November 24, 2008

Thank God for killing Patuxets

WETZSTEIN:  Pilgrims thankful for Indians' helpSome 20 years ago, I was given a book called "The Light and the Glory," written by David Manuel and Peter Marshall, son of Christian author Catherine Marshall and Peter Marshall, the U.S. Senate chaplain for many years.

The book retells the story of the Pilgrims' arrival in what is now Plymouth, Mass., in November 1620 in a way that suggests God's hidden hand protected these devout people again and again from extinction.
How exactly did "God's hidden hand" help the Pilgrims?The land they were on once belonged to the fierce Patuxets, who killed any white people who came to their shores.

"But four years prior to the Pilgrims' arrival, a mysterious plague had broken out among them, killing every man, woman and child. So complete was the devastation that the neighboring tribes had shunned the area, convinced that some supernatural spirit had destroyed the Patuxets," Mr. Marshall and Mr. Manuel wrote. "Hence, the cleared land on which [the Pilgrims] had settled literally belonged to no one."
Comment:  This is a typical case of spinning Thanksgiving as a pro-American, pro-white, pro-Christian holiday. The Pilgrims prospered because they were true to God. And (the author implies but doesn't say) the Indians died because they weren't.

No mystery about it

Even talking about a "mysterious plague" is disingenuous. I don't think there was anything mysterious about it. Here's how it came about:

Nauset HistoryShortly after Columbus' voyage to the New World in 1492, a steady stream of European explorers, fishermen, and adventurers began regular visits to the coast of New England. Located on a landmark as obvious as Cape Cod, the Nauset had contact with Europeans at an early date, but these first meetings were not always friendly. European captains riding the Gulf Stream home from the Carribean were often tempted to increase profits by the last minute addition of some human cargo. The Nauset soon learned from sad experience that the white men from these strange ships frequently came ashore, not for trade, but to steal food and capture slaves. More so than the neighboring Wampanoag and other New England Algonquin, the Nauset were hostile to Europeans, and when the French expedition under Samuel de Champlain visited Cape Cod in 1606, the Nauset were not friendly.

Although the Nauset would usually abandon their villages and retreat inland at the approach of a European ship, they continued to be victimized by sailors of all nationalities. In 1614 Captain Thomas Hunt captured seven Nauset and twenty Patuxet (one of whom was Squanto who later gained fame as a friend of the Pilgrims in Plymouth) and later sold them as slaves in Spain. Kidnapping and enslaving 27 of their people was a minor offense compared to the other thing Thomas Hunt did to the New England Algonquin. It appears there was a terrible sickness among Hunt's crew that was inadvertently passed to the Nauset and Wampanoag in the course of his raid. Spreading quickly through the native population in three waves, it killed 75% of the original residents of New England and the Canadian maritimes between 1614 and 1617.
So the Englishmen passed on their illnesses while they were robbing and enslaving the Indians. Under the law, what happens when you kill someone "unintentionally" while committing a felony crime? You're guilty of murder or manslaughter, that's what.

Hence my argument that Europeans were responsible for the deaths caused by disease even when they didn't "intend" for the Indians to die. The fact is that they were going to kill, enslave, or decimate the Indians any way they could. Diseases merely made the work of genocide go faster than it would've otherwise.

4 comments:

dmarks said...

"But four years prior to the Pilgrims' arrival, a mysterious plague had broken out among them, killing every man, woman and child"

So much for a certain former frequent commenter's claim that pre-Columbian America was free of disease.

Genevieve said...

Uh, 1620 isn't pre-Columbian.

"Hence, the cleared land on which [the Pilgrims] had settled literally belonged to no one."

Way to dodge responsibility, Manuel/Marshall. However, Thanksgiving is an American-exclusive pro-white pro-Christian holiday; no spin is required to turn it into what it already is.

dmarks said...

Gen: Good point. Then the plague could have been the result of some Old World disease traveling north?

Genevieve said...

[expansion]

As far as dates and terminology, 1620 was not pre-Columbian. I suppose travel of an Old World disease to the northern US would depend on the disease vectors, travel of both the Spanish and natives exposed to them or contaminated objects, etc. For example, influenza can be carried by birds, or trade objects can end up all over the place even before serious symptoms of any disease set in. It could have even been a bloodborne illness transmitted by mosquito. Possibly, an introduced disease or even introduced circumstances weakened the immune systems of a large portion of the group and something else-- a New World disease, pneumonia, etc.-- set in and finished the job. It could have been some kind of airborne toxin (chemical warfare or just accidental poisoning from burning materials). And keep in mind, the Spanish and the Pilgrims were very different presences with different intentions (military vs civilian residential; and the civilian population from the W. Euro side were rejects of their own populations back in the EU including entire populations of prisoners in certain states), from different geographical regions, and thus brought different diseases and cultural practices with them. Hell, possibly the land was just not that great and everybody moved out of it. Maybe it was a hard winter and people starved to death, or there was a natural disaster. Who knows?

I'm not saying there was no disease or plague in pre-Columbian America, but I'm saying that when you are dealing with an introduced population with diseases indigenous peoples had no resistance to, the odds change drastically. And it's damned hard to be sure.