Providence is very kind in causing these people to be less prolific than the inhabitants of civilized nations; it is very uncommon to see one woman have more than five or six children; and these are always born at such a distance from one another, that the youngest is generally two or three years old before another is brought into the world.
June 10, 1772
A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772
The men are in general very jealous of their wives, and I make no doubt but the same spirit reigns among the women; but they are kept so much in awe of their husbands, that the liberty of thinking is the greatest privilege they enjoy. The presence of a Northern Indian man strikes a peculiar awe into his wives, as he always assumes the same authority over them that the master of a family in Europe usually does over his domestic servants.
Their marriages are not attended with any ceremony; all matches are made by the parents, or next of kin. On those occasions the women seem to have no choice, but implicitly obey the will of their parents, who always endeavour to marry their daughters to those that seem most likely to be capable of maintaining them, let their age, person, or disposition be ever so despicable.
The girls are always betrothed when children, but never to those of equal age, which is doubtless sound policy with people in their situation, where the existence of a family depends entirely on the abilities and industry of a single man. Children, as they justly observe, are so liable to alter in their manners and disposition, that it is impossible to judge from the actions of early youth what abilities they may possess when they arrive at puberty. For this reason the girls are often so disproportionably matched for age, that it is very common to see men of thirty-five or forty years old have young girls of no more than ten or twelve, and sometimes much younger. From the early age of eight or nine years, they are prohibited by custom from joining in the most innocent amusements with children of the opposite sex; so that when sitting in their tents, or even when travelling, they are watched and guarded with such an unremitting attention as cannot be exceeded by the most rigid discipline of an English boarding-school. Custom, however, and constant example, make such uncommon restraint and confinement sit light and easy even on children, whose tender ages seem better adapted to innocent and cheerful amusements, than to be cooped up by the side of old women, and constantly employed in scraping skins, mending shoes, and learning other domestic duties necessary in the care of a family.
Notwithstanding those uncommon restraints on the young girls, the conduct of their parents is by no means uniform or consistent with this plan; as they set no bounds to their conversation, but talk before them, and even to them, on the most indelicate subjects. As their ears are accustomed to such language from their earliest youth, this has by no means the same effect on them, it would have on girls born and educated in a civilized country, where every care is taken to prevent their morals from being contaminated by obscene conversation. The Southern Indians are still less delicate in conversation, in the presence of their children.
The women among the Northern Indians are in general more backward than the Southern Indian women; and though it is well known that neither tribe lose any time, those early connections are seldom productive of children for some years.
Divorces are pretty common among the Northern Indians; sometimes for incontinency, but more frequently for want of what they deem necessary accomplishments or for bad behaviour. This ceremony, in either case, consists of neither more nor less than a good drubbing, and turning the woman out of doors; telling her to go to her paramour, or relations, according to the nature of her crime.
Providence is very kind in causing these people to be less prolific than the inhabitants of civilized nations; it is very uncommon to see one woman have more than five or six children; and these are always born at such a distance from one another, that the youngest is generally two or three years old before another is brought into the world. Their easy births, and the ceremonies which take place on those occasions, have already been mentioned; I shall therefore only observe here, that they make no use of cradles, like the Southern Indians, but only tie a lump of moss between their legs, and always carry their children at their backs, next the skin, till they are able to walk. Though their method of treating young children is in this respect the most uncouth and awkward I ever saw, there are few among them that can be called deformed, and not one in fifty who is not bow-legged.