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The Tribes and the States

W. J. Sidis




        56. Bashaba Metacom.  It was about 1666 that Passaconaway, the Bashaba of the Penacook Federation, was overtaken on the slope of Mount Agamenticus (in the Abenaki country, near York) by one of the severe thunderstorms that are common in those regions, and was struck by lightning. This gave rise to the legend that he was taken to heaven in an outburst of fire, and that he was still living where he could watch over his people and his country and return some day when he was needed.

        It had been mainly Passaconaway’s influence that was keeping the peace in Penacook country between red and white. The tribes had often been tempted to strike back, but Passaconaway had always succeeded in turning the tide in favor of peace. And, once Passaconaway was gone, it was a certain conclusion that the rebellious and freedom-loving nature of the various Penacook nations would come to the foreground.

        And, as Metacom, the Bashaba of the Wampanoags, was the chief spokesman of the policy of rebellion, he was the logical successor to Passaconaway as head of the Federation, though Wonalancet, Passaconaway’s son, had taken his place as head of the Penacook nation proper. And thus, the Penacook Federation elected a new Bashaba, Metacom, who was rebel to the core, and who would merely bide his time for a favorable chance to strike for freedom.

        This new Bashaba used an English name, Philip, for dealing with the English settlers, who were still hazy about democratic offices in a government like the Penacook Federation, and considered "Philip" as King of the Indians. Accordingly, the Bashaba Metacom has generally become known as "King Philip." 

        57. Plymouth Resents Metacom.  The Plymouth Colony had been neutral and even friendly toward the Penacook tribes under Passaconaway’s administration. But now they were faced with a Penacook administration which was less complacent towards encroachments. Metacom was making constant protests at the way the whites were claiming increasing areas of land as individual property and forcing the red peoples out of their own country where they had been hospitable enough to admit the whites and permit them to stay.

        The Plymouth authorities began to harass and bait Metacom personally. He was repeatedly summoned to answer absurd charges in Taunton, and several times came with a large guard to deny Plymouth’s jurisdiction over him. As examples of the type of charges made against him was an alleged rebellion (consisting of the maintenance of an army by the red people); while their usual intertribal visits were called "harboring vagrants;" and the Penacook Federation itself was labelled a "conspiracy." There were also numerous petty persecutions against individual Reds in most of the New England colonies.

        The situation made it particularly difficult to maintain peace between the new Bashaba, bent on independence, and the Plymouth Colony, equally determined on subjugation of the reds. But an open break was a long time in coming, and Metacom improved the interval with making diplomatic arrangements, trying to keep the Puritan colonies from interfering, and trying to retain the friendship of the Dutch, French, and Iroquois. And, though the Dutch were eliminated as a factor by the English capture of Nieuw Amsterdam, the efforts at diplomacy were continued. Some members of the Federal Council such as Canonchet, a delegate from the Narragansetts, were in favor of trying to involve the white nations in a fight among themselves so the Penacook peoples could get rid of them all; but Metacom felt that this would leave the Penacook federation between the lines, exposed to fire from all sides.

        At the Federal capital, Penacook, the new Bashaba met Passaconaway's daughter, Weetamoo, who had married Winnepurkit, a sachem of the Saugus, in the fall of 1662, and divorced him the following summer, and then married and divorced again several times since. Weetamoo had the old indomitable spirit of her father, as well as his love of freedom, and she found such a rebel spirit as Metacom much better suited to her than her previous husbands, such as the supercilious Winnepurkit. As Metacom's wife, Weetamoo proved a great aid to him in maintaining the cause of freedom for the red peoples. A legend represents her, not as divorcing her first husband, but drowned in a Merrimac flood trying to rejoin him; but she certainly survived this period, and died much later―in another river, it is true―but under circumstances speaking much better for her fighting spirit of independence.

        58. Reconquest of Paumonok.  In 1674 a Dutch fleet appeared before New York, bringing about a situation in the town similar to that ten years before, when a British fleet appeared in the harbor. Then the dissatisfaction with Stuyvesant, from his disbanding a representative assembly suggested by some visiting Yankees from New England, had caused the people of Manhattan Island to welcome the invading British; for the same reason, after the Duke of York had turned a deaf ear to all petitions for a popular assembly, the Dutch fleet was welcomed back by the inhabitants of New York. In New England, the people had learned to act for themselves, not to wait for "duly constituted authorities" to take action for them; but New York had no experience with either popular government or the Penacook federation; so, as usual, they did nothing, but merely welcomed anything from above that looked like change. Likewise the entire Hudson Valley surrendered, in so far as it was occupied by English and Dutch settlements.

