(January 12, 2019) — I had planned that my next entry would be how my ancestors lived and made a living in the early 18th Century in Massachusetts. But, for a couple of reasons I am not going there just yet. First, finding documentation of the early 18th Century, as with the 17th Century, is hard and takes time. I am not a trained historian, so my skills with historical research are clumsy and often ineffectual. Depending on digitized records and published historical studies is the best I can do for now, so I am being very careful with Ancestry.com and with familysearch.org because often those platforms can inject errors without the user realizing it. For example, in my initial experiences with Ancestry, I had a mistake in my paternal line that was going in a funky direction – it included a will from someone I believed was my several times great grandfather who bequeathed “my Negro girl Phillis” to his “beloved wife” – but once I excavated more carefully into the documentation, I realized that line was wrong and I scrapped it. I have been more deliberate since that lesson to read the original source documents closely. But the documents can sometimes contain errors too (birthdates, wedding locations, etc, can sometimes be “best guesses” rather than proved through vital records). So, my methodology has become more cautious. Which means slower. 😊
Second, and this is the hard part… I am grieved by these revelations. I was living a pretty lie and I did not realize how much I depended on that pretty lie to frame my identity, sense of purpose, and connection to this society. As I have written previously, I knew my whole life that we descended from Robert Carver, born in 1594, and first documented in Massachusetts in 1638 – most people believe he was somehow related to Capt. John Carver of the Mayflower, but no one (to my knowledge) has documented exactly how they are related. On ancestry, some people connect Robert Carver as John Carver’s nephew through John’s brother Isaac Carver. I believe this is the most plausible connection, but the documentation is not conclusive. The Carver identity is one of pride and has been a source of pride to me for my whole life. Robert was a planter, he married Christian Turner and they settled in Marshfield, MA and had a small family that grew through many generations. I hope to visit their graves next time I am in New England. As far as I can tell, Robert and Christian themselves did not enslave people. It’s fascinating to cull through the genealogy that was prepared by my distant cousins nearly 40 years ago and I marvel at their determination to get the details right through every generation – they documented 12 generations of descendants. It’s humbling. The early generations lived hard lives of farming, subsistence, and efforts to improve their lives for themselves and their children. They lived in community with other settlers/colonizers and attended the New England Town Hall meetings where many things were discussed and decided. Within the Carver genealogy is the documentation of our relationship to the Conant family as well. The Carvers married other settlers: the Fords, the Conants, the Mayflower Cookes (not the same line of Cooks from whom I am directly descended), the Edsons, etc. So, by the time we get to the fourth and fifth generations from the original immigrants, it’s a genetic slurry of old lines mixed with newer arrivals. The bottom line, I suppose, is that given this extensive genealogy, I can excavate multiple lines and find ancestors who participated in the destruction and enslavement of Indigenous people and African people. They were complicit. Their complicity aided their survival. Their survival continued the emergence and spread of the family throughout New England and beyond. So my identity and connection to this society has long rested on the fact of this lineage – though we were not wealthy in material terms, I could go the local cemetery in my home town and see the graves of my ancestors because I know their names. This, in itself, is an indicator of being the child of colonizers – many of those descended from the enslaved and destroyed do not have access to the full set of genealogical records where they can discover their roots. The fact that I can is an example of how history is written by the victors.
