(Note: the following post is not your typical blog post, but a longish work of fiction in the genre you might call “speculative genoeology”. Enjoy. And, if you read it, please send feedback.)
Being the Account of an Olde Settler in the Colony of New England
& of His Travails Among the Nargansets
Jeff Conant * Winter 2023
Friendly reader — The substance of the following account is foreign, even to me. I am not the “author” of this text, but rather, at best, the discoverer of it. Still, the fact of my discovery, and my blood relation to the author, an ancestor many centuries past, make me nonetheless responsible for what follows. I invite you to read on
Having recently relocated with my wife and children to Massachusetts, I took it upon myself to undertake some genealogical research at the Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, as I had become aware that the Conant Family papers – that is, documents about my family going back 400 years to the earliest years of English settlement in the region – were archived there. I am not obsessed with geneology, but I had been tinkering around the edges of my ancestral lineage for some time. I had grown up in the region, and so I had long been aware of the statue of Roger Conant that stands imposingly in front of the Salem Witch Museum in the downtown common area of that town. (The medieval effect of the Museum’s neo-gothic architecture and the bronze, larger-than-life sized statue of a windblown puritan is quite striking in the heart of a suburban American shopping district.) And I was aware, generally, of some controversies surrounding this esteemed ancestor of mine: that it was unknown on what ship he had arrived; that he came into conflict with Myles Standish, the military chief of Plymouth Colony (who didn’t?); that he was replaced by John Endicott as Governor of Salem, and then by John Winthrop, and so relegated to a footnote in the histories. I had read the books The Conant Family in America, (O’Dell, 1903); Roger Conant, A Founder of Massachusetts (Seawell, 1920); and Pilgrims, Puritans and Pagans (Dillard, 1971); as well as more analytic histories like, The Barbarous Years: The Early Peopling of English North America (Baylin, 2012) and Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of New England History (O’brien, 2010) and of course the primary sources, like Of Plymouth Plantation, and Mourt’s Relation by William Bradford, who’d arrived only three years before my ancestor.
But I had not yet researched what became of Conant’s progeny.
I had noted that Conant’s first son, Lot, was born in 1623, almost immediately upon the arrival of Roger and his wife Sarah at the shores of what had not yet come to be known as New England (to the English at the time it was North Virginia). This, I reckoned, would make Lot the first, or very close to the first, English, or “white” baby born on these shores.
There has been altogether too much celebration of all the firsts of the settlers here, all of this “firsting” serving to erase the many thousands of years of human activity that went on here before the English stumbled in half-starved. Still, it can be interesting to chart the life of such a man as my ancestor Lot, for the unique circumstances in which he lived.
Several accounts I read of Lot Conant, born 1623, said that he died in 1676, at the age of 53 years. This would have been a typical lifespan for the time. 1676 was also the last year of King Philip’s War. (For accounts of King Philip’s War, see, for starters, King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict, by Shultz and Tougias; The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origin of American Identify, by Jill Lepore, and Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War, by Lisa Brooks.) So it would come as no surprise if my ancestor Lot Conant had died in that year of 1676, a bad year all around, and a year in which thousands of settlers, and thousands of natives, lost their lives. Yet other accounts noted that Lot died in 1713, at fully 90 years of age. He was named in accounts of several contemporaries as having dwelt in Salem, and then in Ipswich, in New Salem, in Medford, Beverly, Weymouth, Nantasket, Taunton, Providence, Boston, and other places up and down coastal Massachusetts and what became Rhode Island. However, in none of these accounts was there any description of his lands, offices or relations. I read on. In some accounts he was made an heir to the will of his father Roger, along with his brother Joshua, and was inheritor of a property located in North Beverly, just above the banks of the Bass River, at the northeast corner of what is now Pleasant Street and Pond Street.
And yet, property deeds show no period in which Lot laid claim to the property; further, the property is recorded as sold to a “Barthalamew Indian” in the year 1678 — after Lot Conant is supposed to have died, or not, depending in which records you believe. Notably, no other records of Barthalamew Indian appear to exist.
I was intrigued. So, as I had begun to say, I traveled to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and I asked the kind librarian for assistance in investigating further.
She sent me to a separate location, the archives of the Peabody Essex Museum, in Rowley, Massachusetts, just west of Ipswich. There the archivist, Jessica Chiu, led me into the PEM’s state-of-the-art climate-controlled facility and presented me with a box — one of those old-style library document boxes made of thick cardboard printed to look like green marble, with a string that tied around an eye to keep it closed.
When I unwound the string and opened the box, I was overwhelmed by a scent – first, of wet, salt air, as if the box contained a slice of the coastal salt marsh I’d just driven through to get here…and then something animal, like the overpowering scent of skunk spray, but heavier, muskier. It was a scent I’d only experienced once before, while canoeing the Salmon River in Northern California, minutes before coming upon a bear fishing along the shore. Well, the scent dissipated and now in hindsight I can’t say if this was real or was a figment of my over-excited imagination.
Inside the box was a set of thick, typed pages, yellowed around the edges, which all but crumbled in my hands as I read. On the first page was a facsimile of faint, jagged script in a crude hand:
Being the Account of an Olde Settler in the Colony of New England,
& His Travails Among the Nargansets
as told in letters to my deare father Roger Conant
may he forgive me
I, Lot Conant of Salem Village,
Makwa manitou among the Nargansets
do hereby testifie that the herein contains my words
scribed by mine own hand in ink rendered of oak gall & sometimes of gunpowder
in the empty pages of this Holy Booke
in the year of 1677 or 1678 or 1679
My deare Father — More years have passed than a man can count since I have gazed upon your countenance. My present condition does not permit me to submit to courtesy or convention, for which I pray forgiveness. As preface to the epistles that will follow, should I be granted life to complete this task, I am compelled to begin with the most base fact of my existence: with all respect to you, my father, & to the men of your countrie who have come to these shores seeking reprieve from the strictures of the Church of your olde land, may I be forgiven for such boldness, but by grace of what I have witnessed with the one eye left me, I am called upon to attest to a discomforting truthe: your Inglish God is nowhere present in this wildernesse.
I mean not to offend you, my Father, though if I do there is naught to be done for it. I mean only to tell what has been seen & not seen with the two eyes I was reared with & with the one eye still left me in these late yeares. & what these eyes have seen is that this God you have always telled me, the God of Ingland and lately of Massachussetts Bay and of Plymouth & Hartford Colonies & I suppose of Providence Plantation — this God that you suppose is the God of the whole world round, though what world this is I know not — this God is present here no more, and most like never was, no more than your Inglish Law is present amongst the Indeans themselves. Nor does HE walk upon this land any more than a horse with carriage such as you have tolled me of from the broad streets of London may walk across the wide salt sea and step lightly over the bogs & fens that make of this land such trickish beguilement.
Indeede, for my own selfe, maimed by this very wildernesse & even now making my way carefully back to you, not even the Inglish tongue is present, for my own tongue has been smashed so as to leave me speechless as a dumb beggar.
Though I can write. I walk, as the bitty red buds at the tips of winter’s black boughs foretell of a spring coming, I walk step by slow step thro this wilderness back to-wards Salem town. If there I find you alive I will deliver unto you these words. Today only I has been cast out from Tantaneemo’s people and with two of them trailing me I have made it some ways fore I sit here, wrapt in the skinne of a bear & under the small shelter of a cold rock outcrop as the fast night comes on about me.
I have much to tell you of.
Yourself & the men of your time dreamed of making this wilderness blossom like a rose. Well & good. But yet having stumbled through this wildernesse I ask if, rather, you had not planted a thorn bush that will drip Indean blood & Inglish blood also for all the years to come?
My dear father — each day I walk thro this wide countrie I am painted with wonder that I have been made to live yet. After many trials, of which I hope to yet tell, the indeans have turned me out, so to return to Salem Village where, all goodnesse and grace permitting, I shall return to the bosom of civilization & to my deare Elizabeth and to my children, grown as they all may be. Tho in all truthe, I am not persuaded that they will have me, as the man who left from Salem Village some seasons past is not the same man who returns there.
Let me tell you how I come to be, & how I come to approach you from out of this wildernesse. I know not whether you, my own dear father, are alive or dead; nor know I how many Inglish may yet dwell in Massachusetts Bay. Days & nights have I lived amongst the Indeans & indeed they have nursed me better than ever aught Inglish nursed me in youth, & yet they have also put the terror in me better than even your Inglish God did in the worst days of my childhood, for they live not in fear nor in anguish of this wildernesse, for they are this wildernesse. I know of no other way to put this notion, but that as much as the bear or the birch or the quaking bogs or the birds of the aire, they are this wildernesse.
I have much to tell of, & so upon my return to Salem Village, each day as I travel I shall set down my thots to you on these smear’d pages, that at the least the voice of this makwa be at once heard by you, for as long as I have strength to travel and to write.
