An essay written for the Autonomedia book Gone to Croatan describing the life of one of the notorious ‘land pirates’ in pre-revolutionary America who “cared not a bit for the law, nor property, work, or God.”
HENRY TUFTS, LAND PIRATE
...There must have been distributed throughout a large part of the narrow region known as the United States, in those days, a stratum of society like that still found in some isolated and degraded settlements among the mountains,-hamlets whose wandering inhabitants are habitually called gypsies, although without gypsy blood.
—Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson1
While law-abiding people were greatly in the majority, respecting the lives and property of one another, there was throughout a drifting element of the lawless and reprobate, largely recruited from the runaway servants and convicts I have described, who roamed from province to province commiting crimes...
These men cannot live in regular society. They are too idle, too talkative, too passionate, too prodigal & too shiftless to acquire either property or character. Finding all their efforts vain, they become at length discouraged and then under the pressure of poverty, the fear of a gaol and consciousness of public contempt, leave their native places, and betake themselves to the wilderness.
...lawlessness inevitably arose in a population that contained, along with stable homesteaders and tradesmen, many shiftless vagrants and ne'er-do-wells who found the frontier an ideal setting for their mischiefmaking.
Pre-Revolutionary New England must have contained a significant proportion of people who cared not a bit for the law, nor property, work, or God. Furthermore, these same people generally recognized their common interests and acted on them. The individualistic character that so famously personifies the people of the United States was not invented until after the nineteenth century was well under way. Before this invention, life had a much more communal, perhaps medieval flavor. Not everyone was a lonely predestined puritan. Thieves, fugitives, drifters and disaffected strangers made up a part of a loose network of people who connected and associated within the context of lawless desire. I have named these people land pirates. If we were to assign these land pirates an ideological label, it would be that of egoistic anarchy. Of this network there is not much record. There are some hints and observations; and then there is Henry Tufts' narrative, which, in addition to being one long, great brag, is a key document of evidence of the existence of this network.
Mark Twain immortalized (and to a degree, romanticized) the ethos of land pirates in his books about life on the Mississippi River. He was not just imagining things. He was also describing a reality, one in which those people who did not fit into the power structure were still able to slip through it more or less successfully. It can still be done, and those who do it continue the tradition of secrecy. Although land pirates may oppose power, and slip through its grid, they are nevertheless implicated in the general order as much as any cop. They can achieve different effects, but they cannot entirely escape.
The American Revolution not only removed the rather tentative grid of power-relations that England maintained in the colonies. It also initiated a much more insidious power structure from within the colonies themselves. Over time, this structure would come to contain the land pirates in the ever-growing institution of incarceration. Today, the United States incarcerates a proportion of its people that is higher than any other nation on Earth.
The lost history of Henry Tufts is found. It has much relevance for the lived present.
I wake the dead.
In the year 1807 in the town of Dover, New Hampshire, the printer and eminent citizen—Samuel Bragg, Jr.5—produced a book very different from anything he had ever published before or after. Titled A Narrative of the Life, Adventures, Travels and Sufferings of Henry Tufts, this book differed from Bragg's usual titles on science and religion. This book was the autobiography of an infamous vagabond criminal. It is also a work of classic American literature, or it would be if anyone knew about it.
Why Bragg published this book—so out of character with every- thing else he did—remains something of a mystery. He may have done it for the money that scandal often brings, but this is at best only a partial reason. Bragg was a successful printer and publisher of books and newspapers—none of which could be called deviant in any way. Maybe he was bored with pious works, and publishing Tufts' narrative relieved the monotony of routine. It is likely the mystery will never be solved. Three years after publishing Tufts' narrative, Bragg's entire operation burnt to the ground. Bragg died but a year after that, it is said, of a broken heart.6
Many copies of this book must have been destroyed in the fire, but many more were destroyed by the relatives of the author, who sought to preserve the good upstanding family name of Tufts (Tufts University in Boston was founded by one of Henry's relatives).7 As a result, there are few copies still in existence. One copy was auctioned off in the 1920s, fetching some $30. Another copy, in 1984, went for $800.8
In 1930, a second edition of Tufts' narrative was published, edited by the odd librarian, Edmund Pearson. Some forty pages were cut from this edition, and a new title, Autobiography of a Criminal, affixed. Of the editing, Pearson states that he didn't "bowdlerize" the text, and that Tufts "is allowed to recite his crimes, and smugly describe his lechery without interference."9 Yet, upon comparison of the two editions, this does not seem to be so. Pearson does cut out some significant portions, including a notorious incident where Henry disguises himself as Satan in order to evade the authorities (he was wanted at the time for desertion from the Revolutionary Army).10 Nevertheless, the text of the second edition runs some 350 pages.
