How White Man and Red Began a 275-year War

THE Spaniard conquered, converted, enslaved and married the Indian and was himself conquered and absorbed, until Indian blood largely rules again the lands that were subjected by Pizzaro and Cortez. The Frenchman did not conquer, but converted the Canadian Indian, traded and fraternized with him and made him his ally in war and comrade in arms. The Englishman, the islander who shies at strangers, held aloof from the red barbarians, seldom wiving among them or converting them, and they fought him 275 years.

There was room enough for both races in English America. But the English settlers never frankly faced the reality and perhaps never saw it. The Spanish frankly denied the right of a heathen to ownership of any of a Christian God's footstool, and they took the land away from the Indian, but left him on it to work it for them. The French did not want the land at all, but left the aborigine on it to gather furs for them. The English wanted the land, but they wanted a proper title to it. And they floundered for almost three centuries in a legalistic tangle of treaties and deeds with a people who did not know what it was all about.

If a stranger from another planet descended upon us and asked us to sell him a few square miles of the sky, many of the thrifty among us would oblige him, for a fair consideration. But they would be likely to go back on their bargain if they found themselves shut out of the light and warmth of the sun. That is what the Indian did when he discovered that he was supposed to have sold for a jug of rum and a string of beads the privilege of dwelling in the land of his fathers.

Fortunately for the English, the full meaning of their invasion did not dawn on the understanding of the first generation of their red neighbors. When the sons of the Powhatans and Massasoits came on the scene, they reversed the amiable policy of their fathers and rose in revolt; but too late to overwhelm the colonists.

Powhatan's grave still was a mound of fresh Virginia earth, when his successor suddenly took to the warpath in 1622. Noiselessly the word went forth by the "moccasin telegraph," that uncanny method of Indian communication, and the well-prepared onslaught was launched at the zero hour along a 140-mile front from Richmond to the sea. The unsuspecting colonists, in their false sense of security, had themselves armed their assailants and lazily left them to do the hunting for them. When the sun went down on that bloody day, nearly 350 of the whites lay dead amid the smoking ruins of their homes.

History only leads us astray with its tales of Indian plots and conspiracies and massacres. It was naive of the white man to have assumed that the aborigines would peaceably resign themselves to the loss of their little garden patches and their game preserves. The Virginia colonists returned the attack as secretly and savagely as it had been delivered, sparing neither age nor infancy and making no distinction of sex in their indiscriminate slaughter.

Massasoit and Roger Williams between them were the principal means of delaying an Indian attack on the New England colonies until 1675, when the colonists were strong enough to repel it. The only serious conflict before that was timed and planned by the whites themselves in 1637, when they mercilessly desolated the Pequot country in Connecticut.

Roger Williams intervened at that time in behalf of the Puritans of Massachusetts and Connecticut, notwithstanding they hated him. Alone, in a canoe, the founder of Providence risked his life in a storm to visit his friend, Miantanomo, whom he induced to keep the powerful Narragansetts from going to the aid of the Pequots, who were all but destroyed . . . roasted alive in their burning forts, hunted down and shot, captured and sold into slavery.

For almost 40 years afterward the red fold of New England remained submissive in the midst of the ever spreading settlements of the whites. As they saw their native forests thinned or cleared and found themselves hemmed in and hedged about by strange peoples and laws and customs, they were increasingly irked by a drab, humdrum existence, which curbed them like a straitjacket. They were involved in land disputes that they could not understand, haled into courts they not understand, fined in a money they did not have and jailed for offenses against a standard of conduct unknown to them.

After Massasoit was dead and his son had been dragged again and again into the court of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, repeatedly fined and his arms taken from him, he carried his appeal to the war path. The uprising quickly spread far and wide and got beyond the depths of his slight military genius, and is known as King Philip's War only because he started it. Blazing up fitfully here, there and everywhere for more than a year, it left a trail of burned towns all the way from Buzzards Bay to the Connecticut and beyond, from New Hampshire and Maine down to Narragansett Bay, with the whites matching the reds in savagery.

The cost to the colonies in blood and money was heavy, but it was a war that ended war in New England. The New England red man never again took to the war path on his own and became only a pawn of the white men in their game of empire.

It was not the less a poor sequel to Massasoit's "Welcome Englishmen!" . . . a pitiful ending to John Eliot's translation of the Bible, with its Golden Rule, and to his apostleship to the heathen . . . a sorry example of Christianity for the 4000 "praying Indians" of Massachusetts.

James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Nov 10, 1927, p. 22