Lydia Maria Child

(1802 to 1880)

Excerpted from White on Red, Eds. Black, Nancy B. and Bette S. Wiedman, New York; Kennikat Press, 1976.


Lydia Maria Francis Child began her literary career with Hobomok; influenced by the reception of the long narrative poem Yamoyden: A Tale of the Wars of King Philip (1820), by James Eastburn and Robert C. Sands, she wrote this sentimental novel at the age of twenty-two. Subsequently she turned her energies to philanthropy and reform and became a leading abolitionist. Among her other works are Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans (1833), The Rebels; or, Boston Before the Revolution (1825), and Philothea: A Romance of Classical Greece (1836).

Lydia Child's humanitarian spirit led her to portray, in Hobomok, a most noble savage. Friend of the English, he remains loyal to members of the small white settlement at Salem despite stirrings of Indian hostility; he expresses his love for Mary Conant only when she is desolated by the loss of her mother and her white lover. Mary marries Hobomok while she is in a state of grief bordering on insanity, but after the birth of a son and the passage of two years, she begins to recognize and admire his manly qualities. The purportedly drowned lover returns at this time; Hobomok calls up all of his nobility and sacrifices his happiness. He goes west alone to die, foreshadowing the fate of his whole race. Despite her liberalism, Child makes it clear that Mary has lowered herself in marrying Hobomok; her "savage" husband's nobility is measured by his self-abasement. The chapter reprinted below describes the marriage and Hobomok's final generous act.

The book dramatizes the theory of the inevitable, benevolent displacement of the Indian; it is equally severe to rigid Puritanism and to Indian resistance. Child prefers to have her Indians survive in memory, rather than physical reality. Hobomok's child, conveniently given his mother's patronym, after the matrilineal style of the Indians, becomes a Cambridge graduate. Child notes, with some relief, "His father was seldom spoken of; and by degrees his Indian appellation was silently omitted."

From Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times. . ., 1824

For several weeks Mary remained in the same stupefied state in which she had been at the time of her marriage. She would lie through the livelong day, unless she was requested to rise; and once risen, nothing could induce her to change her posture. Language has no power to shadow forth her feelings as she gradually awoke to a sense of her situation. But there is a happy propensity in the human mind to step as lightly as possible on the thorns which infest a path we are compelled to tread. It is only when there is room for hope that evils are impatiently borne. Desolate as Mary's lot might seem, it was not without its alleviations. All the kind attentions which could suggest themselves to the mind of a savage, were paid by her Indian mother. Hobomok continued the same tender reverence he had always evinced, and he soon understood the changing expression of her countenance, till her very looks were a law. So much love could not but awaken gratitude; and Mary by degrees gave way to its influence, until she welcomed his return with something like affection. True, in her solitary hours there were reflections enough to make her wretched. Kind as Hobomok was, and rich as she found his uncultivated mind in native imagination, still the contrast between him and her departed lover would often be remembered with sufficient bitterness. Besides this, she knew that her own nation looked upon her as lost and degraded; and, what was far worse, her own heart echoed back the charge. Hobomok's connection with her was considered the effect of witchcraft on his part, and even he was generally avoided by his former friends. However, this evil brought its own cure. livery wound of this kind, every insult which her husband courageously endured for her sake, added romantic fervor to her increasing affection, and thus made life something more than endurable. While all her English acquaintances more or less neglected her, her old associate, Mrs. Collier, firmly and boldly stemmed the tide, and seemed resolved to do all in her power to relieve the hardships of her friends. For a long time her overtures were proudly refused; for Mary could not endure that the visits of one who had been so vastly her inferior should now be considered an honor and Obligation. However, persevering kindness did in time overcome this feeling, and in less than a year, Sally became a frequent inmate of her wigwam. To this was soon likely to be added another source of enjoyment. Before two years passed away, she became the mother of a hopeful son. Under such circumstances, his birth was no doubt entwined with many mournful associations; still, the smiles of her infant son brought more of pleasure than of pain. As Mary looked on the little being, which was "bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh," she felt more love for the innocent object than she thought she should ever again experience.