Like most criminal narratives, Tufts' is written by a ghostwriter, a fact admitted to on the title page.11 As to who the ghostwriter is, there are two educated guesses. One puts the blame on a Colonel Tash,12 who was something of a hero in the Revolution; while the other attributes it to a clever young lawyer of Dover.13 There is no confirmation on either of these names, and it seems that this too will remain a mystery.
Henry Tufts was born in 1748. He was over fifty years old when he orally recited his autobiography. While it is doubtless that he lies about some of the events he relates (lying is the central device in his long, colorful career as a student of "the science of deception"), it is nevertheless a narrative that has the overall ring of truth to it. Many of the names, dates and places he mentions can be confirmed. He may embellish and slant his stories, but he does not appear to have simply imagined them. His narrative, therefore, is also an important historical document, for it shows a very different world than what is usually shown as a representation of late eighteenth-century New England. The world Henry Tufts shows us is from the perspective of the underground marginalized disaffected outcast. Henry Tufts is the first counter-cultural anti-hero of the United States.
He played many roles in the course of his career as a land pirate. He was a legendary horse-thief, a capable burglar, a part-time bigamist and full-time philanderer, a convincing conjurer, an aimless vagabond, a good doctor, a pilfering parson, a palmist, a work resistor, a dropout, a soldier, a draft-dodging fugitive, a prisoner, an unknowing agent of genocide, and forever a ne'er-do-well. He even did a stint as a slave-driver for a few months when he drifted south to Virginia. Apparently he was no good at this profession. He complains about the slaves being too disinclined to work, which is of course something he could relate to all too well. It was probably too much work for Henry to get the slaves to work. Besides, all he was really concerned with was seducing the plantation owner's daughter.
Throughout his adventures, Henry displays a fondness for his fellow humans, even while he cons and seduces them. This, in part, con- tributes to an understanding of his failure as a slave-driver. He was not a violent man. He appears to have had an exceptional sense of humor. Compassion illuminates his narrative, but it is of an existential sort, and not at all materialistic. He never seems to have things to give to others (indeed, he usually takes things), but he does give love to others, and the one legitimate skill he learns in life (although as we shall see, he learned it in a most questionable way) is healing.
Why Henry narrated his notorious life of crime, and thus broke the code of silence characteristic of land pirates, is a most interesting question. He certainly didn't do it for the usual reasons. I propose that his motives were, in keeping with his character, mischievous. To understand this requires some background in the tradition of this form.
THE ONTOLOGICAL BASIS FOR CRIMINAL NARRATIVES
History is not made. It is constructed. The general condition that gives rise to such production is that of conflict between desire and the law.14 It is the law that benefits from the construction of history, because history provides the foundation—an understanding of the past—upon which to build up the consolidation of the law into the regulative structure of the state.
Desire in itself needs no such foundation. Desire needs no such structure. Desire does not need history. It is not concerned with order and organization. Desire lives in those instances of impassioned intensity. Once they are gone, it is not simply that they no longer exist. They never did. That is why those periods filled with "revolutions, nomadic wanderings, and the strangest mutations"15 are not in the history books. There was nothing in these periods to suggest the necessity of an enduring record precisely because there was no cognizance of laws. To be outside of the law is to be outside of history, which connotes being outside of that most fundamental of laws: the law of time itself.
