Find the Americans in this picture

Sun Jun 22 12:53:13 2008
I realize that every class and textbook in American History from first grade on begins in the colonial era. But I don’t see any Americans here. I find that looking back at these events through American History colors our interpretation of the documents. The story of American History leads to different answers, even different questions. There are many other stories/frameworks/paradigms we can use to think about these events—and they lead to different, perhaps better questions.

Looking for an American Way of War in the Pequot and King Philips Wars seems to impose an anachronistic view on the material and presents one of the fallacies of Question-Framing. The participants in these events did not view themselves as proto-Americans. They did not imagine us as their future. They were members of a variety of groups with different identities:

1) Political or administrative groups: the Massachusetts Bay Company, Plymouth Council for New England, Connecticut Colony, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Westindische Compagnie’s province of New Netherlands (but we group them all together as Europeans, colonists, or “the British”)

2) Religious groups: Puritans, Pilgrims, Quakers and non-conformists

3) Gens or Tribal Groups: Pequot, Niantic, Mohegan, Narragansett (again generalized as “Indians” or Native Americans)
The Pequot were at war with the Mohegan, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was in competition with Plymouth Colony, breakaway religious groups fled persecution in Europe only to practice it just as vigorously against each other in the New World. These people did not think of themselves as Colonists, Indians and Puritans.

Looking at these documents through American History we have a strong tendency to apply “Cowboys vs. Indians” or Monroe Doctrine metaphors. Many students on this board have provided very cogent and insightful interpretations from this perspective. But I feel like we are missing many other ways to look at this material, some of which might be far more illuminating and closer to the participants own views. Here are just a few that come to mind:

1) Anglo-Dutch Conflict-Early struggles leading to the larger wars of 1652-74 (the Mohegan were allied with the Puritan English and the Pequot with the Dutch).

2) Religious Struggle-peripheral events toward the end of a century of European Religious Wars.

3) Clash of Cultures-continuing the legacy of Spain and Portugal in colonizing the New World.

4) Native American Wars-for hegemony along the Connecticut coast in a disruptive era of immigration and epidemic.

5) Policy by Other Means-an extension of the economic conflict between Massachusetts Bay Company and the Pequot over control of the supply of wampum and trade rights. (This sounds like the familiar American Way of War to me.)

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~ by severalfourmany on June 22, 2008.

One Response to “Find the Americans in this picture”

  1. Clarification
    Mon Jun 23 00:58:41 2008
    I am not saying that because these groups did not identify as Americans, Americans would not be influenced by them. What I am saying is that our anachronistic thinking about them as Americans has a dramatic effect on our interpretation of the documents and the narratives we construct about them.

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