About the Trowbridge Document

By Dr. David J. Costa

Charles Trowbridge (born 1800, died 1883) was assistant secretary for the Indian Department of the Great Lakes area in the 1820s. In this capacity, Trowbridge conducted valuable ethnological and linguistic fieldwork among several tribes in that area, including the Myaamia, Unami Delaware, Menominee, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Hochunk, Wyandot, Ojibwe, Sauk, and Dakota. The two groups from whom Trowbridge collected by far the most linguistic and ethnological data were the Delaware and the Myaamia, with his notes on these languages being more extensive than his notes on all the other groups put together. His notes from his work with the Myaamiaki constitute the only in-depth ethnographic materials we have from a time when much of their traditional culture was still intact.

Most of Trowbridge’s work among the Myaamiaki took place in Indiana during the winter of 1824-5, one year after his Delaware work. His primary consultant was the Myaamia meehcikilita (Le Gros), though judging from his correspondence he also seems to have spent a small amount of time interviewing pinšiwa (Jean Baptiste Richardville). Trowbridge’s notes on the Myaamiaki at the Detroit Public Library amount to roughly 540 pages, with about 200 of these being materials on the language. The remaining pages primarily pertain to Myaamia ethnology and history, though even these sections contain a considerable number of Myaamia words sprinkled throughout. Of the 200 or so pages of language notes, about half are verb paradigms, with the other half more or less equally divided between general vocabulary and example sentences.

Trowbridge’s language notes are not easy to interpret, being transcribed in an inconsistent English-based system, yet they still more than reward the effort to interpret them. Even though little information regarding vowel length can be gleaned from Trowbridge’s notes, he marks preaspiration fairly often, unlike most other English-speaking transcribers of the nineteenth century; for example, note Trowbridge’s ‹utsheepihkēe› for phonemic aciipihki ‘root’, ‹kēēhkwee› for ahkihkwi ‘kettle’ or ‹kinoahshāūmeear› for kinohšamia ‘otter’. However, there are other words which Trowbridge recorded several times without ever marking preaspiration, such as his ‹mōātshee› for moohci ‘no, not’, or ‹mukisīnee› for mahkisini ‘shoe, moccasin’.

A valuable feature of Trowbridge’s notes is the large amount of culturally significant vocabulary he collected. While most of these words are corroborated either in the old Illinois dictionaries from the Jesuit period or in the twentieth-century materials of Albert Gatschet, Jacob Dunn or Truman Michelson (or in both), Trowbridge also recorded a significant number of Myaamia words not collected by the French missionaries, and apparently forgotten or overlooked in other materials collected on the Miami-Illinois language from the 1790s onward. Among the words gotten by Trowbridge but found nowhere else are (in the standard Myaamia spelling) pilaantia ‘nestling, baby bird’, waapaahkwiinkiaakani ‘silver band’, wiikiaamintehsi ‘little house’, šoohkwaahkiinki ‘the snowsnake game’, ciimaani ‘paddle, oar’, mihsoolintehsi ‘little boat’, pwaawi ‘lightly, softly’, mahkohpina ‘root of the pond lily’, and ahtawaanahkisinaakani ‘snowshoe’, place names such as ahseni siipiiwi ‘Great Miami River’, ciinkwihtanwi kihcikami ‘Lake Erie’, and kihcikami kaakaamionki alikonci ‘Lake Huron’, and names of neighboring tribes such as wašoona ‘Otoe’, aayohoowia ‘Iowa’ and taskaloolwa ‘Tuscarora’.

Just as important as the vocabulary Trowbridge collected are his extensive verb paradigms. In collecting his verb paradigms, Trowbridge’s strategy was to elicit Myaamia translations of three English verbs, ‘love’, ‘see’ and ‘burn’, taking them through whatever subject/object combinations and tenses he could think of. He managed to obtain extensive sets of preterit, future, conditional, and negative verbs, including AI, TI, and TA forms (though very few II’s), as well as imperatives and injunctives. Considering the general level of scholarly knowledge of Algonquian in time period in which Trowbridge was working, the paradigms are more sensibly assembled and complete than one might expect. Though of course these paradigms are far from perfect; for example, he seems to have been unaware of the contrast between first person plural inclusive and exclusive. Thus, in his paradigms when giving forms translated in English with ‘we’ or ‘us’, it often seems random whether he lists inclusive or exclusive forms. Additionally, Trowbridge clearly did not understand the contrast between independent and dependent (or conjunct) verbs, and often mixed the two verb types together in his paradigms. Nevertheless, Trowbridge’s paradigms are an invaluable source for understanding Myaamia verb morphology, documenting several verb types which are found only rarely in later sources, such as the passive and the preterit past tense. Perhaps most important of all, Trowbridge collected far and away the most extensive documentation of the special Indiana Myaamia emphatic negative of any source, with examples (in standard spelling) such as moohci piitilaanwito ‘it does not rain’ and moohci kiikoo nintešinaakosime ‘nothing is the matter with me’. Only scattered examples of the emphatic negative are found elsewhere in the Miami-Illinois corpus, though Trowbridge gives over a hundred of them. It is only through his materials that we have a complete picture of how this unique Myaamia verb type is formed.


The Trowbridge Document appears courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.