Desire contextualized within time becomes an historical subject for the law. This can only happen once the law is established to such a degree that desire is no longer perceived as a major threat to the general order. A shift can then take place, from a strategy of forbidding desire to one of allowing, even encouraging a limited discourse of desire, so as to make an example of it, to ridicule it, and thus recuperate it within the overarching structure of the law. Foucault delineated this process as it relates to sexuality.16 It also relates to crime.
It is no accident that the criminal narrative began its proliferation in sixteenth-century Spain, when the crown was at the height of its power.17 Crime, in the form of vagabonds and other disreputable characters roaming the countryside showing little respect for the sanctity of private property, was no longer a perceived threat. Indeed this same description of crime fit those agents of the crown busying themselves with plundering the New World. However, it was a very different story just a century prior, when the Inquisition was still in full swing, burning people alive for much less than petty thievery or some other flim-flam. During this earlier period, desire was still perceived to be a threat, for the law was not fully established.
In England, the story was different, but the process was the same. Particularly devastated by the black plague, England, in response to the social chaos18 that ensued, developed one of the most litigious structures ever known, at one point featuring over two-hundred offenses for which one could be sentenced to death. The criminal narrative did not catch on so well here, mainly because there were many more real-life rogues than there were in Spain, and the majority of them were not in the service of a king. Yet the discourse of desire blossomed in many other forms, such as songs and legends, of which perhaps the most enduring is the legend of Robin Hood.19 Ironically, the extensive legal structure of post-plague England, while foundationally solid enough to allow a discourse of limited desire, was so overbearing (particularly evidenced by the enclosure laws) as to bring about a real conflict with desire; one that threatened to topple the structure. That this result did not happen is probably due in no small part to the demographic outlet provided by the colonies in the "New World."
In another irony, the discourse of desire was exported to New England, and was transformed by the Puritans into a device designed to terrorize the congregation onto the path of righteousness. The subjects of these narratives were not Robin Hoods. They were usually very desperate murderers, or so they were portrayed. These early American criminal narratives were usually recited orally to a minister, who would then write it up (after embellishing it substantially), and have the narrator sign it. Often, the confessions were manipulated to fit into the traditional Christian themes of the fall, humiliation, repentance, and redemption.20 It was in this way that desire was channeled into a discourse contextualized within time that served to reinforce the general laws with which an unmonitored desire was in conflict.
HENRY TUFTS' NARRATIVE
What is extraordinary about Tufts' narrative is the constant intrusion of unmonitored desire into the formal discourse of contcxtualizcd desire that his narrative assumes. In some ways the narrative assumes the form of a typical Puritanized criminal narrative: the confessed fall, the stated humiliation, the alleged repentance and the hopeful redemption. Yet this form is utterly undermined by Tufts' sheer exuberance at his own cleverness as a thief, or a fakir, or a bigamist. He holds himself up too well for someone who has fallen. He is too proud to feel humiliated. He is too sensually inclined to ever repent, and in reality he is already redeemed. You cannot help but laugh at his pathetic apology at the end of the book. This is the most obvious, and probably the biggest lie of the entire narrative. That he can get away with it is perhaps the best proof of the general verisimilitude of his intensely-lived outlaw life.
Henry explains himself existentially: "Nor birth, nor parentage, or mean, or great, confers protection from the stroke of fate."21 This is nothing less than the employment of the device of mysterious origins. The "depraved disposition"22 which is developed in his "riper manhood"23 is neither the result of nature (birth/genetics), nor of nurture (environment/childhood). It remains a mystery. At any rate, by the time Henry is fourteen, his "genius began to display itself."24 This is when he commits his first theft: a dollar bill from a neighbor. He gets caught and word of his crime gets around. In no time at all, he is being taunted by his fellow playmates, who, along with the rest of the community, figure that his genius "might ripen into an aptitude for the perpetration of the worst of crimes."25
Henry says of himself, "My reveries were directed...to unprofitable objects, for instead of contemplating aright upon the doctrines of meum and tuum, as of age to have done in some measure; instead of considering the sanctity of individual property; weighing the vile and mercenary nature of my transgressions, or guarding against a further repetition of them, my mind was principally employed in adjusting the degrees of impunity, which might, or might not attend, the commission of such deeds in the future. Ideas of this kind were my frequent concomitants; and such is the prevalency of habit, that it naturally begets a mental alliance in its favor; an inclination in the human breast to cherish familiar objects, whether their complexion be virtuous or vicious, beautiful or deformed... The longer I digested the above subjects (the pleasures of crime), the more I became attached to favorite irregularities, and more strongly inclined to provide means for their gratification. Such being my case I gave into the indulgence of corrupt appetites and commenced a career of filching...."26
He would have made a good criminologist if it wasn't for his reliance on the device of mysterious origins for explaining the development of his "depraved disposition." It is hardly scientific, but it is key to the entire narrative, underscoring it with a robust sense of wonder. It is through this device that Henry achieves a structural observance of the Puritan narrative form, and it is through the abuse of this device that he subverts the same.
