The intercourse between the Indians and the English had been advantageous to both. The Indians had taught the early settlers to enrich their fields with fish and to raise corn, and had during almost the whole of the first generation been the actual producers of food-stuffs. By the time the industry and improved agricultural methods of the settlers had freed them from this form of dependence, the increased demand for furs still held the Indian temporarily on an economic level with his white neighbor, for furs, fish and lumber were the means by which the colonists made return to the joint-stock campaigns and paid for their imports.
The economic relation between the races can be clearly traced by the rise and fall of the value of wampum. Thirty years after the landing of the Pilgrims it had become the accepted currency of New England.1 It figures in old wills in place of coin. It made by law legal currency2 and colonial records are full of acts regulating its value.
About 1662 the fur trade had largely declined and fish had become the great article of export. Silver received from the Indies and Europe in exchange for fish and p20 lumber had come into the colonies, and between 1662 and 1670 wampum gradually ceased to be the medium of exchange. When the Indian had ceased to be either a producer of food or a supplier of furs, the old economic relations perished. No longer necessary to the English he was soon regarded by them as an encumbrance.
The Indian had both profited and been injured by his contact with the English. Civilization increased his comforts but degraded him. The white man's blanket or the gun which made hunting easy, and in the handling of which he early became an expert, had become necessities. He had learned better methods of agriculture and the use of the domestic cattle, while the vicinity of the settlements to the Indian villages mitigated the periodical famines which had fallen so often upon the tribes during the hard New England winters.
The Indian, always an opportunist, was quick to absorb and exaggerate in himself all the vices of the white man, unchecked by religious scruples or civil authority. Gookin draws the sad picture of the general effect of their contact with civilization: "And though all strong drink is prohibited to be sold . . . yet some ill-disposed people, for filthy lucre's sake, do sell unto the Indians secretly, whereby they are made drunk very often, and being drunk they are many times outrageous and mad. This beastly sin of drunkenness could not be charged upon the Indians before . . . the Christian nations came to dwell in America, which nations, especially the English in New England, have cause to be greatly humbled before God."3
p21 The conduct of the New England settlers and the authorities was marked by an evident intention of just dealing. The sale of lands was regulated by law, but unfortunately the Indian's idea of what he sold and the white man's idea of what was bought were entirely at variance. The result was the usual one, the stronger interpreted from its own point of view, and, in the main, to its own satisfaction. The Indian believed that the white man would make such use of the land as he himself made of it; he made free and lavish gifts of it on this account, and the English authorities in many respects were more careful of Indian rights of possession than the Indian himself. Sometimes its transfer was under terms that "whenever the Indian shall remove from a certain place, then and thenceforth the aforesaid settlers shall enter upon the same as their proper right and interest, to them, their heirs and assigns."4 An elastic deed. Some deeds gave the right to cut grass and graze stock on land not planted by the Indians, while in other cases the Indians retained for themselves the privilege of hunting, fishing, and gathering nuts. While "the Indian little appreciated the value of land until he felt the pressing want of it," there is no doubt but that the English settler was greedy, for "land is one of the Gods of New England, of which the living and most high Eternal" will punish the transgressor, wrote Roger Williams.5
It is not always the thing itself as the way a thing is done that leaves the most abiding sense of injustice and resentment behind it, and the provocative attitude, the p22 rough hand and the constant petty interferences in their most trivial affairs, did more to ultimately drive the Indians into hostility than the loss of landed possessions; yet the relations as a whole for many years after the destruction of the Pequots, were friendly. The Indian greeting, "What cheer, friend?" was familiar in every village. The Indian boys and the settler's children played in the village streets, and the squaws, during certain seasons, stored their valuables in the settler's house. "We have found the Indians very faithful to their covenants of peace," wrote Edward Winslow.
Little by little, however, the two races were beginning to approach the narrow causeway where one would have to give way before the other. The point of view of the two races was too far apart for them ever to agree, and, grounded in suspicion, irreconcilable causes, both social and economic, were hurling them into collision. The differences over land have, as a rule, been given too much importance, though the land question was a contributory cause to a growing estrangement, for when the Indian saw that things which, in his own possession, were of little value, as soon as they were transferred to the Englishmen became valuable, it led him naturally to the embittered conclusion, "It is the Indian's property in the white man's hands that gives the white man importance, makes him arrogant and covetous, and he despises the Indian as soon as his ends are met and the Indian has no more to part with."
