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Dorsey, James Owenlocked

(31 October 1848–04 February 1895)
  • Bethany Neubauer


Dorsey, James Owen (31 October 1848–04 February 1895), ethnologist and missionary, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Thomas Anderson Dorsey and Mary Sweetser Hance. As a child, James showed an aptitude for languages, learning to read Hebrew by the age of ten. He entered Central High School in Baltimore in 1862 and in 1867 began studies at the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. Ordained as a deacon in 1871, Dorsey immediately left for the Dakota Territory, where he began missionary work among the Ponca Indians, a Siouan tribe. He quickly learned to speak the Ponca language well enough to communicate without an interpreter, and he was working on a Ponca grammar and dictionaries in 1873 when serious illness forced him to return east. Dorsey contacted the Smithsonian Institution, hoping to have his materials published, but his work was judged to be insufficiently professional....

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