While Henry filched in general, he was especially successful as a horse thief, stealing more than fifty horses in the course of his narrative. He was rarely apprehended. On one occasion, he had stolen a farmer's horse in one town and sold it in another. When the farmer caught up with Henry, he was talked into going back with Henry to the town where Henry had sold his horse. Henry stole the farmer's horse back, and stole another one for himself as well. The two rode off together into the night. Another time, a man bragged to Henry (know- ing full well his penchant and skill as a horsethief) that his horse was so well guarded that there was no way he could steal it. It was really a simple thing to do. Henry laced some rum with opium, gave it to the guards, who subsequently slipped into a stupor, making Henry's theft child's play. Once more, he rode off happily into the night. As a "master of deception,"27 Henry was able to paint spots on a stolen horse with enough skill so as to make the horse unrecognizable to its rightful owner. He regularly carried a little kit of paints and tools for such needs.
While he got away with many thefts, he was also caught and thrown into jail many times. However, he was usually able to break out.
OF LAND PIRATES & THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
Henry may have had exceptional ability in doing all the nefarious things he did, but he was not so unusual for doing them. In virtually every town in which he commits some form of mischief, he is able to find a co-conspirator and/or a woman as promiscuous as he. This is one index of the land pirate network. A second index is revealed by examining the difficulties encountered by George Washington during the American Revolution, and comparing it with Henry's account. Henry enlisted in the Revolutionary Army on November 5, 1775, near Boston.28
In a letter to the provincial congress of New York, Washington writes, "It must give great concern to any considerate mind, that...there are men among us so basely sordid, as to counteract all our exertions, for the sake of a little gain."29 From Washington's letters it is obvious that discipline and desertion were constant problems. Washington was not the only commander with these problems. Major General Schuyler almost resigned out of frustration brought about by "disregard of discipline, confusion and want of order among the troops."30
Henry, meanwhile, can only magnify such great concerns, as well as validate them, as he writes of joining the Revolutionary Army for the first time: "Being by nature volatile, and prone to novelty, I was strongly impelled to become acquainted with a military life. This my fancy portrayed, as the best method of supporting self and family, and in a way consistent with beloved ease, and at the same time, as, certainly more honorable than thievish pursuits, though a soldier in fact, may be a thief."31
Henry relates an incident which occurred in his second two-month enlistment. He goes out one night with two fellow soldiers. They steal "a number of dunghill fow1s,"32 and almost get caught by the owner, who, hearing the birds squawk, comes running out. In typical Tuftian fashion, Henry cons the farmer by walking up to him, looking very innocent and asking for some cider. When the farmer tells Henry that he thinks he has heard someone stealing his chickens, Henry replies that "there is nothing more likely, for just now I saw several fellows running down [the] street".33 Cursing, the farmer invites him (and his cronies) in for cider. After the refreshment, they "bid him adieu"34 and on the way back to army quarters, retrieve the stolen chickens, and manage to steal a few geese as well, from yet another farmer. The next day, when this farmer showed up at the commissary to complain to Henry's captain of his loss, the captain instructed him to search as he pleased. This being in vain, the captain then gave the privates permission to drive the farmer out of the camp, which they did, with snowballs, "pelting him unmercifully."35 Henry concludes this little anecdote, mentioning that, "at the expiration of the two months I was dismissed with the commendation of having behaved as a good soldier".36
Imagine what the "father of our country" would have felt had he read of Henry's exploits. Just a few months before the above-related incident, Washington had "...required of all the officers, that they be exceeding [sic] diligent and strict in preventing all Invasions and Abuse of private property in their quarters, or elsewhere,..that every private soldier will detest, and abhor such practices, when he considers, that it is for the preservation of his own Rights, Liberty and Property, and those of his fellow countrymen, that he is now called into service...."37 What would Washington have said to a private soldier who bragged about drawing more than twice his company's ration of meat, through a ruse aided and abetted by his immediate superiors?