        But England regained this territory in a few months, and the Duke of York was once more in control. This time he found it expedient to grant a popular assembly; though without giving it any power, but rather as a sort of debating society, the real power being in Duke James' hands, the assembly's discussions and resolutions being mainly ignored. Even this assembly was against the advice of James' new governor, Sir Edmond Andros, a swaggering military officer impressed with a sense of his own power, of whom we shall hear more later. This assembly was not actually a legislative body, but was regarded merely as a safeguard against the frequent change of sovereignties. It is characteristic of the difference between New York and New England that this term "assembly," which in New England denotes generally a meeting of citizens, means in New York a discussion group of professional politicians.

        As a further safeguard against Holland's claim to the Hudson Valley, England made a treaty with Holland exchanging the territory, so that Holland gave up its claims to North American territory, and acquired in exchange a tract of South American jungle in the region known as Guiana.

        59. Effect on the Penacook Federation.  The recapture of Paumonok by the Dutch, temporary as it was, had a considerable effect in reducing England’s prestige in America.

        The Penacook Federation in particular recovered hope. The diplomatic faction, which had been trying to play off Dutch against English, got more assurance, and the spirit of independence in the Federation increased; while the more militant parties felt more confidence. Even the English remaining in New York did not halt this new access of confidence, and the English could no longer be regarded as invulnerable.

        But the New England colonies continued their persecution of the Penacook Federation. Efforts were made to stop the Penacook postal service on Sundays; but this merely encouraged the sentiment in the tribes for a religious war against the whites. Again, one of the Apostle Eliot’s coverts was arrested by the Natick nation as a spy, and executed after his case had been appealed to the Federal Council; but the Massachusetts Bay Colony authorities preferred to treat this execution as a murder, and executed three perfectly innocent tribesmen, on the alleged evidence that the dead man’s wounds had opened when the accused were brought near.

        But still it was rather with the Pilgrims that trouble was expected, for they were trying in every possible way to reduce the Wampanoags and the Bashaba, and, through him, the Penacook Federation into helpless subjection. The Pilgrims, too, made diplomatic efforts to align Puritans, Iroquois, Mohicans, French, and even the English authorities in New York with a view to the coming struggle. England itself, however, was not merely totally indifferent, but there were indications that the restored monarchy would have preferred to see the New England colonies lose some of their power, especially in the case of Plymouth, whose government England had never officially recognized. And the Iroquois claimed their alliance to be with England directly, and would not join in such a fight unless England declared herself; they intended merely to keep the neutrality of tribes west of the Quinnitucket, which were to some extent under Iroquois dominion. But some of these tribes were presumed to be friendly to the Penacook cause, and the Penacook Federation expected some aid also from the Wabanake Federation, which was originally a split-off from the Penacook, and closely related to it.

        It was still uncertain what Rhode Island and the Puritans would do, and desperate efforts were made to keep these colonies from interfering in a war against Plymouth. In the spring of 1676, after the Plymouth colony had made demands for total disarmament of the Wampanoags, the Federal Council decided that, in the event of war, only the Wampanoag nation would war on Plymouth; but, if the rest of the New England Confederation should join in the war, the Penacook Federation would do likewise.

         60. War Against Plymouth.  The Bashaba Metacom took a truly rebel attitude on all these attempts to subjugate his people. He waited until everything was thoroughly ready, but would not hesitate to strike when the occasion demanded. Many tribesmen were ready to fight, and in many cases for other reasons than Metacom’s. For instance, Ninigret was opposed to Christianity (or at least the Pilgrim and Puritan brands of it), and wished to make it a religious war. But it was realized that there was some diplomatic importance in having good grounds for fighting when war should start.

         When the Plymouth Colony issued a final ultimatum to the Wampanoags to turn over all their arms at Taunton, the Wampanoag nation realised that it was meant as the final step to complete their subjugation, and that it would mean the destruction of all the liberties that their tribes had enjoyed under the Penacook Federation. And so the tribal council met on the evening of Monday, June 17, 1675, and declared war against the Plymouth Colony.

