William Apess's work, thought it comes first in chronology, is one of the most interesting bodies of Native American writing in the nineteenth century. Its most salient quality is irony, and yet, due to the enormous influence influence of Christianity on him - he converted to Methodism and became an evangelical minister - his work is also heavily laced with phrases that sound as though they have been lifted directly from Euro-American evangelical literature which by and large lacks such irony.
A fervent Christian, Apess increasingly focused his life work on his perception of the incompatibility of Christianity with any and all forms of racism, in his terms, color prejudice. In his "Eulogy on King Philip," for example, delivered in 1836 at the Odeon in Boston, one of the city's largest public lecture halls, Apess called Philip the foremost man that America had produced, and he excoriated his audience, descendants of the Pilgrims, for the crimes of their forefathers, offering a version of the kingdom not only in Heaven but on earth of what I have elsewhere called "the community of the colorblind saved."
Apess grew up in a world in which one of his country's most influential speakers believed that he and his people were spent. Indeed, young William believed that to call someone an "Indian" was to call them something "disgraceful." When on of Apess's foster parents grew angry at him, he whipped the young William and cried, "I will learn you, you Indian dog."
Apess' religious conviction seems to have fueled his social activism on behalf of Indian rights. His first three publications were his own spiritual autobiography, A Son of the Forest (1831); two religious pieces published together, The Increase of the Kingdom of Christ: A Sermon, and The Indians: The Ten Lost Tribes (1831); and a collection of religious testimonies, The Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe (1833).
In 1829 William acquired his ordination as a Protestant Minister and traveled around the northeast preaching to a mostly African and Native American audience (O' Connell 26). The following years consisted of trying to put an end to slavery and fighting for the land rights of Native Americans through his position in the church. Throughout his life he fought the same addiction to alcohol that plagued his grandparents and was said to have attributed to his death in 1839. The battles he waged may have induced a premature death but his writings remind us of what he lived for.
At the age of fifteen, William enlisted in the army, and became a drummer in the spring of 1812 (Tiro 657). He was released from the military in 1815 and for the next few years took on many odd jobs. In 1817, he moved back to Connecticut where he was reunited with his family. An aunt, Sally George, was a influential religious icon for William and this awakening led to his Baptism in 1818. Two years later he married Mary Wood on 16th of December 1821.
Apess' parents separated when he was a baby, and he was raised at first by his grandmother, a violent alcoholic. After she beat him almost to death, White neighbors removed him from her home and placed him with a White family as an indentured servant (such placements of Indian children, for purposes of exploiting their labor and assimilating them to European religious and social norms, had been common in New England since the seventeenth century). Apess' indenture passed to several different families while he was a child. Although life was hard, he did receive six years of schooling and some introduction to Christianity, experiencing religious conversion under Methodist preaching in 1813.
Apess’s work is one of the first narratives of its kind, a full-length autobiography by a Native American writer, which she is reading in context with contemporaneous white-authored captivity narratives and African-American-authored slave narratives.
Apess was born in Colrain, Massachusetts, in 1798, and drops from the public record after 1838; only recently have obituaries in the New York Sun and the New York Observer been found recording his death, as the result of alcoholism, in New York, in the spring of 1839.
William Apess, of Pequot Indian descent, was an author, Methodist minister, and political activist whose autobiographical work, A Son of the Forest was one the earliest published writings by a Native American. Born in Massachusetts in 1798, he was ordained in 1829, and took part in the Mashpee Revolt of 1833.