Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Le Rouge, 20 March 1781

From Le Rouge

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Paris ce 20 mars 1781

Permettes Monsieur que Jaye lhonneur de Vous presenter la reduction de la Carte que Vs. aves bien voulu me Communiquer.

Cest un homage que je Comptois avoir lhonneur de Vs: rendre moi meme Si ma Santé le permettoit.

Comme les Environs du fort Pitt Sont fort detaillées, J’en ai fait une Carte calquée sur l’original et par consequent sur la même Echelle que Jai inserre dans la brochure.4

Je Vous prie de me dire Si la fête de Shawane Town dont parle le Gal: Pownal. Se tient tous les ans ou dans certains tems?5

Je Vous prie d’annoncer cette Carte a Vos amis afin d’en procurer la Circulation. Elle est reellement neuve.

Jay lhonneur detre avec bien du Respect Monsieur Votre tres humble et tres obéist. Serviteur

Le Rouge

Notation: Le Rouge 20. Mars 1781.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4March 20, 1781, was the day Le Rouge’s translation of Thomas Hutchins’ pamphlet, Description topographique de le Virginie … (for which see Le Rouge’s letter above, Nov. 29) was announced for sale in the Jour. de Paris. Hutchins’ original text accompanied a large map measuring 35¼ by 42¾ inches. Le Rouge reduced it to a single sheet measuring 19¼ by 24¾ inches, which he sold in his shop. The only portion that suffered in the reduction, he felt, was the densely detailed area around Fort Pitt. Le Rouge engraved that section separately, preserving Hutchins’ original scale, and had it bound into his translation. He dedicated the insert to BF.

5Le Rouge’s translation followed Hutchins’ pamphlet faithfully, with one exception: he added, at the end of the book, Christopher Gist’s description of a Shawnee festival that had appeared in Thomas Pownall’s A Topographical Description of Such Parts of North America as are Contained in the (Annexed) Map of the Middle British Colonies, &c. in North America (London, 1776), p. 16 of second pagination. Le Rouge explained (p. [71]) that he was including the passage in order to “liven up this arid Memoir.” Gist described a three-day “divorce and remarriage” ceremony that he purportedly witnessed in February, 1751. After three days of dancing and feasting, the Shawnee men paraded before the women, who selected new husbands by taking hold of their strouds and joining them in the dance. All the while, the women chanted a song with this refrain: “I am not afraid of my husband; I will choose what man I please.” After all the pairs had formed, the couples “retired to consummate.” Le Rouge added an editorial comment at the end of the passage, that the author did not specify whether this festival took place annually.

BF was familiar with Pownall’s edition, which accompanied a reprint of Lewis Evans’ 1755 map; see XXXI, 302n. We have no reply to the present letter and doubt that BF would have known the answer to Le Rouge’s question. Moreover, it seems likely that Gist misinterpreted whatever ceremony he may have witnessed; the Shawnee did perform dances during which women chose male partners, and marriage agreements were sometimes sealed by a couple joining hands, but nothing that is known about the tribe suggests that they reshuffled their conjugal bonds in any kind of routine ritual. See Thomas Wildcat Alford, Civilization (Norman, Oklahoma, 1936), pp. 61, 67; James H. Howard, Shawnee! … (Athens, Ohio, and London, 1981), pp. 340–1 and passim.

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