In fact, this happened more than once, even in companies that didn't have such a clever private as Henry. In another letter, Washington talks about having "broken"38 two captains for pulling just such a stunt. It was usually the officers that Washington complained about, as well as broke, or otherwise punished. For, while he hoped that every private would detest and abhor such practices, he was quite insistent that the officers prevent such practices. Clearly he expected more of the officers. In one of the more embarrassing letters he wrote, Washington states the problem rather bluntly: "...an unaccountable kind of stupidity in the lower class of these people...believe me, prevails but too generally among the officers...."39
It seems the officers were just too cozy with the rank and file. Indeed they were paid about the same, but more than that, they were generally from the same neck of the woods as the company they were put in command of, and were thus more comfortable with their neighbors than with strangers of equal rank. From Washington's point of view however, "...there is no such thing as getting officers of this stamp to exert themselves in carrying orders into execution—to curry favor with the men (by whom they were chosen, and on whose smiles possibly they may think they may again rely) seems to be one of the principle objects of their attention...."40
There wasn't any problem in Henry's company when it came to carrying orders into execution. When the young private returns with the double ration of meat, happy officers order Henry to go somewhere else and steal "a moderate quantity of rum"41 to wash down the meal. Henry executes this order with alacrity, after which, he says, alongside his captain, we "regaled ourselves like lords upon these goodly things, which we devoured with as keen avidity, as though they had been acquired ever so honestly, while I received the applause of every guest, as well for my zeal, as ingenious contrivance...."42
Although Henry is unique, the applause and approval he received for both his zeal and ingenious contrivance is not. He was particularly good at doing what many others were also doing, albeit at less advanced levels of dexterity. What they all shared was a profound lack of interest in what Washington called "the great and common cause in which we are all engaged..."43 There was another cause more common than that of independence from England. The real common cause was self-interest, i.e., an immediate increase in autonomy whenever possible. To the view of this cause, putting the health of a large abstract power-grid like a United States before the health of your own situation was pretty much as stupid as putting the health of any other large abstract power-grid (e.g., England) before your own profit margin.
Certainly not every Yankee soldier saw things that way, but a significant proportion did—enough to almost lose the war. A good example of this is the mass desertion of the Connecticut regiments, who after doing their two-month stint, refused to stay a few extra days, until replacements (one of whom was Henry Tufts) could be mustered. Here we are speaking in the range of some five-thousand soldiers, all of them deserting en masse. The occasion would prompt Silas Deane, patriot, lawyer and Yale graduate, to write his wife, in disgust: "The behavior of our soldiers has made me sick; but little better could be expected from men trained up with notions of their right of saying how, and when, and under whom, they will serve."44 Apparently, the desire for one's own autonomy does not blend very well with military regimentation—even if the stated purpose of said regiments is to gain independence. From the point of view of the leaders, such autonomy is less than desirable, and is usually called something else. In remarks on the desertion, Governor Trumbull of Connecticut put it thus: "Indeed there is great difficulty to support liberty, to exercise government, to maintain subordination, and at the same time to prevent the operation of licentious and levelling principles which many very easily imbibe."45
The mass desertion of the Connecticut regiments was perhaps exceptional for its dramatic nuances. More common were everyday abuses of property, lack of order, wasting of ammunition, casual desertion, and other petty scams. Washington had a hard time believing that "...some officers, under pretence of giving furloughs to men recovering from sickness, send them to work upon their farms for their own private emolument, at the same time that the public is taxed with their pay, if not with their provisions..."46 Such things happened often enough to prompt an outraged Washington to write that "it is a matter of exceeding great concern that at a time when the united eflorts of America are exerting in defense of the common rights and liberties of mankind, that there should be in an army constituted for so noble a purpose, such repeated instances of officers, who lost to every sense of honor and virtue, are seeking by dirty and base means, the promotion of their own dishonest gain...."47
I'11 let you the reader be the judge here. I can only conclude that as liberty and autonomy had not yet been consolidated into a unifying and normalizing institution, many people thought of these ideas in much more immediate and practical terms. What Washington and other "leaders" refer to as dishonest gain and selfishness seems to me a healthy response to a regimented subjugation that never held any interest for land pirates and the like.