The Puritan was not of a character, either individually or collectively, with whom men of any other race could be expected to maintain harmonious relations. Amiability was not one of his characteristics, and he was totally p23 lacking in that great gift of humor so essential to friendly association and broad understanding, and, lacking it, he remained devoid of that sympathetic temper necessary to live at peace with and to understand the nature of the savage, so closely akin to that of a child.
The French cherished the Indian and made the fierce hunting tribes of New France an instrument in the building up of French power; the English, failing to make an agricultural laborer out of the more pliable New England Indian, treated him with indifference or contempt and turned him into a sullen enemy.
The narrow determination to regulate the actions of others by their own ideas of what was well ordered led the authorities to interfere even in the most trivial affairs of the tribes and individuals, regardless of Indian traditions and customs, held him to a strict observance of their laws, and constantly punished him for offenses he did not understand.6 Cotton Mather admirably sums up the general attitude of the English towards the Indians by the unconscious confession, "The heathen people, whose land the Lord God has given to us for a rightful possession, have at sundry times been plotting mischievous devices against that part of the English Israel."
Among the causes which inflamed the Indian mind one of the most potent was the well-meant attempt of the just-minded Eliot, and others,7 to convert them to Christianity. p24 It was customary among the Indians to augment their numbers by the adoption of individuals and even of smaller tribes. Whoever had lost a brother, son or husband, possessed the right, sanctioned by immemorial usage, of extending mercy to a prisoner of war by adopting him. The Christianizing of these Indians therefore, when associated with their separate settlements, assumed a sinister significance, and appeared to the Indian as a form of adoption devised to weaken and break up their tribal relations, while it strengthened the whites. Nor did the English, actuated by a sincere desire to benefit and uplift their neighbors, fail to see a material advantage in that very possibility which so excited the apprehension of the Indians.
The broken tribes around the Bay and on the Cape received Christianity as a passport to the white man's favor, but the others would have none of it. Philip told Roger Williams he cared no more for Christianity than the button on his coat, while Ninigret told those who came to him that "as long as the English could not agree as to what was religion, among themselves, it ill became them to teach others." Even Uncas, subservient in all else, desired no missionaries among his people.
They listened courteously. "It is good for the white man, but we are another people with different customs," they said.
In Massachusetts, fourteen villages, many of them stockaded, told the success of Eliot's efforts among the broken tribes of the Massachusetts and the Nipmucks, p25 while other villages of converts, built up by Mayhew8 and Bourne,9 were to be found within the jurisdiction of Plymouth colony and at Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
Many of these Christian Indians did credit to their professions, but there were some among the independent tribes who curried favor by playing the rôle of the informer upon the actions of their own people, or took advantage of their position as Christian protégés to escape the consequences of their own evil behavior,10 and in the frequent bickerings between the Indians on the one hand and the traders on the other, punishment was often meted out with little regard to the source from whence the provocation came.
Traders of the stamp of Stone11 and Oldham12 probably p26 drew their fate upon themselves by their dishonest and treacherous conduct, and the Pilgrims had punished with death the Indians who had resented the pilfering and the aggressive insolence of Walton's profligate colony at Weymouth. The Puritan temper had not mellowed in fifty years; tares had been mixed with the wheat among the later arrivals and the civil and religious conflict in England and the ecclesiastical quarrels in the colonies had made them more intolerant among themselves. That a serious outbreak had been postponed for so many years was due to the influence of Massasoit, Canonicus13 and Roger Williams, the memory of the dire fate of the Pequots, the economic benefits of the trade carried on between them and that traditional enmity among the tribes which made concerted action impossible.
Of the sachems of New England, Uncas,14 the Mohegan, p27 and Canonicus, who divided the power and sachemship of the Narragansetts with Miantonomah, were the only ones to recognize the full meaning of the English settlements in relation to the fate of their own people. Uncas made use of them to build up his power; Canonicus sought to play off the Dutch against the English and to keep the peace, whereas Massasoit, a thoroughgoing opportunist, welcomed them for the peace they enforced upon his neighbors, the Narragansetts.
