While John R. makes his way across the Atlantic, let's pause for a moment to examine the sources for these blog posts you've been reading, because they tell as much of a tale as do the actual events of John Jewitt's life.
The original record kept by John consisted of short entries he wrote in secret using ink that he had figured out how to make himself "by boiling and filtering a blend of plant and berry juices with powered coal."
He goes on to tell us:
"As for quills, I found no difficulty in procuring them whenever I wanted, from the crows
and ravens with which the beach was almost always covered, attracted by the offal of
whales, seals, etc., and which were so tame that I could easily kill them with stones.
A large clam shell furnished me with an inkstand."
The pages of a blank book he had managed to salvage from the Boston before it was burned to the waterline by the Indians, served as his tablet.
Who knows what happened to this original handwritten document. From what I can tell, it no longer exists. But what an incredible artifact that would be; by its physical presence alone, telling its own story of one of the first in-depth encounters of a white man with one of the indigeneous cultures of the Pacific North West Coast.
What we do know is that John self-published a 48-page version of his original account in 1807. By 1931 only seven copies were known to exist, worth more than $25,000 each. That year, a limited edition of 100 copies was printed by Charles E. Goodspeed & Co. of Boston. One of these was purchased by our Dad in 1975 and the frontpiece is shown below.
Now here is where it gets interesting. A few years after publication, John's journal came to the attention of Richard Alsop, a published writer and leading member of a literary society founded at Yale University known as the Connecticut, (and later) Hartford Wits. Alsop was fascinated by the story and contacted John with a proposal to write a version that would recreate the story with a little more flair. This became the Narrative, the effects of which you can see almost immediately by the comparison of the two frontpieces as shown below. Incidentally, the copy of the Narrative dates back to about 1815 and was also obtained by our Dad.
Notice the difference in the title pages. Whereas the Journal is very short and to the point, the Narrative is, as they say, embellished. For instance, in the Journal, John is one of the survivors of the Ship Boston, which is true, he was one of two; whereas in the Narrative he is now the only survivor. "A Journal Kept At Nootka Sound During A Captivity By the Indians," now becomes a "Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings During a Captivitiy of Nearly Three Years Among the Savages of Nootka Sound." You get the drift... in the world of publicity and celebrity, not much has changed in 200 years!
To be fair, the blog posts have been quoting from the Narrative, because I too would rather share the more compelling version of the story so that it brings attention to the very real adventure John was experiencing... which tends to make you realize that all history is really just storytelling. The original event gets retold from numerous points of view and often, to fulfill different purposes. But I still think the essential elements of the event always remain the same through all the interpretations and just resonate differently depending on who is telling it.
For example, my main go-to sourcebook for information on John R. is "The Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt, Captive of Maquinna - Annotated and Illustrated by Hilary Stewart." Hilary Stewart (1924 - 2014) was an accomplished artist as well as archaeologist who spent a lifetime studying the Northwest Coast Indians and honoring their culture in her many publications. She reprints the narrative version adding her own explanatory notes and drawings. Her interpretation of John's story is from an archaeologist/ethnologist and artist's point of view, the material culture being as much a testament to John's story as the story itself.
Recently, another version has been published by Rebecca Goldfield, a writer and producer of documentary films who saw in the story a graphic novel, meaning a story illustrated in a comic book style for young adults. "A young appealing protagonist just starting out in life and then caught up in larger forces... and his subsequent fight for survival, struck me as something a YA graphic audience might find of great interest," she tells the Huffington Post in a recent interview. So here we have the same story, just in another translation directed to a younger crowd. Come to find out, in 1955 Doris Shannon Garst wrote a young ault novel about John, called "John Jewitt's Adventure," and in 1990 Margaret Anderson self-published a 100-page historical novel about John entitled "Cwan The Armourer."
All of these tellings of the tale may be slightly different, but in the end they all relate an event that actually did happen and they bring a certain meaning to it. It's a big source of pride to be a descendant of the brave individual who originally recorded experiences we can all learn from. In the next few blog posts we will wrap up our own interpretation of his story and then move on to more of the stories (oops, I mean history) of our amazing family.
Links to Related Sites
Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust
Rod Collins - Lincolnshire Thro' History, Life, Lens and Words
The Old Palace Lincoln - Elegant Bed and Breakfast
National Portrait Gallery - London
College of Arms
The Jewett Family of America
History and Geneaology of the Jewitts of America
Marvinas Bay Lodge
First Peoples of Canada