My deare father — It is another day of hard walking, trailed in the bush by two indeans who may be friend or may by now be naught, and as night comes down the first cold stars stand like white flames in the heaven. If I have lived another day, it is another day closer to you. I permit myself a small fyre and I set to write of wence I lately come, and how.
When I was gathered up into the militia, I had no will to go, but one man’s will is as a songbird in a squall & but for the grace of your God, or of this salvage wildernesse, what is our will? You have larned me well that obeisance is the only way, & in my own time I have viewed that moving against the will of the Colony is to be a alewife moving against the tide, soon to be overcome in struggle. At one time or another, the alewife is moved by the tide, not the tide by the alewife, & is made captive in the fisherman’s net. So it must always be.
On that day in the moon of August, in that time the Indeans call the moon of green corn & of the running sturgeon, I had been hoeing in the field, turning up soil upon the feet of the corne & preparing for the autumn planting of the barley, when I was approached by a group of men under the voice of Captain Curtis. Captain Curtis is in an embattled state and is shouting at me, Muttawump and Matoonas has burned our towns! We have news that Squinshepauke Plantation has been burned, & 1000 Netmuks has laid siege to Ayer’s Garrison in Brookfield. Captain Curtis is shouting & cursing such that I let down my hoe & stand by to hear, & it is serious newes. The indeans has come in large groups & burned & destroyed all before them; they knocked many on the head & many they stabbed with their spears & knocked down with their hatchets & they took children & women who they have stripped naked & split open their bowels.
I say yes, then, well we must needs prepare to stand & defend Salem Village against such alarum, & they says No you must come with us, you are in the militia now. If we leaves the indeans to arrive upon our doorstep they will slay us like they have slew our cattle & our sheep. But if we goes to them & catches them unawares, then we will keep the lands we have been given by the Lord our God & the works we have wrought will not come to ruin. Well, what is to be done? Without that I can bid farewell, for I know not for how long the war will wage, I gather my long gun & powder & shot, & a package of biscuit & my long knife that you had given me as a youth, & I bid good-bye to my Elizabeth & I set out with Captain Curtis.
It was only some days after that Captain Curtis & his Natick Indeans turns us to march west, to Brookfield, which town has been burned. Muttawump has set up a camp there & we aim to prosecute war against him & to end this horrid affair. Captain Hutchinson & Captain Wheeler & Captain Curtis are leading us 30 men, most young, one or two olde like unto myself. Well in order to reach Muttawump’s camp, we must cross a great swamp & to do so we needs travel in a file acrost a narrow path. I am no military man for all that, & I see the precarity of our arrangement. Nonetheless, onward we go & in no less time than it takes for a squearel to plunder corne from the field, the indeans arise from the tall grass & fire upon us with bows & with rifles. This was a bad day, but there was worse days to come. The indeans took away the lives of many, whose bodies lay twisted upon the black mud of the bog, but yet, with the good grace of the Natick Indeans who was aware of the ways to move in these swamps, I came away well frighted but with my life still intact.
I cannot say what happened next. We walked furiously like Jehu thro countrie laid waste where there were strewn widely the carcasses of horses, castle, sheep, swine, calves, lambs, roasting pigs & fowles. For all the beasts that lay awaste in the fields, we took none for foode, for the Natick Indeans saide these beastes had lain too long dead in the sonne, & if we ate of them we would surely die of colic. I was brought some days later, now ahungered & with only the Natick Indeans for safe company, into the charge of Major Willard at Lancaster.
My deare father, I have never knowed aught other life but this & I am remiss if I propose to know more than my station would allow. But from the things I have seen with my eyes, of which I have but one still intact, I ask if there may be some other path we might have walked that did not lead us into ambush. For it is not merely the indeans who have fallen upon us in ambush, it is indeede our very selves.
Now the war was general across the land & tho we was all hungered & afeared there was nothing for it, we were in no way permitted to return to our villages & in some case the villages we had left from had been burnt & men’s families taken from them & sent to the grave. For some time I marched with the troops of Major Willard of Lancaster. Ev’ry time we come to a town it has been burnt before us. The whole countrie was being scorched & the indeans everywhere slaying cattle & sheep & even fowl for they wished to keep no Inglish thing alive. & even for the horror of it, it strikes me as fair to ask, were not the indean people right in making warre upon us? For this was their countrie that we seeked to drive them out from, & what other could they have done but to take what means at their disposal to keep to what is theirs?
And still yet some of them fought with us, & against the indeans, for what advantage I cannot say. It was in a troop of many hundreds of men, a thousand men with some Nargansets among us, that we then made warre against the heart of their lands. We were brought under the command of Major Josiah Winslow & we were shared out fresh powder and long guns and some of us who had been in the warre some time were given swords. Father you can see how proud I was to have a sword to use in battle. Well & in time I come to find that killing men with swords is an ugly business. Uglier business yet is killing squaws and children, of which I will say no more for how it pains me to tell of it. I will say only that in the days that followed I witnessed things that I cannot remove from my vision, even my vision itself be half erased, & my very head & body knocked about such as it is a wonder I yet live.
& yet I do live, broken in body and bereft in spirit. Before me is a small fyre I have kindled up against the coming dark, and over which I have roast a hare that was left fresh killed in my path, a gift I must suppose from Tantaneemo’s Indeans to keep me alive, for what cause I cannot guess. Behind me a sturdy birch stands whose silver trunk is my only shelter & beneath me a bed of moss & soften’d earth upon which this night I lay my bearskinne, & unbound I shall lay and dream terrible dreams.
My deare father — If this old Holy Booke with these scratchings inside of it should make it into your hands, whether by my sharing it to you or by some other means, know that I am always your sonne, first & foremoste, & as you have oft said, the very first of the Inglysh race to be borne into this wildernesse. & yet, without to cast doubt upon you, my dear father, for your expeditiousness in arriving at this newe land — for this land there is no doubt is rich with fishe & with game & goode timber & is far from the greede & filthe you have long told me of in London & those other places across the sea — & yet if I am the first borne in this place I say unto you, what place is this for an Inglishman? If this doubt had not been cast upon me by passing through many burnt towns & settlements & even by the acts of my own hand in taking away the lives of the indeans, it had been cast upon me for once & all by the damage done me by the bear.
Let me tell you of the bear.
Was there bears in your ‘olde Inglande?’ Well, there is bear here, aplenty. In the time when this happened I knew not where I was, for I had come to some notch in the woods where a bog of red cedar lay mist across the air & a narrow cove let in from some black river frozen over. The hard snow had stopped & I must have lain in a state of exaustion, the indeans blood still strewn on me, I knew not where I was, & I heard nothing. I smelt it fore I saw it. I smelt it like a rotten stench that rises up in the pit of your gut & then grips you. Father, bear smell is not a smell of death, like the wicked smell when the ones killed are piled up & that black stench comes off the bodies like evil haze rising white off the river’s body in the black of night. Still its a smell so thick its like you see it thick on the air, thick as grease. So after this greasy smell is on my senses a long time I turn my head — me sitting on the ground, still and quiet for what else is there but still and quiet when a man’s alone in the savage wilde — & when I turn my head I receive such a wallop, right acrost my face, as to get knocked backwards into the water’s edge. & then its on me, & me thinking its a demon sent from the wompanogs, or I’m not thinking anything, just struggling to stand my ground & then I’m in the fight. My musket is tight acrost my shoulder still & my knife, the very knife you had given me, & my sword, red with the blood of indeans, is somewhere to hand but where it is I know not.
Makwa, makwa, makwa, manitou makwa. This is what Tantaneemo showed me later to call the bear, he says talk to him, talk to him, tell him he is your great olde brother come to make his song to you, tell him you listen good, but this was after. Now, makwa just beats me. I steps up at him, with my knife in hand & I stick him hard with my knife & it plunges in & lets out a force of blood but bear only screams loud in me & then he rips at my shoulder like being hit with gunshot, & then I’m on the ground again & his great jaws coming at me & just as I’m screaming & makwa is screaming at me his great jaw comes to close over my face. The bears great jaws come at me & his teeth close over me, my head splits in the darkness of his mouth, just like if the cedar bog I’m fallen in is boiling around me, the damp hot pressure of his stench’d breath comes over my head, still I feel his teeth closing on me & my head feels as small & weake as a burnt chestnut inside the bear’s jaws & then I’m swinging my arms, swinging that old blade you gave to me, its like a child’s plaything in my hand just swinging & stabbing as the manitou makwa is eating me, head & all, & my jaw cracks & my skull is a Inglish walnut in the mouth of that manitou makwa & me swinging the blade & sticking the blade into the bear without I can see my own hand & then in a sudden he’s not got my head & the light comes back & the teeth let go & its daylight again & my head is bloody & what happenes next I know not but that I go to sleep. Father do I pray to your Lord as I go to sleep no I do not because your Lord is nowhere in this savage wilderness, this is home to the manitou makwa & its only him you needs pray to, only him & all his relatives who either they let you live amongst them or they don’t. So it was the bear let me live, but I came away damaged sure.
