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Stern Virtues of Men

 Native American Nations | Massasoit of the Wampanoags                    

I would not detract from the stern virtues of the men who laid the foundations of our free institutions, the planters who labored early and late that we might reap for generations in greater measure than was vouchsafed to them; but, remembering that it is easier to sail a charted sea than to thread one's way among the rocks and shoals of an unknown coast, we may still be permitted a measure of criticism of the methods they adopted for the accomplishment of their purpose. Looking back upon the scenes of the long ago, one knows not which most to admire, the pertinacity with which the Christian English clung to the establishment of their ideals, which, illuminated by the ever increasing light of intellectual freedom, have become our ideals; or that of the pagan Indian, who, finding that his liberty was being gradually swallowed up in that which he had helped the English to establish upon his lands, turned at bay and attempted to break the fetters which the English liberty was forging for him and his.

     The results of the coming of the Pilgrim fathers have been told in song and story; they have been heralded wherever the voice of men is heard; they have been taught to lisping children at their mothers' knee, and have been the theme of poets and the realization of the dream of philosophers.  I would not gainsay them if I could; I would not turn back the wheels of human progress; I would not dim the luster of one ray from the torch of liberty our fathers lighted, and which has burned brighter with each succeeding generation until its rays have penetrated the uttermost parts of the earth; but without detracting from the accomplishments of the mighty men of the past, I would do honor to the valiant race which, seeing its liberties endangered by the encroachments of the men whom it had welcomed, sprang to arms for the defense of their freedom, with a zeal that has won our commendation wherever displayed by civilized peoples from Marathon to the Argonne. I would pause in the contemplation of the glories of the past, long enough to deposit a wreath of earth's fairest blossoms upon the places where lie buried the hopes and aspirations of the noblest race of savage the world has ever seen. I would turn aside to look upon Sachem's Plain and Mount Hope with a feeling of regret that the men who fell there could not have devoted their God given energy to the accomplishment of their dreams of living with their white brethren in peace and harmony. A race that could produce a Massasoit is not all bad, and it is a misfortune fortune to the world that the good that was in a could not have developed side by side with the good that our fathers had inherited from the memories of a thousand years of upward struggling towards the light.

     The hand of Destiny that planted the seeds of n Freedom for you and me, under the erring guidance of those who controlled it for their own benefit, sowed the seeds of death and extermination for the simple natives, who seemed to the blind, unreasoning, or cold, calculating men of darker days to block the wheels of their progress. With no other right than that of might, they swept away the last vestige of a once proud and powerful people, preeminent among whom, as indeed preeminent among all men of all races and of all time, stanch the man to whose memory these lines are dedicated, Massasoit the Great Sachem of the Wampanoag. We have already considered the probable numerical strength of the Pokanoket and, in a general way, that of the federated tribes, calling particular attention to the Pocasset and Nauset about whom something fairly definite is known; and it is not my purpose to make further comment upon that subject except as it may be necessary to emphasize or illustrate some other matter that seems to be of sufficient importance to warrant trespassing upon the reader's patience by calling attention again and again to the situation as it was in the early days of the colonial life of New England, and particularly of the Plymouth Colony. And, in this connection, no sketch of Massasoit would be quite complete without a brief reference to the fact that in his earlier days, he had been a great war chief himself, or at least the head of a federation capable of holding its own against the tribes that were undoubtedly attempting from time to time to make inroads upon its hunting grounds; for we have it from Captain Benjamin Church, who was General Window's chief of staff in King Philip's war, that Annawon, Philip's great captain, after his capture, boasted of his former prowess and deeds of valor when serving order Philip's father. I use the expression, a great war chief himself or the head of a powerful federation, advisedly, for it seems to be clearly established that the Great sachem, or Chief of Chiefs, of the Indian federations, while the head of the civil government, was not always the personal leader of his warriors in battle, that duty sometimes devolving upon some great captain who had distinguished himself by his valor, cunning and capacity for inspiring and handling large bodies of warriors. To such a captain was frequently entrusted the conduct or personal direction of the wars after a plan of campaign had been agreed upon in a council, including all the chiefs and sagamores together with the select body or class called "paniese" who were the chief men of valor. This seems particularly to have been the practice among the Five Nations of the Iroquois League, and was probably the occasional practice with the other federations, although a careful perusal of such records as are available leads to the conclusion that the Great Sachem himself in most instances personally conducted his campaigns.

We do not have to look far for a reason for this. From our knowledge of Indian character, we may well infer that the Great Chiefs would be extremely reluctant to relinquish the control of their warriors to a sub-chief or captain through fear of loss of their own prestige and the acquisition of too great an ascendancy on the part of their captains, prowess on the warpath being the one qualification that would appeal most strongly to the Indian temperament and endear a chief to his people, thus strengthening his hold upon them. Consequently we may safely conclude that before he had been weakened by the loss of his people through the ravages of the pestilence of 1616-1617, and the raids of the Tarratine upon his outlying tribes, Massasoit was himself a noted warrior. Through the agencies enumerated his war strength had been reduced from three thousand or five thousand warriors, there being authority for both figures, to probably one thousand or twelve hundred, not counting the Nipmuck, who were most likely governed as conquered tribes, and of doubtful value in war. That they were not of the closely allied or related tribes, but were looked upon as inferiors, is fairly apparent from Massasoit's remark to Roger Williams, as quoted by him in his letter to Governor Winthrop of Plymouth, which will appear later. I cannot refrain from expressing the belief that my estimate as given above of one thousand or more is fair; and in this connection, I will take the liberty of digressing again from the subject of this chapter to make another of those little side trips into territory that ought, perhaps, to have been explored when we were inquiring into the numerical strength of the Wampanoag, but an examination of which is timely in connection with what I have just said, and in the consideration of Massasoit's readiness to treat with the colonists and the importance to them of that friendly disposition.

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Massasoit of the Wampanoags

Massasoit of the Wampanoags


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