The Pilgrims from the Indian Perspective
Digital History ID 699
In his autobiography, William Apes, a Pequot, offers an Indian perspective on the early history of relations between the English colonists and the native peoples of New England.
December 1620, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, and without asking liberty from anyone, they possessed themselves of a portion of the country, and built themselves houses, and then made a treaty and commanded them [the Indians] to accede to it.... And yet for their kindness and resignation towards the whites, they were called savages, and made by God on purpose for them to destroy....
The next we present before you are things very appalling. We turn our attention to dates, 1623, January and March, when Mr. Weston Colony, came very near to starving to death; some of them were obliged to hire themselves to the Indians, to become their servants in order that they might live. Their principal work was to bring wood and water; but not being contented with this, many of the white sought to steal the Indians' corn; and because the Indians complained of it, and through their complaint, some one of their number being punished, as they say, to appease the savages. Now let us see who the greatest savages were; the person that stole the corn was a stout athletic man, and because of this, they wished to spare him, and take an old man who was lame and sickly...and because they thought he would not be of so much use to them, he was, although innocent of any crime, hung in his stead....Another act of humanity for Christians, as they call themselves, that one Capt. Standish, gathering some fruit and provisions, goes forward with a black and hypocritical heart, and pretends to prepare a feast for the Indians; and when they sit down to eat, they seize the Indians' knives hanging around their necks, and stab them in the heart....
The Pilgrims promised to deliver up every transgressor of the Indian treaty, to them, to be punished according to their laws, and the Indians were to do likewise. Now it appears that an Indian had committed treason, by conspiring against the king's [Massasoit's] life, which is punishable with death...and the Pilgrims refused to give him, although by their oath of alliance they had promised to do so....
In this history of Massasoit we find that his own head men were not satisfied with the Pilgrims; that they looked upon them to be intruders, and had a wish to expel those intruders out of their coast. A false report was made respecting one Tisquantum, that he was murdered by an Indian.... Upon this news, one Standish, a vile and malicious fellow, took fourteen of his lewd Pilgrims with him...at midnight....At that late hour of the night, meeting at house in the wilderness, whose inmates heard--Move not, upon the peril of your life. At the same time some of the females were so frightened, that some of them undertook to make their escape, upon which they were fired upon.... These Indians had not done one single wrong act to the whites, but were as innocent of any crime, as any beings in the world. But if the real suffers say one word, they are denounced, as being wild and savage beasts....
We might suppose that meek Christians had better gods and weapons than cannon. But let us again review their weapons to civilize the nations of this soil. What were they: rum and powder, and ball, together with all the diseases, such as the small pox, and every other disease imaginable; and in this way sweep of thousands and tens of thousands.
Source: William Apes, Eulogy on King Philip (Boston, 1836), 10 ff.
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