Colonial history: yes indeed Ari, lots of massacres!

abenaki-western.jpgSo, yesterday I was working away in the library on my next impressive tome, and this link came in over the bloggy transom, Colonial History:  Nothing but Massacres?, in commemoration of the raid by French-allied Indians (Wabanaki, Hurons, and Mohawks) on Deerfield, Massachusetts on the night of February 28-29, 1704.  It was posted by Ari Kelman at The Edge of the American West at the very moment I was re-reading the neglected but bloody finale to Colonel Benjamin Church’s Indian-killing career as recounted in his Entertaining passages relating to Philip’s War which began in the month of June, 1675 (1716).  (Barbies in the morning, barbarism all afternoon–such is Historiann’s eccentric intellectual life!)  Contrary to the title, the book documents his successive Indian fighting expeditions through 1704, when at the age of 65 he proposed leading a murderous raid on the Wabanaki and French Acadians living around the Gulf of Maine in retaliation for the Deerfield attack.  Never mind that few if any Acadians or Maine Wabanaki were involved in the Deerfield raid–Church was probably looking for a pretext to attack in Maine and Acadia.  (He had attempted a similar raid in 1696 during King William’s War, when he succeeded in killing mostly livestock rather than French or Indian people.)

What does it mean when we frame colonial history (in Ari Kelman’s prankishly exaggerated term) as “nothing but massacres,” rather than as Anglo-American agricultural villages (“peaceable kingdoms”) that through the organic experience of small government developed the concept of “popular sovereignty” and Republicanism?  Well, for one, we get a colonial history that merges seamlessly with the history of the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (“Manifest Destiny,” the Frontier Army, and U.S. imperialism from Cuba and the Phillipines to Iraq).  We also get a more inclusive picture of colonial America, which included Indian and African peoples as well as Europeans and Euro-Americans, as well as a colonial history that has more continuities rather than differences with the colonial histories of Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and central and South America.  Therefore, the “nothing but massacres” frame is something that seriously challenges claims to American Exceptionalism.

One of the problems colonial historians have in writing these more inclusive histories is that we have lengthy, detailed accounts of attacks on English towns and families written by the champlains-1607-gulf-of-maine.jpgsurvivors, but we have no comparable documentation of English attacks on Indian villages and families, and Native oral histories can’t entirely compensate.  Col. Church is so proud of his efforts to imprison and kill Wabanaki and French people that his neglected post-King Philip’s War career can fill in some of these gaps.  Church reports that his charge from Governor Joseph Dudley gives him free reign between the Piscataqua and St. Croix Rivers, and over to Mount Desert and Acadia (Nova Scotia), to “use all possible Methods for the burning and destroying of the Enemies Housing, and breaking the Dams of their Corn grounds in the said several places, and make what other Spoils you can upon them, and bring away the Prisoners.”  After they “kill’d and took every one both French & Indians, not knowing that any one did escape in all Penobscot,” they proceeded to “Passamequedo” up the St. Croix River, where Church was involved in a confusing skirmish with the scattered locals, “never asking whether they were French or Indians; they being all Enemies alike to me.”  Church and his men then proceeded to Acadia to sack and burn the French Acadian town of Menis (Minas), and to take “as many Prisoners as they could desire” from another Acadian town, but declined to attack Port Royal, and so returned to the mainland to seek out Wabanaki settlements in the Penobscot and Kennebec River valleys, especially the Catholic mission town at Norridgewock.

Church was unsuccessful in routing Norridgewock–he reports that when the Wabanaki there had heard that the English had “swept” Penobscot of its “Inhabitants, as if it had been swept with a Broom,” they cleared out of Norridgewock so quickly they left their “Ruff houshold-stuff and Corn behind them.”  (This was only one of many failed English expeditions to destroy Norridgewock and its French Jesuit missionaries–a feat they wouldn’t accomplish for another twenty years.)  The Norridgewock Wabanaki were mobile and had long-established connections with the mission Indians at St. Francis, near Quebec, but they probably didn’t all head North that summer of 1704–at least some of them remained to counter-attack English towns, especially Wells, Maine, where on August 10 they took dozens of captives, including Esther Wheelwright.  Church’s attacks were deadly, but they didn’t dissuade French and Wabanaki people from attacking English towns, as Church had hoped–his attacks probably only fueled their determination to drive the English out of Maine, and that’s a lesson that few in political and military leadership have ever seemed to learn in American history.

0 thoughts on “Colonial history: yes indeed Ari, lots of massacres!

  1. 1. Doesn’t republicanism and/or (in New England) Covenant theology often reinforce the “nothing but massacres” analytical narrative of the colonial past?
    2. I’m interested in Benjamin Church’s descendants. Did his son/grandson become a Son of Liberty in revolutionary Boston? A “Benjamin Church” became one of the first Boston Massacre orators (speaking of republicanism and massacres).
    3. Can you give an example of how gender facilitates analysis of colonial encounters (i.e., the Deerfield Raid)? I’m thinking of using gender within a broader borderlands framework. However, I’m unsure of the appropriate times and places for the application.