In the Mohegans and their chief, Uncas, the Connecticut colony had a constant ally who knew how to make his personal quarrels appear in the eyes of the authorities as drawn upon himself solely as their friend. With rare foresight he had recognized the possibilities of a policy based on an alliance with the whites. Fearless and subtle, uniting in a rare degree the character of statesman and warrior, he had built up the power of the Mohegans on the ruins of the Pequot confederacy, and while constantly provoking the other tribes by his aggressions, he was never at a loss to prove himself the injured party to the satisfaction of his Connecticut allies. However valuable in its results to the Connecticut settlers, this alliance was to be one of the most toward circumstances in destroying the confidence of the tribes in the good faith and justice of the English.
So important is this fact that some explanation of the cause is necessary. A quarrel between the Mohegans p28 and Narragansetts, arising originally over a division of the Pequot captives on the destruction of that tribe, soon assumed the character of a personal vendetta between Uncas and Miantonomah,15 and the ears of the authorities were clamorously assailed by their conflicting claims and accusations.
So numerous were the complaints and so constantly did hostilities threaten, that the commissioners of the colonies compelled both sachems to present themselves at Hartford, September 21, 1638, and to enter upon what was known as the tripartite treaty.16
"I perceive you have received many accusations and hard conceits of this poor native Miantonomah,"17 wrote Roger Williams to Governor Winthrop.
In 1640, Miantonomah was accused of conspiring with the Mohawks, and, obeying the orders of Governor Thomas Dudley, presented himself at Boston, where, in punishment for objecting to a Pequot as an interpreter, he was treated as an ill-behaved child. "We would show him no countenance nor admit him to dine at our table as formerly he had done, until he had acknowledged his p29 failing." His rebuke — "When your people come to me they are permitted to use their own fashions and I expect the same liberty when I come to you," should have shamed them into courtesy. Such childish treatment of a powerful sachem was an act of inexcusable folly. The charge was easily refuted and Miantonomah allowed to return home.
He continued, however, to be regarded with suspicion, and two years later a widespread belief that he was planning general conspiracy caused him to be again summoned to Boston.18
Clothed in his robes of state, he made his defense before the grim elders of New England so successfully that Governor Winthrop wrote of him as having "shown good understanding in the principles of justice and equity, and to have accommodated himself to our understanding."19 Most of the charges against the Narragansetts were preferred by Connecticut, and display the deft touch of Uncas turning his influence with the Connecticut authorities to good account.20 Uncas had cause to fear his rival: it was six of one and half a dozen of the other as far as the desire to injure each other was concerned. That the Massachusetts authorities were not blinded is made evident by their refusal to assent to the request of Connecticut that war be declared against Miantonomah. "All this might have come out of the enmity of Miantonomah and Uncas, who continually sought to discredit each other21 . . ." and they (Connecticut) were not pleased p30 with Massachusetts for refusing, was the comment of Winthrop.22
The next year, unfortunately for himself, the Narragansett, by selling the Shawamut peninsula to Samuel Gorton,23 that "arch heretic, beast and miscreant, whose spirit was struck dumb with blasphemies and insolences," involved himself in the quarrel between Massachusetts and the Gortonists.24
Massachusetts, then engaged "in drawing in the last of those parts who now live under another government, but grow very offensive," greatly desired the acquisition of the territory of Narragansett Bay. Urged by the enemies of Gorton, Pumham, the local sachem, laid claim to the ownership of Shawamut and pleaded the inability of Miantonomah and Canonicus to give valid title to p31 the lands they had sold.25 This scheme was successful, and a syndicate composed of Benedict Arnold26 and other citizens27 of Rhode Island, standing ready to purchase the land in question it was conveyed to them by Pumham and Sacononoco, who at once offered their allegiance to the Massachusetts colony.
Miantonomah summoned to Boston, could not prove, in the opinion of the authorities, his paramountcy over Pumham and Sacononoco, despite the declaration of Roger Williams, that the authority of the Narragansett sachems over the lands and chiefs in question, had existed as far back as the settlement of Plymouth.
