Gateway to the Classics: Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis
Stephen of Philadelphia by  James Otis

Indian Utensils and Tools

They have pots and kettles made of clay, and fashioned much like our own, save that the vessels have a rough surface, are very thin, and so soft that one can cut them with a knife.

These Indians make bread of meal from corn, and the grinding is done in mortars made by cutting a hollow in a smooth rock. Just fancy trying to scoop out the middle of a huge piece of stone by rubbing it with other stones! I have not been able to learn how much time it is necessary to spend in making one of these mortars, but verily I should say a whole life might be spent before the task was finished.


It surely is astonishing to see the many articles which these brown men have made of stone, and with no other means of fashioning them save by rubbing one rock against another. Their arrow heads are of flint, and worked into shape by chipping off tiny pieces with a yet larger piece of flint, until a bit shaped like a spear head, no more than one inch long and a quarter inch thick, has been made.

Their hatchets are clumsy affairs, and I do not wonder that they are eager to trade with us for tools of iron. I have seen again and again stones shaped like a wedge, with notches on the biggest end, in which was fastened a split stick for a handle, and bound on with rope made from a kind of wild hemp which grows hereabout in great quantity.

The Indian women make this wild hemp into twine or rope by twisting the fibers between their hands, working it smooth around the trunk of a tree, and then they color it red, yellow, or black.


Perhaps you will ask how, with hatchets of stone such as I have described, the savages can cut down a tree. They build a fire around the roots of whatever tree is to be cut down, and with a swab made of wild hemp, keep the upper portion of the trunk wet, so the blaze will not go above the circle they count on cutting. When the flames have eaten into the wood a certain distance, the charred part is scraped away with flint stones or shells, and again is the fire applied, the workmen scraping and burning until the tree has been cut completely through.

In the same way do they make the big boats; but, of course, in this case it is necessary to cut the tree to form the length, and then the log is hollowed by fire and by scraping, until it is a shell no more than an inch in thickness.

I have heard it said that two Indians, working ten full days, can make one of these big boats, which look so clumsy, but are handled with such ease even in swiftly running water.

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