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The Tribes and the States

W. J. Sidis




        22. The Pilgrims.  The first English invasion of the territory of the Penacook peoples took place independently of the English authorities, by refugees from English religious persecution. These were a sect of so-called Separatistspeople who were trying to separate themselves from the official Church of Englandand who spent some years in exile in the Netherlands, mostly in Leyden. As exiles they called themselves Pilgrims; and, whereas Holland was a good refuge for them for a while, religious tolerance was not so complete there that they were able to stay on indefinitely, and they looked for a refuge across the ocean, "in Virginia," as they called it.

        Their first landing in North America was on the tip of the cape inhabited by the Wampanoag nationor, as one of the exploring ship captains had already named it, Cape Cod. At this spot it was not actually attempted to settle, but the leaders of the expedition found themselves already faced with the problem of how to govern a community so far from any recognized authority, and, as a result, an agreement was drawn up there, on Wednesday, November 11, 1620, whereby all the passengers on the ship agreed to abide by whatever government should be established among them as soon as they could settle down. This "Mayflower Compact," as it is commonly called, is generally given as one of the original instances of a democratic written constitution; but it was actually hardly more than a recorded oath of allegiance to the future rulers of the colony. It is likely that the Pilgrims expected that they would somehow find one of their number to qualify as king, and obey him. But, as events turned out, such was not to be the case. The Penacook peoples were the actual rulers of the country which the Pilgrims were so unceremoniously invading, and they were to have something to do with the final form of organization.

        The Pilgrims cruised around considerably, looking for a spot in which to settle, but it was well into December before they found one. The map that the Pilgrims had of this coast had been prepared by the "Plymouth Company," an English company which took over part of the "New England Company's" charter to this coast, and which had printed a map of the Penacook coast in a style similar to the modern "sucker" real-estate literature, showing a town every few miles along the coast, all named after English communities. The locality the Pilgrims finally selected for a permanent settlement was the spot marked on the map "Plymouth"; so that was the name of the settlement. None of the other towns on the map ever materialized.

        Plymouth was a harbor which could only be reached by rounding several headlands guarded by the Wampanoag nation, and it seems to be a safe conclusion that, had the Wampanoag nation been unwilling to admit the immigrants, they could have prevented a landing at that point, and could also have cut off communication with the outside. The fact that no such thing resulted is evidence that the Wampanoags were friendly to the new arrivals from the start, though the Pilgrims at first came more as invaders than as immigrants.

        23. Samoset's Welcome.  The winter of 1620 was a hard one on the red and white people in the land of Penacook. The winter proved to be much more severe than those to which the Pilgrims were accustomed; for New England winters are much colder than those of either England or Holland. The result was that, between the cold and the lack of proper provisions, only half the population of the Pilgrim colony survived to the spring of 1621. It was probably, however, starvation more than actual cold that accounts for most of this mortality.

        But, if the winter was hard on the invading Pilgrim colony, it was doubly hard on the red men who were unfortunate enough to live in the part of the continent near them. We have already seen that the white race has always been full of various infections affecting the whites comparatively little, but highly destructive to their neighbors of other races. These infections were liable everywhere to spread automatically ahead of the white people wherever they settled, and clear the way for white territorial expansion. At least, so it proved in the case of the landing of the Pilgrims in America. During the Pilgrim's first winter in America, the red people came no nearer the Pilgrims' palisades than within sight; and yet, within less than two months, a virulent epidemic of measles swept the land from the ocean westward to the Quinnitucket River, and northward to the Saco River. Every village of the red men in that whole region was full of its sick, dying, and dead. And, though measles is of no great importance among the whites, the reds had no such immunity to it; and, before the spring was well advanced, the red population of the region was reduced to less than a quarter of what it had been in the fall. Over 200,000 red men inhabited that region when the Pilgrims came; less than 50,000 remained after the scourge had passed over them to spread to new sections of the country.

        In spite of this, the Wampanoags showed an attitude of conciliation, and even friendliness, toward the new arrivals in their country. Samoset, a Wampanoag sachem, was delegated to offer the newcomers all possible assistance. Since he had already been in Virginia on courier service, he could speak the language of the "owanux" (whites); and, of course, that was his special qualification for this errand.

        Accordingly, he came to the palisades that had been built as a defense all around the village of Plymouth (the whites being, of course, used to walled cities from their own country), and called out in English: "Welcome, Englishmen!" It was enough of a surprise to hear a red man talking English; but the Pilgrims had hardly had a chance to recover from this surprise when Samoset explained that he was on a friendly mission; so he met the Pilgrim leaders, and was able to offer them the aid of the Wampanoag tribe. Samoset, and the tribesmen he brought in later to help him, under Sagamore Massasoit's directions, supplied the Pilgrims with food and seed, and instructed them not only in American agriculture, but also in other matters related to their adaptation to the new environment.

