A Key into the Language of America

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A New Edition of One of the Most Important Cultural Artifacts of European and Indigenous American Contact

Roger Williams’s A Key into the Language of America, first published in 1643, is one of the most important artifacts of early Indigenous American culture. In it, Williams recorded the day-to-day experience of the Narragansett people of Rhode Island in their own words, the first documentation of an American Indian language in English. Williams’s Key can be read at many levels because of its historical, literary, political, and religious significance. Its greatest value, though, is its intimate portrait of the Narragansett and their linguistic neighbors in the early years of European colonial settlement, before disease, dislocation, warfare—in particular, King Philip’s War—and colonial interference had diminished their population and power in the region. An extraordinary achievement, A Key into the Language of America gives us a contemporary account of Narragansett family life, of their sociability and skill in business, their dress, foodways, and the farming, fishing, and hunting that formed the basis of their sustenance practices.

This Tomaquag Museum edition includes for the first time cultural commentary provided by the Narragansett tribal community as well as modern linguistic information provided by a leading authority in the study of American Indian languages.

The Tomaquag Museum, located in Exeter, Rhode Island, is an Indigenous nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing the culture, arts, and history of the Narragansett and other tribal communities of southern New England.

By Roger Williams, edited by Dawn Dove, Dorothy Herman Papp, Sandra Robinson, Lorén M. Spears, and Kathleen J. Bragdon, published by Westholme, 200 pages, paperback.