After this general view of things, we must now pass over to the 16th of September, 1633, and leave the interim to the reader's imagination. The old squaw had lately died of a fever, and symptoms of the same disorder began to appear in her little grandson, now nearly two years old. On the morning we have mentioned, Mrs. Collier took her own little blooming daughter in her arms, and went into the wigwam to inquire concerning the health of the boy. No sooner was she seated than the children, accustomed to see each other, began to peep in each other's faces, and look up to their mothers, their bright, laughing eyes beaming with cherub love. Hobomok entered, and for a moment stood watching with delighted attention the bewitching sports of childhood. He caught up the infant, and placing his little feet in the center of his hand, held him high above his head.

"My boy, my brave hunter's boy," said he, and pressing him in his arms he half suffocated him with caresses. He placed him in his mother's lap, and took down his quiver, as he said, "Hobomok must be out hunting the deer." The child jumped down upon the floor, and tottling up to him, took hold of his blanket and looked in his face, as he lisped, "Fader come back gin to see 'ittle Hobomok."

Again the father stooped and kissed him, as he answered,

"Hobomok very much bad, if he didn't come back always to see little Hobomok, and his good Mary."

He went out, but soon returned and, lifting the blanket, which served for a door, he again looked at his boy, who would alternately hide his head, and then reach forward to catch another glimpse of his father.

"Good bye, Hobomok�Good bye, Mary"-said the Indian. "Before the sun hides his face, I shall come home loaded with deer."

"Take care of yourself," said his wife, affectionately; "and see that Corbitant be not in your path."

"Sally, you have never said one word about my marrying Hobomok," continued she; "and I have no doubt you think I must be very miserable; but I speak truly when I say that every day I live with that kind, noblehearted creature, the better I love him."

"I always thought he was the best Indian I ever knew," answered Sally; 'and within these three years he has altered so much that he seems almost like an Englishman. After all, I believe matches are foreordained."

"I don't know concerning that," rejoined Mary. "I am sure I am happier than I ever expected to be after Charles's death, which is more than I deserve, considering I broke my promise to my dying mother and deserted my father in his old age."

While conversation of this nature was going on at home, Hobomok was pursuing his way through the woods, whistling and singing as he went, in the joyfulness of his heart. He had proceeded near half a mile in this way, when he espied an eagle, soaring with a flight so lofty, that he seemed almost like a speck in the blue abyss above. The Indian fixed his keen eye upon him, and as he gradually lowered his flight, he made ready his arrow, and a moment after the noble bird lay fluttering at his feet.

"A true aim that, Hobomok," said a voice which sounded familiar to his ears. He raised his head to see from whence it proceeded. Charles Brown stood by his side! The countenance of the savage assumed at once the terrible, ashen hue of Indian paleness. His wounded victim was left untouched, and he hastily retreated into the thicket, casting back a fearful glance on what he supposed to be the ghost of his rival. Brown attempted to follow; but the farther he advanced, the farther the Indian retreated, his face growing paler and paler, and his knees trembling against each other in excessive terror.

"Hobomok," said the intruder, "I am a man like yourself. I suppose three years agone you heard I was dead, but it has pleased the Lord to spare me in captivity until this time, and to lead me once more to New England. The vessel which brought me hither lieth down a mile below, but I chose the rather to be put on shore, being impatient to inquire concerning the friends I left behind. You used to be my good friend, Hobomok, and many a piece of service have you done for me. I beseech you feel of my hand, that you may know I am flesh and blood even as yourself."

After repeated assurances, the Indian timidly approached-and the certainty that Brown was indeed alive was more dreadful to him than all the ghosts that could have been summoned from another world.

"You look as if you were sorry your old friend had returned," said the Englishman "but do speak and tell me one thing�is Mary Conant yet alive?"

I Hobomok fixed his eyes upon him with such a strange mixture of sorrow and fierceness that Brown laid his hand upon his rifle, half fearful his intentions were evil. At length, the Indian answered with deliberate emphasis,

"She is both alive and well."

"I thank God," rejoined his rival. "I need not ask whether she is married?"

The savage looked earnestly and mournfully upon him, and sighed deeply, as he said,

"The handsome English bird hath for three years lain in my bosom; and her milk hath nourished the son of Hobomok."

