Zachariah Allen.

Defence of the Rhode Island system of treatment of the Indians, and of civil and religious liberty online

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APRIL 10TH, 1876,






SUCCESSIVE centuries, as they pass away, serve as epochs
of human progress.

They seem like mile stones, reminding travelers on the
journey of life to look back on the past for instruction, and
forward to the future for improvement.

Two centuries ago this day, our forefathers beheld the
heavens reddened by the blaze of their dwellings, kindled by
the natives, who had been their friends. We assemble now
to consider the causes of this calamity.

Our forefathers, their joys and their sorrows, have
passed away. It remains for us to trace out and record the
history of their lives ; to profit by avoiding their errors, and
by copying their virtues.

The question is now vividly brought up, what were the
wrongs that converted the once friendly Indians, who so
hospitably received and protected the founder and early set-
tlers of Rhode Island, into hostile foes? This fad-centennial
celebration is a fit time and occasion to investigate this
question, which involves most important principles for
human government.

In morals, as in mechanics, every reaction is preceded by
an action. What was the action, what the wrongs, that
brought about the hostility of the Indians to the settlers of
Rhode Island ; the burning of Providence, and the war, that
finally swept away a once powerful people from the shores


of Narragausett bay ; the name of which will forever remain
a memorial of their existence.

In tracing out the cause of these events, principles, not
men, will be considered, as gleaned from the records of
history ; with the desire ' ' to extenuate nothing to set down
naught in malice." We shall confine our attention to
extracts from authentic historical publications, specially
relating to the conduct of the original settlers of New Eng-
land toward the aboriginal inhabitants.

The first notice of the native Indians by the emigrants,
who landed in Plymouth, as recorded in Morton's New Eng-
land Memorial, is an account of the lauding of an exploring
party. "The party found some fair baskets of corn and
beans, which they brought away without paying for."

This act of plunder excited the Indians to defend their
property for self-preservation. Consequently, the next ex-
ploring party of emigrants ' ' were assailed with arrows by
the Indians ;" who were ever afterward considered and desig-
nated enemies. The place was also named " First Encoun-

These statements show that the first act of the newly
arrived emigrants at Plymouth was robbery of the Indians,
and the first meeting with them a fight.

In consequence of these aggressions, the Indians kept out
of sight until the Spring following. Then an Indian named
Squauto, in company with another, came into Plymouth.
They spoke the English language. As stated by Morton,
they were two of eleven Indians, who had been kidnapped
by an English captain of a vessel, to be sold as slaves in the
West Indies. These two found their way to London, where
Fernando Gorges obtained from them the information that
originally led to the formation of a Joint Stock Company in
London, for obtaining a royal Patent for the possession of
the Indian lands, and the fisheries on the New England sea
coasts. These interpreters stated that the country west of
Plymouth was occupied by a tribe of Indians called Pokano-


kets ; that "they were intent on revenge for the carrying
away of many of their people by the English, without any
cause of injury committed."

In the autumn, nine of the neighboring Sachems came in,
and made a treaty of peace, and agreed to become subjects
of the King of Great Britain. This compact entitled them
to be treated as fellow subjects.

The principal Sachem, named Massasoit, lived about forty
miles west of Plymouth ; where the town of Warren now is.
This region was called "Massasoit's country;" and finally the
whole surrounding country was called Massachusetts, after
his name. If fame be an offset to wrongs, this old chief is
remunerated by affixing his name to one of the present
United States of North America.

The Sachem of the powerful tribe of Xarragansett Indians,
Oanouicus, who afterward proved so kind to the exiles in
Rhode Island, defying the injustice of the English Colony at
Plymouth, expressed his determination of resistance to ag-
gressions, by the diplomatic missive of a bundle of arrows,
bound together by the skin of a rattlesnake.

The Plymouth people reciprocated the hostile demonstra-
tion by returning the skin filled with gunpowder and bullets.
This served as an interchange of visiting cards, as on com-
mencing an acquaintance.

