"an idle and vagrant Indian, whom the white man’s fire-water had made riotous about the streets"

When the Puritans first moored upon American shores, the Native Americans, seeing them as a source of trade and potential allies against enemy tribes, initially welcomed them. However, as the Puritans usurped their land and attempted to impose an alien religion upon them, relations soured considerably. In 1634, a major war broke out in Boston between the Pequot and the colonists, and more would follow in the period after the novel’s action.

c1912 caricature of Native Indians swigging firewater while the demure Puritans stick to hot dogs
Public Domainc1912 caricature of Native Indians swigging firewater while the demure Puritans stick to hot dogs - Credit: Library of Congress

Along with smallpox and the concept of land as property, Europeans also introduced the Native Americans to strong alcohol, with disastrous consequences. Unused to anything more potent than unfermented persimmon or corn wines, solemnly imbibed during ceremonies, the 80-100 per cent proof spirits introduced by traders hit them hard, and complaints abound in colonialist documents of riotously drunk Indians causing havoc. Over time, a belief developed that Native American drinking was qualitatively and quantitatively different from that of the settlers, resulting in the ingrained stereotype of ‘the drunken injun’ (a display on which can be viewed here).