Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

David L. Moore

Commitee Members

George Price, Kathleen Kane


Autobiography, Historiography, Jacksonian Era, Methodism, Native American History, Subjectivity Studies, Pequot History, William Apess


University of Montana


Madson, Carly Jean Dandrea, M. A., Summer 2008 English Chairperson: David L. Moore Abstract “William Apess: Autobiography and the Conversion of Subjectivity” In 1829, Apess published his first book A Son of the Forest, a conversion narrative documenting his life. Apess, a Pequot Methodist minister in the early nineteenth century, has recently come to the attention of academic historians, English literary, and Native American Studies scholars. Barry O’Connell of Amherst College compiled and edited Apess’s writings in On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot, published by University of Massachusetts Press in 1992. Apess may be one of the earliest Native writers using the English language, after Samson Occom. He is also one the first Native Americans to document the colonial process that nearly eliminated his people from the Eastern Seaboard. Looking back on Apess, we can see the importance of such early Native American writing during the Jacksonian Era. This kind of writing explains the process of colonization and subjugation from the perspective of a writer who is colonized and subjugated, a perspective often overlooked. Historians tend to favor the writing of the colonizer and subjugator. For this reason, Apess adds a unique and important perspective. Apess was not just writing his autobiography. He was using his story to convey his truth. Through his writing he claimed that Eastern Seaboard EuroAmericans greatly misunderstood and denigrated Mashpee and Pequot peoples, misrepresented early American history, and continued to unfairly subjugate Native Americans and other non-EuroAmericans. In order to reveal these claims, I trace shifting perspectives and subjectivities. With each shift in subjectivity, I find a changing relationship to his writing. Reading his narrative as autobiography, I find that Apess’s writing exceeds this genre classification, which leads me to reconsider the limited classifications of Son of the Forest, The Experiences of Five Christian Indians, as well as his later works Nullification and Eulogy. This becomes a question of genre, freeing Apess’s writings from the restrictions ascribed to autobiography as a category of genre. The writings, especially Son of the Forest qualify as history writing, trauma writing, biography, and distinctly Native American social critique.



© Copyright 2008 Carly Jean Dandrea Madson