Welcome to The New England History Series
History has been defined by some as the story recorded by the victors. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the accounts of wars between people who are literate and those who have no written language.
In the beginning in New England, the English Settlers and the Native Americans they encountered formed mutual defensive alliances, for both the English and the Indians had adversaries to contend with. Although the Natives were for the most part Woodland Tribes of Indians of the Algonkian language stock, they spoke slightly different dialects. The various tribal groups were in competition for dominance in the region. A plague, no doubt caught from European traders, had decimated some tribes who had no previous exposure to it and no immunity. This upset the balance of power among the tribes.
The Wampanoags of Southeastern Massachusetts had suffered great losses and had good reason to support the English settlers. Their rivals, the Narragansetts in Rhode Island, had not succumbed to the plague and had recently subjugated the Wampanoags. The settlers needed the Wampanoags as allies as well. They were few in number and had barely survived their first winter in the New World. The English had not only unknown tribes of Indians to deal with, but rival Europeans such as the French and the Dutch were gaining a foothold in the Northeast.
These accounts, of those early days, written by the original settlers of New England, give us a look into daily life in the colonies from their very beginnings. Each writer tells, in his own words, what the colonists faced in their struggle to survive, and the rewards of their hard work. Through these written accounts, we also get a glimpse into how their neighbors, the Native American tribes, had adapted so well to the forests, where they lived for thousands of years before the English arrived. Their shared knowledge was the difference between life and death for the colonists. We will follow the relations between the Indians* and the settlers through good times and bad. These accounts were written mainly to inform people back in England and Holland. They were for their fellow believers waiting their turn to emigrate, and the investors in the company that financed the venture.
These fascinating true accounts have gradually fallen into disuse because of their spelling and grammar which seems so awkward and difficult to read today. While these books gather dust in libraries, people repeat the sugar-coated tales of “Pilgrims” and Thanksgiving myths.
Now, through the efforts of writer and historian Norman P. Burdett, the archaic and difficult-to-understand language of colonial times has been gently modernized, in order to make these accounts more accessible to today's readers, while remaining true to the original meaning and voice of each author. Here, then, is a series of very early accounts, written by the people who experienced and recorded the events.
In 1637, hostilities flared up between the Pequot Tribe of southeastern Connecticut and some English traders who sailed up the Connecticut River to traffic with the local people. Some lawless Indians took part in the murder of the ship's Captain Stone and members of his crew. This event, and the inability of the parties to cooperate in bringing the guilty to justice, sparked the Pequot War, which is chronicled in some of the Connecticut selections below.
In most cases, the first groups of English settlers and the native people coexisted quite well, but after the second generation of colonists arrived and English influence and power increased, so did friction between the indigenous people and the settlers. A less trusting atmosphere prevailed in the region after the Pequot War. The Indians were shocked by the brutality of English warfare, the English feared a joint uprising, which some tribal leaders were trying to promote.
King Philip's War
Almost forty years later, in 1675, a much larger conflict began between the English of Plymouth Colony and the tribe that had nurtured and preserved them in the early days of that colony, the Wampanoags. Over the course of a year and a half, the flames of war spread across most of New England and involved the majority of the tribal peoples in a conflict that threatened to wipe out the English Colonies in New England. The warfare on both sides was characterized by brutality and scorched earth policy. Women, children and old folks were slaughtered mercilessly by both groups of combatants.
The accounts found in the books on this site are unquestionably biased. Their authors were not immune to the inclination to demonize their enemy. There were, however some individuals among them who recognized that the Indians were not solely to blame. (See Thomas Easton's Relation in the Rhode Island selections.) They pointed out the inflexibility of the colonial governments and their intolerance for the Native point of view. Their voices were shouted down by settlers fearing for their homes and families.
So, as we read these accounts, we must consider the source and try to see both sides of the story. We also must avoid glamorizing one side or the other. Each side was fighting a war for their survival.
The outcome of that war was at no time certain.