. . . 0ne Universal Father hath given being to us all; and that however variable we may be in society or religion, however diversified in situation or color, we are all in the same family and stand in the same relation to him . . .
Benjamin Banneker to Thomas Jefferson, 1792
The Great Spirit gave this great island to his red children; he placed the whites on the other side of the big water; they were not contented with their own, but came to take ours from us . . . These lands are ours: no one has the right to remove us because we were the first owners.
Scope and Purpose
After the European colonization of America there was a continuous interaction of three large, powerful, and internally diverse cultural groups. Each had its own goals and to a large extent its own values. I will discuss the complex and paradoxical interactions of these three groups in my historical unit. The African will represent the first cultural group—Afro-Americans. The Pequot will represent the second cultural group—the American Indians. And the English will represent the third cultural group—European Americans. Because history is written largely by the people who triumphed, the history books have little to say about the human cost of the past to the defeated. In America what happened to the Pequot and African has either been distorted or neglected by subsequent historians, with a few honorable exceptions. The Pequot and African histories are yet to be written properly—with delicacy, refinement, and natural courtesy. This history unit is a step in that direction.
The unit is planned for pupils in the middle school on a narrow scale and pupils in the secondary school. Because of the wide range in age, maturity and reading development, a large number of activities and reading references is given. Teachers will need to select from the suggestions those ideas, experiences, and resources which are suitable on either in a core curriculum class or the history teacher should try to enlist the help of other teachers so that they can correlate work in art, literature, and music. The length of the study should be determined by the teacher and the class. In order to understand this history unit even in an elementary way, six or eight weeks are needed.
The major task of this unit is to enable the student to discover and to understand what happens when people from different continents, diverse among themselves, come into contact with others at a particular point in history. It will be concerned with the major social and cultural processes of interaction that shaped the history of the Pequot, the African, and the English from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century. The student will understand that simply because we are Americans belonging to the same nation, living under the same political system and laws, speaking the same language—all of which makes up the American
(way of life or framework within which any group of people comprehends the world around it and acts in it), we do not necessarily think alike. They will understand that our heritage helps to determine many of our actions.
It is hoped that through this unit the student will not only know how it felt to be a Pequot, African, and English person, but be appalled at human injustice, and cry out against it in the future. It is hoped, too, that students will realize that the complex human problems created by these group interactions can be resolved under a Constitution that was written so that every American citizen, regardless of race or nationality, might have human rights. Finally, it is hoped that the student will appreciate each group’s beauty and dignity, and each group’s great contributions to the total landscape and harmony of America.
Paradoxes in Early Relations between the Groups
In colonial times the Africans were the smallest and most limited cultural group (mostly servants), but they were able to retain a measure of autonomy in more subtle forms. The larger groups, the Pequots and the English, were able to retain a considerable degree of autonomy. However, the English were more dependent upon the Pequots in the early colonial period.
One of the first paradoxes that resulted from the groups’ interactions involved religion. Bringing Christianity to non-Christians was an expensive venture, useful only to the extent that it better enabled some English to make use of the resources of the Pequots and Africans, whom they sought to dominate. Most Pequots were not interested in the Englishman’s society and religion. The Africans were widely exposed to Christian doctrine in some places and shielded from its message in others. Also working against assimilation was the inner need of English Puritans to justify their exploitation of the Pequot and the African by insisting on a gap that separated “savages” from “civilized” Puritans. In reality the English acted like savages. Only a handful of English reformers kept or expressed humanitarian impulses toward the Africans and the Pequots.
Another paradox occurred when the English developed a negative attitude towards its most valuable labour source, the Africans, and held a better attitude towards the Pequot, who resisted enslavement successfully and stood as an impediment to English progress. This suggests a third paradox: the enslaved African survived and flourished demographically in America, while the Pequot, who maintained his power and freedom, suffered depopulation and gradual decline. The fourth paradox involves the Christian virtues that were practiced in the Pequot society, but were abandoned by most of the English once they saw the natural abundance of their new home. The English wanted to build a new life around concepts of reciprocity, community, and spirituality, but could not. The English were over powered by land-fever. On the eve of the American Revolution, the English could feel proud of conquering the wilderness and of building towns, governments, and churches along the eastern coastal plains of America. But it had been carried out at an alarming cost in human misery, exploitation, and enslavement.
