Ely Parker 1844-1865

Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881)

Lewis Henry Morgan, although trained as a lawyer, became interested in the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Indians of New York State and was among the first Americans to make scientific studies of Native Americans. Like many of his generation, he feared that the Indian people of America would not survive the impact of European-American civilization.

After a chance meeting in 1844 with Ely Parker, at that time a Seneca teenager fluent in English and Seneca, Morgan's interest in the Haudenosaunee increased. The two young men became friends, and Parker introduced Morgan to his friends and family at the Tonawanda Reservation near Akron, New York. Morgan pursued his studies of Iroquois ethnology with Parker's assistance, both at Tonawanda and at the Six Nations Reservation in Canada. The joint intellectual effort resulted in Morgan's book, The League of the Iroquois (1851), which he dedicated to Parker. It was the first full-length study of an American Indian people.

Morgan collected objects from the daily life of the Haudenosaunee for the State Cabinet of Natural History of the Regents of the State of New York. A disastrous fire in the Albany (New York) Museum in 1911 destroyed much of this collection. Morgan's personal collection was donated to the Rochester Museum & Science Center (Rochester, New York) by the University of Rochester, and is preserved today for research and special exhibits.

Lewis Henry Morgan's initial interest in the American Indian was sparked by a desire to learn about their kinship systems. He first described the Haudenosaunee system of kinship and then pursued the subject with other Native groups. He made five field trips to the western "Indian Country" between 1859 and 1862, and to southwestern Colorado and Arizona in 1878, collecting artifacts and recording the details of kinship systems whenever possible. Many of these objects are also in the collections of the RMSC.

The Lewis Henry Morgan Collection at the RMSC contains a more complete biography of Morgan, and includes photographs and descriptions of many of the objects he collected at Tonawanda and in the West. An associated exhibit at the site, The Indian Arts Project, presents materials made by Haudenosaunee residents at the Tonawanda and Cattaraugus Reservations during the 1930s as part of the federal government's Works Progress Administration (WPA) program. Some of the objects made at that time duplicated the artifacts Morgan collected at Tonawanda -- the ones that were lost in the Albany fire. Arthur C. Parker, the director of the project (and the Director of the Rochester Museum at the time), was the grand-nephew of Ely S. Parker.