When the light comes again I’m not inside the manitou makwa I’m looking up into the sky all yellow white like one big tooth against me as I see it, & me, my body, is laid out on a skin in a narrow bed, & another skin on top of me & my eye lets in just a narrow peel of light and in the light I see the black branches crossing over me, moving in the sky & I hear the plink & the plash of water in my head & then I see I’m in a boat. I’m laying in a boat moving down the water, & I’m knowing nothing & knowing everything, knowing I’m not Lot that I was, that I’m become some other thing, maybe a dead thing. My body is become some other thing: I see over me a storm of black birds like tree shadows blast across the sky & inside my chest I feel their tiny feet walking acrost me, I feel like pinpricks against the skin that wraps me & then inside this boat its as I been swallowed whole. When that came over me the words of Reverend White come over me, God damn him, that his words are still in me even after the makwa manitou has come, the words are inside me:
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea & such a violent storm arose that the ship threaten’d to break up. The mariners were afraid & cried every man unto his god, & cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship, & he lay & he was fast asleep. So the shipmaster came to him & said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper, arise call upon thy God that God will look upon us & we perish not. And they said unto Jonah, come & let us cast lots that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. They cast lots & the lot fell upon Jonah. Then they said unto him, What shall we do unto thee that the sea may be calm unto us, for the sea was wrought & tempestuous. And he said unto them, Take me up & cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. So they took up Jonah & they cast him forth into the sea, & the sea ceased her raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly & offered a sacrifice unto HIM, & made vows. Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah, & Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days & three nights. Then Jonah prayed from the belly of the fish, saying ‘I called out to the Lord out of my distress, & he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, & you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, & the flood surrounded me; all your waves & your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight. The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head & I descended to the base of the mountain.
But father, your god is not my god. When I am in the belly of the fish, the belly of this boat of carven timber, & my head is gashed like a butter churn broke under the hooves of thundering cattle, your god does not appear to me. Tantaneemo appears to me, who rescued me from death.
Another day has arisen. Perhaps from the strain of walking with one leg shattered and torn, and all the while carrying this bearskinne that while it comforts me at night by day it is a great burden upon me, or perhaps it is this telling itself that wears me down, although I fear even some slight delay may forever keep me from reaching you and Salem and my Elizabeth, this day I will rest from the walking, and will gather such foods as I can find, and I will write to you of Tantaneemo, by whose grace I yet draw breath.
Some time after I had recovered half my sight, I was ministered by one man, the man I came later to know as Tantaneemo — the same who had come upon me & laid me in his boat & brought me away from the bear. Tantaneemo spoke some words of Inglish, & he made attempt to speak with me. I was only capable of small sounds, & that with great pain. Tantaneemo sat by me uttering words in Inglish muddled with indean words, whether of narganset or pequod or massachusett or even of the wompanog, I knew not, but he spoke such that over time I was able to know in some parts his sentiment if not his perceiving. At times he reached out his hand & touched lightly at my shoulder, which was thick with herbs & blood mixed, or more lightly still would put his fingers to my face, & he would say makwa manitou, Inglish man, manitou makwa.
Among his own people he spake at length & with great boisterousness, as many of them did — long into the night they conversed in their tongue. But to me few words were spoke, only manitou, Inglish, & the words for food and some few other words. In time I came to know or perceive to know their words for eat, rest, sleep, move. Their word for eat is mijeen and for water they say nibee, but these are a few words only & it may be said that I do not much comprehend the words of the indeans nor their manner of thinking.
I was at the time unacquainted with the customs & ways of the indeans, knowing only from accounts. In my time among them I found some accounts true & others less true & some invented altogether by the Inglish who sought to paint them in evil colors. It was a curious thing, to live among a people and know that they had been the enemy but were people also, & were not only the heathens in our accounts but instead were something different, in some manners wholly unlike the Inglish people, & in some manners just alike.
When I came to be among them I was near dead & fortunate I was that they brought me among them — & yet I came to see that the indeans too were in extreme want, for the Inglish had burnt their corn…indeed I knowed of it because it was us, the Inglish from Salem Village & from all the towns, that had done the burning, torching every indean garden from Agawam to Mount Hope. The first days of my being among them I hardly ate anything they put in my mouth, owing to the great pain in my jaw. Each day they fed me some bitter medicine, a brown juice pressed out of some plants and some wild roots they dug even from under the snowy ground. But each day I believed I would die from hunger & from suffering. One day they boiled up an old horse’s leg which they had got & they fed me the broth of it. My stomach at first did not allow to swallow the rancid smelling broth, but bit by bit it came to fill me.
And here I cannot but take notice of the strange preservation of the people, who at that time I thought heathen, from the teachings I had been taught. In their comings & goings from the camp there were many hundreds, old & young, some sick & some lame. Many had papooses at their backs, many of them were girls or women, & yet they traveled with all they had, bag & baggage. They moved as easy as deere thro the forest, sometimes staying while they found roots & shoots & hares & other foodstuffs & then just as sudden moving on thro the woods. When they moved, the very young & the very old & decrepit they bundled onto their backs, women & men alike. Myself, decrepit for my wounds, was many times lifted & set onto the back of Tantaneemo, whereupon we set off thro the wildernesse. Tantaneemo took me on his back as if it was no burden, but neither did he speak to me except if there were some cause. At each remove they set their wigwoms on fire, & away they went. At the next place, in no great hurry & with little effort they would gather saplings & branches of trees & bend them in the ground to make wigwoms which they would cover with mats of thatch they made as they moved or carried with them in their baggage.
During this time although they gave me such food as they could engage me to take in my suffering state, & made efforts to keep me alive, it was not easy for me to rest at night, for they had me bound to a tree, exposed to the keen night air, which was exceeding cold. All thro that long winter I was bound to a tree thro the nights & carried on Tantaneemo’s back during the removes, & kept alive through broth & herbs & other preparations. There was times at night I would wake from the cold & there was a fyre placed near to me to warm my body, tho I was kept tied, & Tantaneemo there squatted on his haunches & singing in the night in the strange wilderness voice they sing in when they have a religious feeling.
From time to time Tantaneemo came to me & from time to time the people would gather round & bring me from my wigwom to thyr gathering but ofttimes I was left to lay about the wigwom they set for me, most times a ways away from where the people toil’d & slept. All who came around was thyr wolf dogs, in ones and pairs sometimes, or in a pack, & skulk about oftimes eyeing me as if I myself should soone come to be thyr foode. & if I should stand to walk away, oft into the forest or even to where the people stayed in thyr wigwoms, the wolf dogs would give a hue & cry & bare thyr fangs & encircle me such that I was as good as bound in chains.
In the seasons I passed with the people, first bound & then after a time unbound, I was visited by many thoughts. Many times I thought on the people of the towns & the farms, you Inglish who come here, so you sayed, to make the world anew. Born in this wildernesse like I was and coming to live amongst the nargansets like I did, even tho for only a time, I have come to see that I am not Inglish, not in the way that you are Inglish, deare father. I was made in this land, and like any man my making was not my own doing, but was done for me, in this land, in this place. And being thus a creature of this place, neither Inglish nor indean (or in a manner of speech you might say neither dog nor wolfe, though I am only a wounded dog perhaps, and not half a wolfe), I have arrived at certain notions.
Many times I thought upon the believings of the Inglish & how these believings have caused the Inglish to fight among themselves. If you do not perceive what I say, father, think on this: When Hewes is charged by Reverend White to retrieve the profit of a failed salting business at Cape Anne, Plymouth Colony sends Standish with armes to cast him out. When Morton cavorts with the indeans at Weymouth & makes merry with his Maypole there, Bradford is sore offended in the name of his God & has Morton bound & sent away. When the Reverend Roger Williams proclaimes that God grants the indeans a Right to claim the lands in which they dwell, Winthrop says it is not so, & casts him out. When the men of the West Country seeke to make thyr fields in common, the men of Essex & Wessex says that every family must work his owne familie’s parcel, & the twain shoute over it at Town Meetings from midsummer’s Day to the Feast of Epiphany. Indeede, the entire enterprise of the Inglish is built upon a tussle between Inglish & Inglish, always about who believes in what & all the time the men of the townes & the farms make warre upon the people.
Why must it be so?
Forgive me father, but could it be that Winthrop’s beliefs is wrong, & Williams & Standish? & Bradford & Hewes & Conant? Could it be that the men of Essex & Wessex & the West Country, that all of thyr thinkings are wrong? Could it be even that all believings are wrong insofar as they come from an island across the sea and not from out of the land itself? That it is the believings, like demons that charge men’s minds with confusion & frenzy, that make men fight & no thing else? My deare father, coulde that be so?