  2. Hi Historiann! I love this post. “Massacre”, is a great analytical category for the study of “Early” America. Your post, I think, would perfectly fit a CFP for a panel entitled, “Theorizing Early American Literature,” at this year’s MLA (San Fransisco, 27-30 December). If you’re interested and haven’t seen the announcement, let me know, I will forward it to you.

    Scott, in response to your third query, I think Historiann’s book is a great example of using gender as a category to analyze cultural encounters in New England. Also, Kathleen M. Brown’s _Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, & Anxious Patriarchs_ is a great study of “gender frontiers” in eighteenth-century Virginia. Lastly, the first couple chapters of Jennifer L. Morgan’s _Laboring Women_ illustrate how gender, as an analytical category, can be used to examine cultural encounters between Africans and Europeans in the Atlantic World.

    But, I defer to those who are more knowledgeable to provide more concrete examples.


  3. Thanks! I’m familiar with all three–including gender frontiers. I’m looking more for specific events (outside of warfare) that would require gender as a category of analysis. I guess I’d just do better analyzing the events myself.


  4. Joan, Mulling over a few examples: In C and C, analysis of the captive slave system requires gender (women as a social value of labor); in Historiann’s book, warfare as a representation of masculinity and patriarchy; and in Tolouse’s book, the relationship between female authorship and Puritan paternalism. Gender is readily apparent in all three monographs. However, gender is less obvious when examining primary sources. I’m hesitant to impose gender; I’d rather use (for example) a gendered frontier as a means for facilitating analysis.


  5. Hi Ryan–thanks for your interest, and your questions. I’m not sure about your question about “imposing” gender on primary sources–in my experience with my first book, gender was all over my primary sources, with Indian men and English men complaining that their foes were “not men,” etc., and in the ways people interacted as families in captivity. It seemed to me that in my sources, 17th and 18th-century people could not shut up about gender. Borderlands people were living in a rapidly changing, sometimes unstable world, so they reached for familiar hierarchies in order to think and talk about what was happening to them, and to explain their relationship with their allies, trading partners, and enemies.

    As for using gender to understand the Deerfield raid: have you read John Williams’s _Unredeemed Captive_? That narrative is utterly unhinged (and incidentally kind of an outlier) in its representation of Indian captivity as a literal assault on the orderly stability of English families. That’s the narrative that features one pregnant woman after another being tortured and/or killed–something absent in all of the other narratives I’ve worked with. Because it was written by a man whose wife died in the initial march, perhaps this is understandable. But I think it’s a pretty clear example of how ideas about gender, sexuality, and family life are central to people’s experience of cross-cultural encounters.

    As for your first question about Covenant theology and Republicanism–I don’t think I follow you there. My point was that a narrative of colonial American history rooted in town meetings and the birth of democracy is one that will surely lead to American exceptionalism, as well to as a rather narrow and exclusive vision for what and who is important in colonial history. (Who was invited to those meetings? Who got to vote? Only a tiny minority of colonial people, I’m afraid, and one that’s already received more than its share of printer’s ink in my opinion.)

    As for a bibliography on gender in borderlands history: see Juliana Barr’s _Peace Came in the Form of a Woman_, Ramon Gutierrez’s classic _When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away_, Susan Sleeper-Smith’s _Indian Women and French Men_, Camilla Townsend’s _Malintzin’s Choice_, and Kirsten Fischer’s _Suspect Relations_. (The last title is not borderlands, but is a great book about how gender and sexuality were deployed by Anglo-American elites to create a race- and class-based labor system in early North Carolina–she shows how the mockery and exploitation of Indian women paved the way to the exploitation of plebian white women and then to enslaved African and African American men and women.

    And Ortho–thanks for the tip for MLA–I’ll take a look! (But I really should focus on Esther…)


  6. Thanks! For the republicanism and massacre question, I was thinking along the lines of John Wood Sweet (the racialization of republican citizenship). My primary sources reveal that the GA and republicanism unleashed a violence/racial discourse among New England Indians.

    I could easily see gender in the context of colonial New England warfare (masculinity). In the sources I’m looking at (durng the American Revolution), political culture takes center stage. The issue is not an a lack of gender issues. I have everything from a Narragansett woman asking Joseph Fish questions concerning the enclave political structure, to a female sachem struggling with male Christian Indian Separatists, to female factions within the Mohegan enclave. The issue is more whether a the cultural categories of race, class, or ritual discourse would yield a more cogent analysis. Right now, I’m taking it document by document.

    A borderlands framework may prove more useful because it would allow me to explore the porous conceptual borders between gender, race, ethnicity, and class. Thus I wouldn’t have to privilege one analytical category over another.