Pequot and English Interaction
When the Pequots met the English Puritans for the first time they hoped that the strange creatures would go away. The thousands of years of history experienced by the peoples on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean made for different outlooks and material culture. The English experience had developed in men aggressive, outgoing energies. It had encouraged in the English an unquestioning faith in their religion and destiny, a belief in the invincibility of their institutions. The English developed machines for war and for domestic uses which made it possible to support their system and to defeat the Pequots. However, in the beginning the English were valuable allies for the Pequots because of intertribal hostilities and their desire to trade goods with the English. As for the English, they were publicly committed to interracial harmony but privately preparing for the worst. The charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company mentions a commitment to convert the Pequots to Christianity. But the directions to John Winthrop were to train all men in the use of firearms and to prohibit Indians from entering English towns. The Pequots were friendly to the English; the eastern Massachusetts tribes supplied the colonists with corn and aided them during the difficult first winter.
A few years later (1633-34), smallpox struck the settlement, sparing most English Puritans, but killing several thousands of the eastern Massachusetts tribes from Maine to the Connecticut Valley. For the English Puritans it was proof that God had intervened in their behalf at a time when their expansionist impulses were beginning to cause friction over rights to land. It was the need for land, as in Virginia, that provided the incentive for aiming away from rather than toward equitable relations between the Pequots and the English.
Land became the prime source of misunderstanding between these representatives of two cultures. The English theories of land possession help to explain the willful move to classify Pequots in such a way that only violence rather than coexistence could occur. As Europeans, the English claimed the land they were invading by right of discovery. This theory derived from the claim that Christians were everywhere entitled to dispossess non-Christians of their land. Another European legal theory supporting English claims was that land not “occupied” or “settled” went by forfeit to those who attached themselves to it in a “civilized” manner. The English had no right to claim title to any of the Pequots’ land simply because their life style was different from European norms. If the English had been interested in the facts, they would have found that surface areas were recognized, boundaries were respected, and use rights were sustained. Nothing in Pequot practices required that land be passed out under titles.
In practice most tribes knew their own territory, as they knew their neighbors; unless they were bent on mischief, Pequots stayed within their own bounds. For example, the Pequots might start a fight with a small tribe for control of their wampum. It meant that within the domain of any given tribe, subordinate-use rights were recognized in separate bands, in clans, and even in family groups. Among the hunting tribes which were thought of as moving indiscriminately over trackless wastes, there were well-defined hunting territories each claimed and used by an identifiable group. This practice was also common in African tribal lands. After fur trapping became a principal source of livelihood among the tribes, a system of individual property rights developed. As in all matters touching on land, the right was a right to use, not to transfer in the market place.
The Pequots understood the gift and guest relationships. But giving the right of permanent possession of the soil under one’s feet—that was not part of their culture. In time, Pequots would learn for what the English wanted. Even today, when Pequots go to court and sue the U.S. for inadequate compensation (or no compensation) for lands taken from them, they still are dealing in alien concepts. One cannot grow corn on a pile of money, or cause sunshine to shine from it; one can only spend it, and then one is homeless. The English understood land tenure in the way they wanted. It was essential to the English that they have a title, which could be sold and handed on illegal land title needs and the processes that resulted from it. The Pequots were deprived of their lands unjustly by the English who made the laws.
The English Puritans became the largest and most powerful colony in New England. To obtain complete control of the area, the English had to conquer the Pequots and to destroy their competitors by causing trouble among the Indians in their vicinity.
