This brief primer from 1777 appears to be the first published work about the Mohawk language, and this copy is the only one known to exist in a library. It once belonged to missionary Eleazer Williams (1788-1858), whose faint signature can be seen on the title page; it was date-stamped on the front paste-down in 1880, shortly after William's papers first began to arrive at the Wisconsin Historical Society.
In 1929, Iroquois linguist J. N. B. Hewitt of the Bureau of American Ethnology examined a photostat of this copy and summarized its contents: "The prayers and petition in it are from the French Roman Catholic Service. The Pater Noster begins with the second paragraph on page five, the Ave Marie, with the final paragraph on page six, the Credo, with the third paragraph on page seven, ending with the two lines on page ten. Then follows the Confiteor, in which the names 8ise, tier, kor, and sawatis, appear for Michel, Pierre, Paul, and St. Jean Baptiste... the 1777 Primer ends on page 16 with the Mohawk words Etho nigaiatonseres, i. e., 'Here it-book ends' or 'This is the end of the book.'" Hewitt also explained that the name of the publisher, Fleury Mesplets, is phoneticized at the foot of the title page; Mesplets established the first printshop in Montreal in 1775 and published a second Mohawk primer in 1781. (We are grateful to Dr. Kathryn Merriam of the Univ. of Massachusetts for her assistance in documenting this unique publication).
This is one of several works on American Indian languages to be found at Turning Points in Wisconsin History. Readers should note that this is a historical document rather than a modern one; students wishing to study the language should rely on materials produced by the tribal language office.
Wisconsin Historical Society Library
Iontri8aiestak8a ionskanek8 n’aieienterihag gaiatonsera te gari8toraragon Ong8e on8e Ga8ennontakon (Montreal, 1777). Online facsimile at