Indeede, even as I am called Lot after a man from the Bible, I will confess your Bible and your Inglysh Church have never sat right with me, not since I reached my manhood. You may say that my sojourn among the Indeans, my wounds, have served, like the trials of Job, to test my faith. I contest they have served insteade to strengthen my doubt, and to see, if you will grant it me, through other eyes.
Since my youth I have reflected much on the story of that Lot from the Bible, and of how he came out of Sodom. Your churchmen have said that the Indeans are as the men of Sodom, savage and untutored, and it is for the Inglysh and their God to guide them away or the Lord will bring down ruin upon thyr kinde. I am not sure it is so.
But for now the night grows close about me.
Day by day as I make my way back to you thro the swamps and woods keeping the morning sun to my left and the late day sun to my right and resting as I can in copses and glens, it woulde be false to say I am guided by no believing for I am guided by the notion that I yet have some home among the Inglish, and by the faith that the lands and waters will provide such as my sore body needs to stay the course. Yet as I set this night in a sort of wigwom of my own hand’s making and lay down upon the skinne of makwa, with a high stone’s cold blackness to my back and the blackness of the dark firmament sprayed with stars above, I sense in the great worlde a bitter emptiness and a sorrow that no man can explain away, neither by faith nor by reason, and nothing to be done for it but to wake each day and maintain a steady gait until the nightfall comes again.
My dearest father,
One day whilst I was still taken with fever & suffering, the people carried me many miles along a river to where it cleared the forest & came to an open salt marsh not unlike the marshlands north of Salem Village. There I spied the ocean in the distance & this gave me a strange sensation, looking as it did like the ocean I have looked upon all my days, yet from a different vantage. Near the ocean, in the forest but where the land is in red cedar & low scrub, they came to a place where they found some wigwoms burned & some diggings in the earth, with baskets strewn about, & when they saw this a great cry went up from them & all at once the people tore their hair & stamp’d upon the ground. I came to understand that here they had some time ago interred baskets of corne, which they had come to recover, yet it had been dugge & taken away, by the Inglish. The whole people were now in want for food, & the only food they would have would be gathered food from the wilds.
In this place near the edge of the ocean they then came to dig for clams & other sea meat. As the tide bore out there was a long low wall of stones along the marsh that looked almost as if they had built it, & many of them gathered on the seaward side of the wall, & they stepped about until some clam would shoot its juice up at them from under the mud, & there would dig with a carven stick of wood or the shell of a hen clam, until they come to a clam which they would gather up into a basket. I spent many hours just looking on in stillness. I thought they were only digging up what they were provident to find, but as I watched them I saw that they would take away only the very large clams. The smaller ones & the very small they would gather up & replant into the soil as if they were seeds, in a row among the ocean side of the stone row they had built or that someone had built, I supposed. After they had open’d up many clams for food, they returned the shells to this place, which they strew about in the same holes they had dug, though some shells they kept and used for making thyr beades with which they seemed mete proud. At this same place I noted they came to the shore when the ocean was rising up & would find many large crab scuttling amongst the stones. They gathered up as many crab as they could, with no fear for the bite of the crabs, & these they stewed over a fire & drank the juice & ate of the meat.
These days they had me lay on a mat at the edge of the marsh & Tantaneemo bade me drink the heated broth of the shellfish. He held among his few possessions a large silver ladle somewhat blackened for wear, that must have been brought away from a raid on one of the towns, & it was with this silver ladle that Tantaneemo ministered the broth to me, many times over the course of days. During this same time, he wrapt bolts of sea weeds around my arms & laid sea weeds upon my jaw whilst I rested. I know not if this worked as medicine upon me, altho after the winter passed & springtime come I saw my ripped shoulder begin to mend & my head, though misshapen I supposed, to be relieved of constant suffering. & slowly I came to walk againe.
After this visit to the salt marsh we removed quickly inland. The occasion of removing was the Inglish militia coming near. A great swamp backed upon the salt marsh a small distance from their clamming grounds, & this was where their wigwoms had been set, for they preferred to rest amidst the forests than in the open shore, perhaps for the sand fleas or for the wind and the tides, I cannot say. They quickly burned their wigwoms & Tantaneemo & the people, for I no longer came to call them savages like some men do, but only people, chose some of their stoutest men to wait in ambush.
These greased their bodies with bear grease and took paint, vermilyon & soot-black from the ashes of the fire & they set to prepare to meet the Inglish soldiers. The rest gathered among them some few belongings, an iron kettle & provisions enwrapped in deer-hides, & set to walk, whereupon we set off to the wildernesse. As we went the forest brooded over us & the sound of gunfire rang off from where we had just been. I knew that more deaths had been caused, whether of the Inglish or of the people I knew not. I thought then that I would never see Salem Village again, nor if Salem Village aught exist yet, should I come thro this trial. & yet I asked myself if Salem Village should even want me back, or me, it?
My father, may the day’s sun greete you with warmth and light.
After this last remove just described, we came to a place that was like an island in the black swamp, & settled there for a time. It was most painful to eat but with great slowness & great care I was able to take more than clam broth & bitter plant juice. Tantaneemo roasted a young ground-hog, about as large as a rabbit & he ate some but gave me the greater part, feeding it into my mouth in small bits.
After this time, came a day when I awoke bound & was surprised to see around me many men, all stripped naked except for breech cloths, & painted in various colors upon their bodies, & with leggings adorned with beads & feathers tied into their locks. As I came to awake, the men formed themselves into two long ranks, about two or three rods apart. Then Tantaneemo approaches me & he unties my bonds & he tells me in gestures & some few words that I must run betwixt these ranks, for what I did not know. There appeared to be among them a general rejoicing, for they whooped & hollered, yet I could find nothing like joy in my breast, for I felt that the day of reckoning was upon me. As I rose up I saw that my shoulder though stiff had less pain & my head though clotted was yet with less pain too, & as I came to standing Tantaneemo put his face to my face and he screamed in loudest voice, a terrifying screech, he said the Inglish word, “run!” & so between the ranks where he pointed I started to race with all the resolution & vigor I was capable of exerting. I ran through a gauntlet of nargansets & I was most shocked & horrified to find that I was flogged the whole way. The people had gathered switches of birch or of elm & as I ran between them, they swatted at me & stung my flesh. I prayed that the torture would soon come to an end for though there were many of them they were not an endless number, but I found that as each man beat me with his switch, so he would then retreat to join the beginning of the file, & so I was run in circles many times & flogged like a beast. When I was near to dropping, I was struck with something that appeared to be a club which caused me to fall to the ground. On my recovering my senses I endeavored to renew my race but as I arose, some one among them cast sand into my eyes which blinded me so that I could not see where to run. They continued to beat me until I was near insensible.
A number of them gathered about me, & in short one began to pull the hair out of my head. The awfulness of the pain I can scarce relate. He had some ashes on a piece of bark, in which he frequently died his fingers in order to take the firmer hold, & so he went on, as if plucking a turkey, until he had all the hair clean out of my head except a small spot on my crown which they dressed in their manner. One lock they wrapped round with a narrow beaded garter of deere-skin & another they plaited & stuck with a silver brooch. They forced me to stand & bade me strip off all my clothes & put on a breechclout, which I did. They then painted my head, face & body in various colors. Over my head they put a large belt of wampum, so long it reached near to my waist in double strands.
After I had been fully adorned in their mode, one man among them who I supposed to be their chief came & held me by the hand & made a long speech. He made a speech very loud & long & he passed my hand then to three young squaws. They looked me not in the face, & with no words but only gestures they drove me, walking stiff & in great pain down the bank & into the river until the water was up to our middle. The squaws made signs to plunge myself in the water, but I did not understand them. I thought that I should be drowned & that these ladies were to be my executioners. When I showed no sign of putting into the water, all three at once violently laid ahold of me, & I for some time opposed them with all my might, which occasioned loud laughter by the multitude that were on the bank of the river. At length Tantaneemo gestured to me that I should cease my struggle & as my strength was waning, I ceased to resist & allowed myself to be plunged beneath the water & carried up again by the squaws. This I later saw to be their way to wash me over so that I would bring no dirt that perhaps had been upon me.
Altho I know not why, nor is it mine to ask why, I came to see that in this form of ceremony & in other things they did, they made me one of them. The strand of wampum beads they took from me again but the silver brooch they left tied into my top knot of hair where it remains even still, as you shall witness upon my returning, and so will know this tale is not fabricated.
My dear father — If these words I write have made it to your hand, I beg of you forgiveness for what I have saide, & for what I have done. I know this is not the Inglysh way. & yet thro the chance of fate I have been coerced to become some other thing than an Inglysh, and even than a man. You have told me I am the firstborne Inglysh on this land, & of this you have been mete proud. & yet I must beg your forgiveness, for now I say if it were in my power I would not be in this land at all. Would I be in Inglynd? This too I cannot say for Inglynd is but a storye to me.