        Among the subjects of instruction given by the red men to the whites that spring was what might be called civics. The Pilgrims, before making the final landing, had agreed to abide by whatever government should be set up in their new settlement; but all they had done in that direction so far was to choose a ruler, whom they expected, in accordance with their European habits of thought, to be the monarch of Plymouth. The first leader they picked out, William Bradford, died during the hard winter; in the spring, his successor, John Carver, was in charge of the little village. And, as in Europe, none of them, including Carver, had ever participated in government in any way, they were at a loss for organizing a government in Plymouth. So the church had to handle the government of the colony for the time being, since it was the only organization at hand, and the church, together with Carver, had to handle the task the best it could. It was under these conditions that the Wampanoags gave the Pilgrims their instruction as to how to form an administration ruled by the people; and, under the circumstances, the instructions were planted in fertile soil. The Pilgrim church continued to rule the colony, since governing organizations, once in control, never voluntarily give it up; but it was reorganized and democratized under Wampanoag influence. This attempted democratic theocracyan obvious contradictionwas the beginning of the internal conflict of external democratic forms, and New England's militant spirit of fighting for freedom, on the one hand; and a ruling class masked behind the democratic forms, on the other hand.

        From the economic angle, the confusion among the Pilgrims was still worse. Money and property were ideas that they brought over with them from Europe, and that could not very well be changed in them merely by a trip across the ocean; but, in Wampanpoag country, where no such institutions existed, it might be difficult to introduce them unaltered. Already, during the winter, there had been difficulty with introducing individual property with regard to the land in the village, and, there being no native property institutions to base on, it was found necessary for the Pilgrims to draw lots for house locations. (It is from this circumstance that ever since then, the standard American term for a piece of land for a house has been "lot.") And the organization of work in Europe by a complex chain of hereditary personal allegiances, the only actual model the Pilgrims had to follow was made almost impossible on the new foundations on which the reds were building the society of the new immigrants; neither was it possible to build according to the red people's non-property form of organization. Accordingly, the result was a compromise, something resembling neither red nor white, in which the old system of fixed personal allegiances was replaced by a more voluntary system of employment relationship; on this basis was built up a totally new type of economic system that resembled neither the communal organization of the red peoples, nor the feudal system of Europe, but which was a sort of hybrid of the two. This system, which was to spread from Plymouth all over the world, is what has been called the capitalist system.

        24. The Iroquois Attack.  As we have seen, Mohawk raids on this part of the country had been formerly frequent, and this led to a permanent state of war between the Mohawks and the tribes east of the Quinnitucket River. Red tribes were generally unable, in North America, to carry on a steady warfare, so that regular communication was going on and hostilities were few and far between, but no peace treaty had ever actually been made. With the formation of the Iroquois Federation, the war against the nations of the Penacook country became a legacy of the Federation, and it was now five nations allied against these peoples instead of the Mohawk nation alone. The Iroquois having disposed of their immediate neighbors to the south and west, began to turn their attention to the enemy on the eastern frontier; of course they attempted to settle matters, if possible, by their regular policy of subduing and disarming the peoples in question.

        The great epidemic of the early months of 1621 seemed to the Iroquois to offer the best opportunity for such an expedition that they had had in the whole century of the Federation's existence. So, in the spring of 1621, an Iroquois army took the war-path eastward, and annexed whatever came in their way as far east as the Quinnitucket River. The wide river, with its rapids, presented an obstacle to the army; not an impassable barrier, but fighting in the open was never a strong point with the red men, and crossing the wide river under cover was difficult. So the Iroquois armies gathered on the west bank of the river, ready for the first opportunity to attack.

        The Nipmuck nation, on the opposite side of the river, had meanwhile received warnings of the impending Mohawk raid, and that a larger army than ever before was coming. As on previous raids, warning was sent to the surrounding nations, calling for help. And more tribes than ever before sent armies in to Nonotuck to repulse the threatened invasion. As usual on such occasions,  the sachems of the various nations convened on the spot, to discuss general tactics, and to offer their services for peace-making if possible.

        25. Passaconaway.  Among the councillors assembled at Nonotuck, across the river from the enemy camp, was the Bashaba of the Penacook nation, a man named Passaconaway (The Great Bear), who had his own plan of action, which he worked out together with his son, Chocorua, who was the general for that tribe.