The cupidity of the London Joint Stock Company soon
induced them to grant a license to another party of emigrants,
under Mr. AVeston. They made a settlement at Weymouth.
Morton states : The Indians loudly complained of them
for stealing their corn, and that they care not for the rule of
right. They hired themselves to the Indians and ended in
robbing them. Governor Bradford wrote to the Manager of
the Wcston Colony, warning him against such doings.
"Early in Spring, Governor Bradford received informa-
tion that the exasperated Indians had formed a conspiracy to
drive away the base men of the Weston Colony."

The Governor and Council, instead of checking and pun-


ishing the offenders, declared war against the Indians, and
commenced immediate hostilities. It is stated: "Twas a
sad business ; for they knew that Weston's men were in the
wrong in provoking resistance. Without notifying the In-
dians of the declaration of war, Miles Standish, the military
commander, with four others, inveigled some of the Sachems
into a wigwam, sprang suddenly upon them and plunged their
knives into the bosoms of the unsuspecting natives." The
historian narrates : "The Indians died hard, after receiving
many wounds." "Miles Standish returned to Plymouth with
the head of Wetenomut, which was set up on a pole in the
fort." Their good old minister, Mr. Robinson, rebuked this
proceeding in a letter written from Holland, saying : "How
happy it would have been, had you converted an Indian
before you killed one."

Such a massacre of Sachems, who had signed a treaty of
peace, and submitted to become British subjects, is revolting
to humanity. A subsequent flagrant injustice in killing the
Sachems who had come into Plymouth under a promise of
protection, made by Captain Church, during the war with
King Philip, manifested a disregard not only of Christian
principles, but even of the laws of civilization. This was the
general system pursued in settling the shores of the New
World. Columbus deemed the planting of the Spanish flag
on the sea shore a fee simple title to vast regions of the
American continent, and a title to ownership of the owners
of the soil as slaves.

To this general practice the French appear not to have so
commonly conformed, as they intermarried with the Indians
in Canada, while their priests self-deny ingly explored the
interior as missionaries for converting the Indians to Chris-

In Rhode Island and Pennsylvania the lands were pur-
chased of the natives, and consequently harmony and good
will prevailed.

A recent Massachusetts historian comments on the con-


duct of the Plymouth Pilgrims, by saying : " It is to be re-
gretted that they did not compel Weston's colony to live
decently among them, or exterminate them, rather than to
have sanctioned their acts, and thereby excited the hatred
of the Indians against all Christian white men."*

The massacre of the Indian sachems near Plymouth in-
spired such terror, that several of them fled with their
families to the swamps and distant forests, where they per-
ished by exposure.!

A few years after this practical execution of the cruel
doctrine of the extermination of the heathen, the advent of a
missionary of the opposite Christian doctrine of " peace and
good will to men," was destined to show the contrast between
the two precepts for the practical government of mankind.
Roger Williams came to Plymouth soon after, and while
officiating as a minister there, extended his missionary la-
bors to the adjacent tribes of Indians. He studied their
language to communicate with them kindly and beneficently.
In this way he won the friendship of Massasoit, on whom he

* On meeting the Indians to make a treaty for the purchase of lands for plant-
ing, William Penn addressed them as follows :' Our object is not to destroy,
but to do good. We are here met together on the broad pathway of good will,
for mutual benefit, so that no advantage shall be taken on either side; as in
brotherhood and love."

" I will not compare the friendship now sought to be established, to a chain ;
for this might be broken. We will esteem the Indians as of the same flesh and
blood with the Christians."

The Indians, after a time, appealed to the white men in the following words
of one of their chiefs : ' You know that when the white people first came here,
they were poor. Now they have our lands and are become rich ; and we are pcor.
What little we received for the land was soon used up; but you have the lands
forever." The result was, that a double payment was finally made, and grate-
fully received by the satisfied natives.

The following law was established by the original proprietors of Pennsyl-
vania :

" Section XIII. Xo man shall l^nny ways or means, by word or deed, affront
or wrong any Indian, without suffering the same penalty of the law as if the
offence were committed against his fellow planters."