My father, you are known throughout the towns as an honest man & a prudent man & a steadfast man. Indeed, all my life you sought to have me adopt these virtues, though I may oft have strayed.
So how, then, do you countenance the warlike stance of Massachusetts Bay against the people whose rightful place this is?
I mean no disrespect in my asking, father, but how does a prudent, steadfast honest man not condemn the whole of the mean & devilish enterprise that the Inglysh have brought to this land?
The magistrates of Massachusetts Bay, the selectmen of the towns, the merchants of the ports, all say that the indeans are savage and warlike. I have made war upon the wompanoags and I have lived among the nargansets & yes they are warlike. But are not the Inglish warlike? They say in the meeting houses & the churches & on the fishing piers that the indeans do not know God. Is it not possible that it is the Inglish have left behind their God together with their carriages & their comforts & their country? What God is this that sets fyre to the indeans wigwoms & thyr stores of grain & drives them to the sea? What God is this that cuts open thyr children’s bowels with iron blade & leaves them to die like animals upon the bare ground? What God is this that punishes the indeans only for thyr natural ways, & destroys them in such numbers?
Either you have come here to make a New Jerusalem, to bring peace unto the indeans, & indeed, to establish peace among the congregation of settlers who have by no choosing been reared in this wildernesse — or you have come here to make war upon them. It cannot be both.
Father, though you doubt me, as even I doubt myselfe, I will tell you what barbarism I have seen, when cruelty is meted out for cruelty. For what I have seene is barbarism on every side & nought to be done to bring it to a godly end.
While I was among the people there came a day when many hundreds had gathered where we camped. This was early in my time among them, my hunger & my weakness were great & I rested in bindings, for they had not yet taken me for one of theirs. As they gathered, most were in their ordinary dress of skins & little adornment besides, but some tens among them were stripped naked, excepting breech-clouts & garters & were painted in various colors. The principal color was vermilyon or bright red; yet also black, brown, blue. Their garters were dressed with porcupine quills & red hairs that I supposed to be from fox. Many, their heads were shorn but for one strand of hair, braided long to the side or down the back & tied with red feathers — that is, feathers plucked from various birds that had been dyed or painted red.
I soon came to see for what occasion they had gathered. Some small party among them had returned to our encampment with two Inglyshmen at the tip of their arrows. The two may have been boys from Providence Plantation, or from Agawam or Boston, I did not know them from our own Salem Village. My captors unbound me from the tree where I had slept & Tantaneemo lifted me, for I could scarce walk, & he sat me near to them. When he had sat me & had bound my wrists before me, the people let forth a howling such as wolves make in sight of sheep. One narganset raises a blade to the Inglysh & cuts his neck, & hot blood sprays onto the ground & onto my own selfe. Before the Inglysh falls to earth the indean raises the blade again & splits his bowels open & there he falls straightaway dead upon the earth.
There is still a second Inglysh here but they do not deal him the same death. The death they deal him is a slowe & awful death. For they had lit a fire & when the fire burned hot they had gathered up coals from the fire & made them into a pile, & with a blade to his throat they walked the Inglysh on to the coals of the fire where he screamed in pain, but they did not remove him from the firey coals but rather forced him to sit down there. The stench was awful, tho it was not the first time such stench had filled my nostrils.
Do you know that when Inglish flesh burns it makes a stench no more foul, nor less foul, than the byrning flesh of indeans?
When they had sat him down they gathered a long stake of sharpe wood & they held it above his one foot & with a large rock they hammered the stake into his foot, through flesh & bone & continued pounding until his foot were nailed against the ground. The man’s screams of anguish were frightful, but I could do naught as I had neither voice nor strength of motion. With him staked & pinioned thus to the ground, they proceeded to undo the man from his flesh bit by bit. They first employed a sharp knife & cut one of his fingers round in the joynt, at the trunk of his hand, & then they braked off the finger as Men might do with a slaughtered beast before they remove the meat. Then they cut another & another, til they had dismembered one hand of all its digits, & the blood sometimes spirting out in streams a yard from his hand. In this frame the indeans continued to strip him of his parts, dealing with the toes of one foot as they had done with the fingers of his hands. After some point his screaming ceased & he only wept & barked on occasions like a dog that has been brought to the borders of death. With the sharpe knife they cut long ribbons of flesh from his arms, first one arm & then the other. They heated stakes in the fire until red hot, & prodded them into the flesh of his chest, & the stench of it was awful, as I sayes. Behind his arms they placed another stake & two of the indeans stood him up on his legs. After they had done this young men came with large stones & they hurled the stones upon his legs, time & again, until they had braked the bones of his legs. The ones who held him in place then let him fall to the ground & continued to pierce his flesh with burning brands.
At last one among the indeans raised a hand high & after this a young salvage raised a stone above him & with the stone he knocked out his brains.
This torture before my eyes was to me extreme & ungodly. Of what I witnessed I can say only I am glad that it came to an end. If there is any reason to this torture, I cannot saye what it may be. & yet, I can say that such violence is meted out measure for measure & such is the brutal truth of this war that the Inglish have brought to the people in this wildernesse that the people call their dawn land.
My deare father, I have wrote words to you earlier wherein I related of the militia of Massachusetts Bay, of my conscription & of my part in the battle at the Great Swamp Fort. In this letter, what I have just now read again, I related but little of horrors that I said I had witnessed. I say now that this is not the whole of the truth. I must relate of the horrors that I, that we & I, that we Inglish, that we together committed against the indeans, for as I saye I have seene barbarism on every side & nought to be done to bring it to a godly end.
We were hundreds of men, Inglish & indeans together, Mahicans & Pequots who were whipped up into war against the Nargansets & Inglish planters saying the indeans were like wolves & there is but one way to deal with wolves. For two weeks we had been marching up & down under the command of a man called Josiah Winslow. From Salem we come down thro Boston where we provisioned up & then thro Taunton, all along the way collecting men & foodstuffs until we must be the greatest army of men New Englande has ever yet witnessed. We went seeking out indeans yet in their villages were there none, & as we passed thro their villages we put fyre to them. Of their corn we taked away what we could eat or carry & their fields we fyred. The winter was coming on soon & Major Josiah Winslow said it best if the heathens had no home to return to nor victuals to sustain them. We came into Providence Plantation & encamped again. There we heard the words of the Reverend Roger Williams, & his words were to provide encouragement to us. He said the Nargansets were bound to surrender to such an army of Christian soldiers as we were; he said he had much truck with the Nargansets & that they preferred peace to war. He said that there would be no battle but that the Good Lord should bring peace among our people. He said the words of Jesus Christ, “I come not bearing peace, but a sword” — but that it was indeed a sword of peace our Lord had brought, & so we were the bearers of the sword of peace. If I be honest, his words confused me just as the words of the Church Fathers have long confused me, even as a child when I bade my ears to hear.
But Father, there was a battle. Heavens yes there was.
We were 1000 Inglish men they said, & the indeans mixed among us or best yet fighting in front of us, clearing the way of skulkers & ambushers. For many days we marched up & down & circled the waters of Narganset Bay. On the day it begun to snow we came upon a stone fort & when it was full scouted out we knew it sheltered indeans. We fell on it sudden & we broke inside & every one of the indeans inside was dealt a death. If my own hand dealt of that death I know not for the battle was so thick but I know only that fifteen indeans, with some of them squaws & some of them children, lay thick in blood while the snow came down & covered them.
Soon Christmass time is upon us & the nights are black & the cold is fierce.
& Father where were you in the days & nights that your sonnes were dealing death across the land, & the indeans dealing death in return? Where was John Eliot & John Winthrop, & your olde friends Lyford, & Endicott, now buried in the hard ground and replaced by new men? & where was your Church? & where was your King, this King I heard so much about but that for all I have witnessed He may be no more a man than your Holy Ghost that dwells in some book in an island across the wide sea? Are these stories only, for children to heare & to believe, whilst in the world of men a more bloodie truth is King? For all your believings your Newe Jerusalem is nought but an island of cadavers in a black swampe.
Forgive me, Father. As I write my hand shakes, my blood is hot. Forgive me.
We soldiers were told of a wigwom encampment where all the indeans at Narganset Bay had gathered, deep in a bog, & we went there. The cold had made the bog froze solid, & the snow had made so we could walk across the very bog. By day when we came into the bog you could see thro the bare trees to the wigwoms & the indeans & you could fire your rifle clear & clean. By night it was the devil’s own hell. We shot at every Indian that stood or sat or ran or walked & the Indeans were thick as trees. We burnt every wigwom we come upon & we slew them upon swords & on our knives. We saw them running & we gave chase, & when some one of them or some of the Inglish fell on the slick ice, there they died in blood.