        Just as with the Iroquois a century before, the two men, Hiawatha and Daganoweda, had noticed the repeated peace conferences making peace, followed by war after their dissolution; so the father and son, Passaconaway and Chocorua, noticed that the convoking of the tribes repeatedly repulsed an enemy, who would return after the tribes went home. And, in both cases, the conclusion was to make the assembly a permanent organization as the only final remedy.

        The organizers of the federation were in this case warlike rather than peacelike in their mode of approach, as was to be expected in the difference in the circumstances of origin of the two federations. Daganoweda was an erratic dreamer, unable to express himself properly, and Hiawatha was an orator, also peacefully inclined; in remarkable contrast to them stand the gigantic and powerfully-built Passaconaway, spurring the tribes on to fight an invading enemy, and his son Chocorua, the fighting general who organized the federal army for the same purpose.

        Thus Passaconaway, by proposing federation in imitation of the enemy organization, at a juncture where anything that looked like a way out might have been accepted, contrived to turn the weakness of the tribes into strength, and repulse the enemy. The spread of the Iroquois empire was halted at the Quinnitucket River.

        26. The Penacook Federation.  This federation was really an outgrowth of the temporary alliances that had previously existed among the tribes of that region. The plan of federation itself was really not new in this case, since it was borrowed from the enemy, the Iroquois. The founder, Passaconaway, was not of the dreamer type like Daganoweda, and therefore could not originate radically new ideas; but he could adapt the ideas, once presented, to their new environment, which was that of a group of nations among whom the tradition of hereditary chieftanship was absent, and who had a much stronger spirit of independence and personal rights and liberty.

        In the first place, a looser federation was necessary to meet the spirit of freedom present in the tribes Passaconaway was organizing together. The federation was built on the plan of an organization protecting the tribes rather than ruling over them. For instance, among the Iroquois the federation dealt directly with outside nations; in the Penacook Federation, the federal council decided on the policy to be followed, and the tribes thermselves did the negotiations; a fact which has caused historians to doubt or deny the existence of a federation, though it showed its presence often enough.

        As a more important point of difference, while the Iroquois federal council was a joint meeting of the councils of the constituent tribes, the Penacook federal council was an independent body composed of representatives selected by the members of the tribes, both men and women voting, and both men and women being eligible to the council, without regard to hereditythe first time such a form of federal organization had ever been attempted anywhere in the world. Not only the main constituent tribes were represented, but, in many cases, their various branches had special representation of their own, so that they could all be heard in council. As a truly democratic federation, it was not merely a new departure, but it stands alone in the history of the world.

        The situation contrasted remarkably with that of the Iroquois at the time of their federation. With the Iroquois, it was a question of making a permanent peace between enemies; at Nonotuck, it was rather a question of solidifying an already existing alliance. At Lake Onondaga, the idea was totally new, unknown, and bizarre; at Nonotuck it was already known for over a century, and it was only needed to adapt it to a new group of nations with more democratic institutions. The Iroquois federation was mainly intended for peace; that of the eastern country was intended, in the first place, for war. It was therefore to be expected that a different type of leadership would arise as proponents of federation under the new circumstances.

        Such was the case. The federal proponent arising under these conditions must necessarily be a warlike person, a strong leader of men; and such was Passaconaway, and such was Chocorua, contrasting strongly with the dreamer Daganoweda and the fluent orator Hiawatha.

        These men, then, proposed a plan of federation to the assembled tribes. It was essentially based on that of their enemies the Iroquois, with adaptations. For instance, the tradition of heredity in office had no place east of the Quinnitucket. The spirit of independence of the tribes made a looser federation necessary, one in which the separate tribes had more leeway and the federation less central power. And Passaconaway, the leader, had to allow for giving himself less power as Bashaba of the combination, and counted more on his ability as a leader to hold control.

        The acceptance of Passaconaway's plan marked the formation of the first truly democratic federation known to the world. Nominally similar to its neighbor federation the Hodenosaunee, it showed points of difference which, minute as they might seem, were of great importance.

        The federation itself was entitled the Penacook Federation, adopting the name of the tribe which was first on their rolls, the tribe from which Passaconaway and Chocorua, the proponents of the federation plan, came. It is supposed that this name was originally Quonecog, the Pine Tree People, so that, just as the Iroquois federation was the Hodenosaunee, The Long House People, and used the Long House as its emblem, so the emblem of the Penacook Federation was the Pine Tree, the totem which was sacred to the Penacook people, and which represented and symbolized the federation. This emblem, in later American history, reappears repeatedly in the Penacook country as denoting liberty.

