Several comments arising from last week’s trip:
1. The Pilgrims expressed no surprise that there was a female leader (“squaw sachem or Massachusetts queen”) of the tribes, as they were perfectly used to having a female ruler. Various political activists have asserted, without any reference or source, that the Pilgrims could not have “wrapped their minds around” the possibility of a woman in authority, when in fact their experience in England, Scotland, and the Netherlands had included several woman rulers as queens and regents in the previous century. The fact that the Pilgrims despised Elizabeth I had much more to do with her theology and churchmanship (being, they thought, a crypto-papist) than with her being a woman.
2. The Pilgrims’ actions not only brought peace to the region for the first time in living memory -- and the memory of the natives was notoriously long -- but enabled the warring tribes to live together in harmony, which had not been the case for hundreds of years. Native American society was just as warlike as any other in human history. The activists’ vision of Native Americans as peace-pipe-smoking environmentalists which gained purchase in the 1970s has long since given way to a more Hobbesian portrait of pre-Columbian reality. In North America, most Natives were primitive farmers. This means that (with some exceptions) they had no permanent settlements: they farmed in an area for a few decades until the soil got tired, before moving on to greener pastures where the hunting was better and the lands more fertile. This meant that tribes were in constant conflict with other tribes. It also meant that chiefs were continually vying for power, creating confederations under themselves, and that the question of who owned the land was in a more or less constant state of flux. In most of North America, the idea that any one piece of land belonged to any one tribe, for more than 50 or 100 years, is therefore highly questionable. In short, if you looked at a map of Native America or Canada 200 years before Europeans arrived, it would have been entirely different. In the meantime, some groups of natives slaughtered, bullied or, yes, enslaved other natives, whenever they were strong enough. That ended, rather suddenly, when the Pilgrims arrived, because the balance of power shifted suddenly and permanently.
3. It appears that the starving Pilgrims’ actions at Corn Hill last December, taking the corn they found because they had run out of food, were not at all unusual, or limited to the Pilgrims. What was unusual was that the Pilgrims eventually paid for the corn.