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Cite As:William Wallace Tooker papers, #9187. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

William Wallace Tooker: Pioneer Algonkinist, 1848-1917, by Robert S. Grumet

William Wallace Tooker once was widely recognized as one of his era's leading specialists in Coastal Algonquian culture, history and place names. A productive and prolific writer, he published 12 books, some 50 pamphlets and over 100 articles between 1888 and 1911. During his life and for many years thereafter, nearly every scholar interested in one aspect or another of Coastal Algonquian life routinely consulted his work. Community leaders and businessmen beat paths to his door in search of appropriate Indian names for their enterprises or meanings of local place names. As late as the 1960's, most publishers printing works of Long Island history used Tooker's studies as the standard against which newer efforts were measured.

Today, few people remember the man or his work. Only one of his books, the last and most comprehensive of his works, Indian Place Names on Long Island, is still in print. The rest of his writings were published in limited editions, appeared in local or now defunct newspapers and journals, or remain in manuscript form. Only a few local libraries and some larger repositories, such as the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress and the Newberry Library, possess extensive collections of Tooker's publications. The John Jermain Memorial Library, located in his hometown of Sag Harbor, Long Island, holds some of his scholarly correspondence and a number of manuscripts written from 1887 to 1915.

The largest and most extensive collection of Tooker's published and unpublished work today is maintained by the Library. At one time available only to specialists able to visit the Huntington Free Library, their production of a microfilm edition of the Tooker manuscript collection holdings made this important body of material accessible to wider reading public for the first time. These manuscripts contain a wealth of unpublished data on Coastal Algonquian culture history and philology. They also provide insights into the life and times of a significant and all but forgotten pioneer Algonkinist during the formative years of modern Coastal Algonquian scholarship.

Like his contemporary, Hudson Valley Indian specialist Edward Manning Ruttenber, Tooker was a passionate and talented amateur. Neither man was a university trained professional academician. Ruttenber, whose 1872 magnum opus, History of the Indian Tribes of Hudson's River, remains a standard reference work on the subject, was a Newburgh, New York printer. Tooker, for his part, was a Sag Harbor, Long Island pharmacist. Neither man was formally trained in linguistics or ethnology. Both, however, would come to exert strong influences on the early development of both fields in New York and New England. Like so many others before and since, Tooker's interest in Native Americans grew from a childhood fascination. Discovering Indian relics near his home in eastern Long Island, he soon began to hunt for stone tools and other evidences of Indian life in nearby farm fields and beaches. An avid and determined collector, he ultimately amassed a collection of more than 15,000 artifacts. Initially planning to study at Yale, circumstances forced him to enter the pharmaceutical trade in 1866.

Corresponding with specialists and studying in local libraries in his spare time, Tooker gradually gained a reputation as one of the foremost students of eastern Long Island Indian life. It was this reputation that finally led one of his correspondents to recommend Tooker to Herbert Foster Gunnison, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle Almanac, as the scholar most qualified to compile a list of Long Island Indian place names and their meanings for the paper in 1887. He published his first list one year later. Enthusiastically received by the Eagle's readers, Tooker's articles on Indian place names subsequently became a regular feature in the Almanac. Initially focusing upon Long Island names, Tooker's purview gradually expanded to include analyses of names from Nova Scotia to Virginia.

As the years passed, Tooker presented papers in front of scholarly organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Continuing to write annual articles in the Brooklyn Eagle Almanac, Tooker also began to publish his work in such major scholarly journals as the American Anthropologist and the Archaeologist. In 1896, his first book, a study of New England missionary John Eliot's Indian interpreter, "Cockenoe de Long Island," was published by New York printer Francis P. Harper. This publication marked the beginning of an interest in Eliot's Indian linguistic research that would continue throughout the remaining years of his life.

In 1901, four years after any early retirement brought on by ill health, Francis P. Harper published ten of Tooker's major papers in a limited edition of bound monographs entitled the "Algonquian Series." Still consulted by specialists, the Algonquian Series represents a landmark in Coastal Algonquian studies. Each volume contains a tightly reasoned and well documented examination of a specific problem in ethnohistory or philology. The first of these, a 75 page essay on the "The Origin of the Name Manhattan," set the tone for exacting scholarship that marks the entire series. Tooker began by reviewing all available historic records and oral traditions relating to the place name. Surveying the vast body of literature devoted to the subject, he contrasted and assessed the validity of such widely varying translations as Moravian missionary John Heckewelder's "good place to collect bow wood," or "place of general inebriation," with other glosses such as pioneer ethnologist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's "People of the Whirlpool." Working with Eliot's Natick materials and consulting other lexicons, Tooker came up with the translation "Hilly island" by combining the Delaware term for island, "mannah," with northern Algonquian suffix for hills, " atin."

These limited editions brought Tooker much fame among his small coterie of specialists. They did not, however, bring in much income. Worsening health and fiscal difficulties often dogged Tooker's declining years. He was forced to sell his Indian artifact collection to the Brooklyn Museum in 1901. Arthritis ultimately all but paralyzed him. Anxious to help him complete his life long goal, a book on Long Island Indian names, local patroness Mrs. Russel Sage established a trust fund for his support in 1906 or 1907. Nursed by his wife and aided by secretaries hired by Mrs. Sage, Tooker finally saw his last project into print in 1911. This volume, Indian Place Names on Long Island, has since become the classic study of its type, and, as such, the most lasting memorial to the scholarship of this pioneer Algonkinist.

Tooker had the great good fortune to publish the results of much of his research during his lifetime. His notes, document transcriptions, unpublished papers, proof sheets, and more than a few unpublished manuscripts have not yet seen print. Much of this material has been reproduced in the present microfilm edition. It contains unedited proof drafts of published papers, unpublished manuscripts of articles on a wide variety of topics, and transcriptions of large numbers of primary documents. Tooker's unpublished work on Eliot's Natick materials, which consumed much of his attention during his latter years, represents an important resource for future investigators. His transcripts of colonial manuscripts also have assumed an unanticipated significance since the destruction of many of the originals in the 1911 Albany capitol fire.

Collectively, the materials provide an important source for Coastal Algonquian ethnology, ethnohistory, and linguistics. They also furnish insights into the point of view and methods of a pioneering figure in regional studies. These insights can reveal information important to understanding both what Tooker produced in his lifetime, and what subsequent scholars will make of his work.

Some of Tooker's images are online here: http://www.tookerphotocollection.com (not affiliated with Cornell University)