Deep in the swamp the indeans had made a palisade of trees stuck tight with mud, so like a beaver’s lodge you could think you come upon the God of the beavers. The snow came down thick & we saw night comin on & we ran on the very musles of our guns, up to the portholes in that beaver lodge & we fired in at them, & lept over thyr brest works & run into thyr forte & beat them out & we slew many of them. Not a one was spared for thyr sex, nor for want of age. So many we had killed that thyr bodies lay thick upon the icy ground. When I saw night coming on thick I started about to yell “Fyre the forte!” & soon all the Inglysh are yelling fyre the forte & I set flynt to steel to tinder & even with the snow coming thick & hard the fyre struck & now the fort’s ablaze in smoke. Indeans are coming out of the forte for the fyre & the smoke & when they come out we’re loading our rifles & cutting them down as fast as they can come. A woman indean comes up close to me to take my gun & I stand & swat at her & knock her head in & when she falls I bring my rifle down on her head again & her head breaks & spills its guts on the icy ground, & her children after her will die upon my sword & after this I’m of a sudden taking the utmost of pleasure in the killing, I am in a frenzy & all the Inglish it seems to me are in a frenzy of killing & when I look to my brothers they are laughing & laughing like the devil himself is in them & I am in frenzy & crying loud & my voice is yelling & the snow is coming hard.
What happened next I can scarce relate, only that somehow I came away with my life, which yet hangs by the merest thread.
This I relate to you, my father, that you may ensure a true record of what the Inglish have wrought upon this people & this land.
I ask you to forgive me my trespass but I must say to you that no land, no country, no church is bettered by such barbaric cruelty as your sons have wrought in this place.
Before any who should read this ages hence, I lay my plea: if there should be some way to repair this evil, if there should be some way to undo the horror of my acts, of the acts of my very father & of my Inglish brothers, of those who have sought to take this land by violent force, & thro starvation, fire & plain butchery — well may this way be found by you, for the way of peace is not to forget, but to remember, &, thro words & thro acts, to repair what has been broke.
My father, slowly I come to recover from the bear, & from the beating & dunking after. Each day Tantaneemo came & upon my split jaw & upon my torn open shoulder & my head he put a poultice of wet mossy earth & herbes chewed in his own mouth. Even now I have no vision in one eye & even now tho I open my mouth to speak no sound comes. For many days & months my mouth filled with blood & pain thunder’d into my frame. But slowly the blood stops & slowly the pain gets less & now as I was recovered from the worst of my wounds & I was made one among the nargansets, it came upon me the time when I was told to hunt.In the many days that I was kept among the indeans, the people I call them, only Tantaneemo came to see me, none others, day after day, in winter & summer. After the time of my beating & dressing I was not any longer bound, but was kept in a wigwom just beyond thyr encampment. Tantaneemo slept near. Tantaneemo prepared food for me, & medicine. From time to time he looked at me & he said only the one words, makwa manitou. Others, they came close, would also look to me & say only these words, makwa manitou, makwa makwa. Nothing more, Yes they would mumble some words & among themselves they talked much, but to me only makwa manitou.
In the towns there is much talk that we must be friends with the indeans. Not all think this, but some do. You, deare father, have made friends among them. Well, I was among the people of this land more than any man has been among them. Do I say that Tantaneemo is a friend to me? Certain, Tantaneemo allowed me to live. Certain it is true when I came out of the great swamp I could neither see, nor stand, nor eat, nor speak. Tantameeno caused me to live — I know not why. How many of Tantaneemo’s own brothers have I caused to die? How many of Tantaneemo’s own progeny may yet die of Inglish warre making? Perhaps all. My father, am I not right, that this does seeme to be the Inglishe way? To serve the Inglish God’s design & clear this land of every indean wigwom & every indean garden & plante it in Inglish homesteads only? It is a bloodie way, and father forgive me but it is not right.
I was to tell about the bear hunt.
For some time, Tantaneemo had ventured into the wilderness & had returned with meat which was equally shared out among the people & plenty shared to myself. But by this time there was snow upon the ground, & a crust upon the snow which made noise as we walked & alarmed the deer, so Tantaneemo returned many days with no meat. When the hunger had set upon us, Tantaneemo came to me & said through gestures that we must go into the wildernesse. It was dark night when he spoke this to me, & with gestures, he touched me upon my jaw & my closed eye, & upon the shoulder that had received the wound too, which yet was sore & ever will be. & he gestured to me to look upwards at the heavens, & with his mouth he pointed to the far off edge of the sky. I knew not of what he gestured, but yet the sky was bright with the thousand lights of stars, & Tantaneemo touched me again on my face & on my arm & he said the word, makwa, makwa. & slow as my wits were to stir I came to see to what he pointed: at the bear of stars that stands in the sky. You yourself showed me this bear in my youth, “God placed it there,” you saide to me, “to help sailors know where to set thyr rudder in the nights across the sea.” Well, & in the indean encampments the sky bear is there too, traveling the year round in a circuit around the polar star. As any man can see, in the months of spring & summer, the sky bear is high in the center of the sky. In the months of fall & winter, he comes closest to the earth, & this is where the bear was now, low upon the earth.
Through gesture & some short words of Inglish, & through some words of the indean tongue which I had come to understand, I learned that the bear hunt is for the indeans a religious institution, something like the Inglish Christmass only it is not writ down in any book, but written, as you may say, among the stars. As I sayed before at this time we was ahungered, & Tantaneemo was saying unto me that we would hunt the bear. Indeed after he said makwa makwa, he brings to me my sword, which until that time I didn’t know he had about for I’d not seen it since the people had taken me from out of the swamp, & he gives to me the sword & he says it again, makwa makwa until my wits catch what Tantaneemo is saying. This was the time for hunting bears in bear-holes — as the bears, about Inglysh Christmasstime, search out a winter lodging place where they lie about three or four months without eating or drinking. This may appear to some incredible, but among the indeans this habit of the bears is a known thing.
All this Tantaneemo tells me & then Tantaneemo takes me with him to encamp some distance away, & he bids me carry with me my blade, for we were to seek the bear. The next morning early we proceeded on & when we found a tree scratched by the bears & nearby a hole amongst some tall rocks, we surmised that therein lay the bear. We then felled a sapling or small tree near the hole, & I was urged by Tantaneemo to drive out the bear, while he stood ready with his bow. We went out in this manner until evening without success. Tantaneemo got some dry rotten wood which he tied in bunches with bark and to this he set fire to as it would retain fire almost like punk wood. He put dry wood on fire into the hole; after he put in the fire he heard the bear snuff & he came speedily away, took his bow in hand, & waited until the bear would come out. But it was some time before it appeared, & when it did appear he attempted taking sight of it with his bow. It being then near dark I doubted but that he could shoot straight, but instantly he bent his bow, took hold of an arrow, & shot the bear a little behind the shoulder. The bear was angered now, not kilt, & now things happened fast. Tantaneemo retreated away from the bear & the bear lets out a tremendous sound that turns my blood to ice & the beast stands up on two legs like a man only he’s taller than a man, indeede two times the height of a man & as broad as a house.
Now I’m standing between Tantaneemo & the bear, & armed with no long gun but with my sword only. For much time it seems I could not move, but stood fixed to the ground like a myrtle tree in a bog, & as I stood the bear fell to four legs & charged toward me. Tantaneemo has his bow but now he’s nowhere near. As the bear comes charging at me I thrust my blade before me, hoping only perhaps to delay what was to come, for how could I do any damage to this beast as broad as a barn & moving at me like a bull? Sure I am to die. & yet as the bear came close, it fell upon my blade & I reached with every bit of strength at my command & drove the blade upward thro its flesh into its neck & a mighty stream of blood issued forth whose steam raised a cloud upon the wintry air. Well, the bear fell dead.
Never in my life have I seen such a thing. Tantaneemo comes to me & he says nothing, & there near where the bear is fallen dead he gathers up sticks & he kindles up a fyre. Night is come on now, & the hunger is upon is, we’ve not eaten nor drank for a whole day & more. Tantaneemo takes the blade & opens the side of the bear & he takes out the heart, a great tremendous organ as big around as a man’s whole head, & he cuts some caul-fat & wraps the heart in the fat & puts it on a wooden spit & sticks it in the ground by the fyre to roast. We ate of the roasted bear’s heart & I think I was never so satisfied for a meal in all my life, & we cut some more of the flesh & ate more of the meat roasted, a most delicate fare for all the battle that come before. After I was fully satisfied I went to sleep.
Tantaneemo awoke me after some time before the dawn light comes & I see the great sky bear still standing in the sky & Tantaneemo is there & with him is a number of the people, & they take their blades & they open up the bear & they take the hide & the meat & many of the parts & the offal they leave there in a great heap for the wolfes & the foxes to devour & they wrap the parts into the hide & wrap it into a bundle that it takes three men to haul it & we return to the encampment.