         This declaration of war has been represented, as have other wars of Reds against Whites, as an unreasoning and unprovoked outburst of savage fury. But it is noticeable that the same historians speak of patriotic acts instead of "outbursts of savage fury" in describing the uprising which took place under fairly similar circumstances exactly a century later by the inhabitants of Okamakammesset Land against the authorities of Massachusetts Bay. Curiously enough, the anniversary of the declaration of Metacom’s War has become a patriotic holiday in Boston under the Second Republic, since the hundredth anniversary of this declaration was celebrated by the rebels of 1775 by an attack on the hill of Mishawum which inflicted severe losses on the army of the Massachusetts Bay authorities. So, according to the ordinary current story, the inhabitants of Okamakammesset Land were highly patriotic in revolting in 1775, but merely suffering from an outburst of savage fury in 1675.

         The day after war was declared, the Wampanoag army started out towards Taunton, and at the same time the New England Confederation decided to aid Plymouth, and a troop of militia set out from Boston on Friday, June 21. When the news reached Penacook, the Federation decided to aid the Wampanoags, and Red and White federations were at war.

         Many neighboring red tribes joined the Penacook peoples in this war. The tribes west of the Quinnitucket, though supposed to be disarmed and under Iroquois supervision, made use of this opportunity to overthrow Iroquois rule by joining in the war; and the Wabanake Federation helped out their neighbors the Penacooks, though only the southernmost ribe, the Sokokis, actually went to war under the leadership of their sagamore Nagmegan, who led many attacks on the towns of the Maine coast. The Iroquois stayed neutral, aside from occasional efforts to keep peace in their own dominions, and were apparently waiting for some act of intervention by their ally England; but England remained neutral and rebuked the New England Confederation for engaging in war without royal permission and without making reports to England on their activities. New York stayed out, but New Hampshire and Rhode Island joined on the side of the New England Confederation which excluded them from membership, though Roger Williams had been supposed to be a friend of the red men. The French in Canada were the most important source of supply of arms for the red men.

         During 1675, the Penacook armies, under the direction of Metacom’s brother Anawan, had the upper hand, and many white towns were destroyed. Many prisoners were taken, and all were kept carefully for exchange, and many exchanges were actually made, in so far as the English had any prisoners to exchange. As the main object of the war was to drive the invaders out, the Penacook armies in many cases preferred leaving the enemy a clear road to the ocean rather than capturing prisoners.

         The Penacook tribes made good use of the lessons learned from the Pequot War of 1637. For instance, the use of fire in warfare, unknown in America before the Pequot War, was used extensively in Metacom’s War. Scalping dead enemies, also learned in the Pequot War, again made its appearance on this occasion, but there was very little of it, as it lacked the incentive of the reward white men had offered for scalps in 1637. The Pequot War has also taught the red men to avoid imitating the English fortifications, which they had found to be so vulnerable to fire. But a woman sachem of the Narragansetts, considering that it might be possible to get the advantages of fortification without the disadvantages, searched among her people for someone who could build in stone, and then had a stone fort built; this fort ultimately succumbed to a long siege, but was never destroyed, and is still standing.

         61. Converts and Adoptees.  The so-called "praying Indians," the Christian converts made by Apostle Eliot, were much in the position of alien enemies in this war, distrusted by both sides, and largely playing the part of spies against their own people. They gave many warnings when the reds were ready to make attacks, but those warnings often went unheeded because the whites also distrusted them as spies.

         Though many of these traitor "converts" were located in red towns, and were able to operate from inside the Red army, the other side of the story is that, in many cases, these converts also acted as spies for their own people. In many instances, the "conversion" was superficially adopted for the sake of peace with the Puritans, and, when war started, they became the most enthusiastic supporters of the fight to drive the invaders back to where they came from. For instance, Apostle Eliot had regarded it as a great gain for his missionary work when, a few years before the war, the Okamakammessets permitted the Puritans to erect their own church in the capital city of the tribe; but, when war started, it proved to be good strategy when it immediately placed large numbers of prisoners of war in the hands of the Okamakammessets, who were thus enabled to destroy the town of Marlborough almost immediately.

         The majority of the "praying Indians" had been concentrated in a few communities forming a sort of buffer ring around Boston, where they were the butt of attacks from both sides of the war. Before long, all these settlements were destroyed, mostly by the red people who justly regarded them as nests of traitors and spies.