        The federal council consisted of representatives of the people of the individual tribes and their various subdivisions, both men and women being qualified to vote, and both being eligible to all offices, though traditional preference for council positions seems to have been for those men who had previously been on courier routes, and who presumably thus obtained experience in contact with different people in different towns and nations.

        As its organization was an alliance in origin, and in view of the greater spirit of independence in the Penacook nations, the federation was less controlled than the Iroquois. Treaties with outside nations were made by separate tribes in their own name, but only after consulting the federation. This fact made many of the English doubt that a federation existed, though those who supposed they were dealing with independent tribes were sometimes puzzled by receiving a delegation from the north, from a chief whose name they could not pronounce, and whom they therefore called Conway.

        Besides the alliance function, the federation also adjusted intertribal rights, especially to important communal activities which gave livelihood to a great extent to most of the Penacook peoples. This applied especially to the use of the Penacook fishing weirsdams built in rivers by tribes to facilitate the catching of fish. These weirs were frequently built with the co-operation of other tribes, and, in such cases, fishing rights had to be arranged between the tribes, and these had formerly been a frequent cause of wars between the tribes. The federation undertook supervision of these fishing weirs and made regulations governing the rights of the tribes to use them; the federation also took over the building of new weirs. Individual tribes were given rights in weirs on their own territory, and in weirs elsewhere that they had helped to build. Incidentally, the federal weirs in the great rivers of the land of the Penacook became, a century and a half later, the source of water power for the operation of factories which were, on that account, established mainly in New England, and thus these weirs determined the location of the important manufacturing towns of that region. Such cities as Lawrence, Lowell, Pawtucket, Nashua, Laconia, Dover, Biddeford, Holyoke, Fall River, and many others, owe their location to this circumstance.

        Another important federal function was the storage of surplus corn, which was, under the Penacook Federation, all gathered at the town of Amoskeag (now Manchester, N.H.); there it was all dried by the sun for preservation, then taken in bundles into a cave behind the waterfall in the Merrimac River at that point. From there it was brought out as needed whenever a shortage of food was reported from any portion of the Federation.

        The establishment of courier routes was also a federal functionagain a case of securing co-operation of member tribes in constructive communal activities. In this case, a system of routes was established which is substantially the basis of the modern city and state highway systems in New England, together with a postal system on which the Penacook's enemies, the English, depended for a long time, only gradually replacing it by their own postal service along the same roads laid out by the Penacook nations. This service was built around a trunk line from Mishawaum (now Charlestown, Mass.) to Iroquois territory, connecting with the similar service operated by the Iroquois Federation, and similarly neutral in war times.

        Although the Iroquois constitution was largely followed in the formation of this federation, the absence of any hereditary tradition in filling the councils in the Penacook Federation meant the final actual combination of the democratic and federal principlesa thing the Iroquois had failed to do. The fact that the tribal and federal organizations, thus organized on a thoroughly democratic basis, controlled not merely a bit of governmental machinery, but also directly the communal activities on which the tribes lived, no individual property being known, made this federation more truly democratic in operation than any other federal organization ever formed; in fact, it may even be said to have been the only actual popularly controlled federal community in the world.

        Besides the full federal council, there were also frequent meetings of sections of the federation, where matters of a sectional nature could be discussed. Penacook, the federal capitol, also was used as a natural gathering point for the northern division of the federation; the southern division had its meetings at Pawcatuck (at the mouth of the river of that name, which is now the boundary between Connecticut and Rhode Island) while the eastern district had a natural center of meeting and of population at the head of the same bay where, over six hundred years before, a Norse expedition from Greenland had landed to invade the Penacook country. This bay was then, and still is, the great center of population for the land of Penacook, where numerous rivers and peninsulas, inhabited by different tribes of the Federation, all came together; where courier routes and canoe routes converged and met the lines of shore communication; where the terminus of the trunk line of the Penacook postal system was located. There was practically the capitol of the Penacook Federation, on the peninsula of Shawmut, a town which was already old when the Norse expedition landed near there (but had to avoid the town) in the year 1000. This place still is the center of population of that same country, and is now known as Boston.