Father — Some time after the beare hunt the blue ice on the river lay white under a dressing of snow, & snow had grown deep on the ground, & Tantaneemo came to me in the wigwom where I lay, cold to the bones. In word & gestures I understood we were to remove again from this place.
We removed some miles distant to a large hill where stones had been mounded up in places. The path as we walked came between two rows of stones so large it was doubtful they had been placed by men, & yet the stones stood in rows, & could not but have been placed by men. Who could have done this? At the top of this hill was a stone boulder, great in size & resting on one point like a kettle turned up to rest on its spout, held in place only by another stone which rested underneath. Near to this stone the people made wigwoms with branches they had cut & they placed their woven mats & skins upon the branches & so a new camp was made. I tell you father, even in the biting cold of winter, these people make their homes with great ease.
When night began to fall in this place a strange event occurred. The people had gathered up the grease of the beare & with it they mixed a red powder crushed from stones & with this red grease they painted themselves all from head to foote. Their crowns they adorned with feathers tied to their locks, & their bodies they dressed in leggings weaved with beads of shell & quills of porcupine. Tantaneemo came to me & painted my body as they had painted thyrs & when the sun had set beyond the hill, he bade me sit upon the stony ground, & upon my body he laid the skinne of the bear. He laid it so that it covered me, it more than covered me, & the head of the bear was upon my head. The skinne was not scraped and cured and tanned, for it was still some days fresh & wet with bits of flesh. & the smell was not fainte, & the skinne was heavy such that the heaviness of the pelt & the stench of it near overcame me. He bade me to stay still, & makwa manitou makwa he said many times. A man came then, an old man whose skin hung from his body like wet cloth, whose grey locks were tied with many red feathers. This man approached the balanced stone & with him other men approached, & they spoke words to the stone. They spoke many long words in their tongue, & after they had spoke they laid their hands upon the stone, & with their strength they heaved at the stone & the stone moved. The stone moved & rocked upon its base & as it moved it made a thund’rous sound. It was a sound as if the mountain itself is groaning & singing, & as the stone began to sing, the people circled round the stone & sang in their language, in loud & harsh tongue, like great birds they sang. The singing was not like their speaking, it was as if a new tongue had come to them. This singing is what the people in the towns & the farms say is the voice of the devil himself, for it strikes at the heart like no Inglysh singing can do. Again I say it is like great birds, like the seabirds when they follow a shallop at herring time & dive to catch the fishe from thyr fish nets. Whilst they sang the man proferred thyr bows, with arrows nocked in them, & the women proferred stones in thyr hands which they brought together to make a clapping sound. They sang & rocked the mountain stone & as the stone moved, I witnessed a most amazing sight: from the stone where it struck the ground, sparks of flame appeared, as if it were a flynt & steel. The thund’rous sound of the stone & the singing & the pieces of light that appeared as if from inside the stone & the dancing of the people in a circle around the brow of the hill in the night made a most striking affect. I only sat under the heavy skinne of the bear, for I knew not what I shoulde do & soone I was taken by a most grievous fear, for the men with their bows, all in unison, took steps towards me & at me they aimed their arrows & made is if to shoote, & each time they did so I believed it was my time to die, but shoote did they not. & the women, all in unison, took steps towards me & they made as if to cast their stones, but cast their stones they did not. The first time they did this I made to stand & to flee, but Tantaneemo came to me & he pushed me to the ground, & I knew in any case if I had run I would be cut down by their arrows, there was nought that I could do.
All night they sang & they danced in circle about me, & the stone rocked & made sparks of flame & the mountain sounded as if it would breake in a great earthquake. Deepe in the night the young men gathered cedar barke in strips & they placed it where the rock struck sparks & with thyr breaths they blew upon the sparks, & in this way they struck a fyre from the very stone. The fyre they grew with twigs & sticks until it had become a great roaring flame, & they danced around the flame.
When the dawne broke, they removed the skinne of the great beare from my back, & my body ached with numbness & with cold such that I could scarce move or stand. They took fyre from this great roaring flame under the quaking stone & with it they kindled other fyres, all around the crown of the hill, & they laid out the skinne of the bear & upon the skinne they laide the flesh of the bear in strips, & they pierced the strips of flesh with sticks & roasted the flesh upon the fyres, & they gave of me to eat of the bear’s flesh, & while I yet live, a more welcome morsel I shall never taste. When all had eaten, the remaining meat was withdrawn, for there was much meat which would last them for many days & weeks, & now the sun had risen & all the rest of that day the people rested.
Father, the men who came to this wildernesse from Inglynd, you say you came to tame the wildernesse & to bring civilization to the savage indeans, & you say also you came to make a Newe Jerusalem where your one true god may have his home. You would teach the indeans to read, to farm & to know your god. You would wish them to be like us — not Inglysh, I suppose, but godly, worshipful, not idle nor sinful. & yet I ask you, why? For father, they are not like us, & to make them like us, it seems to me, is a grave mistake.
My dear father — while I was with the people, & after I had hunted the bear, & after the night of the rocking stone & thyr great dancing, a man came to me. It was strange because he came alone, nor with Tantaneemo nor with any other manne, he comes to me at the wigwom wherein I lay. This man spoke Inglish & he said his name was Wanalancet. He said he was sonne to a great man called Passaconnaway, name I have not heard elsewhere but who I am told by his sonne is a very great Sachem of this land. This day the man called Wanalancet told me many things. May I be forgiven for relating the things this man told to me. If my own memory be faulty, there is not ought to be done, for I am but a cripple in the wilderness upon whose mercy I am cast. Nor am I even man: nor Inglishman nor salvage. I am some other thing perhaps.
Before he speaks long, he brings a stone pipe from his satchel & he plugs it with leaf of tobacco & other herbes, & he smokes & he gives the mouth of the pipe to me to smoke, & I also smoke, thing which I had not done before. The smoke had a taste sweet & bitter at once, & when I breathed it into my mouth it caused me to cough for some time.
I here relate what the man called Wanalancet said to me.
I am sent here in name of all my great family to speak to you whom the Naragansets call makwa manitou, the man eaten by the bear. My father is Passaconnaway, son of a bear. My mother is Sunckquasson of the Pennacook. In the days when my father walked here no man could bend the bow of Passaconnaway. When the war songs of the Pennacook were heard across the hills & across the waters no voice was so loud as Passaconnaway’s voice. In the days when I was young we made congress with all the people of the dawn lands. This day I carry the bow of Passaconnaway & the voice of Wanalancet travels across the hills & across the waters. You will hear my voice.
All of this the man says, and much more that I can scarce bring to mind.
In the time when the white faces come, says the man called Wanalancet to me, Massasoit of the Wampanoag asked my father, come to Patuxet where a black cloud is upon the sea. This was your white faces’ sailing vessel. My father came, & there he saw this dark shape astride the sea. We had seen ships before, but always the ships stayed for fish and went away & we knew what trouble would come if they did not go. This dark cloud was different, and it sat heavy on the sea, and quiet for a time, nor hunting for fish nor sending shallops to the land. My father sang for a vision & his vision showed him many dark clouds coming across the sea and from them came a suffering that would make the land sick just as the people of the dawn were then sick with a plague. & so my father saw in his vision he must send the ship away. for three days my father sang to bring a storm, a storm to carry away the dark cloud of the white faces’ at the edge of the land. No storm came then to carry away the Inglish, but soon a whirlwind came to break the mighty oak of the dawn people. Great Spirit told my father, fire & thunder is in the hands of the white faces, & they are plentier than the leaves of the forest & still shall they increase & still their thunder shall increase. & so it came to be. The meadows are turned up with the plough, & the forests are felled by the axe, & upon the hunting-grounds & fishing places they make their villages & they make stone monuments to their dead. We are few & we bend before the hard wind. From the time of my father we see that the only way is to bend in the storm, that though we desire war with the Inglish, for the Inglish bring sickness and death, we must make peace.
& yet the Inglish allow no peace.
Wanalancet said this last with great gravity.
I am sent here in name of all my relations to speak to you. We are the people of these dawn lands, & we will not pass away from this earth. For what is great in us is not in the man standing before you. What power we have dwells in the land. Many ages hence, the Inglish will be gone, & the land will remain. As the quahog is seeded by the people in the flat purple earth among the seagrasses, so the people are seeded among the stones & the waters, seeded among the fishes & the shoals of the sea, seeded among the winged ones of the air & in the very clouds & even in the sky of the world above. We will not pass from this earth.
The man called Wanalancet fell silent for many minutes. He then said, Makwa Manitou, manitou makwa, in the earth you must bring peace. Manitou makwa on the waters you must bring peace. Manitou makwa in the air above you must bring peace. Manitou makwa, among the people you must bring peace. This is how it is.
Then the man called Wanalancet turned & walked away from the wigwom where I sat.