The Englishman cast a glance of mingled doubt and despair towards the Indian, who again repeated the distressing truth.

Disappointed love, a sense of degradation, perhaps something of resentment were all mingled in a dreadful chaos of agony within the mind of the unfortunate young man, and at that moment it was difficult to tell to which of the two anguish had presented her most unmingled cup. The Indian gazed upon his rival, as he stood leaning his aching head against a tree; and once and again he indulged in the design of taking his life.

"No," thought he. "She was first his. Mary loves him better than she does me; for even now she prays for him in her sleep. The sacrifice must be made to her."

For a long time, however, it seemed doubtful whether he could collect sufficient fortitude to fulfill his resolution. The remembrance of the smiling wife and the little prattling boy, whom he had that morning left came too vividly before him. It recks not now what was the mighty struggle in the mind of that dark man. He arose and touched Brown's arm, as he said,

"'Tis all true which I have told you. It is three snows since the bird came to my nest; and the Great Spirit only knows how much I have loved her. Good and kind she has been; but the heart of Mary is not with the Indian. In her sleep she talks with the Great Spirit, and the name of the white man is on her lips. Hobomok will go far off among some of the red men in the west. They will dig him a grave, and Mary may sing the marriage song in the wigwam of the Englishman."

"No," answered his astonished companion. "She is your wife. Keep her, and cherish her with tenderness. A moment ago, I expected your arrow would rid me of the life which has now become a burden. I will be as generous as you have been. I will return from whence I came, and bear my sorrows as I may. Let Mary never know that I am alive. Love her, and be happy."

"The purpose of an Indian is seldom changed," replied Hobomok. "My tracks will soon be seen far beyond the back-bone of the Great Spirit. For Mary's sake I have borne the hatred of the Yengees, the scorn of my tribe, and the insults of my enemy. And now I will be buried among strangers, and none shall black their faces for the unknown chief. When the light sinks behind the hills, see that Corbitant be not near my wigwam; for that hawk has often been flying round my nest. Be kind to my boy."�His voice choked' end the tears fell bright and fast. He hastily wiped them away as he added, "You have seen the first and last tears that Hobomok will ever shed Ask Mary to pray for me-that when I die, I may go to the Englishman's God, where I may hunt beaver with little Hobomok, and count my beavers for Mary ."

Before Brown had time to reply, he plunged into the thicket and disappeared. He moved on with astonishing speed, till he was aware that he must be beyond the reach of pursuit; then throwing himself upon the grass, most earnestly did he hope that the arrow of Corbitant would do the office it had long sought, and wreak upon his head deep and certain vengeance. But the weapon of his enemy came not. He was reserved for a fate that had more of wretchedness. He lay thus inactive for several hours, musing on all he had enjoyed and lost. At last, he sprung upon his feet, as if stung with torture he could no longer endure, and seizing his bow, he pursued with delirious eagerness every animal which came within his view.

The sun was verging toward the western horizon, when he collected his game in one spot, and selecting the largest deer, and several of the handsomest smaller animals, he fastened them upon a pole and proceeded towards Plymouth.

It was dark, and the tapers were lighted throughout the village, when he entered Governor Winslow's dwelling. Whatever was the purpose of his visit, it was not long continued; and soon after, the deer was noiselessly deposited by the side of Mr. Collier's house, with a slip of paper fastened on his branching horns. Hobomok paused before the door of his wigwam, looked in at a small hole which admitted the light, saw Mary feeding her Indian boy from his little wooden bowl, and heard her beloved voice, as she said to her child, "Father will come home and see little Hobomok presently."

How much would that high-souled child of the forest have given for one parting embrace�one kind assurance that he should not be forgotten. Affection was tugging hard at his heart strings, and once his foot was almost on the threshold.

"No," said he; "it will distress her. The Great Spirit bless 'em both."

Without trusting another look, he hurried forward. He paused on a neighboring hill, looked toward his wigwam till his strained vision could hardly discern the object, with a bursting heart again murmured his farewell and blessing, and forever passed away from New England.

Scanned by John Puckett, tagged and corrected by Adriana Rissetto 12/96 at the University of Virginia

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