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Speaking in Tongues, Speaking without Tongues: Transplanted Voices in Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland


This essay examines an underexplored aspect of Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland – namely its German–Indian context – and reads it through the story's main plot device: ventriloquism. Using some of Brown's manuscripts as well as journalistic pieces, the essay brings together the more puzzling aspects of this central US American gothic tale into a study of colonial violence and transplanted voices. Following Sarah Rivett's recent claim of a “spectral presence of American Indians” in the story, this essay argues for a rereading of the character of the “bioloquist” that brings to the surface a deep history of the dispossession of Native peoples (especially the Lenape) carefully interwoven into the novel's subtext.

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1 Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).

2 Ibid., 2.

3 Ibid., 10.

4 Indeed, much of contemporary criticism reads Wieland as commenting on early Republican politics and liberal selfhood. While some still rely on psychoanalytical concepts, such as Judson, Barbara, “A Sound of Voices: The Ventriloquial Uncanny in Wieland and Prometheus Unbound,Eighteenth-Century Studies, 44, 1 (2010), 2137 ; or Wolfe, E. A., “Ventriloquizing Nation: Voice, Identity, and Radical Democracy in Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland,American Literature, 78, 3 (2006), 431–57 – the latter, in his Lacanian reading, seeing Wieland find “the ‘truth’ of democracy in ventriloquism rather than in the voice of God” (452–53), others, like Galluzzo, Anthony, “Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland and the Aesthetics of Terror: Revolution, Reaction, and the Radical Enlightenment in Early American Letters,Eighteenth-Century Studies, 42, 2 (2009), 255–71), believe Brown to be dealing with revolutionary violence, contemporary anxieties over secret societies ( Bradshaw, Charles C., “The New England Illuminati: Conspiracy and Causality in Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland,New England Quarterly, 76, 3 (2003), 356–77) or republican ideals (such as Jay Fliegelman, “Introduction,” in Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland; and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist (New York City: Penguin, 1991), vii–xlii; Christopher Looby, Voicing America: Language, Literary Form, and the Origins of the United States (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996)). Although a majority of scholarly commentaries explicitly situate the tale in the context of colonial Philadelphia, it is striking that the Native peoples still occupying large parts of the state in Brown's days are often not even mentioned in passing.

5 Teresa A. Goddu, “Historicizing the American Gothic: Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland,” in Diane Long Hoeveler and Tamar Heller, eds., Approaches to Teaching Gothic Fiction: The British and American Traditions (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2003), 184–89.

6 Rivett, Sarah, “The Spectral Indian Presence in Early American Literature,American Literary History, 25, 3 (2013), 625–37, 627.

7 Ibid., 626.

8 Krause, Sydney J., “Charles Brockden Brown and the Philadelphia Germans,Early American Literature, 39, 1 (2004), 85119 .

9 See Frank, John G., “The Wieland Family in Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland,Monatshefte, 42, 7 (1950), 347–53; Samuels, Shirley, “ Wieland: Alien and Infidel,Early American Literature, 25, 1 (1990), 4666 .

10 Krause, 88.

11 Leigh E. Schmidt, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 136.

12 Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland; Or, The Transformation, in Brown, Wieland: And Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2011), 1–181. Further references given after quotations in the text.

13 Angela Mabe, Ventriloquism: A Dissociated Perspective (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), available at

14 “Inchanting Tongue!” (1801), available at

15 Schmidt, 138.

16 Luck, Chad, “Re-walking the Purchase: Edgar Huntly, David Hume, and the Origins of Ownership,Early American Literature, 44, 2 (2009), 271306 , 283.

17 And, of course, Brown writing as a German, writing as a woman, and – as David Goldblatt, Art and Ventriloquism (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2005), argues – the act of writing itself.

18 A prime example of this often racialized argument is Benjamin Franklin's 1755 statement: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?” In Liam Riordan, “‘The Complexion of My Country’: The German as ‘Other’ in Colonial Pennsylvania,” in Colin G. Calloway, Gerd Gemünden and Susanne Zantop, eds., Germans and Indians: Fantasies, Encounters, Projections (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 97–120, 99. Besides Riordan, see also Krause, 95–119, as well as Tully, Alan, “Englishmen and Germans: National-Group Contact in Colonial Pennsylvania, 1700–1755,Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, 45, 3 (1978), 237–56.

19 Brown refers to them as “Lennilennapee” in his later work Edgar Huntly (Edgar Huntly: or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 185. Further references given after quotations in the text.)