HENRY TUFTS AMONG THE ABENAKI
Prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Henry had spent three years living with the Abenaki Indians in western Maine. His original reason for doing so was that he had accidentally stabbed himself in the leg during a knife game, and the wound had not healed well at all—in fact he was dying. It was his hope that the Abenaki, who had a reputation for the healing arts, would be able to heal him. I want to stress that Henry was a far cry from any sort of ethnographer. Nevertheless, the three chapters in his narrative that deal with this period do comprise a sort of ethnography. It is probably the only one there is for the western Abenaki in the eighteenth century.48
Like all ethnographies, Tufts' begins with the journey to the other.49 He is frustrated and depressed. He's half dead. The journey through the pigwackett country is long and arduous. Yet he heads up his "study" with the following: "I far prefer a savage life / to gloomy cares or vexing strife."50 That's just the big picture. More specifically, and much more desperately, "By the time prefixed I was equipped for departure and had gathered (in my opinion) such a portion of health and strength, as might enable me to travel a few miles a day. So bidding adieu to family and friends, I set out on the precarious enterprise, but the most gloomy doubts of success and uncertainty of my return, were my constant attendants on the way. I proceeded by short and slow marches, traveling sometimes not more than a mile or two in a day. The people, whom I visited on the road, used me, for the most part, with much kindness, otherwise, of necessity, I must have abandoned the expedition.
"I shall not here attempt to decipher the multiplicity of difficulties and discouragements, arising from pain, sickness, want, and some- times almost despair, which I encountered during this long and tedious pilgrimage."51 I have to laugh when he continues on with his sympathy-generating prose: "To render an adequate description of my sufferings and trials would far exceed my feeble ability...."52
Such puns can only ruin the intended effect, unless such ruination was itself the intended effect. Nevertheless, if his pain and sickness are not enough, his distress is made complete when he must "pass several uncomfortable nights in the howling wilderness, where the frequent yellings of the wild beasts inspired ideas of horror and amazement."53 He gets a little bit of comfort when he has "the good fortune to procure the company of some English hunters a small part of the remaining way."54
At last he arrives at his destination: an Abenaki camp. Their wigwams appear to Tufts as "uncouth and wretched habitations"55 and make him unsure of how he will be received by these "rude sons of nature."56 Henry explains that they don't just live in the wigwams, but that they are their "inmates."57 This suggests a jail, another kind of abode, but one with which Henry is infinitely more familiar.
The "uncultivated"58 Abenaki proved to be both friendly and considerate towards Henry, who surely must have appeared a pathetic sight (after all that suffering). The language barrier was surmounted, not by clever Henry, but by the presence of several Abenaki, who were functionally bilingual. That they welcomed Henry, a stranger and a Yankee, in addition to being conversant in English, is understandable given both the traditional and historical context in which the Abenaki lived.
The traditional context (which was arguably the ultimate cause of their downfall) was the rule of hospitality towards strangers.59 The historical context was the economic and biologic relations that developed between the Abenaki and the Europeans. By the time Henry arrived (probably sometime in 1772), they had been in contact with Europeans for over a century and a half. They were among the first tribes to be utterly destroyed by the encroaching "civilization," through both its profit-based economics and its civilized diseases. It is reasonable to assume that in the course of this genocidal catastrophe, there had been opportunities for the Abenaki to learn the meaning, not only of the Europeans' language, but also of their actions.
