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Friday, July 25, 2008

Summer explorations


Most people find summer a great time to read books, but I haven't. In the winter when we are trapped inside because of lousy weather, then I have time to read, but now...I'd rather bike around Block Island, Rhode Island.

One book I can't finish at this time is The Invasion of America by Francis Jennings. It interests me as he discusses the tribes that still live in my area, the Narragansetts, Niantics, Pequots and Mohegans. He described Block Island as a "mint" of wampum, the pre- and post-colonial currency of the area (p.93) An Englishman, Captain John Oldham, was murdered near Block Island and the native inhabitants were presumed guilty. A punitive party was sent to mete out "justice," but were unsuccessful.
The expedition turned into an expensive fiasco, however. On Block Island, English guns and armor easily overcame the Indians' brief resistance, but no amount of trudging about that isolated tiny tract of land would disclose the Indians after they had hidden themselves in its then dense forests. The conquerors looted empty villages, destroyed crops, and killed one or a few warriors who had been rash enough to chance arrows against bullets, but instead of a great haul of wampum and slaves they took away only a few utensils and woven mats. p.210

I did see a dense forest preserve on B.I. and took a picture of it. It's called Rodman's Hollow.
The methods of those English were not unusual for their world across the Atlantic but more violent than what the Indians were used to. Jennings writes
Armed conquest in New England was a special, though not unique, variant of seventeenth-century war, closely resembling the procedures followed b the English in Ireland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In these lands the English -Puritan and royalist alike- held the simple view that the natives were outside the law of moral obligation. On this assumption they fought by means that would have been thought dishonorable, even in that day, in was between civilized peoples. Four of their usages, transferred from Scotland and Ireland to America, profoundly affected the whole process of European-Indian acculturation: (1) a deliberate plicy of inciting competition between natives in order, by division, to maintain control; (2) a disregard for pledges and promises to natives, no matter how solemnly made; (3) the introduction of total exterminatory war against some communities of natices in order to terrorize others; and (4) a highly developed propaganda of falsification to justify all acts and policies of the conquerors whatsoever. The net effect of all these policies in Amerisa has been the myth of the Indian Menace - the depiction of the Indian as a ferocious wild creature, possessed of an alternately demonic and bestial nature, that had to be exterminated to make humanity safe. No Indian people has sufferd more from this myth, either in its own time or in the historical records, than the Pequots. (p. 212-213)
The Pequots now run Foxwoods casino and resort. I blogged about the massacre they suffered earlier here. That was a quote from a book report I did on Blood and Soil by Ben Kiernan which also had more information on 17th century British warfare, see my quote of it here.

On my bike ride I stopped at the Indian cemetery. At least 150 people are buried here, most are marked with a simple upright fieldstone.
It's on a knoll that overlooks Fresh Pond the largest body of fresh water on the island. The sign says 1661/Here original settlers/Lived in caves and shelters/Site of first church 1772/../Nearby site of first/schoolhouse, windmill, pound/precious spring/ Indian burying hill. I guess the Indians buried there weren't "original settlers." They just lived and fished and minted wampum but either they weren't "original" although they were there for ages before the English or they weren't "settlers" like the ones who lived in caves as they lived in villages that the English tried to destroy. The Euro-centric sign was erected in 1942 when Indians were perceived more as caricatures than fellow humans with genuine history.
Surrounded by all this beauty I can sadly understand how so much tragedy can be wrought by men on weaker men in the quest for possession of something so valuable. We foul our own place and seek to take a new place regardless of the current inhabitants. It's the behavior of 5 year olds but with weapons of steel and black powder instead of open handed slaps and temper tantrums. If only the means of the 5 year old were retained with the motives...

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