Monday, March 30, 2015

Columbus, greed, slavery, and genocide: what really happened to the American Indians5

However, the question of how to deal with the Indians was never far away. For instance, William Berkeley, one of Virginia's early governors, came up with the idea of massacring all the men, then selling all the women and children into slavery to cover the costs of the exterminations.
A particularly shocking episode involving the British Puritan settlers was the Pequot War (Southern New England, 1634–8). Following several tit-for-tat skirmishes, the British resolved to respond with crushing force.
The Indians spying of us came running in multitudes along the water side, crying, what cheere, Englishmen, what cheere, what doe you come for: They not thinking we intended warre, went on cheerefully untill they come to Pequeat river.
The British then went on a village burning spree, in response to which the Indians marched on Fort Saybrook. After a few opening gambits by either side, the Indians sent a message to ask the British commander if he felt they had all “fought enough”. Lt Lion Gardiner avoided a direct answer, prompting the Indians to ask if the British meant to kill their women and children. Gardiner replied “they should see that thereafter”. Under cover of night, the British then attacked the Indian encampment at the Mystic River. Shouting “we must burn them”, Capt. John Mason torched the site, and shot or cut down anyone who tried to escape. He left a description of the massacre:
And indeed such a dreadful Terror did the Almighty let fall upon their Spirits, that they would fly from us and run into the very Flames, where many of them perished. … [And] God was above them, who laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven: Thus were the Stout Hearted spoiled, having slept their last Sleep … . Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies!
As feared, the majority of the 600 to 700 slain were women and children. But as John Underhill, Mason’s co-commander, noted:
… sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents.
To finish the job, the river Pequot was renamed the Thames, and the town of Pequot was made New London — to ensure that the Pequot people would be wiped from the map and forgotten.
It was also under the British that one of the few recorded cases of intentional biological warfare occurred. In 1763, General (later Baron) Jeffrey Amherst, governor of Virginia and commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, sanctioned the purposeful spread of lethal disease. In a set of orders given to Col. Henry Bouquet at Fort Pitt, he commanded:
You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians [with smallpox] by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method, that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.
Despite the relentless hostility of most senior European settlers towards the Indians, some of the less powerful saw things differently. As we have seen, Columbus’s companion, Bartolomé de Las Casas, ended his days fighting for the proper treatment of Indians. And under subsequent British and then American rule, we know that Indian culture was not universally abominated. No less a figure than the Founding Father Benjamin Franklin explained:
When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. [But] when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.

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