Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

The preservation of Iroquois thought: J. N. B. Hewitt's legacy of scholarship for his people

Kathryn Lavely Merriam, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Iroquoian philosophy and political thought survived solely in the minds of old men and women at the end of the nineteenth century. These ideas endure today because of ethnographers who patiently transcribed the elder’s oratory. One such ethnographer was a Tuscarora tribal member named John Napoleon Brinton Hewitt (1857-1937). Hewitt was a linguist who worked at the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology for fifty-one years and dedicated himself to preserving Iroquois thought. He was self-educated and became expert while assisting other staff ethnologists. Hewitt’s “Iroquoian Cosmology Parts I & II” (1903, 1928,) sealed his reputation as the leading Iroquois scholar of his day. In spite of this accomplishment, Hewitt’s reputation faded quickly after his death. This dissertation seeks to understand why Hewitt decided to withhold some material from publication, and looks towards Hewitt’s complicated relationship with the Iroquois – for whom he was both a fellow tribal member and a professional ethnographer – for the probable answer. Finally, I re-evaluate Hewitt’s place in the field of Iroquois Studies as the last of a group of notable self-trained ethnographers and examine the lasting impact of his work on contemporary Tuscaroras and other Haudenosaunee people.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|American history|Native American studies

Recommended Citation

Merriam, Kathryn Lavely, "The preservation of Iroquois thought: J. N. B. Hewitt's legacy of scholarship for his people" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3409630.