Cape Cod – The Towns – Pt. 3

IN these years of the early settlements the Indians had given little trouble, and they had been willing enough to sell their lands for considerations that were valuable to them and not ruinous to the whites. The matter of the natives’ claim to the soil was reasoned out in certain “General Considerations for the Plantation in New England.” “The whole earth is the Lord’s garden and he hath given it to the sons of Adam to be tilled and improved,” ran the ingenuous document. “But what warrant have we to take that land which is, and hath of long time been possessed by others of the sons of Adam? That which is common to all is proper to none,” is the answer thereto. “This savage people ruleth over many lands without title or property. . . . And why may not Christians have liberty to go and dwell amongst them in their waste lands and woods (leaving them such places as they have manured for their corn) as lawfully as Abraham did among the Sodomites?” Fortified by such doctrine, the settlers took up the waste lands, paid for the corn, and went on, when need arose, to pay for the cleared land; though later Andros, characteristically, was to declare that these Indian deeds were no better than “the scratch of a bear’s paw.” Prices were easy of adjustment. “A great brass kettle of seven spans in wideness round about and one broad” fell to one Paupunmuck, of Barnstable, who, however, reserved “the right freely to hunt in the lands sold, provided his traps did no harm to the cattle.” And of Monohoo, the Reverend Mr. Walley, lover of justice and peace, bought some threescore acres for “ten yards of trucking cloth, ten shillings in money, one iron kettle, two knives, and a bass-hook.” And so were matters arranged to the satisfaction of all concerned: to the settler his farmland; to the Indian a brass pot and bass-hook, and often a small plot was reserved to him for tillage. But his right to hunt or fish was inevitably encroached upon as the settlements absorbed more and more of the wild lands, and before 1660 Richard Bourne, of Sandwich, perceived that some special reservation should be made for the fast dwindling tribes.

The settlers had lived comfortably enough with their pagan neighbors; and so busy were they about their own affairs, temporal and spiritual, that they were not annoyingly zealous in proselyting. But when John Eliot, apostle to the Indians, came down from Boston to arbitrate the parochial troubles of Sandwich, he improved the occasion to forward the work nearest his heart. An Indian of the Six Nations shrewdly observed to a Frenchman that “while we had beaver and furs, the missionaries prayed with us; but when our merchandise failed they thought they could do us no further good.” No such charge could be brought against Eliot. “We may guess that probably the devil decoyed these miserable salvages hither,” set forth the “Magnalia,” “in hopes that the gospel should never come here to destroy or disturb his absolute empire over them. But our Eliot was on such ill terms with the devil as to alarm him with sounding the silver trumpets of heaven in his territories and make some noble and zealous attempts to rescue as many he could.

To have “possessed great dignity of manner and authority of voice, which had much influence.” And his Indians, though “abject,” did him credit. In 1760 one Reuben Cognehew presented himself at the Georgian court with a protest against the colonial governor, and returned with orders to treat the Indians better; and in the Revolution, Hawley said, more than seventy of the Mashpee women were made widows. In his old age he wrote a letter full of a humorous philosophy that must have stood him in good stead through his long ministry: “Retired as I am, and at my time of life I need amusement. I read, but my eyes soon become weary. I converse, but it is with those who have my threadbare stories by rote. In such case what can I do? I walk, but soon become weary. I cannot doze away my time upon the bed of sloth, nor nod in my elbow chair.” He contemplates his fowl and observing “how great an underling one of the cocks was made by Cockran and others of the flock I pitied his fate, and concluded to take an active part in his favor.” Whereupon Master Cockerel “gathered courage with his strength, sung his notes, and enjoyed his amours in consequence of my action. But alas ! to the terror and amazement of the whole company he in his turn became an intolerant tyrant. The Archon had better understanding than I and I have determined not to meddle in the government of hens in future, nor overturn establishments. Cocks will be cocks. As the sage Indian said, `Tucks will be tucks, though old hen he hatch ‘ern!’ As for other animals, though “Milton, full of his notions, supposes that a change in consequence of Adam’s fall passed upon them,” Mr. Haw-ley notes them much of the “same nature that they had before the Revolution in this country, and that important one now regenerating the Old World, as it is called; and under every form of government and dispensation, men will be men.”

But to return to Bourne: having obtained for the Indians their land, in 1665 he furthered their “desire of living in some orderly way of government, for the better preventing and redressing of things amiss among them by just means,” and a court was set up consisting of six Indians, under his guidance, reserving, however, that “what homage accustomed legally due to any superior sachem be not infringed.” In 1670 Bourne was ordained by Eliot as their pastor. And his son, following the father’s example, procured an act of the Court guarding the tenure of their land, which might not be “bought by or sold to any white person or persons without the consent of all the Indians.” And in the ministry Bourne was succeeded by men, sometimes Indians, sometimes whites, who had due regard for their charges, “the Praying Indians,” they were called.

