It is true to an extent that there were relatively peaceful relations between puritans and native tribes. Let’s examine those for a moment shall we? I’ve included a list of references though I totally forget the pages. I am also confessing now my intent is to tell history from the point of the native people. I will not cover for the English nor Puritans in my assessment. It is harshly critical and should be considered when viewing from this post.
I will pull no punches and if it is a kick below the belt so be it. The truth will be known and the purpose of such brutal honesty? So it will never be repeated against my people nor any people again. History can only teach us when we are first willing to learn from it.
So some history first:
The General Court of Massachusetts passed an Act for the Propagation of the Gospel amongst the Indians. This act and the success of Reverend John Eliot and other missionaries in preaching the gospel to the New England tribes raised interest in England.
October 28, 1646
Mr. Eliot preached his first sermon to Native Americans in their own language in the wigwam of Waban who became the first convert of his tribe in Nonantum (near present day Newton, Massachusetts).
The Long Parliament passed an Ordination forming “A Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England” which raised funds to support the cause. Contributors raised approximately 12,000 pounds for investment in this goal, to be used mainly in the Colony of Massachusetts and in New York. Reverend Eliot received financial aid from this corporation to start schools for teaching the Native Americans.
Eventually Christian Indian Towns were located in Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, New Plymouth, New Norwich (Connecticut Colony), and the following in Massachusetts Colony known as the Old Praying Indian Towns: Wamesit (Chelmsford), Nashobah (Littleton), Okkokonimesit (Marlborough), Hassannamesit (Grafton), Makunkokoag (Hopkinton), Natick (Natick), and Punkapog or Pakomit (Stoughton).
These old Praying Indian towns in Massachusetts Colony were situated so they could have been used as an outlying wall of defense for the colony. The native Americans who lived there were not permitted in Puratin towns and violating this resulted in imprisonment or death. Few Puratins went to Indian praying towns because of prejudice for those who did.
The Puritans used the native Americans as shields virtually ringing their colony with against attacks from hostile tribes. But who were these hostile tribes? Remember the Pequot? Yeah they had friends and other tribes of Pequot within there nation.
It’s important to know. Who were the Pequot?
Pequot territory was approximately 250 square miles in southeastern Connecticut. Today, this area includes the towns of Groton, Ledyard, Stonington, North Stonington and southern parts of Preston and Griswold. The Thames and Pawcatuck Rivers formed the western and eastern boundaries, Long Island Sound the southern boundary and Preston and Griswold (southern parts) the northern boundary. Some historic sources suggest that Pequot territory extended four to five miles east of the Pawcatuck River to an area called Weekapaug in Charlestown, Rhode Island prior to the Pequot War.
The Pequot had about 20 villages ranging in size and number during this time. Now back to history lesson. Suffice it to say these are a Connecticut tribe and it will be important as we analyze the “good” relationship with the Mohegan.
The following in italic print is excepts from the various books I quoted and not my own words.
During King Philip’s War. Starting with Chelmsford on the Merrimack River, the villages lay 12-14 miles apart and made a natural ring around the Boston settlement. The Praying Indians in each of these villages had fortified themselves against attack from hostile tribes. In company with English forces, they could have acted as scouts to keep an eye on the movements of their common foe. If these Christian Indians had been utilized effectively “in the beginning of the war, many and great mischiefs might have been … prevented,” according to Daniel Gookin.
There were many advantages to an alliance between the English and the Praying Indians. Because the Native Americans knew the territory so well, they made good scouts and guides; they were much better equipped to fight in the forests and could teach the English such fighting techniques as where to set ambushes and how to avoid them. The colonials could “see no enemy to shoot at, but yet felt their bullets out of the thick bushes where they lay in ambushments. The enemy also used this stratagem, to apparel themselves from the waist upwards with green boughs, that our Englishmen could not readily discern them, or distinguish them from the natural bushes.”
In contrast to the English forces, Native Americans maintained silence as they moved through the forests. Colonial soldiers, bunched together, quite often talked as they marched, wore squeaking shoes, or dry leather breeches that made rustling noises, all of which announced their presence to the enemy.
The Praying Indians could have served as an intelligence force for the English. John Sassamon was a Christian Indian who served frequently as an interpreter and witness for both the English and the Native Americans. As early as 1674, Sassamon discovered that his countrymen were preparing for war. He reported this information immediately to the governor of Plymouth Colony but was not believed because he was a Native American. In April and again in May, 1675, Waban, Praying Indian leader at Natick warned the English of Philip’s intentions to attack the colonists. Various Native American sources reported that “when the woods were grown thick with green trees then it [war] was likely to appear….” In August, 1675, the three warriors accompanying the English to Quaboag (Brookfield) Plantation suggested that the local tribes should not be trusted. The English chose to disregard this advice and shortly thereafter the local Nipmuks ambushed them.
