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HALE, HORATIO EMMONS, philologist, ethnologist, author, and businessman; b. 3 May 1817 in Newport, N.H., son of David Hale, a lawyer, and Sarah Josepha Buell; m. 1854 in Jersey City, N.J., Margaret Pugh, of Goderich Township, Upper Canada, and they had two sons and a daughter; d. 28 Dec. 1896 in Clinton, Ont.

Horatio Emmons Hale’s mother was a distinguished journalist and editor, as well as an advocate of women’s rights. The Hale family included a number of lawyers, a profession Horatio himself would take up. With the sudden death of their father in 1822, the five Hale siblings depended on the literary efforts of their mother, who reared them in the New England tradition of learning. Horatio, having early manifested an interest in Indians and a talent for languages, gained admission to Harvard College at the age of 16 to study Oriental languages and literature.

In April of his freshman year he made his first field study of a language unknown to scholars, within a stone’s throw of Harvard Yard. He recorded the vocabulary of an Algonkian dialect of Maine from native speakers wintering in the neighbourhood of Cambridge, Mass. Following philologist John Pickering’s orthography, he devised a comparative table with known Algonkian dialects, concluding that the Indians studied spoke an offshoot of Micmac. In a nearby printshop he personally set the type for his findings, entitled Remarks on the language of the StJohns or Wlastukweek Indians, with a Penobscot vocabulary (Boston, 1834), and struck off 50 copies, which he distributed to friends.

This first publication attracted the attention of linguists, and on graduation in 1837 Hale was appointed philologist of the United States Exploring Expedition to the Pacific under Captain Charles Wilkes. During the memorable voyage (1838–42) Hale recorded vocabularies and sketched grammars of Oceanic dialects. In the final year of the expedition he was put ashore in the Oregon Territory to map the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the native peoples on the west coast from California to British Columbia. This accomplishment attracted the admiration of Americanists such as Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin and, later, Franz Boas*, who in 1897 wrote: “Nowhere was his genius for linguistic research shown more clearly than in his masterly treatment of the difficult languages of northwest America.”

Returning to Philadelphia, where his mother resided, Hale, still on government salary, promptly put his field notes in order and began writing his report on the expedition. He completed the manuscript before his colleagues had finished theirs and, leaving the proof-reading to his mother, embarked (probably in 1843) on several Wanderjahre in Europe, not returning until 1853. His Ethnography and philology (Philadelphia, 1846) was the first of the scientific reports from the expedition to be published, appearing two years after Wilkes’s five-volume narrative. Only 300 copies of Hale’s monograph of nearly 700 pages were printed, and the work was soon out of print. The book was immediately acclaimed by scholars in the United States and Europe, notably Americans Asa Gray and Daniel Garrison Brinton and Max Müller of Oxford.

Hale neither sought nor attained a major university appointment, but turned instead to the study of law. Following the trend of his generation westward, he moved to Chicago, where he was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1855. Meanwhile he had married a Canadian, and in 1856 the couple settled on the Pugh tract of lands near the village of Clinton, Upper Canada. The young barrister was appointed administrator of the estate of his father-in-law, William Pugh. Thinking the work “would occupy a short time,” Hale had left most of his books in Philadelphia. But Clinton, incorporated as a town in 1858, flourished and gradually spread over the Pugh tract. Hale was too busy to get away or return to Philadelphia. He developed the estate into a general conveyancing business and laid out the tract in streets, which he characteristically named for literary figures: Addison, Cowper, Milton, and Newton. A flourishing saltworks sprang up a mile east of town. In 1875 Hale succeeded in getting the London, Huron and Bruce Railway extended to Clinton. Most of his time being spent as a conveyancer, estate executor, and insurance agent, he is not known to have practised law formally in Upper Canada. A former county clerk remembered him as a “little undersized man [who] wore a wig, was gentlemanly in everything . . . and contributed to St. Paul’s Anglican Church, which he rarely attended.” The average Clinton citizen would have been amazed that the town harboured a world-renowned scholar.

Hale’s accomplishments at the municipal level were not inconsiderable. As chairman of the local school board he successfully promoted a public high school for both sexes and secured provincial grants for secondary education. He also helped found a mechanics’ institute and served as its president. These efforts reflect his mother’s commitment to higher education for women.