    In any case, thank you so much for the biblio! I’ve read the first two books and read reviews on the rest (but haven’t had the opportunity to read them). I’ll place an order on Amazon very shortly. I had some issues with Guiterrez’s monograph. Analyses of native agency often obscure the horrors of colonization…including physical domination and rape.

    P.S. Devil in the Shape of a Woman is a good read, but I favor more recent gender studies that examine causal links between masculine and feminine cultural constructions. The above biblio is sounds promising for anyone interested.


  7. I’m not focusing so much on the Brotherton movement. Rather, I’m researching the factions supported by the colonial legislatures and the concomitant factional battles within the enclaves (Brotherton figures in as the culmination of Christian Indian Separatism). Hence political culture during the early 1770s. Right now, I’m taking it document by document.

    A borderlands framework may prove more useful because it would allow me to explore the porous conceptual borders between gender, race, ethnicity, and class (yes, economics…but not necessarily the world-systems declension narrative). Thus I wouldn’t have to privilege one cultural category over another. I’m also investigating the analytical utility of non-representational theory (Thrift) in the context of enclave space and time. Jake Kosek’s Understories contains several analytical approaches that I may use in the future (similar to Colonising Egypt).


  8. The first time I never encountered Ben Church was in a pop-history (!) book, Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower. Church comes of mildly well in that book and somewhat heroically to boot (further research generally disabuses one of that notion). Generally I though Philbrick’s book was ok, it had many problems but gets credit for including natives as a central part of the narrative AND including King Philip’s War. It had far less of Pilgirms/Puritans as the wellspring of American greatness/democracy that most popular accounts of the Pilgrims/Puritans have.

    My question is have you read the book (or are familar with it). If so, I’d love to hear your opinion.


  9. Hi Smith–I haven’t read the Philbrick book, not out of any snobbery, but out of feeling already overwhelmed by not reading all of the academic books I should. And recently, I’m reading mostly women’s and gender history too. (It’s really hard both to read and write books–most years, I can do one or the other, but rarely both simulaneously.) I’m glad you thought it was good.

    Church is really horrible, but in I find guys like him more tolerable than the Cotton Mathers, who were perfectly happy to let other people fight the wars they championed from the comfort of their studies, as they were waited on by wives and daughters, and servant women and enslaved women kept their rooms clean and kept them well-fed while they churned out their racist screeds. Church at least got into the fray, and like most English people who got out of Boston and knew some Indians, was much more ethnographically intelligent and observant than the armchair warriors.

    p.s. to Ryan: sorry not to have replied to your genealogical question about Church–I don’t know anything about his descendants, except that I think it’s his son who published his “Entertaining Passages” in 1716. I’m sure some 19th C antiquarian figured all of his genealogy out and published it in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register–your University should have a complete run. (If not, you can ILL it.)


  10. Interestingly, one of the problems of Philbrick’s book is that he is too uncritical about gender, and how it influnced the Pilgrims/Puritans.

    And certainly Church’s willingness to put his money where is mouth his (so to speak) is much more tolerable than the 17th century version of a chickenhawk.


  11. I’m an indolent grad student and prefer to mine the knowledge and epistemologies of senior scholars. I subsume those questions under the heading “mentoring.” I’m pretty certain that the Church’s grandson was a Son of Liberty…and a “massacre narrative” (rather than republican narrative) radical to boot. I’ll check it out and get back to you. =)


  12. Cool–I’ll be interested to hear what you find, Ryan. And, Smith, it’s really not surprising at all that ideas about gender wouldn’t be terribly prominent in a trade press history book! That’s pretty much the way they all are. I think there’s a big misunderstanding in who buys popular histories–women like them, and I think would buy more, but most trade titles are so focused on male political and military leaders, especially in early American history.


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  16. Yes, a number of Wawenok and Cowasuck Abenakis might have remained to fight that summer (1704), but more likely, because of the Confederacy agreements, the majority of the insurgents were Western Abenaki, who came down from Odanak (St. Francis) to continue the overall war effort, through raids and sabotage, on the “Eastern Front” of the invading “Bostonakis”. The local Abenakis, including my own family, mostly refrained from the attacks, as they hoped to remain in their traditional villages and did not want to remove permanently to Quebec (there were, and still to this day are, significant differences between the Abenakis from the lowlands, and those from the mountains and St. Lawrence Valley.) They must have been somewhat successful, as my family’s village at Cape Porpoise remained until the late 1700s, when the tribe finally removed to Norridgewock (where my gr-gr-grandmother was born.)


  17. MB–no problem, and thanks for stopping by to comment! Please check back again for more Maine & northeastern borderlands history posts. I’ve been kind of election-obsessed lately in my more recent posts, but now that the academic year is underway again, it’s time to get back to my work in the eighteenth century!

    Thanks again for your interest and for sharing your family history. The Abenaki/Wabanaki are really all mixed up by the turn of the 18th century, many of them traveling between St. Francis, Norridgewock, and their Eastern or Western home bases.


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