TUBBEE, OKAH (William Chubbee, William McCarey), musician and doctor; fl. 1830–56.
All the details of the early life of Okah Tubbee must be taken from the various editions of his autobiography which appeared between 1848 and 1852. According to his claims, he was born a Choctaw Indian, kidnapped as a child by a white man, and raised by a black “mother” as William McCarey, a slave, in Natchez, Miss. Although always suspecting that he was an Indian, the boy knew nothing of his origins and endured a childhood filled with constant cruelty and racial abuse. His “violent temper” eventually led him to strike another youth on the head with a brick and landed him in prison briefly. Shortly thereafter he was apprenticed to a blacksmith in Natchez, but he left after receiving a brutal whipping. At about this point McCarey discovered that he was the son of the Choctaw chief Mosholeh Tubbee (William Chubbee). McCarey began styling himself Okah Tubbee or William Chubbee and became involved in a legal case, which apparently carried on for years, in which he attempted to have himself legally declared an Indian rather than a black slave.
As a child Tubbee had been a talented whistler and ventriloquist and throughout the 1830s he pursued the life of an itinerant musician, being at that time an accomplished flautist. Some time in the early 1840s he married Laah Ceil Manatoi Elaah, supposedly the daughter of a Mohawk chief, in Iowa City (Iowa), and they were to have at least one son and two daughters. During the 1840s the drama in Tubbee’s life seems to have continued unabated: he was forced to leave a number of towns (because, he claimed, of false rumours about his former violent behaviour) and he acted as the self-proclaimed hero of a shipwreck. He also began to travel extensively among the Indian tribes throughout the United States as a musician and a temperance advocate.
By 1850 Tubbee was concentrating his various activities in the North and had begun advertising himself as a doctor. Making a good deal of the experience he had gained during a year spent in a “situation” with an army surgeon but mainly stressing Indian herbal remedies he had gleaned through his meetings with numerous medicine men, he had started making forays into Upper Canada by 1851. However, the many testimonials which accompany the 1852 Toronto edition of his autobiography suggest that, at least until the summer of 1852, it was his musical rather than his medicinal talents that the citizens of Upper Canada desired. Methodist missionaries Peter Jones and William Case attested to the success of a concert given by Tubbee at Cayuga on 8 Jan. 1852, and John Stoughton Dennis* commented on the excellence of one given at Weston (Toronto) two months later. Testimonials dated July and August from residents of Toronto thanked Tubbee for treating “Liver Complaint, Female Disability, Tumour of the Neck, Scrofula in the Leg, and Hereditary Consumption.”
Unfortunately for Tubbee, his timing in relocation was bad. He had arrived in Upper Canada when the campaign against quacks and patent medicine vendors was taking shape. On 7 April 1854 a letter appeared in the daily Toronto Globe from A. B. McNab of Durham, Grey County, accusing Tubbee of accepting ten dollars for medicine from the family of a seriously ill young man, who had since died. Because no medicine had been forthcoming, McNab demanded that Tubbee repay the family. Two weeks later the Globe ran Tubbee’s reply which asserted that McNab had pleaded with him to accept the money, that there had clearly been a misunderstanding, and that he would be happy to refund it. In the middle of this controversy, on 22 April, Robert Jackson Macgeorge* of the Streetsville Weekly Review entreated: “May the hospitalities of the Penitentiary be extended to all ‘Herb Doctors,’ ‘Indian Physicians,’ and ‘German and Reform Practitioners of Medicine.’” On 3 May the Globe noted that it felt no need to publish McNab’s rejoinder to the “Indian quack Doctor” since “every one understands the case perfectly, and nothing could be gained by it but adding to the notoriety of the charlatan.” Tubbee then had a poetic advertisement printed in which he bemoaned the fact that “of late I’ve been shamefully (M’)Nab’d at.”
It seems that Tubbee’s protestations fell upon deaf ears since by 1857 he appears to have left Toronto. He supposedly relocated in New York City, perhaps desiring the anonymity that only the largest city on the continent could provide.
[I should like to acknowledge the detective work of former DCB bibliographies editor Joan E. Mitchell, without which this biography would not have been written. c.d.]
Okah Tubbee’s life story was told in at least three pamphlets. L. L. Allen produced A thrilling sketch of the life of the distinguished chief Okah Tubbee, alias, Wm. Chubbee, son of the head chief, Mosholeh Tubbee, of the Choctaw nation of Indians (New York, 1848). Tubbee’s wife, Laah Ceil Manatoi Elaah Tubbee, published A sketch of the life of Okah Tubbee, alias, William Chubbee, son of the head chief, Mosholeh Tubbee, of the Choctaw nation of Indians (Springfield, Mass., 1848), and A sketch of the life of Okah Tubbee, (called) William Chubbee, son of the head chief, Mosholeh Tubbee, of the Choctaw nation of Indians (Toronto, 1852).
Globe, 7, 21 April, 3 May 1854 [this is the daily edition found in the Baldwin Room at the MTL, and not the one available on CLA microfilm]. Weekly Review (Streetsville, [Ont.]), 22 April 1854. Toronto directory, 1856. J. J. Talman, “Three Scottish-Canadian newspaper editor poets,” CHR, 28 (1947): 166–77.