Friday, 20 March 2015

Martha Craig, President William McKinley and Hiawatha

The Mystery of Martha

Martha meets the President

Monday, February 28, 1898

Martha on the trail of Hiawatha

"Americans, and especially American children here in the northwest, think they know all about Hiawatha. They have Hiawatha readers and they learn the beautiful Longfellow poem by heart almost as soon as they learn to read words of one syllable. Yet it has remained for Miss Martha Craig, a woman from the Emerald Isle, to trace down the real Hiawatha. She read the poem at her home in Ireland. The people seemed real to her and yet the poem seemed to tell her only half. The charm grew and grew upon her and one day she determined to sail to America and hunt out everything about the real Hiawatha as known in the hunting lodges of his tribe.

She began by asking the Micmac Indians if they had ever heard of Hiawatha. They never had. Then she went among the Indians of Labrador. Neither had they ever heard of Hiawatha. She made a pilgrimage to the tents of the Iroquois and the Hurons, but not until she found the Sioux did she come upon the trail of Hiawatha. "You want to see Be-quo-gi-ni-ni, Keep-er-of-Secrets," she was told. "It was he who gave the Hiawatha stories to Schoolcraft** and Schoolcraft gave them to Longfellow." Be-quo-gi-ni-ni told her more Hiawatha tales than Longfellow has used, and his store exhausted, he said she ought to go north of Huron Bay, the Palestine of Canada. She started at once, and this was the beginning of a journey of many, many miles by canoe and portage with Indians as her only companions, ending in her adoption as a princess by one of the tribes and the discovery that the Longfellow "Hiawatha" is but a fragment of a very beautiful whole. It took her five years to gather all the legends, which are of surpassing beauty.

Yet even tho Longfellow may not have known all the story of Hiawatha, even tho Miss Craig may give us the complete story of this Indian Messiah, it is the fragment dressed out by the poet that will live the longest and be the most loved of men." .. Source

Daily Mail and Empire, December 1, 1900

** Henry Schoolcraft: "He served as a United States Indian agent for a period beginning in 1822 in Michigan, where he married Jane Johnston, mixed-race daughter of a prominent Scotch-Irish fur trader [John Johnston] and Ojibwa mother, who was daughter of a war chief. She taught him the Ojibwe language and much about her maternal culture. They had several children, two of whom survived past childhood. She is now recognized as the first Native American literary writer in the United States."

John Johnston was the son of Capn William Mussenden Johnston and Elizabeth McNeill. In response to an email query that I received a few days ago via Tourism NI and the Coleraine Visitor Information Centre, I've located this Jane in the townland of Craig in the 1803 Trail census of the parish of Ballintoy [pdf file]:


Mrs Eliz Johnston   Ww     }1D. Eliza [Ww=widow]
of Willm Johnston  Esq
Miss Ann Johnston
Mr John Moore              }
Jane Johnston              }
Jane & Mary O'Hail (serts)
Alex Johnston & John M'Collom (serts) [servants]


I'd like to know more about the origins and fate of Martha Craig who dropped in on the President . Who were her parents, where and when was she born. Is she the same Martha as the editor of The Garden of Canada [1902] and maker of poems in Legends of the North Land [1910?] The latter Martha was born on the 8th August, 1866.

Brooklyn Life - 30 Apr 1904

"Says it is a crime to die" ... Amador Ledger - 15 June 1906

Added September 21, 2015

"I am not afraid to go anywhere a man will go." - Martha Craig, March 1898

The two Marthas are one and the same*. Martha's mother was Mary Nelson and her great-uncle, Willie Nelson was executed in 1798 [pdf file]. Her father, William Craig, died on 27 May 1905 and his will can be read in PRONI Will Calendars. William and Mary were married in Raloo Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on 16 November 1854.

[* The link includes a reference to her friend, Maud Gonne]

I've just been put in touch with Martha's great-great-niece who lives not far from Carneal and we'll be getting together soon to share resources. I've also made contact with someone who is researching early Canadian woman writers, including Martha Craig.

Martha passed away in her native townland of Carneal on 2nd April 1950. She was in Paris in WWI and was affected by shell-shock. The family home went on fire in 1946 and many of her personal belongings perished in the flames.

One of my ancestors was a sister of Francis McKinley and one of my former pupils was a great-great-nephew of Martha Craig.