Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pray Towns, Natick and Deer Island

As an American, it is very easy to find things to be proud of our nation and its history.  Whether it is the US Constitution or the moon landing or something from the private sector like the transistor, Google  or the phonograph, you don't have to dig deep to find some national pride. But when it comes to events in our history that we should be ashamed of, we find it all to handy to ignore them. We live in a collective state of denial about the horrors of our past. Occasionally, we have a glimmer of acknowledgement, whether it is Alex Haley's Roots (about the American slave experience) or Jay Kua's musical Allegiance (about Japanese American interment camps), we have moments of understanding of our past, however fleeting. One of the biggest subjects we like to ignore in our history is the ethnic cleansing that occurred in our country (before and after its creation) of the natives of this continent. We like to tell ourselves that most of them died of polio or other diseases, which is only part of the story. But the American people and our government, that represented our interests, drove these people to the brink of extinction.

One of the worst examples of this is the Trail of Tears when President Andrew Jackson defied the US Supreme Court's decision (the only President to do so in history) in the  Cherokee Nation versus the State of George and drove men, women and children, at gun point, out of their homes in western Georgia and force marched hundreds of miles to a reservation in Oklahoma. Yet, we still put this man's face on currency. While other nations acknowledge the horrors of their history, we turn a blind eye to it.  We prefer to clings to words like American Exceptionalism even though the evidence proves otherwise. Denial is easier and is more politically palatable.

I lived for 10 years in the Boston area.  For some time, I lived close to the town of Natick and I knew nothing of its history.  Natick was founded as one of fourteen praying towns.  Praying town were founded in 17th century Puritan New England for the distinct purpose of converting Native Americans to Christianity. These were not barbaric people. In no way were they in need of saving. Most of other praying towns were also in Massachusetts like Nantucket, Gay Head, Dartmouth and Mashpee but there were three in Connecticut.  The true horror of the praying towns isn't evident until 1676 after the King Philip's War began (also known as the First Indian War).  Once Metacomet, aka Philip, organized the native nations to attack the British settlements, the praying towns were dissolved. The good Christians of Natick, fearing attack by their newly converted, transported all of them onto Deer Island in Boston Harbor.  They were given no blankets and were not allowed to build fires.  Most of them starved to death during the Winter months. The few who survived were allowed to return after the war to find that they no longer had property, tools or any means to support themselves anymore.

What can be done ... this is our past?  Of course, we cannot change it, but we can acknowledge it. We can know and remember our history.  It would also helpful if we didn't put butchers like Andrew Jackson on our currency.  Please sign my petition for his removal.

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