In 1675 the first and one of the deadliest wars ever fought on what is now American soil began. Fifty-six years after the departure of the Mayflower, the tenuous Native American-Puritan ties, built with careful mistrust, crumbled with disastrous results for all.
By 1616, European traders had brought yellow fever in the Wampanoag Territory, which covered present-day Provincetown, Massachusetts to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The outbreak wiped out two-thirds of the entire Wampanoag nation (estimated at 45,000 at the time). Thus, when the first batch of Puritans landed in 1619, Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoag, was on high alert. He waited until 1621 to meet the new immigrants, and then formed a cherished relationship between his people and theirs. In late March 1621, he and Governor John Carver signed the Wampanoag-Pilgrim Treaty. In the Treaty the two peoples agreed not to harm each other, to help each other if attacked by third parties and to have equal jurisdiction over the guilty: if a Wampanoag broke the peace, he would be sent to Plymouth as punishment; if a settler broke the law, he would be sent by the Wampanoags. Furthermore, the leaders of Wampanoag decided to inform neighboring indigenous nations of the treaty.
For fifty years, the Entente, sometimes frayed, has resisted. But as more and more English immigrants arrived with weapons that Native Americans had never seen, and as new immigrants began to assert themselves more and more over indigenous nations, it became a when, Not above Self, a war would break out.
When Massasoit died in 1665, his son Philip became Sachem. Philip had few of his father’s diplomatic skills, and his people were becoming increasingly angry at the dictatorial actions taken by whites. After three of his trusted lieutenants were … executed by pilgrims in a painful judicial error, Philip had no choice but to go to war if he wanted to remain in power. In 1675 he did just that.
King Philip was brought tragic consequences for all. As is often the case, the white settlers of the colony of Plymouth grossly underestimated the tactical prowess of the warring indigenous nations, but in the end European firepower won. Before the war, historians estimate that around 80,000 people lived in New England. Nine thousand died during the fourteen months of King Philip’s war, more than 10% of the total population. In proportion, it is more than in the Civil War and the Revolution. A third of the towns in New England lay in ashes, farms were abandoned, and fields were left uncultivated. Philip was hunted down in Rhode Island’s Misery Swamp and killed. His body was quartered and pieces hung from trees. The man who killed him, John Alderman, sold his severed head to Plymouth colony authorities for 30 shillings.
And so we come to the end of the war in 1676, and Josiah Winslow, the governor of the colony of Plymouth, had a problem. Namely, what to do with hundreds of Native Americans, King Philip’s war survivors and their families.
Winslow decided to get rid of them by loading them all, including Philip’s wife and nine-year-old son, onto several ships bound for the Caribbean, one of which, ironically, was called Seaflower.
As Nathaniel Philbrick writes in his masterpiece Mayflower (Viking Penguin, 2007):
In a certificate bearing his official seal, Winslow explained that these native men, women and children had joined an uprising against the colony and were guilty of “many murders, killings and heinous and notorious outrages.” As a result, these “pagan evildoers” were condemned to “perpetual slavery”.
Thus, by joining with Rome and other ancient societies, our white ancestor enslaved a conquered people.
Yesterday, 345 years after the Seaflower departed from Plymouth Harbor, a jury made up of its peers, a mixed jury, convicted Derek Chauvin on all three counts of murder for the death of George Floyd. What struck me most, the image that cannot be hidden, is the smirk on Chauvin’s face as he brought a man who didn’t look like him to his knees. I guess it’s the same look Governor Winslow had on his face as he signed the certificate that sentenced hundreds of indigenous people, who did not look like him, to perpetual slavery.
How far have we come. How much, much farther we have to go.
This article was posted on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 at 5:30 pm and is filed in Discrimination, History, Law, Command. You can follow any response to this entry through the RSS 2.0 Power supply. Both comments and pings are currently closed.