         Another group of people who found themselves in the position of alien enemies were the whites who had been adopted into various tribes, and thus become citizens of the Penacook Federation. In Middlesex in particular, the Okamakammessets had been able, by their pretended conversion, to gain some confidence among the Puritans, and then make adoptions, inoculating their adoptees with a smattering of tribal principles. May of these adoptees, though forced to go to war against their adopted tribes, were able to sow the seeds of rebel feeling in the white communities, a result which had its lasting effect in New England, and particularly in Middlesex, the original home of the Okamakammessets.

        62. The Defeat of the Tribes.  During the winter, hostilities were almost at a standstill, and gave both sides time to reorganize. The people of the white Quinnitucket settlements of Massachusetts―Springfield, Holyoke, and the remains of destroyed Northampton―decided to adopt Penacook military tactics by sending out a surprise expedition to attack the Red towns from the rear. The Okamakammessets (the "Marlborough Indians," as the Puritans called them) were now the most hated and feared of all the tribes of Penacook, and the expedition form the Quinnitucket proceeded directly towards their capital, burning and destroying all Nipmuck towns on their way. The expedition then established a military post on the Okamakammesset border, where they had just wiped out the Nipmuck town of Quinsigamond, where a previous attempt at white settlement had failed; this post later grew into the town of Worcester. Many Okamakammesset towns, including their capital, were destroyed, with considerable massacre similar to that of the Pequots in 1637. Most of the survivors fled northward to the Penacook nation.

        This was the first white victory in the Metacom War, and the tide was turned; but attacks on the white towns were still very frequent. A system of beacon signals was devised to give warning and call for aid, beacon-piles being kept ready on hilltops near every New England town, the central signalling-point of the system being in Boston, on the top of the hill overlooking the Common. It is from this circumstance that the hill acquired the name of Beacon Hill, and the road leading to the top was called Beacon Street. The system of beacon-signals, however, was not able to prevent the destruction of over a third of the white towns in New England during the war.

        By the summer of 1676, there were left only a few scattered remnants of most of the southern tribes of the Penacook Federation, and most of the survivors had fled either north to Penacooks and Abenakis, or westward to Iroquois dominions. Refugees were adopted in large numbers by the Iroquois at that time. The refugees were closely pursued both northward and westward. Towards the north, the Puritan armies came close to the Penacook federal capital, where the tribes called out their reserves and prevented the capture of the town of Penacook. Wonalancet, a son of Passaconaway, was killed leading these reserves in defense of his home town. The pursuit westward practically cleared a wide path from the Quinnitucket west almost to the Hudson Valley, reducing that entire strip of territory to desolation, though there were still a few red towns left there. By this time, the whites quit exchanging prisoners, but began selling prisoners into slavery in Bermuda and the Antilles.

        The Narragansetts, with the support of their stone fort, and a few sections of the Wampanoags, still held out. But Pokenocket was attacked, and Metacom and his followers were driven out, Metacom’s eight-year-old son being captured and sold into slavery. This was such a serious blow to Metacom that he became totally useless as a leader; but his wife, Weetamoo, who had already lost her brother Wonalancet in the fights far to the north, became so thoroughly enraged that she herself recruited and led an army against Taunton. When the army was attacked and pursued across the Taunton River, the current proved too strong for Weetamoo, who was drowned, though most of the army got away safely. Her body was found next morning by some whites on the river bank, and they cut off her head and set it up on a pole in Taunton Green, where the citizens danced around the pole all day with wild yells.

        The Pokenocket peninsula was searched by beaters on the hunt for Metacom himself. A traitor among Metacom’s followers, hoping for a reward, shot the Bashaba, but the assassin, instead of getting a reward, was sold into slavery with the rest of the prisoners. This occurred in July, 1676; after this the war was little more than further pursuit of the scattered red forces. The Narragansett stone fort, however, still held out for a while, and finally succumbed to starvation, while the fort itself is still standing. The Penacook Federation made a peace of complete surrender in August, and the Wabanake Federation concluded peace in November.

        63. Rebellion in Virginia.  While these events were going on in the Penacook country, things were not quiet in the South. The southern tribes were encouraged by the Penacook example to raid the Virginia settlements in the early spring of 1676. In this region the rival of new "planters", each of whom had to be given vast tracts of land where he could rule over his colony of slaves and indentured servants; and it was also considered necessary to keep expanding westward to keep fugitive slaves and servants from settling west of the plantations.

