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Missasoit, Great Sachem of the Wampanoags

 Native American Nations | Massasoit of the Wampanoags                   

It is as a man of peace that we know Massasoit, Great Sachem of the Wampanoags. There is nothing in his career as far as it is revealed by the NA bite man's history, to appeal to the fiery ardor and enthusiasm of youth like the exploits of his son Pometacom or Metacomet, the King Philip of history, or Red Jacket, Joseph Brant, Pontiac, Tecumseh or scores of others whose deeds of valor have fired the imagination and thrilled the hearts of our young men for generations; but to the man in middle life, whose blood has been cooled to some extent by the snows of many winters, to the student of human character, there is something about the calm and dignified demeanor of that great chief that brings a feeling of regret that the colonists should have looked upon the continued existence of his race as an insurmountable barrier to the fruition of their a ambitious designs, and should have considered it necessary to exterminate a race which by its own unaided efforts, through ages of slow development with no contact with the enlightenment of the old world attained through eons of labored progress, with no guiding hand to assist it in its groping towards the light, had made sufficient advancement along the paths of civilization to produce such a man.

I am aware that the vast majority of the superficial readers of early American history have concluded that the Indian tribes of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut were wiped out in a cruel and unprovoked war begun by King Philip in open violation of the treaty his father had made with Governor Carver of the Plymouth Colony; but the man who holds this view cannot have looked into the violations of that treaty by the whites, and takes no account of the long list of aggressions against the natives in violation of the spirit of the treaty if not of its letter. The great cause of that bloody war was the tendency on the part of the colonists to treat the Indians as a subject race to whom they owed no duty, who were-in their way, and whom they were at liberty to annoy constantly in every conceivable manner. If they had set out with a determination to arouse the natives to declare war, in order that they might use the hostilities thus begun as an excuse for exterminating them, they could not have succeeded more admirably. When we consider the wonderful sagacity, the political wisdom of Massasoit's move in seeking to establish friendly relations with the invaders of his soil and to pave the way for the two races to live side by side in peace and harmony, instead of sounding the alarm and calling his trusty warriors about him to expel the foreign foe, we cannot fail to be impressed with his foresight, based, as it was, upon his knowledge of men in a wild and natural state, and unacquainted with the arts and wiles of civilization. That his judgment was in error, and his confidence misplaced was no fault of his, but the misfortune of his people. Had the colonists shown half the regard for the spirit of the treaty they made with him, and for the obligations they thereby assumed towards him and his, that he manifested during the forty years of his life after its signing, what a different story would the annals of New England tell today. It is almost enough to bring the blush of shame to the white man's cheek to recount the story of colonial perfidy towards the friendly Wampanoags and Narragansetts, once the story is stripped of the cant with which it has been decked out and which we have been too accustomed to regard as religious zeal.

     Zealots the Pilgrims were, religious fanatics, rivaling the janizaries of the Moslem world, seeking a place where they might enjoy religious freedom and celebrating their success by denying to others the freedom they sought to establish for themselves. They allowed no fine scruples of decency and honor to stand in the way of spurring on to their death a race that seemed to them to be an impediment to their material progress. They converted what they could by preaching the word, and stopped at no savage cruelty to wipe out what they could not convert. Their most eminent divines exulted over the defeat of the men who had been their friends, but whom they had betrayed so often that their friendship had been turned to hostility. The children of the forest, following the strongest instinct in the human breast, and fighting for their own preservation and the protection of home and fireside, were ruthlessly slaughtered by the men between whom and annihilation they had interposed their naked breasts, and whose priests boasted of the number of souls they "sent to hell" in some battle brought on by their treatment of the men to whom they had allied themselves by the most solemn ties. Cant and hypocrisy have ever gone hand in hand with excessive religious zeal, and the preachers of New England furnished, not an exception to the rule, but its most striking example. They preached the word of God and pretended to be followers of the humble Nazarene; but practiced the wiles of the devil; and rivaled him in their satanic exultation over the fate of the foes they made by their diabolical practices.

There was bound to be a conflict between European and Indian methods of living. The two could not co-exist on the same soil. The two races could not long live side by side except by one of them conforming to the mode of life of the other. It was inevitable that the country must be all savage or all civilized; but there was no danger to European ideals and civilization in trying the experiment of leavening the whole lump. The Indians of eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island had shown sufficient intelligence and sufficient interest in English customs and manners of living to warrant a hope for a complete reclamation of the race. True civilization is not of such a quality or character that it is in danger of being lost by extending it to cover a broader field than has been its wont. It is a condition that is strengthened and invigorated by propagation and extension. It was no more in dancer of extinction in the wilds of New England by bringing the natives within its enlightening influence, than is the light of the sun of being extinguished by turning it into hitherto unexplored regions of darkness.

The Pilgrims brought with them the seed from which, by careful culture, has developed our civil and religious liberty. They planted and nourished it here, even though they were themselves as intolerant of others as were those from whom they fled, of them. It is characteristic of freedom that it grows and flourishes under adversity. The greater the opposition, the stronger the growth, even though temporarily checked by the heavy hand of oppression; and it is unfortunate that the founders of our liberties should have considered it necessary to water the seed they planted with the blood of nature's freemen.

The liberty that cannot flourish without enslaving another is not worth preserving, and the American people through long years of toil and suffering learned this great truth; and, out of the limited freedom established by the colonies, evolved the only true freedom, to move unfettered and untrammelled as far as can be done without interference with the equal liberty of another. If the early settlers on these shores had recognized this eternal truth, instead of leaving it to their posterity to evolve as the true foundation of right and justice, the story of their injustice would never have been told. But all human progress is slow; and as man cannot, by a single bound, reach the mountain top, so a race cannot at once spring from darkness into perfect light.

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Massasoit of the Wampanoags

Massasoit of the Wampanoags


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