At Eastham, the Reverend Samuel Treat was at pains to learn the language of his Indian neighbors, and translated the Confession of Faith into the Nauset dialect. Mr. Treat was an old-school Calvinist, whose chief means to grace was the threat of eternal damnation. “God himself shall be the principal agent in thy misery,” he could thunder out in the little meeting-house with a voice that carried far beyond its walls. “His is that consuming fire; his breath is the bellows which blows up the flame of hell forever; he is the damning fire — the everlasting burning; and if he punish thee, if he meet thee in his fury, he will not meet thee as a man, he will give thee an omnipotent blow.” Whether Mr. Treat dealt out such red-hot doctrine to his Indians, we cannot know; perhaps they were warmed by the fervor rather than alarmed by the tenor of his words. At any rate, they loved him; and when he died during the Great Snow of 1716, they tunnelled a way to the grave and bore him to his rest.

There were old ordinances forbidding the whites to give or sell firearms, ammunition, canoes, or horses to Indians. There was also a provision that “whoever shall shoot off a gun on any unnecessary occasion, or at any game except at an Indian, or a wolf, shall forfeit five shillings for every shot.” Evidently all was not love and trust between the races. The Indians steadily dwindled in numbers until at Eastham in 1763 there were but five Indians, and at Truro in 1792 only one family, although an old lady then remembered that there used to be as many Indian children at school as whites, and “sometimes the little Injuns tried to crow over ’em.” Early in the nineteenth century the pure-breed Mashpees were extinct; but in 1830 William Apes, an “Indian” preacher, succeeded in enlarging their religious liberties; in 1842 their common lands were apportioned in sixty-acre lots; in 1870 Mashpee became a town with full self-government, though still with some special grants of state aid for schools and highways.

“Rum” here, as elsewhere, played its important part in undermining the stamina of the natives; and its evil, as in any age, exhorters to virtue were prone only too vividly to depict. “Mr. Stone one very good preacher,” commented a Mashpee, “but he preach too much about rum. When he no preach about rum, Injun think nothing ’bout it; but when he tells how Injun love rum, and how much they drunk, then I think how good rum is and think no more ’bout sermon, my mouth waters so much for rum.” And when asked whether he preferred Mr. Stone or “Blind Joe,” a Baptist, he said: ” Mr. Stone he make best sermons, but Blind Joe he make best Christians.” And as in other and later times the whites made their profit in selling drink to the Indians. As early as 1685 Governor Hinckley writes of the Indians: “They have their courts and judges; but a great obstruction to bringing them to more civility and Christianity is the great appetite of the young generation for strong liquors, and the covetous ill-humor of sundry of our English in furnishing them therewith notwithstanding all the court orders and means used to prohibit the same.”

The Indians were inveterate gamblers, and although they could sit solemnly enough through a church service, they were as likely to go forth to game away all they had even to their precious knives and kettles. And the whites, as in the early days before they had made good Christians of the “salvages,” were ready to suspect them of petty thievery: for which, however, the savages were not without examples to imitate. An Indian, reproved for taking a knife from an Englishman’s house, retorted: “Barlow steals from the Quakers. Why can’t I steal?” At Yarmouth, late in the seventeen hundreds, near the mouth of Bass River, was a little cluster of wigwams; and whether for reason or not, an irate deacon, suspecting some of the community of robbing his henroost, visited them in the early morning, only to be abashed by finding them at prayer. He stole away without further inquiry about his hens. And the Indian deacon, one Naughaught, nettled, perhaps, by such suspicions, upon finding a purse of money one day, would not open it save in the presence of witnesses at the tavern. “If I were to do so,” he told them, “all the trees of the forest would see and testify against me.” And this same Naughaught had a marvellous adventure that must have made a fine story for drinkers at the tavern. Walking one day far from the habitations of man, went the tale, he was set upon by a great number of black snakes — a common and harmless reptile in the Cape Cod meadows today, but going about their business there in smaller companies. Unarmed, Naughaught saw that his defence lay only in a steadfast spirit. He quailed not when the snakes writhed up his body, even to the neck; and when one, bolder than the rest, faced him eye to eye, he opened his mouth and straight snapped o$ its head. Where-upon its companions withdrew and left Naughaught master of the field.

It is matter of record that the Cape Indians were more friendly to the whites, more humane, and more easily converted to Christianity than their brothers of the mainland, and in like measure were the more despised by them. “The Praying Indians were subjects,” said Philip, son of the great Massasoit, when there was question of taking the oath of fidelity to the English sovereign. But not he or his fellows; his kinsmen had ever been friendly with the Plymouth Government: his father and brother had made engagement to that end, but it was only for amity, not subjection. And by 1662 Philip was ready to defy Plymouth. “Your government is only a subject of King Charles II of England,” he told them. “I shall treat only with the king, my brother. When Charles of England comes, I am ready.”