The deeds of transfer of their lands by the Indians in Rhode Island are
recorded, with the signatures of the sachems appended in the form of their
attested marks of a bow, an arrow, tomahawks and other devices, significant of
a sign manual. It is recorded that, to satisfy the Indians, in some cases, the
Providence settlers paid them extra allowances, as stated of the Pennsylvania

t(Winslow. -Chronicles of the Pilgrims.)


was afterward forced to rely for shelter from persecution by
the Puritans in and around Boston.

Banished by his fellow countrymen in midwinter, for four-
teen weeks he found a home with his friend Massasoit, where,
as quaintly narrated by Williams, "he was sorely tossed,
and knew not what bread and bed did mean." As truly stated,
' ' he fled from the savage Christians of Massachusetts Bay to
the Christian savages of Narragansett Bay."

By carrying out the principles of beneficence and justice
to the Indians in the new State he subsequently founded,
there never was a " First Encounter" therein with natives,
until the adjacent colonies extended their injustice beyond
their borders, into the otherwise ever peaceful borders of
Rhode Island.

Manifestly this remarkable contrast between the recipro-
cations of friendly intercourse, and of hostile encounters, is
ascribable to the difference between his practice of the benefi-
cent principles of the Christian doctrine of " peace and good
will to men," and their practice of those opposite doctrines
which, as the Puritans supposed, sanctioned the extermina-
tion of people of different religious faiths.

It is certainly one of the most remarkable events recorded
in history, that an attempt ever should have been made to
introduce and establish a Jewish code and system of com-
bined ecclesiastical and civil laws for the government of man-
kind in the " new world," the abolishment of whk;h in the
Old World, was among the objects of our Saviour's mission
upon earth.

The strenuous efforts still persistently continued for main-
taining ecclesiastical domination and infallibility by physical
force by combining the powers or church and state, is a
very strong proof of the necessity of more thoroughly teach-
ing the true doctrines of Christian humility.

The claim that " the earth is the Lord's and the inheri-
tance of His saints," and that they were the saints, suggested
not only the seizure of the lands of the Indians by the Massa-


chusctts Puritans, but also the treating of all non-comformists
to their ideas of orthodoxy, the Baptists, Episcopalians and
Quakers, as having no rights which they were bound to

The same struggle is still going on between dominating
ecclesiastics and scientific men. The latter claim the same
liberty to study the revelations of the Divine will in the
physical laws established for the government of the material
world, as ecclesiastical students claim for freely studying the
revelations of the same Divine will in the Holy Scriptures,
for the government of the intellectual world. "The dark
ages" of Europe were the results of the prohibition by eccle-
siastics of scientific investigations. Imprisonments, tortures
and deatii were inflicted on innumerable philosophers.

The present discussions about the dubious theories of ma-
terialism and evolution would excite little public notice, were
they not blended with ecclesiastical controversy. Whether
these theories be right or wrong, the privilege of a free dis-
cussion of them is justly claimed.

Even manifest physical facts are controverted by meta-
physical ecclesiastics. Galileo was imprisoned for affirming
that the earth revolves around the sun ; and w r as compelled,
before an altar, with bended knee and tearful eyes, to abjure
this truth, revealed to those eyes. "With these facts before
us, we may well believe, that the doctrine taught by Roger
Williams was as unwelcome as the fact of science taught by

It was the mission of Roger Williams in New England to
carry out practically the Christian doctrine of peace and
good will to men, not only to the Indians, but to all his fel-
low men on earth. This he labored to do, and this he suc-
cessfully accomplished, by founding the first civil government
on earth on the basis of a complete separation of church and
state, for perfect religious freedom.

The two chief priests of the Puritans in Boston, Mr. Hig-
ginsoii and Mr. Skelton, early established and directed the


course of training in the public schools ; and the ' ' New
England Primer " continues to exhibit the medley of relig-
ious and secular education adapted to their creed.