Miantonomah on his return home, learning that one of his subordinates, Sequassen, had been roughly handled by Uncas, took up the quarrel and complaining to Connecticut, received for answer that "the English had no hand in it." He next turned to Massachusetts and "was desirous to know if we would not be offended if he made war upon Uncas." To which Winthrop replied: "If Uncas had done him or his friends harm and would not p32 give satisfaction, we shall leave him to take his own course."28
Believing that he had complied with the terms of the tripartite treaty and was free to make war, he marched upon Uncas, met his surprised rival, who could rally but an inferior force, on the outskirts of the town of Norwich. Uncas, stepping out from the lines, engaged Miantonomah in a parley and challenged him to decide the quarrel by personal combat. On the challenge being refused, in accord with a previously arranged plan, he threw himself on the ground, and his warriors, firing over his body, charged and routed the surprised Narragansetts. In the pursuit, Miantonomah, hampered by a coat of mail, said to have been the gift of Samuel Gorton, was captured.
In accordance with Indian usage his life was forfeited, but Uncas, not knowing how Connecticut and Massachusetts would regard such an act, puzzled by the threat of Gorton forbidding him to injure his captive, and dreading to embroil himself with the Narragansetts unless assured of support, carried his prisoner to Hartford.
On the appeal of Miantonomah, the commissioners of the colonies, brushing aside the communications that had passed between Miantonomah and both Connecticut and Massachusetts, whereby they had themselves failed in their duty under the tripartite treaty, found that the Narragansetts had violated its terms by attacking Uncas suddenly "without denouncing war." Finally, deciding that, though it was not safe to set him at liberty, there was not sufficient ground to put him to death, they turned over p33 the matter for advice to a convocation of ministers29 then in assembly at Boston, five of whose number as a committee, advised that "Uncas, the Englishman's friend, could not be safe while Miantonomah lived, and that he, Uncas, might justly put such a fierce and bloodthirsty enemy to death."
The commissioners therefore ordered Miantonomah to be turned over to Uncas for execution, but if Uncas refused to kill him he was to be sent to Boston by water.30
Roger Williams was at this time in England and unable to speak in behalf of the unfortunate sachem, and Uncas, attended by a guard of musketeers, took his captive to Windsor31 where one of the Mohegans, stepping behind the prisoner, clove his skull with a tomahawk.
p34 The commissioners undoubtedly found themselves on the horns of a dilemma. Uncas enjoyed the right conferred on a conqueror by Indian usage, of putting his captive to death, but such a course, unsupported by the English, was dangerous in view of the numerical superiority of the Narragansetts.
To free Miantonomah, however, was to take sides against Uncas, and court a continuance of the old quarrel. Connecticut was insistent that their ally should be protected from Miantonomah, and in fact the alliance of the Mohegans seemed more valuable to both Connecticut and Massachusetts than that of the more distant Narragansetts, yet, Roger Williams had informed the general court of Massachusetts some years before, "the Narragansetts have been true in all of the Pequot wars to you. . . . I cannot learn that ever it pleased the Lord to let the Narragansetts stain their hands with any English blood."32
The necessity of defending Uncas, whom they believed endangered by Miantonomah's intrigues, the general suspicion that the Narragansetts were dangerous to the peace of New England, were undoubtedly the most potent factors p35 in deciding the fate of the Narragansett sachem. There is little doubt but that his relations with Gorton weighed heavily in the balance against him. Not only do almost all the Rhode Island historians take this view, but it is supported by the researches of Judge Savage,33 and by such careful collaborators as Drake and Bodge.
The condemnation and execution of Miantonomah was a clerico-judicial murder.34 He was judged and condemned to death by the white allies of Uncas. On that day confidence in the white man's justice received its death blow among the Narragansetts who, impotent to save or revenge, could only nourish their wrath with all the passionate remembrance of Indian nature; nor did it pass without notice among the other tribes that Uncas, the hated of all nations had his lips to the ears of the English, who heard no other voice than his.
1 Weeden, Vol. I, pages 39‑44. Wampum made from the whelk shell pierced and polished (black double the value of white), was not only a medium of exchange, but served as a recalling to memory of events, and as an ornament.
