Jane Austen and American Indians

Jane Austen and American Indians

For this month’s post, I chose a difficult topic. There wasn’t much information to be found, so what I have done is to share what I have discovered and then compare what was going on in Jane Austen’s world with what was happening here. I hope you enjoy it!


Two weekends ago, on August 4th and 5th, I attended a local festival, the Pymatuning Area Chamber of Commerce Lake Festival. It was a two-day event, and I was there with some of my books. My wardrobe did very well that weekend, with a purse, two dresses, and a shirt added to it. 🙂 I did make some sales, and gave away some business cards, so I count it a success. You can read more about it in a Writer’s Journal post here on my blog.

My friend Angela drove up on Friday night and spent Saturday with me at the festival, so I could go to the bathroom and get food during the day. I got to go home and feed my dogs in the early afternoon … and change my sweaty clothes! 😀

So how does all this relate to my title, Jane Austen and American Indians?

Photo compliments of Lord Nelson’s Gallery

Early in the day, Angela had driven across Pymatuning Lake (on the causeway, not the water 😉 ) to Linesville, Pennsylvania, where another festival was taking place. The center of this festival was an artist from that town named Robert Griffing. Mr. Griffing paints pictures of American Indians from the Eastern Woodlands, including tribes that would have lived in the Pymatuning area way back in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Angela knows how much I love history, and art depicting history, and she gifted me a signed copy of Mr. Griffing’s book, The Historical Art of Robert Griffing: An Amazing Journey. I was surprised and delighted with it, and had it read cover to cover within just a couple days, once the festival was over.

I began to wonder, once I was finished reading, what, if anything, Jane Austen thought about American Indians. According to Kathryn Sutherland in an article published in May 2014, Jane used American Indians to help a heroine escape in a satirical book she wrote called Plan of a Novel, According to Hints from Various Quarters. (Side note: this book sounds interesting, and I’m wondering if I can find it published anywhere!)

That’s all I could find relating Jane Austen to American Indians.

However, Brits in Regency England had been hearing about American Indians for over one hundred years. A Google search resulted in pretty much nothing on the topic, sadly. According to Oxford Bibliographies, there is a dearth of information about Native North Americans in England and Europe, though there’s plenty of it for contact between Europeans and Indians over here.

What I did find was that American Indians had been traveling to England and to Europe for a couple hundred years by the time Jane published her first book. Some went willingly, as guests or servants, and some went as slaves. Sometimes they went back home to America, and sometimes they died in Europe, generally due to illnesses to which they had no built up immunity.

I’m sure that word of North American Indians would have made at least some mention in the papers in England. After all, England fought a war with us from 1812 to 1815, a war in which American Indians took part in a big way. During that same period, England was also fighting Napoleon, finally defeating him at Waterloo in June 1815, just four months after signing a treaty with the United States that ended the war. Wikipedia says that British historians view the War of 1812 as a “minor theater of the Napoleonic wars,” so it’s possible that it wasn’t covered in the newspapers as well as Napoleon’s movements were. But clearly, Brits, including Jane Austen, had read about, heard of, and perhaps even seen American Indians right up through the end of the Regency period.

Here’s a list of just some of what was happening here and there during the War of 1812:

United States England
February 7, fourth and last major earthquake hits New Madrid, Missouri, estimated magnitude of 8+ March 15, Luddites attack a wool-processing factory in West Yorkshire
March 26, term “gerrymander” is coined in a political cartoon appearing in the Boston Gazette March 16 to April 6, Battle of Badajoz on the Peninsula, under the command of the Earl of Wellington
April 4, President Madison enacts a 90-day embargo on trade with the United Kingdom May 11, Prime Minister Spencer Perceval assassinated
June 18, War of 1812 begins June 18, War of 1812 begins
July 12, America invades Canada at Windsor, Ontario June 24, Napoleon crosses Neman River, heading to invade Russia


The Battle of Badajoz, compliments of Wikipedia.

As I went through this, I realized that there was so much going on that I would be forever trying to list even a few of the events. Needless to say, we were fighting A war. The Brits were fighting three,  if you count Spain as a separate war. They can surely be forgiven for thinking we were just a blip on the radar, and Jane Austen can be forgiven for only having one reference to American Indians in one book. 🙂


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14 Responses to Jane Austen and American Indians

  1. You find the most interesting things to research. It’s like turn a page and you never know what you will find. Fascinating.

  2. History and learning about is fascinating but never ending, isn’t it. I think that’s one of the reasons I love Jane Austen and JAFF so much. There is always something new to discover about the past while reading a treasured book. Thanks, Jen

  3. I’ve never given it much thought, as I’m not good with the scope of history. I can’t keep enough of it in my head at once. Sort of like chess. Anyhow, I’m sure it’s occurred to a lot of other people, but it just occurred to me that if Napoleon had known war was about to break out between Britain and the US 1912, he might have gone north to try his hand at taking England again, instead of east to Russia, and we’d all be speaking French! (But I bet we’d still have Pride and Prejudice 🙂 )

    • LOL You might be right about speaking French! I agree that he might have changed his tactics, had he known Britain was going to war with us, as well. I’m glad he didn’t know! 😀

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