But, now that I know some of the more painful aspects of just exactly how my ancestors survived, and that it included enslaving and destroying Indigenous people and African people, my purpose is different. I do not want to continue that legacy, I want to change it. My purpose is not to shame my family, but to tell the truth about us. When I wrote last time that my 5x Great Grandfather, Stephen Cook, and his brother Robert Cook murdered an American Indian man, I did so with the understanding that my existence is reflected by the absence of the seventh generation of descendants not born to the man who was murdered. The attempted genocide of American Indians is part of how my ancestors survived. That is simply the truth of it. I am here, in part, because generations of indigenous people are not. In no way do I believe that the Indigenous people were “helpless victims” – they fought hard for their land and their survival. I know that I have other ancestors who were killed during these times and thus stopped those family lines from developing, too. There is so much death and destruction on all sides of this history, but it’s not equivalent on all sides. The colonizers, my ancestors, had the audacity to claim land that wasn’t theirs – the hubris of this is astonishing – to dole out land grants on behalf of the English King to other colonizers at a pace that was impossible for the indigenous people to prevent. My purpose now is to acknowledge the truth of it – my ancestors did benefit from this governing system of land grants, trade practices, legal permissions to enslave and lethal controls of the enslaved, wars against those who lived here first, and expanding settlements (including the Cooks who lived in “The Hundredth Town,” of Westborough, Massachusetts). The rose-colored historical glasses of my initial understanding of our lineage have been removed.
And, it breaks me. I have shared the information of these details with my immediate family. They are saddened to learn about this. I have been too cowardly to share with them that I have this blog. Some in my family will be ok with it, some will be angry, and others won’t care. I do not want to face the anger of my relatives who I predict will be outraged by this work. I wrestle with being so cowardly. Plus, I am angry at some of my ancestors – not that it does me much good – but I wonder often, if I had the chance to sit down with and talk to Stephen and Elizabeth Cook what would I say to them? What were they like? How did they live? I know Stephen was a cordwainer (shoe maker), but was Stephen a good husband to Elizabeth? Was he kind to her, despite being so violent that he murdered a man? Was his father as awful as seems to be the case given what was reported by the Parkman diary (reference in my last post)? Stephen’s son, Eli, left Massachusetts for Maine (probably with a land grant program after serving in the Revolutionary Army); was Eli a good man? I know that my great grandfather was a mean and brutal man, so I wonder if the direct line was so awful in each earlier generation? I am fascinated and scared of this question. I am glad, however, to report that my own grandfather broke this pattern in that he was a kind man who was happy to have good relations with his sons and in the community. And his sons, my dad and uncle, are truly good people whom I admire and love.
And, I have a huge family; the work I have been sharing here is from one small segment of my whole family: one grandfather’s line. I have not started to document the French ancestry from northern New England and Quebec province, which reflects 3 of my four grandparents. And, on the French side, we have families with 18-20 children in multiple generations. So, goodness knows what that will produce.
I’ll get back to regular postings next time. For now, thanks for reading this. Feel free to comment if you are so inclined.
While I am using published historical research, and previously published genealogies; I am also using these websites for genealogy to explore my family history:
I am being very careful about the documentation about marriages, births, deaths, probate, etc. Still, some errors may exist and when discovered, I will do my best to correct them.
I am writing these blogs in historical order (as best I can) and I hope you will read them in the order I have posted them. I think it will make more sense as you do that. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks.
(December 19, 2018)
It’s hard to decide where to start my blogs on my ancestor’s from the 18th century. I have been stalling because it is painful. So, perhaps I should start in mid-century?
My 5x great grandfather murdered a man. An American Indian man. Here is what I know:
Inquest: SF#70834 v.436, 13 April 1753, Stockbridge, Hampshire “…at a place called Hogswamp In Sheffield within the Body of the sd County of Hampshire on the 11th Day of Aprill Instant About Ten of the Clock A:M: The sd Wampaungcoss was shot thro the Body by a Ball from his own Gun and had his Skull Brooken by the head of his own Hatchett and by the same Hatchett was chupt on the Top of his head thro his Scull and into his Brains and by the same Hatchett was chupt in the side of his Neck into the Bone & That the sd Wampaungcoss Instantly Died of the sd Wounds & that the Shot & Blow & Chups aforesd were wittingly willfully & with Malice forethought made and Done by one Robert Cook as he calls himself of Nicklwaug in th sd County of Hampshire Cordwainer. and the sd Jurors further say that one Stevens Cook as he calls himself of Wesborough Cordwainer was present and in the Beginning of the Fray in which ye sd Wampaungcoss recd the Wounds aforesd & was so fas accessory to ye killing aforesd as to strike the sd Wampaungcoss with his fist contrary to Law & and so the Jurors aforesd upon their oaths aforesd say That the aforesd Wampaungcoss In manner and form aforesd The aforesd Robert Cook then and there feloniously did kill and murder against the Peace…”
Indictment? yes, murder. “upon thier Oath say That the said Robert Coke and Stephen Cooke did on the Eleventh day of April alst at Sheffiled aforesaid With force as aforesaid feloniously Willfully and of their malice forethought in manner and form aforesaid Kill and Mruder the Said Wampaungoes.”