The Pequot War began in 1636 with an unsuccessful expedition, sponsored by the Massachusetts Bay Company and led by John Endecott, against the Narragansetts and the Pequots. This expedition sailed under falso pretenses to avenge the death of the English traders John Stone and John Oldham. The real object of the war was domination of the Connecticut Valley. The Pequots were not involved in the death of Oldham and Stone. In fact, to avoid war the Pequots made a peace treaty with Massachusetts Bay in l634 which included a trading agreement, a protected peace between the Pequots and the Narragansetts; and provisions for opening Connecticut to English settlement. The Pequots felt that they had been betrayed; and they started a major Indian campaign against the English at Fort Saybrook on April 23, 1637, when the Pequot sachem Sowheng’s lands were taken from him in Wethersfield. In turn, the General Court in Hartford decided to declare an offensive war against the Pequots, which was against the Massachusetts charter. Connecticut organized an English company under Captain Mason with Mohegans, River Indians, and Narragansetts, who had made an alliance with Massachusetts Bay because of their friend, Roger Williams. Mason attacked and burned a minor Pequot village of over 400 women, children, and old men on the Mystic River to avoid attacking Pequot warriors with unreliable troops. The Pequot sachem Sassacus heard about the massacre, rushed to Mystic and attacked Mason’s company. But he was defeated because of the arrival of reinforcements from Massachusetts Bay. New expeditions from Massachusetts and Connecticut were sent out to destroy the Pequot refugees. The Narragansetts and the sachem Uncas took in hundreds of Pequots, because of the Indian custom of taking in their defeated enemies after a battle.
Instead of the Pequot conquest bringing peace to New England, it brought conflicting alliances and battles between the Indians. These were encouraged by the English in order to gain control of the Pequots’ land and the Connecticut Valley. The English experience proved that they could conquer Indians at will. The Indians also learned four lessons from the Pequot War: 1) that the English broke their pledges; 2) that the English war style was very destructive; 3) that the Pequots’ weapons were useless against English weapons; and 4) that the rise in power of the English diminished the power and prestige of the Indian tribes.
and Indian Interaction
What the African in America has had done to him, how he has lived through it, and how he has fought back, is the living heart and soul of his American history. The first Africans—one hundred in number—to reach the coast of America did not come with the English. They came with Spanish explorers, such as Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, who led an expedition from the West Indies in 1526; he was looking for a passage to the Orient, but landed in South Carolina. Another African, Diego el Negro, served on Columbus’ flagship during his final voyage to America. During the l6th century many Africans accompanied Balboa (who also found a race of black men in the Darien district of South America believed to have come from Africa) and Cortes. Narvaez-s African companion Estevan or “Little Steve” helped him to explore Florida; he later explored Arizona on his own. They came with Coronado; and when the conquistadors entered South America, Africans marched in the armies of Almagro, Pizarro, Alvarado, and Valdivia.
Bernardo De Soto’s expedition of 1540 included Africans who explored the Cherokee country, but did not settle there. Both Africans and Europeans stayed behind with the lndian tribes after the expeditions were over. When the English on an “excursion into Carolina” from the North in 1643 encountered a Tuscarora chieftain, he invited the company “to go to his chief town, where he told them was one Spaniard residing, who had been seven years whereof are Africans; and he had one more African leiger (resident) with a great nation called the Newxes.”
Later in the seventeenth century the Africans experienced the most traumatic part of acculturating to the English colonial life—the dreaded “middle passage” where millions of Africans died in hulls of ships or committed suicide crossing the Atlantic from Africa. Once in America they were treated as were the white indentured servants; they were bound to labor for a specified period of years and thereafter were free to work for themselves, to buy land and to move as they pleased. But by the 1660s Africans were denied the use of firearms and the right to marry as they pleased, especially if the marriage in question was between a white woman and an African. Towards the end of the century Afro-Americans lost their rights entirely. From human status, African slaves descended to property status.
Slavery was not a new social phenomenon for either English or Africans. Egyptians enslaved Jews, Christians enslaved Moslems, and different Africans enslaved other tribes after conquest. One became a slave by being captured in war, by voluntarily selling oneself into slavery to obtain money for one’s family, or by committing certain crimes. Slave rights were limited, but slaves nevertheless were regarded as members of society, enjoying protection under the law and entitled to certain rights, including education, marriage, and parenthood. The status of the slave was not irrevocable and was not automatically passed on to his or her children. Slave conditions in America, however, were inhumane and degrading. It was lifelong agricultural labor. The African lost his rights to travel, to be considered a legal parent, and to obtain an education.
