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Memorable Treaty

 Native American Nations | Massasoit of the Wampanoags                     

The memorable treaty was the outcome of this conference, and under it he accomplished his purpose as long as the men who were parties to it lived and kept a controlling hand on the affairs of the colony. It was not encroachments by Carver, Bradford, Window and their associates, who knew him in the early days, that caused the breach and little by little widened it until nothing short of the resort to arms could settle the differences between the two races, but the unjust suspicions, followed by the arbitrary conduct and petty acts of annoyance of a later generation. The ambitious designs of the colonists, when they had attained sufficient strength to walk alone, led them to attempt to govern the Indians as subjects, to order them about at will, to interfere in their most intimate tribal affairs, to take jurisdiction of matters that ought to have been left to tribal councils, instead of treating them as an independent and politically equal people. It was this conduct on the part of the whites that broke the chain of friendship and plunged the colonists into war with the sons of the men who had befriended them at a time when that friendship was a matter of life or death to them; a war that cost the colonists thousands of lives that might have been saved by a little tolerance and a sense of justice, and that resulted in the extermination of a once proud and powerful people.
     This fatal ending of a friendship so auspiciously begun cannot justly be charged to Massasoit, nor entirely to his sons and successors. The history of the times has been written by the colonists. The Indian has left no chronicle of the events that finally impelled him to dig up the tomahawk. It is by the white man's records that both must be judged; and those records convict the colonists of a series of aggressions of sufficient seriousness to arouse the ire and stir the blood of any people who had been accustomed to range the forests and fish the streams ill untrammeled freedom until the white man cunningly forged the fetters for their free born feet.
     Massasoit entered into the treaty in entire good faith, and with a fixed determination to observe it in spirit and in letter, as is conclusively shown by the several acts to which I shall call particular attention, by his overlooking its breach by the English in refusing to surrender Squanto, and by the fact that the treaty was never broken by him or his people during the forty years of his life after it, signing, nor during the short reign of his eldest son and successor, Wamsutta, nor indeed during the first thirteen years of the rule of his second son Pometacom; although there were rumblings of the approaching tempest from 1671. Indeed, the colonists tried to find evidence of bad faith on the part of Wamsutta ten years before, but the most they did was to establish their own bad faith in spite of their efforts to cover it with the cloud of suspicion against him. A further consideration of the affair with that great chief will appear when we come to a survey of his short term in his chieftaincy; so I shall dismiss it for the present with the reflection that some acts on the part of the whites during the period which we are considering, as recorded by themselves, are enough to raise the question whether they were not guilty of a deliberate attempt to so arouse and exasperate the natives, as to lead them to acts of open hostility to be seized upon as an excuse for exterminating the race. I am aware that this is a serious indictment, but it is supported by a series of aggressions that seem inexplicable on any other theory than that they were deliberately planned, or were perpetrated with reckless disregard for the rights of the Indians.
     Massasoit as I have said, entered into the pact with Governor Carver in good faith. He was accustomed to dealing with men whose only bond was their word, with the simple natives, "silly savages," as Captain Smith calls them, unaccustomed to the ;arts of civilization and the trick of trying to find excuses for breaking their pledges, instead of studiously endeavoring to observe them, both in letter and in spirit; and he then had no reason for supposing that the English were less sincere, or that they entered into the relations defined in the pact with the intent to observe it only in so far as it served their purpose, or as long as it was useful to them. This was one of the lessons in the higher European civilization that they learned in the bitter school of experience; and the men who taught them this code of morals had no right to complain when the results of their teaching reacted upon themselves. I am reluctant to believe that Carver then looked upon his treaty in that light; but we find his immediate successor, Bradford, recording the fact that he, as early as 1622 in the episode arising out of the perfectly apparent perfidy of Squanto, was more intent upon finding an excuse for evading the treaty than upon conforming to its provisions.
     So when Samoset on March 16, 1621, appeared in the street of Plymouth, and, after being entertained, departed on the next day saying he would bring Massasoit, a great Sachem who had sixty warriors under him; and apparently sent runners who had camped upon the hunting grounds of one of his tribes, now extinct, and had erected habitations there of a more permanent character than had ever been attempted before, the Great Sachem himself, proud ruler of more than thirty villages, with his sixty panieses, took up the trail of forty miles to visit the intruders, not for the purpose of expelling them by force, not to trade with them as had been done before along the coast, but to inquire the purpose of this unbidden camping upon the grounds of which he was still the rightful owner, even though the tribe, his tribe, that had occupied them had been wiped out. Possibly he had in mind the very thing that happened, the formation of a league with the white men, who fought with "fire and thunder," to assist him in case of further encroachments by his ambitious neighbor, Canonicus; and for which he was willing to give a full equivalent, the right to occupy the land, the assistance of his people in teaching the strangers how to compel the forest, stream and soil to yield up a subsistence, and to aid them in case of hostile attacks upon them by tribes over which he had no control, or which were likely to break away from such restraint as he had over them.

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Massasoit of the Wampanoags

Massasoit of the Wampanoags

 

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