Term?: 9/1753 (Hampshire Co.)
Court proceedings: Robert Cooke of District of Rutland (Worcester Co.) (cordwainer) at Sheffield (Hampshire Co.) malice foretho’t murdered Wamppoungcoss (an Indian man) with a hatchet. 4/11/1753 hit on back part of his head through his skull & into his brain. 2″ deep. inst. AID & ABET: Stephen Cook of Marlboro (Middlesex Co., laborer). pNG. RC: fG of MANSL. SC: fNG. RC: benefit of clergy. Branded “T” on hand & 1 yr. imprisonment & cost
Another description is found in Drew’s account of Henry Knox and the Revolutionary War Trail, originally published in 2012:
On April 13, 1753, Robert and Stephen were convicted of homicide and treated leniently by the courts. They served a brief sentence and then were released. According to Miles (1994), in his classic study, Red Man Dispossessed, published in the New England Quarterly (Vol 67, No. 1; pages 46076), “although tensions had escalated in 1753-54 over the apparently unprovoked murder of an Indian by two white men, who were treated leniently by the Springfield court, … ” (page 55).
They both went on to serve Massachusetts colony in the French and Indian Wars. I guess if they wanted to kill Indians, they could do for the government rather than for their own reasons. They were in Fort Ticonderoga and at the massacre of Fort William Henry.
Stephen went on to marry Elizabeth Metcalf in 1757, and they had my 4x great grandfather, Eli Cook. Eli moved to Brunswick, Maine and lived there for about 30 years, during which time my 3x great grandfather (also Stephen Cook) was born in 1797.
The man they murdered on April 11, 1753 also had children – but I do not know who they are.
Ebenezer Parkman, of Westborough, MA kept a very detailed diary and in April 1779 had this entry, with the footnote explaining the Cook family (Thomas was a younger brother who had a checkered past and stole from the wealthier to give to the destitute):
When I think of the Iroquois Principle of the 7th Generation, it’s Stephen Cook I think about first. He is one of my ancestors seven generations ago. He behaved in ways that continue to impact my life today – especially now that I know about what he did and how he lived. He was one man; just one man. He was alive in a time when colonization of the land mass we now call North America, and the region we now call New England, was invaded by English (and other European) settlers for the purposes of making huge profits and claiming it was for religious freedom. I am becoming increasingly convinced that the “religious freedom” claims are nothing more than a velvet curtain hiding the ugly and violent practices of invasion, domination, destruction, enslavement, and genocide behind it.
The 18th century was a time of transition from the early colonial period of building communities and negotiating with Indigenous people – and then the cataclysmic disaster of King Philip’s war and other battles of the 17th century – to the irreversible onslaught of European immigrants coming to the colonies by choice or by force. The English and French colonizers fought long and hard to profit from the natural resources in northern New England. The Indigenous people did what they could to encourage peaceful trade, cooperation, and sometimes collusion across alliances for their survival. By the end of the 18th century the economic institutions of slavery and colonial exclusion of indigenous people were firmly in place. Tens of thousands of people arrived in colonial New England from Europe, and from the Caribbean islands. Some were indentured servants who had multi-year servant contracts to fulfill before they could be ‘free’ – others arrived in bondage and remained in bondage for the rest of their lives. And still others were forced to endure horrendous poverty and dependency to survive in a difficult climate.
