more becoming to the man, than the magistrate.

The same gentleman who, throughout the trial, had been most forward to speak, now rose; a man of metal to resist any fire. "Are ye all fools and mad!" he cried; "ye that are gathered here together, that like the men of old, ye shout, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians!' For whom would you stop the course of justice? for one who is charged before you, with having visited every tribe on the shores and in the forests, to quicken the savages to diabolical revenge!—for one who flouts the faith once delivered to the saints, to your very faces!—for one who hath entered into an open league and confederacy with Satan against you!—for one who, as ye have testimony within yourselves, in that her looks and words do so prevail over your judgments, is presently aided and abetted by the arch enemy of mankind!—I call upon you, my brethren," he added, turning to his associates, "and most especially on you, Governor Winthrop, to put a sudden end to this confusion by the formal adjournment of our court."

The governor bowed his assent. "Rise, Magawisca," he said, in a voice of gentle authority, "I may not grant thy prayer; but what I can do in remembrance of my solemn promise to thy dying mother, without leaving undone higher duty, I will do."

"And what mortal can do, I will do," said Ever-ell, whispering the words into Magawisca's ear as she rose. The cloud of despondency that had settled over her fine face, for an instant vanished, and she said aloud; "Everell Fletcher, my dungeon will not be, as I said, quite dark, for thither I bear the memory of thy kindness."