Under the system of these two ministers, who wielded the
supremacy of Moses and Aaron, the government of the
Massachusetts Puritans was a religious despotism, under
which there was no safety for " life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness " by the people. As stated by the historian,
Elliot, (page 164,) '' John Winthrop, with his accustomed
pliancy, yielded too much, by assenting to the persecutions
of Roger Williams, Mrs. Hutchinson, Mrs. Wheelwright
and others. These ministers changed at times from kindly
men to bloody persecutors ; who imbrued their hands in the
blood of the Quakers, and of the poor women accused of
witchcraft in Salem." These are the frank words of a Massa-
chusetts historian.

The evils of the Jewish code, carried out by the Puritans
of Massachusetts, and the barbarous cruelties practised by
them not only toward the Indians, but toward all fellow
men of different creeds, by whipping the naked backs of
women and hanging them for religious opinions, and by seiz-
ing the lands of neighboring people for their inheritance as
saints, were so revolting to modern civilization and refine-
ment, that a general shudder was produced in England at the
recitals of such conduct ; and the interference of kingly power
was invoked to put a stop to it. As authentically stated,
King Charles, a Catholic at heart, was moved to grant a
royal charter to the colonists of Rhode Island, as a place of
refuge for Catholics and Protestants alike, against persecu-
tions. By attempting to carry out the Jewish code of union
of Church and State, the Indians were practically treated
by the Puritans as heathens ; and a system of seizing an,d
selling them as slaves, or of exterminating them as enemies,
was commenced by those who first landed on the shores at
Plymouth, as has been narrated. Although the opposite doc-
trines were taught by Roger Williams, yet so forcibly were


they opposed, that he and the colonists of Rhode Island
were involved in the consequences of the injustice of the
other white men composing the Xew England colonies.

It was the struggle for self-preservation against injustice
and exterminating cruelty, which excited the peaceful Narra-
gansett Indians to attack their friends in Providence without
distinction, as being the white men. Assured of the friend-
ship of the Indians, whom he knew personally, Williams
crossed the ford of the Moshassic river, where the screw
factories now are, and was met by a sachem while advancing
up the adjacent bluif. This bluff long retained the name of
" Camp-hill," as having been the place of the Indian encamp-
ment ; and was opposite to the stamping mill for pounding
corn ; the street leading to which still retains the name of
" Stamper street." He was told to go back, " that he was
a good man, and not a hair of his head would be hurt ; but
it was now too late, the warriors could be restrained no

That the Indians had been restrained until their treatment
had become unendurable, is officially testified to in a mes-
sage sent to Gov. Winthrop in Connecticut, by the Legisla-
ture of Rhode Island, dated October 20, 1076, and certified
at Xcwport by the Secretary of State, in the following
words :

"We believe that if matters come to a just inquiry
concerning the cause of the Indian War, that our Narragan-
set Sachems were subjects to his Majesty, and by his com-
missioners were taken under his protection, and put under
our government. They manifested to us their submission by
appearing whenever sent for."

" Neither was there any manifestation of war against us
from them; but always the contrary, until the United Colo-
nies forced them to war, or to such submissions as it seems
they could not submit to. The United Colonies, (Ply-
mouth, Massachusetts and Connecticut), thus involved us in
these hazards, charges and losses, to our outer Plantations."


This official document is a verdict of acquittal of the In-
dians of all blame for the war, one consequence of which was
the burning of Providence. When it is considered that this
address was written only a few months after that catastrophe,
and while smarting under the losses incurred, the truthful-
ness of this verdict must be admitted as conclusive.

The details of King Philip's war have so recently been
recited to you, here in this room, that it is unnecessary to
repeat them, even if our limited time permitted. I will
read, however, a testimonial of an esteemed American
historian, Washington Irving, which exhibits to the world a
very different view of the character of King Philip, from
that we listened to last summer from the Rev. H. M. Dexter,
D. I)., at our meeting on the spot at Mount Hope, where
Philip was killed. Mr. Dexter, in representing the Puritan
side of the question of the treatment of the Indians, summa-
rily characterized the whole life of the sachem as briefly por-
trayed in the words of Captain Church's description of him,
as his body appeared, after beiug drawn out of the miry
swamp: "He was a doleful great naked dirty beast."
Irving sketches the life of Metacomet, popularly known as
" King Philip," in the following words :

" Persecuted while living, dishonored and slandered when
dead, even the accounts published by his enemies exhibit
traits of lofty character, sufficient to awaken sympathy for
his fate, and respect for his memory."