This move to strip the African of his rights had its root in the pragmatic and psychological need to dehumanize Africans by taking from them the rights that would connote their humanity. Thus occurred another great paradox: the building of an English utopia upon the backs of African men and women snatched from their African homeland and forced into a system of slavery. In America, the land of freedom and individual opportunity, the practice of slavery, unknown for centuries in England, was reinstituted. Only a handful of Englishmen and a few Quakers saw the need to challenge this transformation at the end of the century.
Near the end of the seventeenth century African pioneer skills were shared with the English in the less developed southern colonies, such as South Carolina. These African pioneers constituted the region’s first real Afro-Americans. The term
was first applied to companies of African workers who drove teams of oxen, herded cattle, squared cypress logs, and fortified colonial armies in the South. South Carolina was the most exposed outpost on the English-speaking mainland; attacks were possible from not only Indians, but from hostile Spaniards and Frenchmen, and from Atlantic pirates. Pioneer existence is not complete without mention of frontier warfare, an element of life in which Africans played a full and usually unmentioned role. For instance, when the Spanish and French attempted an invasion in September 1706, an African messenger brought word of the attack to Charlestown in the predawn hours.
African slaves were also employed as military drummers and soldiers in the colonial militia in South Carolina from 1706 to 1728. A drummer called Prince the Drummer played the muster roll for an expedition against the Yamasees in 1728. Long-term African involvement in defense was acknowledged in 1704 with the passage of “An Act for Raising and Enlisting such Africans as shall be thought serviceable to this province in Time of Alarms;” this statute was revised in 1708.
The Africans fought the French, Spanish, and Indians. Thomas Nairne stated that “For Defence of the Colony, our Laws oblige every Male Person from 16 to 60 Years of Age to bear Arms,” and he added, “There are likewise enrolled in our Militia, a considerable Number of active, able, African s1aves.” He pointed out that any slave “who in the Time of an invasion, kills an Enemy” would be granted his freedom and his master would be recompensed.
Several manumissions for service were awarded.
The Africans’ diversified involvement in the South Carolina colony’s growth was unique in American history—they became a dominant participating group. Scarce provisions, common hardships, and shortage of hands put the different races—African, English, and —Indians—upon a more equal footing. Some Africans slaves are believed to have been the first to carry rice seeds to America from their homeland (Windward Coast-Ghana/Rice Coast). Because rice became so profitable, it also became a major reason for importing Africans to South Carolina. Other crops perhaps introduced from Africa were guinea corn, guinea melon, guinea squash (known as eggplant), guinea grass—a tall African grass used for fodder—and a domesticated West African bird called a guinea fowl. Africans, as well as Indians and Englishmen, shared fully in hunting.
The three groups intermarried; former African slaves became freedmen, but some of their descendants were returned into slavery in later years. When Africans married Indians, their children became “mastee;” they became “mulatto” if they were born of English-African unions. Some mulattos inherited property, estates, and their freedom from their English fathers. African slaves shared quarters with Indians and English servants at times. Africans and Indians shared common personal and ancestral experiences in nature and subtropical coastlands of the southern Atlantic. Both the African and the Indian knew how to make and paddle dugout canoes. The dugout canoes were the central means of transportation in South Carolina for two generations while roads and bridges were too poor and few for land travel. Many Africans had grown up beside rivers and oceans; they were more at home in this element than the English. Africans fought and killed sharks; they handled alligators (similar to African crocodiles), which horrified the English. Indians and Africans knew the kinds of marsh and cypress swamps which were a mystery to the English.
The local Indians and Africans dominated the fishing region. They knew how to use nets and how to drug the fish, a technique well known in West Africa. By adding an intoxicating mixture of quicklime and plant juices to the water, the Africans could gather inebriated fish from the pool at will. Africans placed a high priority on their pharmacopoeia which was known through oral tradition and transported to America. This knowledge was used in abortion, poisoning, and curing various ailments. A variety of herbs, plants, and processes was known to both West Africans and southeastern Indians, and this knowledge was shared and reinforced upon contact. Africans gathered berries and wild herbs for their own use and for sale. The economic benefits to be derived from the Africans’ horticultural skills were not lost upon the English, who used the new plants in profitable ventures. The palm or palmetto, a novelty to the English, was well known to Indians and Africans for its useful leaf. From its leaves they made fans, baskets, brooms; the Africans also made chair bottoms from them.
