A Day of Mourning
Most school children
are taught that Native Americans helped the Pilgrims and were invited
to the first Thanksgiving feast. Young children's conceptions of Native
Americans often develop out of media portrayals and classroom role playing
of the events of the First Thanksgiving. The conception of Native Americans
gained from such early exposure is both inaccurate and potentially damaging
to others. Therefore, most children do not know the following facts, which
explain why many American Indians today call Thanksgiving a "Day of Mourning".
Wampanoag is the collective name of the indigenous people of southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. The name has been variously translated as "Eastern People", "People of the Dawn", or more currently "People of the First Light". (Note 1)
The pilgrims (who did not even call themselves pilgrims) did not come here seeking religious freedom; they already had that in Holland. They came here as part of a commercial venture. One of the very first things they did when they arrived on Cape Cod -- before they even made it to Plymouth -- was to rob Wampanoag graves at Corn Hill and steal as much of the Indians' winter provisions as they were able to carry. (Suppressed 1970 Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag.) To the native people who had observed these actions, it was a serious desecration and insult to their dead. The angry Wampanoags attacked with a small group, but were frightened off with gunfire. When the Pilgrims had settled in and were working in the fields, they saw a group of Native people approaching. Running away to get their guns, the Pilgrims left their tools behind and the Native people took them. Not long after, in February of 1621, Samoset, a leader of the Wabnaki peoples, walked into the village saying "Welcome," in English. Samoset was from Maine, where he had met English fishing boats and according to some accounts was taken prisoner to England, finally managing to return to the Plymouth area, six months before the Pilgrims arrived. Samoset told the Pilgrims about all the Native nations in the area and about the Wampanoag people and their leader. Massasoit. He also told of the experience of the Pawtuxet and Nauset people with Europeans. Samoset spoke about a friend of his called Tisquantum (Squanto), who also spoke English. Samoset left, promising the Pilgrims he would arrange for a return of their tools.
with 60 Native people including Massasoit and Tisquantum. Edward Winslow,
a Pilgrim, went to present them with gifts and to make a speech saying
that King James wished to make an alliance with Massasoit. (This was not
true.) Massasoit signed a treaty, which was heavily slanted in favor of
the Pilgrims. The treaty said that no Native person would harm a European
settler or, should they do so, they would be surrendered to them for punishment.
Wampanoags visiting the settlements were to go unarmed; the Wampanoags
and the non-Indians agreed to help one another in case of attack; and
Massasoit agreed to notify all the neighboring nations about the treaty.
Ironically, the first official "Day of Thanksgiving" was proclaimed in 1637 by Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop. He did so to celebrate the safe return of English colony men from Mystic, Connecticut. They massacred 600 Pequots that had laid down their weapons and accepted Christianity. They were rewarded with a vicious and cowardly slaughter by their new "brothers in Christ (Note 2)
Massasoit, who had done so much to help the Pilgrims, had a son named Metacomet. As time went on and more Europeans arrived and took more land, Metacomet or Prince Phillip as he came to known and other tribal people began to take notice of self-serving ethics of the Pilgrims. After Metacoms father, Massasoit, died in 1662, Metacom was crowned King Phillip of the Pokanoket by the Europeans. King Phillip formed an alliance to remove the European settlers from their homeland. In 1675, after a series of arrogant actions by the colonists, King Phillip led his Indian confederacy into a war meant to save the tribes from extinction. Metacom adopted a policy of increasing but subtle resistance towards the English. Rumors began to fly among the English that "Philip" agreed to help the English enemies the French in 1667. A band of armed Native men were discovered by colonial rangers in 1671, which led to a demand that the guns be surrendered. After further angry confrontations, Metacom was forced to sign a new treaty which unacceptably demanded he fully subject his people to the English government. The old decayed dream of the peaceful coexistence between two equal and sovereign peoples had ended with the rejection of the Treaty of 1621. Although nothing happened for four more years, war broke out in June, 1675. The winter of 1675-76 proved a harsh one for the People, who resorted to raiding English farming communities for food and supplies. Many of the Christian Native People, especially those of Natick, Ponkapoag, and Mattakeeset were forced into internment camps on Deer Island in Boston Harbor and Clark's Island in Plymouth Harbor, supposedly to prevent them from aiding and abetting the enemy. (Note 3)
The eventual use of Native soldiers proved to be the turning point for the English. Their Native allies showed them effective methods for locating enemies, traveling lightly through the country, and fighting in guerrilla fashion. Small parties of Native and English rangers, supporting the larger English armies, wore down Metacom’s allies’ resistance and also caused many bands to turn to the English side. One of the most famous of the mixed Native and English ranger companies was led by Captain Benjamin Church of Plymouth Colony. Benjamin Church, who was an effective soldier, knew that area well. He had been successful in convincing the Saconett Indians and others to leave the ranks of Philip's supporters and ally themselves to him. Aided by these Indian colleagues, Church began to hunt Philip down.
