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Colonists get the Best end of the Bargain

 Native American Nations | Massasoit of the Wampanoags                    

Viewed in the light of what we know, it now seems that the colonists were getting the best end of the bargain as matters then stood, and could well afford to be liberal in the construction of the duties and obligations assumed by them. True, as they increased in numbers and strength, the scale might have tipped the other way even if the treaty had been rigidly adhered to by the settlers, but this affords no excuse for its breach by them. As matters stood on that bleak day in March, 1621, with their ranks depleted by death, that had desolated nearly, if not quite, every hearth, deaths in such numbers that they dared not raise a mound to mark the spots where they had consigned their departed to earth for fear that their weakness might be discovered, they received much more than they gave. To them this friendly visit of Massasoit and his readiness to sit with them in council, to smoke with them the pipe of peace, to form with them a defensive alliance, must have seemed like a visitation of guardian angels from an unseen shore.

     Words without deeds, however, are of little value, promises are easily made, and, too often, as easily broken. The shores of time are thickly strewn with the wreckage of treaties shattered by the perfidy of men who look not to their plighted word once it seems to their advantage to disregard their solemn pledges. This reflection brings us to a consideration of the benefits accruing to the colonists from the faithfulness of the natives to the pact entered into between Governor Carver and their Great Sachem.

     Things moved rapidly during the first few years after the landing of the Pilgrims, and there must have been times when they were in serious doubt whether their venture was destined to success or failure. Without attempting to recite the entire history of that period, I will call attention to a few of the important events for the successful culmination of which the colonists were indebted to the Great Sachem who had pledged his friendship to them. I do this for the purpose of properly appraising the value of that friendship.

     Two men occupy a unique position in the early life of the colonists. I shall have more to say about them in a later chapter, but it is not inopportune to here call attention briefly to the fact that they played an important part in assisting the settlers to establish themselves, and to enter into trade relations with the tribes; of these Squanto, it will be remembered was either the only survivor or one of the very few survivors of the Patuxet who had occupied the territory around Plymouth as far back as the hunting grounds of the Nemasket, whose principal village was on the site now occupied by Middleboro; and consequently he was a subject of Massasoit. A brief account of his invaluable services will appear elsewhere, and my only purpose now is to suggest that without the friendship of his Great Sachem he might not have been in position to give such assistance to the colonists as to lead Corbitant, in his bitterness, to speak of him as the tongue of the English.

     Hobamock, the other of these two, was one of the panieses of Massasoit, attached to his chieftaincy as counselor and personal follower on the warpath. He came to the English shortly after the end of July, 1621, and proved to be of great help to them in extending their trade and in establishing friendly relations with the surrounding tribes. In this he was undoubtedly aided by his position as a counselor to the Great Sachem, his influence on this account extending even beyond the hunting grounds of the Wampanoag. Besides it was he who broke away and gave the alarm that resulted in the rescue of Squanto when threatened by Corbitant. It is true that Squanto was only threatened and then let go, but what might have been his fate had not Corbitant known that Hobamock was likely to bring a hornet's nest about his ears, we can only conjecture. And so the colonists owed the continued services of Squanto to Hobamock.

     Three months after Massasoit's first visit to Plymouth, as their first spring in the new world was ripening into summer, Governor Bradford, who had been elected to succeed Carver, was desirous of securing first hand information concerning the Great Sachem, how important a personage he was, and what were his surroundings, and so on July 2, 1621, Edward Winslow, who had been one of the hostages for Massasoit's safety when he entered Plymouth to confer with Governor Carver, set out accompanied by Stephen Hopkins and with Squanto as guide, to secure the desired information, to strengthen the ties of friendship, and to procure corn for planting. They arrived on July 4, and found Massasoit absent, but he soon returned and greeted them kindly. They presented him a red horseman's coat, which he donned with great pride, and a copper chain which he was to send by any messengers whom he might wish to dispatch to Plymouth, as evidence that they came from him. On this occasion they found him and his people reduced to such straits for food that he was unable to offer them anything to eat until the next day, when he set before his guests two large boiled fish, which served as a repast for them and about forty of the natives. They spent two nights in his lodge, but in such discomfort, as Window informs us in great detail, that they arose more exhausted than when they retired. On the third day they departed to return to Plymouth, although urged to make their visit longer by Massasoit, who expressed regret that he had not been able better to entertain them. Unfortunately Window does not inform us what entertainment they had after the first repast. From this and later visits there sprung up a strong personal friendship between Window and the Great Sachem which continued until the death of the former in 1655.

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Massasoit of the Wampanoags

Massasoit of the Wampanoags

 

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