Hale was 50 when his original interest in linguistics and ethnology was requickened by his encounter with Iroquois speakers at nearby Brantford and Huron-Wyandot sources at Amherstburg. One may assume that he took paradigms of Iroquois verbs from John Fraser, a Clinton acquaintance who would later become a high chief of the Mohawk nation, and learned from him about the struggle to maintain confederate government among the Six Nations. After the American revolution the chiefs had rekindled their council fire at the Grand River (Ont.) [see Thayendanegea*], where the rituals of the old league flourished. In Hale’s day the Six Nations Reserve had a population of around 3,000, including speakers of extant Iroquoian languages, a community of Munsee-Delawares (of the Algonkian family), and several speakers of Tutelo, a language whose affiliation was then unknown.

With the help of Chief George Henry Martin Johnson*, Hale worked for a decade (1867–77) with a committee of chiefs on the history of the Six Nations Confederacy, the mnemonic belts of wampum that documented their oral history, and the structure and rituals of the league. At a memorable meeting in September 1871 they explained to him the origin of the confederacy and its traditions by “reading” the wampum belts that were brought to the Grand River. They then sat for a photograph, copies of which Hale sent to several scholars. He also had the belts photographed and drawings made by an artist for a projected grammar of wampum symbolism. Since half of the belts had remained among the New York Iroquois, he made two trips to Onondaga (near Syracuse, N.Y.), in 1875 and 1880, to confirm his findings.

Among Hale’s numerous contributions to his field, which, Boas wrote in 1897, “rank among the best work done in America,” were two important discoveries at the Six Nations Reserve. In 1870 he sought out Nikonha, the only surviving full-blooded Tutelo, and from him rescued a vocabulary of a language spoken in Virginia before the Tutelo and Saponi remnants fled and joined the Six Nations Confederacy in the mid 18th century. Hale demonstrated the relationship of Tutelo to the Siouan linguistic stock and reported his discovery at the December 1879 meeting of the American Philosophical Society, to which he had been elected in 1872.

In the same paper he presented his discovery in September 1879 of Mohawk and Onondaga versions of the Iroquois Book of Rites [see John Johnson*], a volume of ritual texts for the condolence ceremony, at which deceased chiefs were mourned and their successors installed. He traced authorship of the Canienga (Mohawk) version, written in an orthography devised by Anglican missionaries in the 18th century, to Chief David of Schoharie, and dated it around 1745. Working with Mohawk and Onondaga informants and interpreters from the extant copies, Hale proceeded to translate and edit the text. On his way home from his second journey to Onondaga, in 1880, he paused in Rochester, N.Y., to visit anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan. The two scholars had corresponded on Iroquois topics since 1869, and addressed research papers to each other’s interests. Confirming in friendship their long-standing collegial relationship, they discussed wampum, agreed on a date for the creation of the Iroquois league, compared rosters of its founders, and reviewed the manuscripts comprising the Book of Rites. Hale delivered a paper on the book the following year at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1883 his edition and translation, accompanied by notes, a glossary, and a substantial introductory study, was published as The Iroquois book of rites. The edition of this “Iroquois Veda,” as Hale styled it, received favourable reviews at the time and sparked much subsequent research. Only after the book appeared, however, did Hale witness a Condoling Council, and his observations enabled him to correct the sequence of the ceremony in a paper published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada in 1895.

From his linguistic studies of the Iroquoian family Hale concluded that Mohawk was the senior language of the original Five Nations, that Huron was nearer even than Mohawk to proto-Iroquoian, and that the Laurentian vocabulary recorded by Jacques Cartier* was also related. Applying the techniques of phonetic shifts, developed during his Oceanic research, he identified Cherokee as an Iroquoian language, worked out tribal movements, and in a study of intermediate sounds in Mohawk approached a theory of phonemes. In 1886 he advanced one of the more sensible theories on the origin of languages and their diversity in a study of children’s private tongues. Anticipating the modern method of glottochronology, he rightly insisted that language was a more reliable tool for reconstructing history than contemporary theories and practices in human biology. In a paper entitled “Language as a test of mental capacity” (1891) he dispelled current notions of the primitive nature of Indian languages by demonstrating that native American speakers were powerful classifiers.