        But, in Virginia, any attempt to organize armed forces without the direct supervision of the authorities at Jamestown was regarded as rebellion; and so it was treated when the border planters, themselves really invaders of Pottawotomie soil, organized a militia of their own to fight the tribes. And so the planters, led by one Nathaniel Bacon, marched off westward to fight the tribes, while behind them was another military force hunting the planters’ army as rebels.

        The fact that the governor had declared such a respectable group to be rebels attracted to the so-called rebel side numerous elements which had a quarrel with the ruling regime, even without interest or sympathy toward the planters’ expedition. The indentured servants, whom the Puritan prisoners had tried to organize into a rebellion thirteen years before, were beginning to show the rebellious spirit again. The tidewater landowners, who had been represented in a "House of Burgesses" which was advisory to the governor but hardly legislative in character, were dissatisfied with the governor continuing the House in session so long that they became tools of the governor rather than representatives of their constituencies. These landowners were also trying to head off the threatened uprising of indentured servants by taking control of the rebellion themselves to further their demands for a new House of Burgesses, and one with legislative power of its own. The governor had to submit to this demand of a new election, to avert any danger of an uprising of indentured servants. Bacon was elected as one of the new House of Burgesses, which immediately proceeded to pass resolutions undoing all Governor Berkeley’s official acts and grant Bacon a commission to fight the red men. The governor vetoed everything, and the antagonism rapidly grew. But the forces of indentured servants and other would-be rebels, although led by the spurious rebels in the House, acted as a standing threat to the governor, and the House of Burgesses―the self-appointed leaders betraying the real rebellion of the people―finally won official recognition when, on Saturday, July 4, 1676, Governor Berkeley signed an act of amnesty to all those whom he had designated as rebels.

        This was really not so much of a surrender as it seemed; but it was the first recognition of representative government in the South, although it represented mainly the plantation owners. But it was an occasion justly commemorated for another hundred years by the rebel elements in Virginia, who regularly celebrated the anniversary―July 4―as a day of remembrance of the rebellion. Just one hundred years later, this anniversary became merged in one of more importance to America as a whole; but, while America at present celebrates another occasion on its Fourth of July, the document now celebrated was really deliberately misdated July 4 so it would have in Virginia the prestige of the rebel’s Amnesty Day; so that it is the Virginia amnesty that is really even yet the cause of celebration of July 4 in America.

        Slight as this surrender was, however, Berkeley did not keep his word even as to this. No sooner had Bacon been despatched to fight red men than Berkeley again attempted to raise an army in pursuit of the "rebels." A number of Burgesses, led by Drummond, formerly governor of North Carolina, appealed against Berkeley to the king, and meanwhile raised an army for defense against the governor. Many dissenters, indentured servants, and others were only too glad to enlist, caring little for leadership or results as long as they could fight the administration, and not stopping to realize that they were really fighting for their natural enemies.

        Governor Berkeley, being, like most bullies, a coward, fled to the Accomac Peninsula (now called Del-Mar-Va), where Virginia had a charter claim to some land. Drummond interpreted Berkeley’s flight as a resignation, and organized a temporary colonial government at Williamsburg, close to Jamestown. Meanwhile, Berkeley had assembled a new army on the Accomac Peninsula, and retuned with it to fight the rebels, upon hearing that Drummond’s "appeal" to the king had failed. Bacon, who had just finished a campaign against the red people, turned to fight Berkeley, whose army was now thinned by desertions. The governor’s stronghold, Jamestown, was captured and burned, and it has been a ruin ever since, there having never been an attempt to rebuild that original Virginia settlement.

        But, just at this point, Bacon contracted a fatal fever. The rebellion, in spite of its large following, being a one-man organization, collapsed as soon as the one man was removed. Berkeley’s army was easily enabled to reorganize and defeat the rebels, and Berkeley regained control of Virginia. Drummond and many of the other rebels were tried by court-martial and executed in short order, and Berkeley personally took over their confiscated property for his own benefit. This last act of confiscation however, proved too much for even the English king, and Berkeley was recalled in disgrace. But even royal orders were not sufficient to make Berkeley give up control of Virginia till they were supplemented by some forcible persuasion. And when, at last, Berkeley took his capture from Virginia, the whole colony celebrated.


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