Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine on February 27, 1807. The son of a prominent family, his mother was a descendant of John Alden, who came to America on the Mayflower, and was the first man to land at Plymouth.
Longfellow attended Bowdoin College (Maine) in 1821, and for a short time after graduation became a lawyer. However, he quickly became interested in literature and followed the path for which he is best known.
Longfellow was among the first American writers to use native themes. He wrote about American history and traditions, the American Indian, and the American landscape. Until this time, American culture was still undefined, and citizens depended upon literature, art and music from Europe to fill the cultural void.
In the Introduction to the Song of Hiawatha, Longfellow wrote:
Should you ask me,
whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations
As of thunder in the mountains?
I should answer, I should tell you,
“From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer.
Your early American ancestor would probably have read this poem or heard about it.