20 For a brief outline of these years from a German American perspective see Oswald Seidensticker, German-American Events, Principally of Pennsylvania, Up to 1870, available at It chronicles such events as “1722. – The Indians cede a large tract of land … in favor of German settlers”; “1754. – Hostilities with the Indians having begun, the Germans attest their loyalty to the Governor”; “1779. – … The German regiment is sent to Sunbury, Pa., to protect the neighborhood from hostile Indians.” Ibid., 4–13.

21 During the time Wieland takes place, Germans and Scots Irish made up the largest minorities of the colony. See Birte Pfleger, “German Immigration to Philadelphia from the Colonial Period through the Twentieth Century,” in Mary J. Osirim and Ayumi Takenaka, eds., Global Philadelphia: Immigrant Communities Old and New (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010), 125–55.

22 See Corinna Dally-Starna and William A. Starna, “American Indians and Moravians in Southern New England,” in Calloway, Gemünden and Zantop, 83–96.

23 See Seidensticker, 6.

24 See, for instance, Brown's “Account of the Late Monarchy of Prussia,” American Register, 1 (1807), 159–64, available at; or his 1805 essay “National Liberty and Happiness,” Literary Magazine, 3 (1805), 434–35, available at

25 Charles Brockden Brown, “American Register of Deaths,” American Register, 5 (1809), 253–57, available at

26 Charles Brockden Brown, “Memorandums Made on a Journey through Part of Pennsylvania,” Literary Magazine, 1, No 4 (1804), 250–55, available at

27 See, for example, the summary of a Zinzendorf sermon on a slave plantation in Jon F. Sensbach, Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 142.

28 Gudrun Meier, “Preliminary Remarks on the Oldendorp Manuscripts and Their History,” in Stephan Palmié, ed., Slave Cultures and the Cultures of Slavery (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995), 67–77, 69.

29 Ibid.

30 According to Richard P. Moses, “The Quakerism of Charles Brockden Brown,” Quaker History, 75, 1 (1986), 12–25, Brown retained most of his Quaker leanings until the early 1800s.

31 Charles Brockden Brown, “Sketches in America, in the Year 1740,” Literary Magazine, 4, 27 (1805), 403–9, available at The quote is a reference to the Smithfield neighbourhood in London, the city's notorious livestock market and the site of numerous (mass) executions throughout its history, including the hanging and quartering of the leaders of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, famously fictionalized in Shakespeare's Henry IV. While the “Sketches in America, in the Year 1740” itself is a rearrangement and partial rewriting of an older journalistic piece from mid-century and the very words quoted here are not originally by Brown, he nonetheless chose to retain them for his article, suggesting at the very least his non-opposition to (if not sympathy for) these statements. That Brown was viewed as holding anti-slavery sentiments around the time of the publication of Wieland is illustrated by abolitionist Thomas Pym Cope's attempts to motivate Brown to speak on the behalf of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and write an abolitionist history of slavery – a project Brown initially agreed to pursue but that never came to fruition. Collected Writings of Charles Brockden Brown, Volume I, ed. Philip Barnard, Elizabeth Hewitt, and Mark L. Kamrath (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2013), 637 n.

32 This estate, furthermore, shared a name with an important military headquarters during the Seven Years War, which had its expression in the colonies as the French and Indian War of 1754–63.

33 Charles Brockden Brown, “An Instance of Ventriloquism,” Weekly Magazine, 2, 22 (1798), 277–78, available at Like Brown's definition of ventriloquism in Wieland, quoted earlier, it originates in the standard work on ventriloquism of the times, Le Ventriloque by L'abbé Jean-Baptiste de La Chapelle. Leigh E. Schmidt, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 174.

34 Brown, “An Instance of Ventriloquism,” 277–78.

35 Ed White, “Carwin the Peasant Rebel,” in Philip Barnard, Mark L. Kamrath and Stephen Shapiro, eds., Revising Charles Brockden Brown: Culture, Politics, and Sexuality in the Early Republic (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004), 41–59, 51.

36 Charles Brockden Brown, Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, in Brown, Wieland: And Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, 181–233. Further references given after quotations in the text.

37 Peter Kafer, Charles Brockden Brown's Revolution and the Birth of American Gothic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 178. See also Brooks, Joanna, “Held Captive by the Irish: Quaker Captivity Narratives in Frontier Pennsylvania,New Hibernia Review, 8, 3 (2004), 33 .

38 Peter Kafer, “Charles Brockden Brown and Revolutionary Philadelphia: An Imagination in Context,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 116, 4 (1992), 467–98, 476.