Perhaps they sought to assimilate Henry into the tribe. He appears to have been adopted by them (every ethnographer's dream, eh?). Not only was he taught some of the medical techniques by the renowned Indian "doctress,"60 Molly Occut; he was regularly invited to participate in the hunting excursions. He usually declined, being far too inclined towards indolence. Apparently his room and board were free. He was taught how to trap, and enjoyed regular sexual relations with a chief's daughter (Polly). As time passed, he was thoroughly healed by the good doctress.
Henry developed a desire to learn "Indian physic" in a thorough-going way, but the Indian doctors were reluctant to teach Henry all their secrets. He explains that "Since beginning to amend in health under the auspices of madam Molly, I had formed a design of studying the Indian practice of physic, though my intention had hitherto remained a profound secret. Indeed I had paid strict attention to everything of a medical nature, which had fallen within the sphere of my notice. Frequently I was inquisitive with Molly Occut, old Plilips, Sabattus and other professed doctors to learn the names and virtues of their medicines. In general they were explicit in communication, still I thought them in possession of secrets they cared not to reveal."61
It is at this point in the narrative where I have the greatest difficulty with our hero Henry, who both before and after this juncture, was a perfect rascal and outlaw. There is an immense paradox in Henry's solution to getting these healers (who have so thoroughly and selflessly healed him) to teach him their secrets. It was a simple solution really. He gave them rum. It worked. At first he bought ten gallons of rum... "with which I regaled a number of my Indian friends as long as it lasted. By this exploit I so far engaged their good will and gratitude, that no sooner did I acquaint them with my desire to learn the healing art, then they promised me every instruction in their power, which, subsequent to this I ever found them ready to afford."62
After he hit upon this "solution," he regularly procured rum for the Abenaki. It was for this reason that he began to accompany the hunting parties more often, i.e, so as to obtain furs that he could then trade for rum with which to ply the healers. This is what he called his "favorite scheme."63 His reasoning was that by learning the art of physic, he might more be able to live a life suited to his "beloved ease."64 What is implied in the narrative is that the Abenaki are unable to procure rum for themselves. It was probably illegal for either the French, and especially the English, to sell rum to the Abenaki—on paper at least. Abenaki leaders had been petitioning the governor of Massachusetts for some time prior to Henry's stay there to forbid anyone to come near the Abenaki settlements with rum. It is widely accepted and readily apparent that alcohol has been a complete disaster for American Indians from the moment of its introduction. While there are some exceptions to this rule (e.g., the Tarahumara in northern Mexico, and several other groups which included non-distilled alcohol as part of their cultural configurations),65 the Abenaki were not one of them. Alcohol devastated the communal and cognitive frameworks through which they obtained social cohesion. The non-ordinary reality brought on through rum did not (unlike other non-ordinary realities, brought on through use of organic hallucinogens such as psyilocybin mushrooms) refer back to Abenaki culture in any kind of affirming, reinvigorating way. Quite the opposite. Instead, it revealed the hidden problems of their life-styles without any means of their resolution.66
Henry had no problem in obtaining rum from "diverse English people" who "occasionally visit...to purchase furs and the like."67 That is not to say it was impossible for the Abenaki to procure their own rum. However, it was probably more difficult, as well as more expensive, for them to do so. It is here that I am confronted with the overriding paradox of Henry Tufts' narrative. It is a problem with what T.S. Eliot called the "objective correlative," which refers to the notion that the objective of a given protagonist must correspond to the characterization of this protagonist. In the event that this correlation doesn't take place, we have on our hands either a faulty piece of fiction, or some other hidden process going on.68
For all the things Henry Tufts made himself out to be in the narrative (and there were many things, deviant and otherwise), he was consistently a compassionate character. He was a con man, but he did not seem to be capable of coercive behavior. The only other time in which he physically harmed another person occurred in the course of a wrestling match, in which he threw his opponent a bit too hard. Months later, he heard the man was still seriously ill. This caused Henry no small amount of grief. While it is true that the narrative is peppered throughout with expressions of remorse for doing this or that nefarious deed, rarely can such remorse be shown as genuine. This is one of those rare moments. He may have not given a damn for the difference between "meum and tuum," but he seems to have had a fair sense of human suffering, and did not generally exhibit any interest in inflicting it on others.