" We find that amidst all the harassing cares and fero-
cious passions of constant warfare, he was alive to the kind-
est feelings of connubial affection and paternal tenderness ;
and to the exercise of generous sentiments of friendship.
The capture of his beloved wife and only son is mentioned
with exultation by their captors as causing him poignant
misery. The death of each dear friend is triumphantly re-
corded, as a painful blow on his sensibilities. The final de-
sertion and treachery of many of his followers, in whose
affections and faithfulness he had confided, is said to have


' desolated his heart, and bereaved him of his last hope and

" He was a patriot, ardently attached to his beautiful na-
tive land ; a Prince true to his subjects, and indignant at
their wrongs ; a daring warrior in battle firm of purpose
in adversity, patient of fatigue, of hunger, of bodily suffer-
ing, and ready to die in the cause of his country. He dis-
played the heroic qualities that would have graced a civilized
warrior. His bold achievements have rendered him the
theme of the poet and historian. He continued a wanderer
and a fugitive in his native land ; and finally sunk down like
a lonely bark foundering amid darkness and tempest, where
there was no pitying eye to weep over his fall, and no
friendly hand to record his fate."

Having briefly glanced at the beneficent principles . which
produce the most important results in human affairs, we now
return to the practical working and carrying out of these
principles in the treatment of the natives of New England,
verified by records of history.

When the Puritans continued to practice the Jewish code
toward the Indians, Roger Williams came forward, not to
argue the question of ecclesiastical infallibility, but simply
to state the material advantages of just and kindly treat-
ment. In his address to them he uses the following argu-
ments :

" I never was against the righteous use of the civil sword
by men or nations. All desire to consider their wars justi-
fiably defensive. I humbly pray your consideration, wheth-
er it be not only possible but preferable, to live and die in
peace with the natives of this country."

"For are not all the English of this land, generally, a
persecuted people, exiles from their native soil? And
hath not the God of peace and Father of mercies made these
natives more friendly to us in their country, than our fellow
countrymen in our native land? Have they not entered into
leagues with us of peace, and to this day continued a peace-


able commerce with us ? Are not our families grown up in
peace among them ?"

' ' I humbly ask how it can suit with Christian kindness to
take hold of some seeming occasions for their destruction,
which, though only the chiefs are aimed at, yet all experi-
ence tells us, falls on the bodies of the innocent?''

He finally concludes this admirably benevolent letter as
follows :

' ' I cannot learn that the Narragan setts have ever stained
their hands with any English blood, either in open hostili-
ties or secret murders. It is true that they are barbarians ;
but their greatest offences against the English have been
matters of money, or petty revengings of themselves on
other Indians, upon extreme provocations ; but God kept
them clear of our blood."

" Many hundreds of English people have experimentally
found the Indian people to be inclined to peace and love.
Their late famous king, Canonicus, long lived, and died in
the same most honorable manner ; and was buried with the
same solemnity (in their way), as you laid to sleep your
prudent peace-maker, Mr. Winthrop. So did they honor
their prudent and peaceable prince. llis son, Mexham,
inherits his spirit. Yea, through all their towns and
countries, how frequently does many a solitary Englishman
travel alone with safety and loving kindness."

" Honored sirs, I know it is said the Bay Island Indians
are subjects ; but I have heard this questioned ; and, indeed,
1 question whether any Indians Jn this country, remaining
barbarous and pagan, may with truth and honor be called
English subjects."

"All Indians are extremely treacherous, in their own
nations, for private ends revolting to strangers. What acts
will they commit upon the sound of one defeat of the Eng-
lish? The trade of stealing English cattle and persons, and

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Online LibraryZachariah AllenDefence of the Rhode Island system of treatment of the Indians, and of civil and religious liberty → online text (page 1 of 3)