Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Pilgrims in 1621, Part 4: Justice and Warfare

The first of these two events happened in August, right before the Massachusets expedition. There had been one of the Indian tribes, by the name of the Narigansets that had not been affected by the sickness that had affected many of the other tribes around them. They saw that this was their chance to increase their land and power. But then the English came around, making friends with these weak tribes. As Bradford says of the ambitious Narigansets, “who, (since the death of so many of the Indians,) thought to domineer and lord it over the rest, and conceived the English would be a bar in their way, and saw that Massasoit took shelter already under their wings.” Thus the Narigansets saw that they had to make their move. They proceeded to drive King Massasoit out of his home, and the Pilgrims lost track of where he was. At the same time a lower chieftain under Massasoit, named Corbitant, seemed to become allied with the Narigansets and started to speak against Massasoit and the Pilgrims, and aiming to draw Massasoit’s people away from him. Corbitant started to have a following, which grew as Massasoit disappeared and the Narigansets grew stronger. The Pilgrims and Massasoit’s loyal followers began to get concerned. So Squanto and an other Indian named Hobomak, who was said to be a very strong and loyal man, went out to seek their lost king, but had to go undercover, pretending some other reason to go out. Nevertheless, they were betrayed, and one morning as they were staying in a village, they were surrounded by Corbitant and his followers. Hobomak, being a strong man, slipped away, but the last he saw was that Squanto was surrounded by many hostile Indians, being threatened by Corbitant with a knife. Hobomak ran and told the Pilgrims, but despaired for Squanto’s life.

The Pilgrims quickly decided on a plan of action. “Whereupon it was resolved to send the Captain and 14 men well armed, and to go and fall upon them in the night; and if they found that Squanto was killed, to cut of Corbitant’s head, but not to hurt any but those that had a hand in it.” (Of Plymouth Plantation) Now, when most people picture the Pilgrims, they don’t see them as cutting people’s heads off. Some, not all, but some portrayals (especially some of the Victorian portrayals) of the Pilgrims can get at times effeminate or at least somewhat soft and fluffy. The Pilgrims followed God’s word and although they only used it when necessary, they were not afraid of battle and criminal justice. The Pilgrims wanted justice, and were definite with the judgments, but careful to administer it to who it was due, by proper civil authority. As Proverbs 21:15 says, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

So the Pilgrims went off to the Indian village where the commotion had been, and although they got a little lost on the way, they arrived by the pre-dawn darkness of the next day. They surrounded the village and demanded for Corbitant. There was a bit of confusion and three Indians darted out in fear and were wounded by the Pilgrims (they were later nursed to health by the Pilgrims in Plymouth). Then Squanto walked out to them, safe and sound, and told them that Corbitant had fled. The Indians in the village feared the English, and the boys, seeing the gentle way the Pilgrims treated the women, cried out “I am a women”. After making known their loyalty to Massasoit and their determination to see justice done to Corbitant, the Pilgrims went back to Plymouth. This swift and definite action by the English caused Corbitant’s followers to be discouraged and to desert Corbitant, and when Massasoit showed up he helped reconcile Corbitant to the English (which the English graciously did). It also caused the Indian tribes to respect the English and seek peace with them; even islands far to the south sent messengers to make peace with them.

Things seemed peaceful again, but the Narigansets were not defeated yet. They made their next move in late November. This was actually after the “First Thanksgiving”, but for the sake of this talk I will continue the Nariganset story, and come back to Thanksgiving. The danger of the Narigansets and the strength of the Pilgrims had strengthened the relationship between the Pilgrims and their allies and the Narigansets knew that had to act soon. (That the Pilgrims were regarded as formidable is remarkable when you consider that they consisted at this point of only about 50-60 men, women, and children) The Narigansets finally sent a messenger to the Pilgrims with a bundle of arrows tied with a snakeskin as a threat and challenge of warfare if the Pilgrims did not leave. The English boldly replied with filling the snakeskin with bullets and gunpowder with message that “if they had rather have war then peace, they might begin when they would; they had done them no wrong, neither did they fear them, or should they find them unprovided.” This caused the Narigansets to fear, and they sent the snakeskin from village to village, none wanting to have it, it eventually came back to the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims built a wall around Plymouth and started to train for combat, but the Narigansets did not carry through with their threat. Thus, due to both respecting the tribes around them and seeking peace, and being fully prepared for war and defense when needed, they won peace and respect from the peoples around them. I might add that America is almost in the opposite position, where we don’t much respect the sovereignty of other nations and don’t seek much peace, while we seem to be pretty indefinite in waging our wars. And so it should not be a surprise that we get little respect from the peoples around us.

To be continued...

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