As early as 1642 rumored unrest among the Indians and a well-grounded fear that the mother country might draw the Plantations into her quarrels with the Dutch or French, had knit the colonies closer together, and in 1643 a protective league that was the prototype of the later confederacy of states was formed among the New England colonies. Two commissioners from each colony, six of the eight to make a majority rule, were to meet annually in September; a common war chest and a colonial militia were provided for; but none were to fight unless compelled to do so, or only upon the consent of all. The Plymouth quota, under command of Miles Standish, was to be thirty men, of whom the Cape should furnish eight.

In 1675 trouble with the Indians came to a head in King Philip’s War, in which the Cape, although criticised by Plymouth, bore her due share. It was charged of Sandwich that “many of the soldiers who were pressed came not forth.” As a fact, Sandwich, the frontier town of the Cape, was well occupied in seeing to her own defences that must separate the Praying Indians from the hostile natives of the mainland; nor was the town of Richard Bourne, with its large Quaker element, likely to be as eager to fight the Indians as Plymouth or Massachusetts. The Cape Indians were restive enough to cause apprehension, and the towns were constantly on watch for attack without and treachery within. Restriction upon the Indians was tightened, account of them was kept the easier by providing that “every tenth Indian should have particular oversight over his nine men and present their faults to the authorities.” The five or six hundred men capable of bearing arms could have made trouble enough for the whites if they had had the will; but whether for gratitude or lack of spirit, they were loyal — some even joined the troops. Mr. Walley, who was ever friendly to the Indians and ready to give them their due, observed that so well did they fight that “throughout the land where Indians hath been employed there hath been the greatest success,” and pondered how affairs might go without their aid. “I am greatly afflicted to see the danger we are in,” he wrote Mr. Cotton, of Plymouth. “Some fear we have paid dearly for former acts of severity.” Nor were there lacking heavenly portents of disaster: in 1664 a great comet had appeared, and three years later, “about an hour within the night,” another “like a spear,” and again another in 1680. “When blazing stars have been seen,” said Increase Mather, “great mutations and miseries have come upon mortals.”

The price which Mr. Walley apprehended was sufficiently heavy, yet the outcome was as might have been expected. In August, 1676, when Philip of the Wampanoags was killed, “Thus fell a mighty warrior,” and then ended his war. In the sparsely settled colonies six hundred men were slain, twelve or thirteen towns destroyed, and a huge debt contracted. Plymouth shouldered a burden that exceeded the entire personal estate of the citizens, which she met by vigorous taxation and partly, it may be said, by the sale of lands that had belonged to the exterminated Indians. The aftermath of war meant peculiar suffering for the devastated districts; the Cape, fortunate in its remoteness, offered asylum, which was, how-ever, gratefully declined, to Rehoboth, Taunton, and Bridgewater. It is interesting that “Divers Christians in Ireland” sent over a relief fund of something over a hundred pounds. It is also interesting that no encouragement or aid had been received, or asked or expected, from the mother country; and another useful lesson in self-dependence had been learned by the colonies.

The Cape forces had been ably led by John Gorham, of Barnstable. A letter to the council, written in October, 1675, shows something of his temper as a man: “Our soldiers being much worn, having been in the field this fourteen weeks and little hope of finding the enemy, we are this day returning toward our General, but as for my own part, I shall be ready to serve God and the country in this just war so long as I have life and health. Not else to trouble you, I rest yours to serve in what I am able, John Gorrun.” Three days later the Court appointed him captain of the second company of Plymouth, of which Jonathan Sparrow, of Eastham, was lieutenant.

The commander-in-chief was James Cudworth, of Scituate, who had been a member of John Lothrop’s flock, and had lived for a time in Barnstable and owned salt-works there. He had been disfranchised for his sympathy with the Quakers, and bound over in five hundred pounds to appear at court “in reference unto a seditious letter sent to England, the coppy whereof is come over in print,” which, however, was no more than a full setting-out of the unlawful persecutions. But he was too valuable a man to lose: Scituate was nearly unanimous in his favor, as were Barnstable and Sandwich. In 1666 the Scituate militia, against the will of the Court, chose him captain; in 1673 he was unanimously made captain of the Plymouth forces in a contemplated expedition against the Dutch. His declination of the honor, which he was later to undertake in the Indian war, was not, he declared, “out of any discontent in my spirit arising from any former difference. I am as freely willing to serve my King and Country as any man, but I do not understand that a man is called to serve his country with the inevitable ruin and devastation of his own family.” Cudworth pleaded the care of his farm and his wife’s illness. “She cannot lie for want of breath,” wrote he. “And when she is up she cannot light a pipe of tobacco, but it must be lighted for her. And she has never a maid. And for tending and looking after my creatures; the fetching home of my hay, that is yet at the place where it grew; getting of wood, going to mill; and for the performance of all other family occasions I have now but a small Indian boy, about thirteen years of age, to help me.” “So little of state was there,” is Palfrey’s comment on the artless narrative, “in the household economy of the commander-in-chief in a foreign war.” And again: “It is amusing and touching at once to see how hard, in those days, it was to induce men to be willing to be great.”