By the time the 18th century ended, “a new nation” was born with the promise of freedom and the betrayal of slavery; with the hope of economic prosperity and the reality of inhuman exploitation of labor; with the suffrage of a select few with the boisterous political systems they called democracy and the systematic exclusion of most who lived alongside them and whose labors they stole.
It’s going to take me several entries to explore the many ways in which my ancestors were part of the civic discourse and incivility of their times. I know some of my New England ancestors owned businesses that profited from Southern slave economies, and some enslaved people directly in New England, and there are some of my ancestors who were abolitionists. I plan to write about them all in the months ahead. Reading American history and finding one’s ancestors in the pages is humbling. It’s an emotional quagmire that offers me a richer, more complex understanding of our nation; its past, its present, and our future. I pray that the 7th generation to come from me (in about 225 years) will benefit from how I have chosen to live.
Thank you for reading this.
(November 22, 2018)
Please log into Facebook to watch this video:
Telling the truth about our past is essential to healing our present so that we can create a more peaceful future:
The theft continues: https://www.lakotalaw.org/news/2018-11-20/stand-with-mashpee
(November 22, 2018)
Before I excavate and share my ancestors’ lives from the 18th Century, I want to take a moment to say a few things that have been on my mind.
First, there is nothing famous or special about my own family’s background as it relates to American history. I am not a Mayflower descendant (though my ancestors married into those families). I am not born from a colonial governor of Massachusetts or any of the New England colonies. I am not descended from wealthy or well-known people in history.
Second, my ancestors were ordinary people living ordinary lives, taking advantage of colonial opportunities to farm land, to establish towns, to raise their families. And some engaged in extraordinary violence to accomplish those goals. The opportunities to farm the land I can only see now as theft from indigenous people – even if there was a bill of sale or treaty/agreement with the indigenous people; there was no way to predict at that time, or to imagine the unimaginable: that colonists would end up betraying the agreements with devastating effect.
Third, excavating the documentation of my ancestors and their role is difficult given that my ancestors were not well-known or movers/shakers in their societies. While I have done my best to connect the genealogical dots between generations, I may have some errors in my family tree (which is looking more like a forest these days). Errors are common in genealogical research. I have also had my DNA and my parents’ DNA tested. I may write more on that in the future.
Fourth, I am not the only person confronting this painful past of my ancestors as it relates to the impacts of colonization and enslavement. Thomas Jefferson’s descendants have tackled this process, and much has been written about them. I have these mentors to thank for inspiring me:
Fifth, there are many others who are facing this past and present head-on. While we may cringe in agony over the violence and pain our ancestors caused, we do not look away from it. My personal reckoning is part of a larger national reckoning we need to have in this country. We are trying to tell the truth about it, rather than continue to buy the “white washed” version of American history.
Finally, I am a grateful coward. Part of me is grateful for the relatively low readership this blog is getting. The people who are reading it and commenting are kind and lovely people who understand what I am doing and why. Their support means the world to me. On the other hand, if the blog had more readers or went “viral” I would likely become a target of some very hostile opponents. I do not want to be a target of that type of attention and that makes me a coward. So, for now, I am comfortable doing this as I am.
Soon, I will begin writing about my 18th Century ancestors. thank you all for reading this.
(October 25, 2018) — This is probably my final blog about the 17th Century and enslavement of Native Americans during that time. Unless something more comes to light that reveals additional ancestral involvement, this post rounds out my explorations into my 17th Century family roots. Just to review, I have learned that my ancestors participated in the enslavement of Native Americans, slaughtered indigenous people during the 17th Century and confiscated the land, the natural resources, and the livelihood of native people. That is not all they did, but it is a lot. To be sure, my ancestors faced difficult conditions and made choices to ensure their own survival at a time when the moral compass governing their choices was very different than my own.
