Regular contributor Jim Peters shares the following essay:
“First Encounter Beach” is well-known to anyone who has traveled to Cape Cod and gotten as far as Orleans or Eastham. It was the strip of land on which the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims attacked one another, with no one killed and no one maimed. It empowered the Pilgrims, they knew that they could hold their own against the Wampanoags if necessary. Later, in what can only be called a massacre, they attacked five Native Americans and killed all of them while having invited them into their own homes. As a warning, they took the head of one of the Native Americans and posted it on a lance, sticking it in the ground. Some Native Americans in the Cape Cod, Plymouth area, decided that the Europeans had a stronger god than they did, and moved on before the god could get angry with them. Think about it, millions of Native Americans versus a few Pilgrims and the Europeans took over the land.
One of the most famous prostelitizers and missionaries was the Englishman, John Eliot. It was John Eliot who sat with Passaconaway and learned that the name of the great river was the “Merrimack.” The “Strong Place.” It was John Eliot who baptized Passaconaway in a ceremony that I believe the Native American chief did not understand. How did I come to that conclusion? Simple. Passaconaway died poor and alone, a recluse, a man who still believed in one great truth, that he was a god. A man believing he was a god, who could turn himself into a tongue of flame in the quiet of his own home, was not a man who accepted Christianity as a progression.
European law was enforced by the English with great fervor. “Deals” were not just solidified by the shaking of a hand, but by the writing down of the agreement. Then, the English formed a government to press their rights. How many of us have noticed those signs on the side of the road saying that Westford, or Chelmsford, or Acton were formed a few years after the founding of Plymouth. How did the English get that far into the interior in such a short period of time, establishing homes, planting crops, and founding towns quickly and with such vigor and insight that those towns still exist under a different national flag. Where did these people get their energy and their strength? In all honesty, and not to make the Native Americans look weak, they probably did get it from their belief in their God.
The Colonists asked for Passaconaway’s acquiesence in subjecting his nation to English and Massachusetts English law. The author Charles Cowley wrote, in 1862’s text “Memories of the Indians and Pioneers of the Region of Lowell, MA.,” stated that the laws were so strict that, “On the part of the Indians every stipulation in this instrument was faithfully kept and performed. Would that could the same praise be awarded to the whites.” (Pg. 7)
The Native Americans were, it appeared in 1862 when the memories were fresh, more responsible than the English. It was the English who wanted to subject the Native Americans to their jurisdiction and laws.
By 1644, a number of chiefs of various nations had submitted to English jusrisdiction. They consented to receive missionaries to teach Christianity to their children. There was little the Native Americans could do. They had begun to believe that the Christian God was more powerful than theirs were. They wanted to be a part of it. Some of them wanted access to the Christian God. And the Puritans were so driven in their beliefs that they were able to carry their beliefs into every aspect of their lives. If someone was killed, it was unfortunate, but it was “God’s Will.” The same response occured when half of the Pilgrims died aboard ship and were buried in Plymouth, and they are still there. There is little wonder that the less schooled Native Americans took this approach as the sign of a stronger being than they had.
Mr. Cowley wrote also that John Eliot’s legacy was firmly planted by Edward Everett who “…so justly eulogizes (John Eliot) as one of the nobelist spirits that have walked the earth since the days of the Apostle Paul.” P8 Mr. Eliot died on May 20, 1690, holding onto his position of pastor of a West Roxbury Church until that date. He had been awarded the pastor’s position as a young man and held onto it through all of his mission work. Parishes were handed out for life.
On October 28, 1646, a short 26 years after the landing of the Pilgrims, he preached to the first gathering of Native Americans in history at Newton Corner in Newton, Massachusetts. His subject for the heathen was the “Puritan Interpretation of the Gospel of Christ.” Pg. 8 He saw in the Native American faces the ten lost tribes of Israel.
In the meantime, the Native Americans were not faring well. They had been honest to a fault to their English ‘teachers,” and the chiefs were rewarded with appointments over their own people as judges. Actually they were little more than justices of the peace. A Native American constabulary served warrants and sumonses. Every three months the Native American magistrates were observed by whites. Old clothes that had sufficed for centuries, like bearskins, were discarded and Native Americans began to dress in English clothes. The Native Americans became indolent, but that was quickly shaken off. They continued to survive by having fairs and social functions, which Eliot likened to an English fair. He visited a hostile Passaconaway in 1648. Passaconaway refused to see him, escaping his formidable presence by disappearing into Pawtucket-held land.
We still have some remnants of this era in Lowell. In the Highlands is the oldest house in Lowell, for sale in a commericial area which will probably mean that it gets demolished. It was built in the mid 1600’s. Other buildings date back almost as far. Let us save them now, while we can. That will be our homage to our Native American friends.