Comes the next morning, when the ice is melting along the blackened bogs & the smell upon the air is different. The air has upon it a lively green scent. On this morning I am waked by a loud chorusing of songbirds. I stepped thro the door of the wigwom where I had laid & saw a vision there as if the wigwom was dressed in colors & song: a flock of mocking-birds & robins hovered over the wigwom, some astride upon it & others circling like swifts in a fashion I had never yet seen. Some thing is coming, I says to myself, some thing is coming.
& sure enough, without I have another thought, Tantaneemo & Wanalancet come with words for me. It is then that Tantaneemo hands me this book that I write in now, & I take it as some miracle, though a miracle sent by what god is not for me to say. For what he hands me is a Bible, of just the sort that Reverend White read from in meeting all thro my life until I came to be in the wildernesse. & yet as Tantaneemo puts this Bible in my hands, I lift its cover & it is absent of words: some dark scratchings are here, to be sure, but whether it is from sun or from rain, or whether yet from some sorcery, there is no marks upon the page. The Holy Booke is removed of words as if some magic has made of it a fresh empty book. Tantaneemo hands me then a long barred feather, it is the tail feather of a turkey fowl & with gestures he sayes to me that these gifts are for me to write with. Why he does this I cannot know, but I am only too warmed by this, for now whilst I cannot speake for my tongue has been taken by the beare, I can yet recall to write. But what words can I write with paper & with quill but with no ink? But I being learned in some of the Inglysh arts, I then gather up the galls of an oak tree & an old nail of iron that I have acquired, the same that Tantaneemo employed in driving out the bear, & before I make my enforced leave of the camp I boil them up upon the fyre stirr’d up with wood ash & I pour the black liquor that comes of the boiling into a glass bottle that also I have taken freely from there among Tantaneemo’s gatherings, & I treat the feather with a blade to make it a fine sharpe quill & I am a writing man as good as ever there was in the whole of Inglynd.
Tantaneemo then brings me other goodes, a new covering of deere-hide, done with beads of shell, & a pair of leggings done also with porcupine quills, & he painted my head & tied into my locks a cappo of red feathers, & red feathers he also tied to one of my locks, such that it stood straight up, and there too is the silver brooch they had tied there previous. With Wanalancet at his side, with some few words they bade me sit on the skinne of the bear & Wanalancet gave me a pipe of soft stone with a long reed for a draw-pipe, & a pouch fashioned from the skin of a pole-cat skinned pocket-fashion which contained tobacco & dried leaves of sumac. When I was thus seated, they summoned up thyr fellows, all of the people of the encampment, men & squaws & children alike, & the people circled round & sat before me, or me before them, & for considerable time thyr was silence. Every one among them was smoking, but not a word was spoken among them. At length, Wanalancet made a speech.
You Inglish, you come to us as manitou makwa, in the long white moon. You are eaten by the bear when you come among us & you are become bone of the bear & flesh of the bear. By the tooth of the bear the Inglish blood is washed from your veins. By the tooth of the bear & by the songs of the people you are bound with great solemness by our strong law & custom. By our strong law & custom you must bring peace upon us as we have brought peace upon you.
The man called Wanalancet repeated this phrase three times — “You must bring peace, you must bring peace, you must bring peace.”
I was told then to return to the Inglish towne, for if I stayed I would be put to death forthwith. That as I walked I would be followed by two of their Nargansets, who would espy me from the brush & ensure I neither strayed nor came to harm. But that if aught Inglish should appear, these indeans, who they said were as my brothers, would become invisible into the forest. & then they dressed me in the skinne of the great bear that had been kilt upon my sword. Now the skinne had been scraped & stretched & tanned over smoking bark such that it no longer smelt of meat but now had a most pleasant smell of smoked alder, and though it had much substance, it was at least some stone lighter than if it had been fresh kilt. In truthe it is a most fine and kingly cape and has served me well for both warmth and comforte. & dressed so, instantly they bid me go, just like this, into the wildernesse.
My deare father — I think now I am not more than two days’ journey from Salem Village, and this twilight I have encamped within sight of a Inglish farmstead. It is the first I have witnessed that is not burnt to cinder and abandon’d. And yet dressed as I am and with no tongue I fear what would come of me should I venture into the pastures and cross the fences of this place, and so I keep to the woods’ edge and make no fyre. I have discovered that in my heart I have come, perhaps, to revile the Inglysh that I may now meet. But more than revile them, I fear them.
As sure as I return to Salem Village, though I am no longer I & Salem Village, if it be touched by this warre, be no longer home, I should not doubt if, returning to the farmsteads & the fences of Salem I should be turned away again, or even shot by the militiamen, for I walk in the skinne of a bear. If in two years’ service in the Massachusetts Bay militia — for I have never yet been relieved of my duties — I have apprehended upon one truth, it is only this: ye who seeke to make peace in this land, there is but one way. I ask you, my father, to endeavor to tell all men of Salem, & of Plymouth & of Boston & all the townes around: if ye seeke peace in this land, board ship & sail for Ingland, for if in this land ye stay, ye shall succeed only in making warre. Much have I thought on this: in the flesh of the bear I am called to ask the Inglish to make peace upon the lands & the waters & to make peace among the people. I shall say it again for all the ages: if ye seeke peace in this land, there is but one way: board ship & sail for Ingland, for if in this land ye stay, ye shall succeed only in making warre.
I have earlier in this missive made mention of Lot my namesake in the Bible, and of how your churchmen taught that the Inglyshman is Lot and the Indeans the ignorant savages of Sodom & Gomorah. I am not sure it is so. Do you recall, when the twin angels came to Lot they told him to go out from Sodom and to bring with him the sinners before their cities be burnt? And what did these do, but ignore Lot’s plea and stay in their cities and farms until your Lord rained upon them fire & brimstone, to their full destruction? And the angels turned Lot’s wife to salt, and who knows what has come to pass with my Elizabeth? And do you recall how the angels guided Lot to Zoar, a small place in the wildernesse, and that Lot was taken in by the people of Zoar and given rest and comfort there?
So I ask you, who is Lot now, that your Inglysh farmsteads be all burnt in war? Who is Lot now that he be taken out from Sodom and into Zoar and dressed in the skinne of this wildernesse? And which is Sodom, the Indeans in their wigwoms who eat of this land and who sue for peace, or the men of Newe England who fell the forests & make bitter feud in the name of thyr beliefs?
As sure as I am that Lot, I warn you, my deare father, to board ship & sail for Ingland, for if in this land ye stay, ye shall succeed only in making warre.
I must go! Twilight now is on the cusp of darkness & quick I spy a fire’s light that bobs off distant from the direction of the farmstead. & now a dog barks, dogs! & Inglysh voices moving. In haste, I close my testimonie, such as it is written by Lot Conant, makwa manitou, in the year of 1677 or 1678 or 1679. Amen.
I read the entire Relation in one sitting, perched on the edge of a chair in a cool windowless room at the Peabody Essex. By the end, where the handwriting grew hasty and trailed off in splotches of ink, my heart was racing. What was this manuscript? I had entirely lost track of time, and just as I closed the document, Ms. Liu the librarian appeared at my table to let me know it was four o’clock and the archive was closing for the day. I was so intrigued by what I had read I determined to return the following day.
I booked a room in the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem – just across the way from the statue of Roger Conant – and I slept hard as soon as my head hit the pillow. That night my dreams were troubled by the brutal images of torture and violence I’d encountered in the Relation. As a descendent of Lot, and of Roger, I wondered, were these scenes somehow imprinted on my genes? Was this violence somehow in me? I had not inherited much legacy from these men – no property, nor land nor wealth had come down to me – aside, perhaps, from my last name, Conant, and my white skin. But in the new science of epigenetics we learn that traumatic events experienced by our forebears may stamp our genes in ways we can’t detect, but which come to express themselves even centuries later. Was my white body, the product of these violent events long past, somehow carrying the mark of these events, of the decisions made by them and the traumas suffered at their hands?
I had learned that Lot, my eight-times great-grandfather in a manner of speaking, had killed countless Narragansetts, some with the utmost brutality, and had been, perhaps, the instigator of the massacre at the Great Swamp – look it up on Wikipedia – an incident in which thousands had died – and which led unambiguously to the near extinction of the Narragansett people and, indeed, to most of the native peoples of southern New England – and which, in turn, set in motion the wholesale genocide of indigenous peoples from Penobscot Bay on the Atlantic to the whole Pacific Rim. Was all of this, somehow, in my very blood?
In the morning, after a quick continental breakfast in the hotel, I drove the 25 minutes back up Route 128 to the Peabody Essex Museum Archives and asked for a second look at the Relation. Ms. Chiu was not in, and I was attended by a different librarian, an older man in tweed and with a bristling white moustache, whose name tag identified him as John Eliot. I asked Mr. Eliot for a look at Lot’s Relation, and he stepped away to look into the archives. When he returned to my table he assured me with great certainty that no such document appeared to exist.