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Sabbath Day – Algonquian: Wampanoag, Nipmuck and Narragansett

October 29, 2015

Ah. Sabbath day. Almost.

Apart from an hour and a half in my office, and four hours of helping a minister-colleague with a sticky situations, I enjoyed a day of rest.

I had my weekly coffee at Hasting Tea Room and read about architecture. I had the best clam chowder in White Plains at the Lazy Boy and read about Alzheimers, caregiving, and grief. I took a walk in the rain, and bought a long anticipated new book. And I spent an hour organizing the library in our home (no new books come in our home without others going out) and cleaning a closet. I felt good about life.

Over the past week I spent what-time-I-could-find finishing a reading project on the Native Americans of Colonial New England, the Algonquin, as part of my intentional reading of multi-national literature. By coincidence, my son is preparing a powerpoint presentation for his fourth grade class on the first encounters of the Wampanoag with the Pilgrims at Plymouth. This also continues my several months long project of reading Native American literature.


With little-to-no Algonquin literature from this period, I relied on several secondary sources. Jill Lepore won the Bancroft Prize in 1998 for her The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. I cannot recommend this enough. For those of us who wish we could ‘study war no more,’ the first chapter alone suggests why the past is a prologue that can be deconstructed. The Name of War is a profound and mind-expanding mediation not just on this horrific episode in our settler-colonialist history, but on war itself. According to Lepore, war is comprised of “words and wounds,” and the language we use to describe and narrate our conflicts are as powerful (and enduring) as the violence used to inflict wounds. King Philip’s War (all three words should be interrogated for what they reveal and conceal about this, our nascent nation’s first Indian War) was, as a proportion of population, our nation’s bloodiest and costliest war. It helped define a white national identity and set the stage for all the Indian Wars to come (if not simply the first engagement in one long, still fought, Indian War). It begs for a primer in contemporary struggles for Native American sovereignty and broken treaties. (See my previous post on the Doctrine of Discovery).

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King Philip’s War occasioned much family reflection during our summer vacation in Cape Cod, Plymouth and Boston this year. [The photo above is of Noelle and August learning history in the contemporary Wampanoag Village, Plimoth Plantation]. The Narragansett, Nipmuck, Pocumtuck, and Wampanoag resisted the settler-colonialist practices of the English pilgrims, who were supported by their Mohegan, Pequot, and Christian Indian allies. My son and I wondered about what responsibility we bore for the fact that several of our ancestors participated in the war, and what effect that had on our family history. The Scripters, Hutchisons, Utelys, and Knapps would have all seen the decapitated skull of the defeated Metacomet (King Philip) displayed on the village green in front of the church (for twenty years). As it turns out, my eleventh great grandfather, Richard Hutchison, wrote and account of the war: The Warr in New-England Visibly Ended (begins on page 103) by Richard Hutchison (nephew of Anne). Richard believes the war was the result of sin, by which he means the colony’s severe treatment of dissenters, “making spoil without pity.” Through war, Hutchison believed, God was teaching the colonists ‘moderation.’ (The historical record might beg to differ).

While the colonists went to great lengths to demonize those followers of Metacomet who resisted white settlement, and they wrote at least 21 histories of the ‘war’ (including Mary Rowlandson’s best-selling captivity narrative) in order to justify the violence marshaled against the natives, later generations recognized in King Philip a resistance fighter of great dignity, if not royalty; a leader to admired, if not imitated. [The sketch below was drafted by Paul Revere]


In 1820, Washington Irving (writing just a few miles from where I live) published his sympathetic account of the Indian resistance in Philip of Pokanoket.  Of course, this admiration came with the comfort of great distance and a widespread belief that the Native Americans whose resistance Metacomet’s legend might inspire were long gone. Thus 1829 witnessed the unprecedented popularity of the stage play Metamora; or, The Last of the Wampanoags, which brought audiences to tears with King Philip’s dying speech. This, at the same time that President Andrew Jackson introduced his infamous Indian Removal Act which led to the displacement the Cherokee and others (far from ‘the last’) on the Trail of Tears. Thus it seems we are forever able to bemoan the past-that-might-have-been-different even while ignoring present ongoing injustice. (I am thinking about race in America, the continuing struggle of native peoples and first nations for recognition of land-rights, and environmental justice, and of the asymetrical despair that characterizes Israel and a ghettoized Palestine today).

Lack of documents also led me to William Cronan’s classic Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, which won the Francis Parkman Prize in history more than 30 years ago. Cronan traces the ecological changes that occurred with the shift from Indian the European dominance. This is another part of the settler-colonialist story – an exploitation of land and extraction of resources without regard to sustainable culture and with al limited understanding of the care of creation.



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