        27. Federability in the Penacook Federation.  The question of federability, of admissibility of tribes into the federation, proved to be a more important one with the Penacook Federation than with the Iroquois. In the Iroquois case, only five member nations had originally been contemplated by the planners, and a federability test was provided in the constitution mainly by implication, and mostly for future reference. This test was community of origin and of language. With the Penacook peoples, such a test would have entitled half the continent to join. But, as it was, the federation of the Penacook peoples was hastily formed under an emergency situation, and more tribes were present than it was considered feasible to include. So the question of where to draw the line at once became important. Many tribes, far to the northeast, who had concluded an alliance with the French, had rallied to the repulse of the Iroquois (the French had become involved in fights with the Iroquois already over the Island of Hochlega or Montreal and its neighborhood), and, if these tribes were allowed to join the new federation, it might commit the Penacook Federation to an alliance with the French, or even to French allegiance. Also, some of the eastern divisions of the Mohicans, from the west shore of the Quinnitucket River, were helping repulse the enemy, and therefore represented in the joint council at Nonotuck, but among them the chieftans had much more power than with the Penacook tribes, and the adaptations required in admitting them into the federation might have interfered seriously with the spirit of individual independence in the Penacook peoples.

        So the standard for admission into the federation was the similarity of social and national institutions. This left out the Mohicans as too autocratic, and the Wabanakes as French allies already permeated with Catholicism; but the extreme southern branch of the Wabanakes, who had not come under direct French influence, were admitted as the Abenake (Wabanake) nation of the federation, thus extending the federation northeastward to the Saco River. The rest of the Wabanake peoples formed a federation of their own, a sort of twin to the Penacook Federation, which used the Penacook model to some extent, and always kept up friendly relations with the Penacook federation, but recognizing the French alliance, and being claimed by the French under their paper "province of Maine."

        The federation thus comprised a number of tribes from the Quinnitucket (Connecticut) River to the Saco River, and from the Agiochook (White) mountains south. West of the Quinnitucket, only the Winooski nation joined, as those directly across the river from Nonotuck council were in enemy territory, and the Mohicans farther south were, as we have seen, inadmissable.

        The Penacook Federation represented a rallying and an inspiring of weakness rather than actual strength. It was formed directly in front of an invading army, and immediately following a depletion of population such as the Penacook peoples had never known. And also, the federation was now being threatened by an invasion from over the ocean, from invaders who were dangerous not merely on account of their numbers and superior arms, but still more on account of the host of fatal diseases they brought to America with them. Thus the Penacook Federation was never at any time an actually strong organization, but it was a remarkable rallying of strength by a rapidly weakening people; and it is particularly notable for creating a spirit which, in the Federation's homeland, outlasted its original peoples, a spirit which as succeeded considerably in promoting and extending the freedom of peoples all over the world.


"The Penacooks came foremost, through danger still serene,
From where the lofty mountains of Agiochook are seen.
Their tribal council chieftan for Freedom led the way,
New England's high Bashaba, great Passaconaway.

"And next the Narragansetts, from round Red Island's shore,
Where Freedom's hope was destined to live forevermore.
Abenakis came also, from that far eastern strand,
Many a cove indented, with woods throughout their land.

"And then the Piscataquas from swift Cocheco came
To Quinnitucket's waters, their freedom to reclaim.
From up the Quinnitucket, from lofty hills of green,
The red men of Winooski in council too were seen.

"The Pequots, Freedom's fighters, joined in this council too,
From where the Quinnitucket meets ocean's vasty blue.
And red men of Misadchu in council sat that day
From where, by Shawmut's valley, great hills o'erlook a bay.

"The Saugus came to council, from ocean's roar and foam;
The Naticks came to join them, defending Freedom's home;
The Wampanoags attended, from out their cape of sand;
And Nipmucks, too, were present, from Quinnitucket's strand.

"And Freedom's greatest guardians, by foes of Freedom shunned,
Came from betwixt the ocean and Lake Quinsigamond,
The tribe on whom the mantle of Freedom's spirit falls,
The Okamakammessets, the prompt when duty calls."

        28. Defeat of the Iroquois.  This federation, created out of the very weakness of the Penacook peoples, set a final halt to the expansion of the Iroquois Federation eastward. The Quinnitucket was again a bulwark of liberty, as the newly formed federal army, led by Chocorua, defeated the invaders, drove them across the river, and made them retreat homeward. But the federation was already beset from the opposite side by a new danger, a white peril. Already the Wampanoags were giving the Pilgrims in Plymouth lessons in how to get along in their new country; and the Pilgrims were merely the vanguard of a greater invasion. The Penacook Federation was created out of weakness, and was never strong, except in principles; but those principles survived and inhabited the land long after the time of the Penacooks.


"The great Hodenosaunee still more their efforts bent,
The great Hodenosaunee back to Shatemuck went.
When first a federal union, by Freedom's peoples planned,
Along the Quinnitucket, for Freedom took its stand.

"But now New England's red men had new and dangerous foes,
As whites from o'er the ocean in mighty power arose.
From ocean's side was threatened the red men's liberty,
So Quinnitucket's waters could no protection be.


[Complete poem can be found in America's Search for Liberty in Song & Poem]


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