Given this characterization, one cannot but be struck by the lack of compassion exhibited by Henry towards the Abenaki. Having benefited from living and learning among this group of people, why would he then turn around and provide them with the means of their own destruction? Henry is way out of character here, even if his character is little more than a fiction invented by the narrator. It is a possibility that he didn't know what he was doing. After all, Henry was no teetotaler. He obviously had a penchant for the voluptuous and the sensual. Though his personal visions of excess tended towards the sexual or the felonious, he enjoyed the occasional bout with the bottle as well. It could be that he saw nothing wrong in the excessive use of alcohol among the Abenaki.
However this is too simplistic. He does seem to have a clear understanding of what is happening: "One pernicious practice to which those poor people were miserably addicted, as I had frequent opportunities of witnessing, and which was one great cause of their wretchedness, was their excessive fondness for spirituous liquors; with which they were supplied, for the most part, by the New England traders. Such was their insatiable thirst for the fatally intoxicating potion, that they would cheerfully barter away, in purchase of it, their most valuable furs, even after encountering every incredible hardship, of cold, hunger and fatigue, in their acquirement. Frequently I have remonstrated with them on the folly and impropriety of this conduct, but without making any lasting impression upon their minds."69
When was it, I wonder, that Henry remonstrated with them on the folly of their excessive fondness for liquors? Was it as he filled their cups with the same? Was it while they were riding out one of the usual three-day hangovers they would incur as a result of Henry's "generous sharing"70 of his own rum, by which he was buying a medical education? Another possibility is that rum was relatively easy for the Abenaki to get ahold of, and it might have thus seemed to Henry that they were just going to get drunk and wretched anyhow, whether he gave them rum or not. So why should he have not profited from the inevitable?
A third possibility, and perhaps the most likely, is that the narrator Tufts was being very honest, and was thus able to contradict himself without even being aware of having done so. When we place the life of Henry Tufts in the context of the grid of power-flows characteristic of that epoch, we can perceive this contradiction. Doing this is rather tricky and not without problems. It involves interacting with the temporal duration. The presumption is that distance perceived (i.e., we are far enough away from Henry Tufts' world) allows us to delineate the grid as it was then manifest. We may not be able to objectively and conclusively state all the nuances of this grid, but from the biased perspective of subjective desire for freedom, we can at the very least interpret the totality of the grid. We can understand genocide. It is most likely that neither Henry the narrator, nor Henry the subject of the narration—who most certainly contributed to the extermination of his friends and teachers—understood the forces which not only made this specific paradox possible, but that were simultaneously re-shaping the entire world.
When we consider fully the paradox of Henry Tufts among the Abenaki, it gradually becomes clear just what we are staring at: the blank emptiness of power, both in the temporal duration as well as the lived present. While referring to the existence of a grid has some heuristic value (it is after all classificatory), it tends to be misleading. It is more accurately described as faceless and unremitting. That quality of facelessness is characteristic of power manifested in western cognition. It derives from disassociation from kin-based cosmologies. We ought to be awed by genocide instead of outraged. For it is in genocide that one is confronted with unceasing ignorance and the endless impotent stares of unknowing agents, who, even if they are anti-authoritarian in other ways, can with a simple shrug of their shoulders, unleash a universe of blameless annihilation.
Adam Smith was being anthropocentric when he spoke of an invisible "hand". Power has no such feature. It is blank; faceless—a smooth serenity. Rarely can it be perceived at all. Yet in those moments when the objective of a knowing subject (such as Henry) no longer corresponds to the capacities of the subject's desire, then can one glimpse power. Then can one witness the law in action. Nietzsche once wrote that if you have never lied, you can never know the value of truth.71 Henry Tufts, the land pirate, was a big liar, but in the case of his "favorite scheme," we can only conclude that he was being very, very honest.