Bravely changing tactics, Philip returned to Mount Hope, where he would meet his fate. In July 1676 Church captured Philip's wife and son. Soon after, the despondent Philip shot one of his warriors. The man's brother would lead Church to the sachem, and on 12 August 1676 Church and his forces attacked Philip's encampment. Philip was shot and killed by an Indian named Alderman, and the corpse was drawn, quartered, and beheaded. Philip's head was placed upon a pole at Plymouth, where it served as a grisly reminder of the war. (Note 4)
The current Wampanoag have not forgotten. Their population consists of several groups, sometimes called "tribes", who base their membership upon closely maintained kinship ties to the aboriginal communities. Supposedly there are approximately 4,000 Wampanoag, some living in the traditional homeland, some living where their jobs and lifestyles have taken them. The two best known groups are those of Mashpee on Cape Cod and those of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Martha's Vineyard, which is the only Wampanoag group recognized by the federal government. Other Wampanoag trace their ancestries from Herring Pond (Bourne), Fresh Pond (Plymouth), Watuppa or Troy (Fall River), Pokanoket (Bristol and Warren, R.I.), Chappaquiddick Island, Christiantown or Takemmy (West Tisbury) and other places.
Text of Plaque
on Cole's Hill
Notes and Bibliography:
Smith's map and description of New England and his profits from cod fishing encouraged the Pilgrims to seek a charter from the Crown (The English Crown had no authority to grant legally.) to settle there. Indeed it was the cod that saved the first New Englanders. In 1640, only eleven years after Massachusetts Bay Company had been by the Puritans, it exported three hundred thousand cod to Europe. Cod was soon also being traded to the West Indies, in exchange for rum and molasses. In addition, plowing in the cod waste greatly increased the agricultural productivity of the stony New England soil. The cod proved a basis of prosperity for New England so considerable that Adam Smith singled it out for praise in his Wealth of Nations. To this day, a wooden sculpture of a cod adorns the Massachusetts Statehouse to remind the legislators of the source of their state's greatness.
In June, a colonist shot and mortally wounded a Pokanoket who had been seen running out of his house. A revenge raid followed in which several English were killed began the war. Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay and the Connecticut Colonies mustered their allied forces, and moved against Metacom. However, inept leadership allowed the Pokanoket to get away and raid many colonial towns. The Pokanoket, joined somewhat reluctantly by their Pocasset and Sakonnet relatives, retreated into the interior of Massachusetts where they were joined by some of the Nipmuck and others.
The war spread to the Connecticut valley and the Pokanoket went as far as the Hudson River to recruit allies amongst the Mahican, Abenaki, and others. The colonies, insisting that the Narragansett were acting in bad faith by harboring fugitives, prepared an army of 1,000 men to attack that neutral nation. In December 1675 the colonials attacked the unsuspecting Narragansett, burned their fort, and killed many of the inhabitants, thus driving the Narragansetts into the war on the side of Metacom.
Much confusion has
arisen over what name to use for Philip and the war. The sachem's earlier
name, Metacom, is preferred by some authors, but the sachem himself abandoned
it. Indians commonly renamed themselves, and in 1674 he was calling himself
Wewasowannett. Furthermore, the colonists were not ridiculing Philip when
they referred to him by a European royal title. John
Josselyn, who was sympathetic to the Indians, called the sachem "Prince
Phillip" in his An Account of Two Voyages to New-England (1674). In addition,
the term "King Philip's War" acknowledges Philip's great importance in
the history of colonial New England. Therefore both King Philip and King
Philip's War are acceptable usages.
Philip was illiterate,
so there are only a few letters. See Massachusetts Historical Society,
Collections, 1st ser., 2 (1793): 40, and 6 (1799): 94. Another letter
is in Great Britain, Public Record Office, Calendar of State Papers, Colonial
Series, America and the West Indies (1880), vol. for 1661-1668, p. 380.