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“Their Extraordinary Great Labor”: Roger Williams Observes Indian Customs and Language, 1643

European observers generally commented critically upon the leading role of Indian women in work. Roger Williams proved an exception. The minister, once head of the Salem church, was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1635 for questioning the Puritan leadership. He helped found the colony of Rhode Island around Narragansett Bay on land purchased from the Narragansett people to the south, with whom he and the colony maintained generally good relations. He spent much of his life trying to understand the Indians 'customs and language, and published some of his sympathetic observations in his 1643 book Key into the Language of America where he offered a glossary of Algonquian words that revealed much about Indian life. Williams also criticized certain colonial practices, such as the occupation of Indian lands by Europeans, and advocated the separation of church and state and individual freedom in other writings.

Aukeeteaûmen. To plant Corne.

Quttáunemun. To plant Corne.

Anakáusu. A Labourer.

Anakáusichick. Labourers

Aukeeteaûmitch. Planting time.

Aukeeteáhettit. When they set Corne

Nummautaukeeteaûmen. I have done planting.

Anaskhómmin. To how [hoe] or break up

Obs. The Women set or plant, weede, and hill, and gather and barne all the corne and Fruites of the field; Yet sometimes the man himselfe, (either out of love to his Wife, or care for his Children, or being an old man) will help the Woman which (by the custome of the Countrey) they are not bound to.

When a field is to be broken up [hoed], they have a very loving sociable speedy way to dispatch it: All the neighbours men and Women forty, fifty, a hundred &c, joyne, and come in to help freely.

With friendly joyning they breake up their fields, build their Forts, hunt the Woods, stop and kill fish in the Rivers, it being true with them as in all the World in the Affaires of Earth or Heaven: By concord little things grow great, by discord the greatest come to nothing....

Anáskhig-anash. How, Howes. [hoe, hoes]

Anaskhómwock. They how.

Anaskhommonteamin. They break for me.

Anaskhomwáutowwin. A breaking up How.

The Indian Women to this day (notwithstanding our Howes, doe use their naturall Howes of shells and Wood.

Monaskúnnemun. To weede.

Monaskunnummaûtowwin. A weeding or broad How.

Petascúnnemun, To hill the Corne.

Kepenúmmin & To gather Corne.


Núnnowwa. Harvest time.

Anouant. At harvest.

Wuttúnnemitch- When harvest is in.


Pausinnummin. To dry the corne.

Which they doe carefully upon heapes and Mats many dayes, before they barne it up, covering it up with Mats at night, and opening when the Sun is hot.

Sókenug. A heap of corne.

Obs. The woman of the family will commonly raise two or three heaps of twelve, fifteene, or twentie bushells a heap, which they drie inround broad heaps; and if she have helpe of her children or friends, much more.

Source: Roger Williams, A Key into the Language of America (London, 1643), pp. 100–02.