39 The mysterious murder in Edgar Huntley, for example, is finally revealed to be a somewhat accidental killing by an enraged Lennilennapee. The original suspect, an Irish emigrant and sleepwalker, is first encountered at night as “a figure, robust and strange, and half-naked” (Edgar Huntly 13), and believed to be either Irish or “a native of this district” (Edgar Huntly 15) – a district that Brown very carefully has his narrator divulge as stolen from the Lenape and then settled by at least a few Scots Irish, as a leftover habitation suggests.

40 Patrick Griffin, The People with No Name: Ireland's Ulster Scots, America's Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689–1764 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

41 See also Brooks, 31–32.

42 Ibid.

43 “Runaway Deserter,” Virginia Gazette, 27 Aug. 1756.

44 Most likely what is today Lehighton, Pennsylvania.

45 See Edmund de Schweinitz, The Life and Times of David Zeisberger: The Western Pioneer and Apostle of the Indians (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1870), 178.

46 William H. Rice, David Zeisberger and his Brown Brethren (Bethlehem, PA: Moravian Pub. Concern, 1897), 20. This imagery of an “oasis in the desert” was invoked frequently when talking about Zeisbeger's mission. See, for instance, Gustav Warneck, Abriss einer Geschichte der Protestantischen Missionen von der Reformation bis auf die Gegenwart (Sketch of a History of the Protestant Mission from the Reformation unto the Present) (Berlin: M. Warneck, 1900), 179.

47 Some editions of Wieland capitalize, some italicize.

48 See, for example, Charles Brockden Brown's “Sketches in America, in the Year 1740”; or his “Of Some Strange Customs in use Among Various Nations,” Literary Magazine, 2, 8 (1804), 140–45, available at

49 In this case, though, these behave Indian-like and plant corn. See Charles Brockden Brown, “On the Use of Maize,” Monthly Magazine, 1, 5 (1799), 345–50, available at

50 Craig A. Doherty and Katherine M. Doherty, Delaware (New York: Facts On File, 2005), 13.

51 Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau, Capture the Culture: Schuylkill County, available at

52 Brown's repeated references to elms in the context of Native American politics are an obvious allusion to the famous “Treaty Elm” under which William Penn in 1683 signed a peace treaty with Tamanend, a local Lenape chief. The so-called Walking Purchase of 1737, a massive “land swindle” (as the Encyclopedia Britannica calls it) perpetrated by Penn's descendants, invoked the 1683 treaty to justify taking ownership of 4,860 square kilometres of Lenape lands. “Walking Purchase,” Encyclopedia Britannica: Online, 2011, available at Penn's Treaty Elm was immortalized in a number of popular works of art during Brown's lifetime, including Benjamin West's famous painting The Treaty of Penn with the Indians (1772) that Rigal, Laura, “Framing the Fabric: A Luddite Reading of Penn's Treaty with the Indians,American Literary History, 12, 3 (2000), 557–84, 576, reads as the US American “history-making trade” ascribing to the Lenape (and other disenfranchised peoples/classes) a desire to belong to the “fabric of early industrial consumer society” – “a desire whose subsidiary purpose was to eradicate their historicity.”

53 Luck, “Re-walking the Purchase.”

54 See Hinds, Elizabeth J. Wall, “Charles Brockden Brown's Revenge Tragedy: ‘Edgar Huntly’ and the Uses of Property,Early American Literature, 30, 1 (1995), 5170 .

55 Ibid., 54.

56 Even her name is a biblical reference to resistance. See Sivils, Matthew W., “Native American Sovereignty and Old Deb in Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly,American Transcendental Quarterly, 15 (2001), 293304 , 298.

57 Ibid., 294.

58 Hinds, Janie, “Deb's Dogs: Animals, Indians, and Postcolonial Desire in Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly,Early American Literature, 39, 2 (2004), 323–54, 334.

59 Rivett, “The Spectral Indian Presence,” 627.

60 Ibid., 626.

61 Wall Hinds, “Charles Brockden Brown's Revenge Tragedy,” 336.

62 Newman, Robert D., “Indians and Indian-Hating in Edgar Huntly and The Confidence Man,MELUS, 15, 3 (1988), 6574 .

63 Sivils, 299, makes a similar point with regards to naming in Edgar Huntly, arguing that “the concept of naming does share a relationship with possession of the land,” making Old Deb's refusal to divulge her tribal name a sign of resistance – and by extension Brown's rendering of Old Deb a creation of Native American sovereignty outside the grasp of white colonizers.

64 Goldblatt, Art and Ventriloquism, 70.

65 Rivett, 636.

66 Hinds, “Deb's Dogs,” 324.

67 Ibid., 334.

68 Ibid., 336.

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