I am again drawing heavily from Professor Newell’s book, Brethen By Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery, published in 2015 by Cornell University Press. She writes, “Indian slavery became the forgotten story subsumed in the larger story of racialized slavery in both history and memory. But Indians were the charter generation. … New England colonists created a slave regime that purposely refrained from clearly identifying which populations were susceptible to slavery and the precise conditions that slaves would face” (p. 238). My ancestors were those colonists. They used the experience of enslaving Indians to help work through some of the legal and social mechanics associated with enslavement in general: fugitive slave laws, miscegenation laws, clarifying who “inherited” the status of being enslaved and those who did not, family autonomy — namely the theft of it by stealing children away to serve as families to whom their parents owed debts, and the foundation for perpetual chattel slavery based on race were all legal choices my ancestors made that ensured the continuing practice of enslavement.
In the aftermath of King Philip’s War, the three New England colonies enacted laws that required escaped slaves to be returned to their enslavers. As with any new law, it needed enforcement and strategies/agreements. So, the practice of enslaved people carrying passes when away from their enslavers’ property became common. The difference between indentured servants and enslaved people became clearer: indentured people were required to serve for a period of time and were largely European immigrants; some where Scots prisoners of war transported to the colonies as a punishment for crimes of rebellion in Scotland (like my 8 times great grandfather, Daniel Forbush). When enslaved Indians fled, it is entirely possible they knew where to go to seek safety, how to survive on the land, and which Indian tribes would help them, or more seriously, which would have returned them to their enslavers.
Enslavement in those days was an intimate arrangement in that the enslaved often lived in close proximity to their enslavers — that is not to say they lived in the same level of comfort, but that their duties often included the intimate care of the family and their domestic needs. Still, the numbers of Indigenous people eligible for enslavement was shrinking, so ensuring that children born to enslaved parents were enslaved perpetuated the status to future generations. In some cases, children were born from mixed parentage. Anti-miscegenation laws were established to ban this practice which resulted in children born to non-Europeans would have a marginalized status — read: potentially enslavable.
Another means of enslaving people was through criminal law and punishment for convictions. Indians who experienced poverty, and who were in debt, were sometimes required to pay off that debt through years of service. Poverty, in and of itself, was an economic reality imported from England through colonial practice of a monetized economy. Furthermore, Newell writes that “Blacks and Indians received harsher punishments and more frequent corporal punishment than Euro-Americans for identical crimes,” (p. 233).. that is still true in 2018. These laws are the scaffolding that supported American chattel slavery.
But, again, I want to avoid passive voice writing. So, let’s put some action into these words. Beyond formally owning enslaved people, accomplishing these goals of creating an economy that included enslavement “required the active participation of multiple town officials and tacit assent of many more colonists,” (Newell 2015, p. 221). And, “between 1685 and 1720, colonial governments passed a spate of legislation regarding people of color” to exploit, demean, diminish, and marginalize Indians and Africans. To profit from their captivity. To gain wealth, property, status, and influence at the end of gun, through the use of the lash, by deceptive treaties and agreements, etc. Of course. Power is a seductive thing, apparently. My ancestors understood that those who control the rules will reap the benefits of the system. It was their system. It was our families’ livelihoods, at the expense of thousands of others whose claim to the land, the region, and its natural resources my ancestors stole. Judges, magistrates, and other officials ratified these practices. Newell writes that “constables had to serve writs and arrest the Indians, punish them physically, and sell them at [auction]: juries and judges had to condemn them; neighbors had to testify against them, help capture them when they ran away, and otherwise reinforce the claimant’s ownership,” (p. 222). It took a whole village of leaders, working together, agreeing to terms, passing laws, enforcing those laws, paying the rewards for the scalps of murdered Indians, and profiting from the stolen labor of the enslaved.
