Wednesday, September 18, 2013

from "Down North"

Jesse Halsey on the Labrador "Esquimau" | c1932
I started to tell about the country and I wandered to here.

There are esquimau in Labrador. For two hundred years, the Moravian missionaries have lived among them; they are educated and Christian and support themselves from the fur and the fish, and from the fur the missions also derive their support. Strangely, the Moravians never had a full-fledged doctor on their staff. There are immigrant Indians in the interior, but most of the “Liveyeres” are descendents of English, Welsh, and Scotch fishermen who began to come there in the time of Queen Elizabeth and either stayed of choice or were wrecked on the shore. Many of their descendants show traces of Indian and Esquimau in their features and color. (Anyone who goes through a Labrador springtime with its glistering snow-reflected-sunshine will burn an Indian brick red—and some of us, I think have never quire washed it off or reabsorbed it.)

We brought a boy and girl to the States with us when we came home. They went to school on Long Island and came with us to Cincinnati. The girl studied to be a nurse and the last we heard was head nurse at Dartmouth College infirmary. The boy went back home after high school. Their name was Evans. “Heavens” some of their people said. Their father was our chief herder for the reindeer. Alice, the girl, had come to live with us in St. Anthony. One day, Mrs. Halsey had found her reading Browning—intelligently. It seems their great-grandfather had been wrecked in the Straits of Belle Isle sometime in the early nineteenth century. He was a Welchman [sic], own “home” (boat) and had had an education. He stayed on the shore, married and became, ultimately, the patriarch of a community made up largely of his numerous progeny. He had taught his children the things he knew, imported books, and this girl Alice had been more or less his pet in his old age, and he had given her a fine appreciation of English Literature.

This case is an exception, undoubtedly, but I always found in the night school that we conducted in our cottage that a fair number were quick to catch on and that most of the boys (especially the Esquimau halfbreeds) were born mechanics.

There was Wilson Jacques, for instance. Half Indian, I would guess. Will Hillis (a Cincinnati man) gave me the money to bring Wilson to Pratt Institute. It was my job to get him ready to enter. This was that first short summer that I spent on the shore; myself still a student. Well, after fifteen or sixteen hours of hard work plumbing, when Wilson would work with me and out work me, we started in to pole up math for entrance exams to Pratt. He had had common fractions, in one night he mastered decimals and in six weeks had cleaned up advanced arithmetic and advanced algebra and plane geometry and a little trigonometry (I forget which kind) and about that time my own knowledge was getting pretty thin; I was glad when September 20th came. That winter he was doing Calculus and what-not at Pratt—but without my help. He had ability.

Again, take my friend, Joe Souley. He couldn’t read or write. But he was one of the wisest men I ever knew. He could quote Solomon and Ben Franklin with equal ease. He knew his Bible—and could stump me. He had sailed the seven seas and could describe Singapore or the Sachel Islands with accuracy (I suppose it was accurate because London and the few placed I knew about tallied with his description). I, a swelled-headed sophisticate with some graduate study, etc. learned a very salutary lesson—that wisdom and knowledge are quite different things, that information, and perspective and human interest and a host of other things, are not necessarily acquired in schools; and that illiteracy is not a synonym for ignorance. That was a salutary lesson for a young preacher, at least.

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