David Cusick’s Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations, first published in 1826 or 1827, is likely the earliest account of Native American folklore to be written and published in English by a Native American author. The work was registered for copyright in the Southern District of New York on January 3, 1826, in which “DAVID Cusick, of the said District hath deposited in this office the title of a Book, the right whereof he claims as Author.” As Phillip Round states in Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880, Cusick’s history thus marks the “the first Native-authored, Native-printed, and Native-copyrighted text.” (Round, 150) The library recently acquired a copy of the rare second edition of 1828, which Cusick expanded and embellished with four illustrations (shown below).
The sketches provide “a written account of the Iroquois oral traditions during the creating of the universe, the foundation of North America, the early settlement of the continent, and the origin of the Five Nations (later six).” (Kalter, 13) A brief preface to the edition notes Cusick’s desire for a published account of the history of the Six Nations and the troubles he encountered in undertaking the work:
I have been long waiting in hopes that some of my people, who have received an English eduction, would have undertaken the work as to give a sketch of the Ancient History of the Six Nations; but found no one seemed to concur in the matter, after some hesitation I determined to commence the work; but found the history involved with fables; and besides, examine myself, finding so small educated that it was impossible for me to compose the work without much difficulty. After various reasons I abandoned the idea: I however, took up a resolution to continue the work, which I have taken much pains procuring the materials, and translating it into English language. I have endeavored to throw some light on the history of the original population of the county, which I believe never have been recorded. I hope this little work will be acceptable to the public. David Cusick. Tuscarora Village, June 10, 1825.
Cusick, David. Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations: Comprising First–A Tale of the Foundation of the Great Island, (Now North America) the Two Infants Born, and the Creation of the Universe. Second–A Real Account of the Early Settlers of North America, and Their Dissentions. Third–Origin of the Kingdom of the Five Nations, which Was Called a Long House: the Wars, Fierce Animals, &c. Tuscarora Village: Lewiston, Niagara, Co., 1828. Call Number: 2013–In Processing.
Kalter, Susan. “Finding a Place for David Cusick in Native American Literary History.” MELUS 27.3 (2002): 9-42.
Round, Philip. Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
Royster, Paul (ed.). David Cusick’s Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations (1828). Faculty Publications, UNL Libraries. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1027&context=libraryscience (accessed November 24, 2013).