2 Connecticut Colony Records (1649), Vol. I, pages 179, 546.
3 Gookin, Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., Vol. I, page 151.
4 Baylie's Mem. of Plymouth Col., Vol. II, page 234.
5 Letter of Roger Williams to Major Mason. Rhode Island Hist. Soc. Coll., Vol. III, page 162.
6 We read in the Connecticut records of one fined forty shillings for breach of the peace in traveling from Springfield to Hartford on Sunday; another for stealing apples and firing a gun on Sunday.
7 Rev. John Eliot, of Roxbury in 1604, was born at Nazing, England. He matriculated as a pensioner of Jesus College, Cambridge, where he took his degree of A. B. He came in the Lion to Boston, 1631, and was settled as a teacher, and afterwards pastor, in the Roxbury church. He labored for forty years to spread among the aborigines the sentiments, in some degree, of his religion. He died May 20, 1690. — Savage.
8 Thomas Mayhew, Watertown, born 1591, came to this country in 1631. He was a merchant, active in trade, first at Medford and afterwards at Watertown, but in 1647 removed to Martha's Vineyard where he became a preacher to the Indians and labored in this field more than thirty-three years. He died in 1681 and his work was continued by several generations of his descendants. — Savage.
9 Richard Bourne of Lynn, 1637, removed to Sandwich and was the first instructor of the Indians at Marshpee, beginning in 1658. He died in 1682. — Savage.
10 British State Papers, 1665, No. 63: Report of King's Commissioners to the Colonies.
11 John Stone, captain of a trading vessel from Virginia, was a man of violent temper and intemperate habits. September 3, 1633, he was forbidden by the General Court of Massachusetts to come again within the jurisdiction under penalty of death, "for his outrage committed in confronting authority, abusing Mr. Ludlowe both in words and behavior," etc. Shortly after, he entered the Connecticut River with his vessel, and, being in need of a pilot seized two Pequot Indians, whom he bound and in this condition compelled them to take his vessel to the point he desired to reach. Having been watched through this proceeding by other Indians, that night, when all were asleep, they entered the ship and murdered Stone and his comrades.
12 John Oldham came to Plymouth in the Ann in 1623. He shortly after gave offense through the expression of his religious opinions and was driven to Nantasket and thence went with Roger Conant to Cape Ann. He returned to Plymouth in 1628 and became reconciled with the government and was made freeman May 18, 1631. He removed to Watertown and engaged actively in trade with the Indians, chiefly by means of his shallop, upon which he was killed by the natives near Manisses (Block Island) in July, 1636.
13 Canonicus, the great sachem of the Narragansetts, was contemporary with Miantonomah who was his nephew. He sold the island of Rhode Island to Roger Williams and others, and was the firm friend of Williams. At the time of the Pequot war, great pains were taken to strengthen the friendship between this sachem and the English. "June 4, 1647. Canonicus, the great sachem of the Narragansetts died, a very old man." — Drake's Book of the Indians.
14 Uncas was born in the Pequot settlement in Connecticut about 1588. He was Pequot by birth but by reason of rebellion against his chief, Sassacus, he was banished from the tribe, and, gathering about him a band of malcontents, became their head, calling his followers Mohegans, after an ancient name of the Pequot tribe. His lands lay to the north and east of Lyme. In the expedition against the Pequots commanded by Captain John Mason, Uncas with his followers accompanied him as allies.
15 Miantonomah, sachem of the Narragansetts, was the nephew of Canonicus and associated with him in the government of the tribe, succeeding to full authority in 1636, and from him and his uncle, Roger Williams received the deed of the land for his colony at the head of Narragansett Bay.
16 Its principal clause was as follows:
"If there fall out injuries and wrongs, each to the other or their men, they shall not presently revenge it, but they are to appeal to the English and they are to decide the same, and if one or the other shall refuse to do it, it shall be lawful for the English to compel him and take part if they see cause against the obstinate or refusing party." — R. I. Hist. Soc. Coll., Vol. III, page 177.
17 Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll. 3, Vol. I, page 166.
