My Turn/Blixt: A savage narrative

  • BLIXT

Published: 11/9/2016 6:12:41 PM

History is a lot like quicksand, I guess, flowing and shifting invisibly beneath the footholds of our best interpretations ... And just when we think we have it figured out, it swallows us whole.

The history of King Philip’s War is like that. That’s why I hesitate to dispute the SCWGN (Standard Colonial White Guy Narrative) that Ed Gregory spins out regarding the slaughter at the Falls in May of 1676, and the terrifying world in which it took place (My Turn, Nov. 5) Clearly, his is the well-established and well-worn narrative of the conqueror, even though it is at odds with much of what we have come to know.

Part of what we now know is that in early March of that year, some 2,000 native people — many quite old and many very young — made their way west along the Millers River from Metacomet’s (Philip’s) stronghold at Wachusett Mountain. They were cold, weak and very hungry, according to captive Mary Rowlandson who was with them and who, several days later, placed her hand in Metacomet’s on the banks of the Connecticut River in Northfield.

We know that even as Rowlandson was freed shortly thereafter, more than 1,000 indigenous people, including children, remained enslaved by the white colonists, sold and shipped to England, never to be returned or released.

We also know that some of the towns along the Connecticut were almost deserted by this time, and that the failure and defeat of Capt. Richard Beers at Northfield and Capt. Thomas Lathrop at the Bloody Brook in Deerfield just nine months earlier weighed heavily on the men who remained and who — following the lead of the genocidal Capt. Samuel Moseley — were stoked for revenge.

We also know that, regardless of the commissions and sanctions Capt. William Turner may have possessed from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the people who camped at the Falls presented no challenge to the colonial militia or to anyone else. It is impossible to believe that this white savagery ended Metacomet’s War, as battles continued throughout New England for at least another 30 years.

Metacomet himself was killed that August in a swamp near Mount Hope in Narragansett Bay. His body was drawn and quartered, and his head was placed on a town palisade by the good white warriors of Plymouth, where it remained for 20 years. His son was sold into slavery in England.

In all, 8 percent of the men of the Plymouth Colony died in the war, along with 10 percent of the native population, another 15 percent of whom died of sickness or starvation and 5 percent of whom were enslaved. This, proportionally, makes it the bloodiest war in our history.

Here, then, is alternative narrative offered by historian Nathaniel Philbrick: “For those (Indians) who actually experienced the war or knew those who had, it was not a question of us against them, it was more like being part of a family that had been destroyed by the frightening, inexplicable actions of a once trusted and beloved father.”

Whatever savage narrative we choose to accept as the heirs of that beloved father — whether we take the original inhabitants of this land to be rebellious heroes or blood-thirsty villains or mascots for our entertainment — it seems to me that it is only appropriate that we do so in a posture of deep, deep reverence, and even deeper sadness.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. His contemporary novel “Skaters” is based in part on the events of 1675-76 in the Connecticut River Valley.


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