According to S. A. Drake, “… at this time if any Indian appeared friendly, all Indians were so declaimed against, that scarcely any one among the English could be found that would allow that an Indian could be faithful or honest in any affair.”
However instead of using the Praying Indians as allies, the English disregarded any advice a Native American offered.
Although the colonials did raise a Praying Indian company, composed of 52 Native Americans, on July 2, 1675, and these warriors comported themselves well in the July Mount Hope campaign, a certain segment of the English population distrusted all Native Americans and felt that the Praying Indians would always be more loyal to the hostile tribes than to the English.
Now we know more about the King Philip war. Let’s continue our breakdown of history and historical events.
August 30, 1675
The Governor and Council of the Massachusetts Colony, in response to public demand, disbanded all Praying Indian companies, confined these Christian Indians to the Old Praying Indian towns, and restricted their travel to within one mile of the center of those towns and only then when in the company of an Englishman. If a Native American broke these rules, he could be arrested or shot on sight. Most Englishmen were unwilling to reside in these towns because of the prejudice directed toward any Englishman supporting the Praying Indian cause.
Christian Indians were caught between two warring factions: the English and the hostile tribes fighting with King Philip. They pledged their loyalty to the English who refused to trust them and, at the same time, faced the enmity of their own people. Their loyalty was rewarded with such public hatred toward them that in August, 1675, the General Council in Boston began to consider removing the Praying Indians to Deer Island in Boston Harbor.
The order passed for removal; by December of that year, there were as many as 1500 Christian Indians confined to the island. “The enmity, jealousy, and clamors of some people against them put the magistracy upon a kind of necessity to send them all to the Island….” where they “… lived chiefly upon clams and shell-fish, that they digged out of the sand, at low water; the Island was bleak and cold, their wigwams poor and mean, their clothes few and thin; some little corn they had of their own, which the Council ordered to be fetched from their plantations, and conveyed to them by little and little….”
Long Island and Deer Island in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts Colony. Old men, women and children, the remnants of the Christian Indians in Massachusetts Colony, were at last allowed to return to the mainland.
This starving, poorly clothed group of Native Americans had suffered through the two winters with little food, little fuel and inadequate housing. Fewer than half survived the island with most succoring to starvation and frost bite. Yet they stayed until released in 1677, but the world to which they returned was totally changed. The English had defeated the warring tribes, leaving the Native Americans strangers in their own homeland.
Why were these people sent to those bleak islands just off the coast of their homeland? What had they done to warrant such treatment?
Remember these where the “good” relations. Who where these Indians? They were the Mohegans.
Now what did the Mohegans do to acquire peace? First they converted to Christianity. Those who would not convert were forced to flee and became some of the “warring” tribes.
Of the Mohegans who did convert what was next to prove loyalty?
Well the first order of business was they were to kill a local tribe of Pequots, every man, woman and child and bring the heads and hands as proof. The Mohegan begged to allow the women and children to be converted and the Puritans relented. After the war the women and children were forced to convert at gun point or die all while bound.
What was next to acquire peace?
They were forced to dress as the English and live in towns called praying towns. They were never allowed into any Puritan town and punishment was swift and often fatal for disobedience. They also had to speak English in the presence of any English person.
This was one example of the “good relations” with the Mohegan.
The problem with the Puritans is the same as all humans. Fear of the unknown, of things and people different than you. Fear can motivate people to do things they might otherwise find unconscionable and that may very well be the case here. As I said I am telling history from the native side. It is factual and perhaps harsh view of the Puritans from a view few ever get to see.
I am presenting the past as education and warning against the future. Without a past to teach us and the lessons we should learn we are doomed to repeat such horrible things. This is about history being accurate and not a direct assault on Christianity, Puritans nor any human alive today. Thank you for reading.
References (Just so I can’t be accused of not presenting the facts)
Bodge, G. M. 1906. Soldiers in King Philip’s War. 3rd Edition
Byington, E. H. 1894. The Puritan as a Colonist and Reformer. Little, Brown, and Company, Boston
Vaughn, Alden T. 1965. New England Frontier Puritans and Indians 1620-1675
Gookin, D. 1677. An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England in the Years 1675, 1676, 1677
Church, B. 1716. Diary of King Philip’s War 1675-1676
Hubbard, W. 1677. The History of the Indian Wars in New England
Wheeler, Thomas. A Thankefull Remembrance of Gods Mercy to Serveral Persons at Quabaug or Brookfield
Drake, S. G. 1841. Book of the Indians. 8th Edition
The Old Indian Chronicle. Samuel A. Drake
Shurtleff, Nathaniel B. (ed.) 1853-54. Records of the Massachusetts Bay in New England 1628-86
Numerous records and letters kept by these same Chistian Indians have gone into some of the books and works above.