Although Hale’s ethnology reflected the milieu of the early 19th century, in the last decade of his life he contributed significantly to the shift from philology toward scientific anthropology. Historian Douglas Cole holds that he “is the most significant figure in Canadian anthropology” in the period before Edward Sapir. Hale served as secretary, and later research director, of the committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science established in Montreal in 1884 “for the purpose of investigating and publishing reports on the . . . North-western tribes of . . . Canada.” As research director, he wrote or edited seven reports, authored a “Circular of inquiry,” and planned research. It was this committee, which included George Mercer Dawson* and Sir Daniel Wilson, that launched Franz Boas on his long career of field work on the northwest coast. Although Hale never received a doctorate, colleagues in learned societies recognized his services to science, electing him vice-president of Section H of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1886), fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1889), and president of the American Folk-Lore Society (1893). He was chosen vice-president of the anthropology section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1897, an honour he declined on account of failing health. After his death in December 1896 he was mourned at the Six Nations Reserve and was buried in Clinton from St Paul’s Anglican Church, where a memorial plaque was dedicated in 1963. To the dismay of later scholars, Hale’s manuscripts and field notes went up in smoke when a fire destroyed his Clinton study.

William N. Fenton

Publications by Horatio Emmons Hale include: “Hale’s Indians of north-west America, and vocabularies of North America,” edited with an introduction (pp.xiii-clxxxviii) by [Abraham Alfonse] Albert Gallatin, in American Ethnological Soc., Trans. (New York), 2 (1848): 1–130; “Indian migrations, as evidenced by language,” American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal (Chicago), 5 (1883): 110–24; “The Tutelo tribe and language,” American Philosophical Soc., Proc. (Philadelphia), 21 (1883): 1–45; “On some doubtful or intermediate articulations: an experiment in phonetics,” Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Journal (London), 14 (1885): 233–43; “The origin of languages, and the antiquity of speaking man . . . ,” American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science, Proc. (Cambridge, Mass.), 35 (1886): 1–47; “Language as a test of mental capacity” and “An Iroquois Condoling Council,” RSC Trans., 1st ser., 9 (1891), sect.ii: 77–112, and 2nd ser., 1 (1895): 45–65; and “Four Huron wampum records: a study of aboriginal American history and mnemonic symbols,” Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Journal, 26 (1896–97): 221–47. The “Circular of inquiry” which he prepared as research director of the British Assoc. for the Advancement of Science’s committee on northwestern tribes of the Dominion of Canada appeared as the committee’s first Report ([London]), 1887.

A bibliography of 30 works by Hale appears in RSC Trans., 1st ser., 12 (1894), proc.: 44–46, and a listing of 41 items accompanies an obituary article by A. F. Chamberlain in Journal of American Folk-Lore (Boston), 10 (1897): 60–66. Hale’s Ethnography and philology (1846) was reprinted in Ridgewood, N.J., in 1968, and a second edition of The Iroquois Book of Rites, with an introduction by William N. Fenton (pp.vii–xxvii), appeared at Toronto in 1963.

American Philosophical Soc. Library (Philadelphia), W. N. Fenton papers, R. H. Coats to Fenton, 11 July 1945. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology (Washington), J. W. Powell papers, Hale to Powell, 14 May 1881. Univ. of Rochester Library (Rochester, N.Y.), L. H. Morgan papers, corr. of H. E. Hale, 1869–80. American Anthropologist (Washington), 10 (1897): 25–27 (obituary tribute by D. G. Brinton). Month (New York), 1 (1897): 262–63 (obituary tribute by Franz Boas). “Sketch of Horatio Hale,” AppletonsPopular Science Monthly (New York), 51 (May–October 1897): 401–10. Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition; during the years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 (5v. and atlas, Philadelphia, 1844). Clinton New Era (Clinton, Ont.), 1 Jan. 1897. Huron News-Record (Clinton), 6 Jan. 1897. DAB. R. S. Hale, Genealogy of descendants of Thomas Hale of Walton, England, and of Newbury, Mass . . . , ed. G. R. Howell (Albany, N.Y., 1889). Memorials of the class of 1837 of Harvard University, prepared for the fiftieth anniversary of their graduation, ed. Henry Williams (Boston, 1887). William Stanton, The great United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842 (Berkeley, Calif., 1975). Douglas Cole, “The origins of Canadian anthropology, 1850–1910,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 8 (1973), no.1: 33–45. J. W. Gruber, “Horatio Hale and the development of American anthropology,” American Philosophical Soc., Proc., 111 (1967): 5–37.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

William N. Fenton, “HALE, HORATIO EMMONS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hale_horatio_emmons_12E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hale_horatio_emmons_12E.html
Author of Article:   William N. Fenton
Title of Article:   HALE, HORATIO EMMONS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   October 2, 2023