The idea of the vampyre, among the Iroquois, I first noticed, although it is but half developed, in Cusick, who in his historical tract, relates the incident of a man and his wife, and another person, taking shelter for the night, in a structure called the house of the dead. This scene is laid in the Oneida canton. After the light was extinguished, and they sought repose, a noise as if a person gnawing was heard. The husband got up and rekindled the fire, and found that the flesh of one of the dead persons had been eaten by a ghost. This is Tuscarora authority. To test the superstition, I made inquiries on the subject, in some of the other cantons. There was found to be a popular belief in the idea of certain carnivorous ghosts, who eat the dead, among the Senecas, and it may be found to exist among the other tribes. It was still doubtful whether living persons were attached, and if so, by sucking their blood in nocturnal visits. A well informed Seneca stated to me, that his people had numerous stories on this general head. He related one, in which a hunter and his wife, being belated and pushed by stress of weather, took shelter in a dead house. (This dead house appears to have been an ancient custom.) Having gone to repose, the wife was alarmed by sound, resembling drinking and mastication, as if proceeding from some invisible source, very near her. She stirred the embers, and found the blood of her husband streaming over the ground. He was dead. He had been imperceptibly devoured in part, by a vampyre. She fled, but soon heard behind her, the war whoop of the ghost. The chase, the arts she resorted to, and her final escape, by entering a hollow log, and her deliverance thence, are minutely detailed. The approach of daylight, and the symbolical character of the ghost’s war club, saved her. But the incidents are of no particular interest here, except as serving to show the existence of this ancient superstition of the human mind.
Their belief on the subject is, that ghosts gorge themselves on the blood and flesh of both dead and living bodies, if the latter be asleep. Whether this is the disposition of all ghosts, or the power and propensity be confined to those of particular persons, who have been cannibals in life, or have otherwise come under the condemnation of public feeling is not known. It is believed, that such doomed spirits creep into the lodges of men at night, and during sleep suck their blood, and eat their flesh. They are invisible. Farther inquiries on this subject are required. Heretofore, we have heard much of witchcraft and necromancy among the North American Indians. The belief in these, appears to be universal. I know not a tribe, east or west of the Alleghanies, where it is not, or was not, formerly common. Tranformations and the doctrine of metempsychosis, are equally common. But hitherto, the horrid idea of the vampyre has not been noticed. It is a Greek idea, and contrary to the general traits of the Indian mind, and not of an Asiatic cast.
The nations of Europe, who are most under the influence of this belief, in modern days, appear to be the Russians, Servians, Lithuanians, and modern Greeks. Have we then, an element in the Iroquois tribes, which we are to search for among the nations who anciently bordered on the Mediterranean? This favors the early and oft-repeated idea of a Phoenician element of population in the early constituents of our western hemisphere. If there be such an element, in the history of the past, it must, like all foreign intrusions of the kind, soon have gone down by amalgamation. Yet, if there be any tribe, in the whole ample range of America, who have manifested traits of Grecian firmness and association, it is the Iroquois.