18 Winthrop, Vol. II, page 81.
19 Ibid., page 81.
20 Ibid., page 82.
21 Ibid., page 80.
22 Winthrop II, page 83.
23 Samuel Gorton, born in Gorton, England, about 1600, settled in Boston in 1636. He remained there until religious disputes drove him to Plymouth, where he fared still worse, being fined, imprisoned, and finally expelled. No better fate was in store for him at Newport, where he was publicly whipped, and he moved from place of the place until 1642 when he bought lands at Shawamut on the west side of Narragansett Bay. His title to this was disputed by some of the Indians and on the appeal to the authorities at Boston, a military force was sent to arrest him and with ten of his followers he was taken to Boston and tried as "damnable heretics," sentenced to imprisonment and hard labor in irons. After his release in 1644, Gorton went to England to obtain redress and having procured from the Earl of Warwick an order that he should be allowed the peaceable possession of his lands at Shawamut, he returned to his colony in 1648 and renamed it Warwick in honor of the earl. Gorton's religious beliefs were very peculiar, but the sect he founded survived him for about one hundred years. He has been ably defended by the late Chief Justice Brayton of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Rhode Island Hist. Tracts, No. 17.
24 Winthrop, Vol. II, page 120.
25 Clarence S. Brigham in "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," Vol. I, pages 35, 36.
26 Benedict Arnold was born in England, December 21, 1615. In 1663 he was made by the Royal Charter President of the Rhode Island colony and was continued in this office for eight years. He was reported to be the wealthiest man in the colony. About 1676 he built the "old mill" still standing at Newport, about which traditions of a Norse origin have been thrown. He died in 1678.
27 The Shawamut lands were held by the Arnold coterie for some years, when, circumstances rendering it desirable for Arnold to again own fealty to Rhode Island, by a petition of his party to the authorities they were granted a discharge from the Massachusetts jurisdiction and Shawamut once again became Rhode Island territory.
28 Winthrop, Vol. II, page 129.
"Who always to our magistrates
Must be the eyes to see."
Peter Folger. Looking glass for the times. (About 1670).
30 The details as to Miantonomah and the action of the commissioners will be found in Hazzard State Papers, Vol. II, page 6; Winthrop, Vol. II, page 131. Acts of the Commissioners of the United Colonies. Plymouth Colony Records, Vol. IX, page 10.
31 Trumbull, says Norwich, accepted the local tradition. Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts, however, gives a very different spot as the place of Miantonomah's execution. When the decision to put him to death had been reached, the commissioners directed that Uncas should conduct his captive "Into the next part of his own government, and there put him to death, provided that some discreet and faithful person of the English accompany them and see the execution, for our more full satisfaction." Uncas promptly obeyed the directions given, taking with him two Hartford men as witnesses. Winthrop continues: "Taking Miantonomah along with him, in the way between Hartford and Windsor, (where Onkus hath some men dwell) Onkus' brother, following after Miantonomah, clave the head with a hatchet." Winthrop who records the event understood, evidently, that the execution took place in this Mohegan claim between Hartford and Windsor, that is, the present East Hartford and East Windsor, and he probably derived his information from the Englishmen that were designated to witness the act. Miss Frances M. Caulkins, the historian of Norwich, thinks that tradition has become confused between the place of Miantonomah's capture on "Sachem's Plain" near the Shetucket, and the place of his execution, but that the contemporary account of Governor Winthrop must be reliable. The narrative of Winthrop is explicit in stating that Uncas led his captive to this district, and that he was executed suddenly on the way, probably as soon as they had passed the English boundary. Caulkins' History of Norwich, pages 34‑38; Winthrop's History of New England, Vol. II, page 134; Stiles' History of Windsor, Vol. I, page 118.
32 Roger Williams to General Court of Massachusetts. R. I. Hist. Soc. Coll., Vol. III, pages 156, 157.
33 Winthrop's Hist. of New England, Vol. II, page 133; Judge Savage note with reference to Governor Stephen Hopkins (1765), Second Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., Vol. IX, page 202.
34 Means would have been found for his preservation had he not encouraged the sale of Shawamut to Gorton and his heterodox associates. — Judge Savage (Winthrop's History).
All that he and old Canonicus had ever done for the English was made but as dust in the balance by his countenance of Gorton. Reichman's Rhode Island, Vol. I, page 191.
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