As the number of Indians declined, Africans who had assimilated most of their lore took over their responsibilities, such as that of being pathfinders” in the Southern wilderness. Africans also participated in many other colonial activities: they delivered the mail between local communities; they assisted in fur trading tasks—steering the river canoes and packing the skins for shipment; they worked in forest industries; they served as artist and tradesmen. As long as there was a demand for diverse kinds of African labor, Africans played a role in the colony’s economy. However, the segregated societies of the next century would foster ignorance and dependence within the African labor force.
It was often difficult for Englishmen and Africans to communicate, because English was not always the first European language that Africans encountered. Africans purchased by the Dutch, Spanish, or Huguenots acquired a working knowledge of their masters’ languages and spoke only broken English. For example, Louis Patterson, a mulatto runaway from South Carolina, spoke French. Some Africans became linguists in European terms. The African, Olandah Equiano had learned English as a young boy and had acted as his master’s interpreter. After gaining his freedom he wrote a book,
Life of Equiano.6
Arabic was the most international of all the African slave languages because it was taught in West African schools. Arabic in West Africa was common among the best educated, wealthiest or most devout African Muslims. Bilali, an African slave in Savannah, was educated in Arabic writing and the Muslim faith. He wore an Arab cap, prayed to Allah, and was buried with his Koran and praying sheepskin. Bilali’s children spoke French, English, and Fula and continued the Mohammedan faith.
The celebrated Job Ben Solomon engineered his escape from Maryland to Gambia in 1731 by his knowledge of written Arabic. Some Africans even wore their hair or clothing in traditional styles; and others bore the distinguishing scarification of their tribes. The intermixture of various European and African languages, and the continuous stimulation of linguistic change through importation of Africans were features of Carolina’s colonial life which disappeared after 1800.
While the Pequots, English, and Africans were acting out their American destinies in a complicated setting of tribal and imperial rivalry, they were interacting with each other on the most intimate and personal level. Their interactions were unique; they affected each other’s lifestyles, freedoms, and rights. Unlike the Spanish and French Catholic colonies, where racial intermixing was acceptable, the English Protestant colonies were obstinately set against accepting the African and Pequot into their faith and their society. The English government was very lax about the treatment of subordinate non-English groups such as the Pequots and Africans. Its laws omitted codes on enslavement; the colonists were free to create slave laws that were severe and cruel. This was possible because the English regarded the Pequots and Africans as barbaric people. They erected an insulated wall of superiority to keep the Pequots as aliens and the Africans as slaves.
The Africans, Pequots, and English were in a very precarious position during the late 1700s, for their ways of life were undergoing some drastic changes. The English government attempted to coordinate an Indian policy in the Proclamation of 1763 which would protect the Indians’ lands and separate them from the English colonists. Even before the issuing of this Proclamation the Pequots and other indians were trying to fix territorial lines that would limit English expansion. The English colonies objected to the British government’s control of land, taxation, and freedom of speech. They started rebelling against the English governors and the new laws.
This excitement brought public attention to the African slaves’ condition. Abolitionists (such as John Woolman), freedmen, ministers, and emerging revolutionary leaders proclaimed that slavery was a contradiction of the principles of liberty and opportunity. When revolutionaries argued about the natural rights of man, equality, and the dignity of all men they unconsciously pointed a finger at themselves. The more they used words like “slavery” to describe British imperial reforms, the harder it became to ignore the African slaves who by the 1760s constituted about 20 percent of the colonies’ population.
The English awareness of racial discrimination and its effects created a movement to end slavery. Jefferson, a slave holder, warned his English brothers of the psychological and spiritual prison they had formed for themselves by building their country on the backs of African slaves. The issue of rights would have profound effects not only on the English and Africans, but on the American indians as well. This passage expresses the issue of human rights in a beautiful way:
. . . when those of us who never were indians and never expect to be indians fight for the cause of Indian self-government, we are fighting for what Las Casas called the salvation of our own souls. Felix S. Cohen