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About this poet

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft was born in 1800 in Sault Ste. Marie, in the northern Great Lakes region of what is now Michigan. She was also known by the Ojibwe name Bamewawagezhikaquay, which translates to Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky. Her mother, who went by the names Susan Johnston and Ozhaguscodaywayquay, was a respected Ojibwe leader, and her father, John Johnston, was a Scotch-Irish fur trader.

Schoolcraft grew up speaking both English and Ojibwe. She read extensively from her father’s library, and she visited Ireland and England from 1809 to 1810. She is thought to have begun writing poetry around 1815. Though she never published her work, she wrote approximately fifty poems in English and Ojibwe, as well as versions of Ojibwe stories, songs, and other traditionally oral texts.

Schoolcraft is considered to be the first known Native American woman writer and possibly the first Native American literary writer. Of her vital role in American poetry, Robert Dale Parker writes, “She brought her Ojibwe and American worlds together by the unprecedented acts of writing poetry in an Indian language, writing out English-language versions of Indian oral stories and songs on a large scale, and knowledgeably integrating Indian language into English-language literary writing.”

In 1822, Schoolcraft met Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, a well-known explorer and ethnologist who had been appointed as a federal agent to the region. They were married in 1923, and he went on to publish writings about Native Americans, especially the Ojibwe, drawing from the Johnston family’s stories. These writings later became a source for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem “The Song of Hiawatha.”

In 1826 and 1827, Schoolcraft’s husband compiled a handwritten magazine, The Literary Voyager, or Muzzeniegun (Philip P. Mason, 1962), that contained several of her poems. In 1841, they moved together to New York City after Henry Schoolcraft was dismissed from his post as a federal agent. She died on May 22, 1842.

In 2007, Robert Dale Parker edited a posthumous collection of her poetry, The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (University of Pennsylvania Press). Schoolcraft was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009.


Bibliography

The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (University of Pennsylvania Press)

Invocation

To my Maternal Grand-father on hearing his descent
from Chippewa ancestors misrepresented

Rise bravest chief! of the mark of the noble deer,
                    With eagle glance,
                    Resume thy lance,
And wield again thy warlike spear!
                    The foes of thy line,
                    With coward design,
Have dared with black envy to garble the truth,
And stain with a falsehood thy valorous youth.

They say when a child, thou wert ta’en from the Sioux,
                    And with impotent aim,
                    To lessen thy fame
Thy warlike lineage basely abuse;
                    For they know that our band,
                    Tread a far distant land,
And thou noble chieftain art nerveless and dead,
Thy bow all unstrung, and thy proud spirit fled.

Can the sports of thy youth, or thy deeds ever fade?
                    Or those e’er forget,
                    Who are mortal men yet,
The scenes where so bravely thou’st lifted the blade,
                    Who have fought by thy side,
                    And remember thy pride,
When rushing to battle, with valour and ire,
Thou saw’st the fell foes of thy nation expire?

Can the warrior forget how sublimely you rose?
                    Like a star in the west,
                    When the sun’s sink to rest,
That shines in bright splendour to dazzle our foes?
                    Thy arm and thy yell,
                    Once the tale could repel
Which slander invented, and minions detail,
And still shall thy actions refute the false tale.

Rest thou, noblest chief! in thy dark house of clay,
                    Thy deeds and thy name,
                    Thy child’s child shall proclaim,
And make the dark forests resound with the lay;
                    Though thy spirit has fled,
                    To the hills of the dead,
Yet thy name shall be held in my heart’s warmest core,
And cherish’d till valour and love be no more.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft is considered to be the first known Native American literary writer. She was born in Sault Ste. Marie, in what is now Michigan, in 1800.

by this poet

poem
To my Maternal Grand-father on hearing his descent
from Chippewa ancestors misrepresented

Rise bravest chief! of the mark of the noble deer,
        	    	With eagle glance,
        	    	Resume thy lance,
And wield again thy warlike spear!
        	    	The foes of thy line,
        	    	With coward design,