My ancestors did this, directly and indirectly; fully and partially. Many of the records have been lost about precisely which of my ancestors did what to whom, but documentation as to who my ancestors were, where they lived, when they lived, and (in some cases) their occupations, survive.
My 17th Century ancestors in Massachusetts include:
Daniel and Rebecca (Perriman) Forbush
Edward and Agnes (Bent) Rice
Deacon Thomas and Dorcas (Rice) Forbush
Cornelius and Eunice (Forbush) Cook
Eleazer and Melatiah Metcalf
Eleazer and Judith Metcalf
Roger and Sarah Conant
Lot and Elizabeth (Walton) Conant
Nathaniel and Hannah (Mansfield) Conant
Nathaniel and Elisabeth (Hains) Conant
Samuel Edson I, II, and III
Robert and Christian (Turner) Carver
John and Millicent (Ford) Carver
Eleazer and Experience (Blake) Carver
Thank you for reading this. Next, I anticipate writing about early 18th Century Massachusetts and Maine.
(September 27, 2018) I apologize for the length of time since my last post; Hurricane Florence disrupted my rhythm — my home is fine thankfully.
From the comfort of my home, peering down the periscope of time back to my ancestors’ lives more than 340 years ago is sobering. It is certainly not the history lessons I was taught in school. One truth is timeless and seems to be present in all places — war is hell. War is disruptive. War is brutal. And war inflicts damage that lasts for generations.
Since I last wrote, I have spent time trying to locate any of my ancestors who held indigenous people captive and enslaved during King Philip’s War and afterwards. It is hard to find this documentation since record keeping was less consistent and since some of the records kept have been lost to fire, floods, and other calamity. So, I do not have actual names of actual people this time. But, I know they are there. I have been reading scholarly studies by university-level historians that document these practices; and I have kept a keen eye open to locate my ancestors in these studies.
According to Professor Margaret Newell, who wrote “Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, colonists, and the origins of American slavery” (published by Cornell University Press in 2015), colonists enslaved native people long before King Philip’s War. Enslavement began slowly, was similar in some ways to indentured servitude, and there was vigorous disagreements about how to regulate the practice. Some claimed their goal was to convert the Indigenous people to Christianity, but I think that was a pretext, or convenient rationale for the economic urges of the day. Newell writes that the “employment of Indians as servants or wage laborers was already so prevalent that the Massachusetts Court of Assistants stepped in to regulate the practice in 1631, calling on households with Indians to either ‘discharge’ them or get the court’s permission to retain them. Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay both prohibited cash payments to Indians in 1636” (page 43). The population of colonists in 1630 was about 500 — by 1680 it was nearly 40,000. Not all of the colonial residents participated in enslaving Indians or Africans; in fact, Roger Conant (my direct ancestor) who was the first Englishman to build a home in Salem, Massachusetts appears to have opposed slavery. Still, all people alive during that time were impacted by and had to survive in economic conditions that included slavery.
The global trade that New England colonists were building required cheap labor from people who knew how to trap animals for fur, and new how to cultivate crops for production of food. As documented in previous posts, the trade from New England to Barbados, and other Caribbean islands was constant — goods and services were carried back and forth over the ocean and that contributed to the livelihood of the colonies, and to the exploitation of Indians and Africans. The colonists were indebted to those who invested in their “plantations” and had to service that debt with beaver furs, and other marketable goods, for the profits of the investors and for the on-going success of the colonies. Therefore, “Pequot Indian captives represented a crucial source of workers at a time when colonists desperately needed them” (p. 43). Captivity itself is not the same thing as slavery — and ultimately, that status of being deemed “perpetual slaves” was more common by 1650. Amidst the enslavement of Indigenous people, was also the arrival of enslaved African people. The colonial authorities then debated and deemed that “Indian and African servants and their children would henceforth be considered slaves for life unless they had formal contracts for service that specified a lesser term” (p. 46). The vigorous and lucrative trade between New England and the Caribbean lasted for approximately 150 years — to the American Revolution.
The enslaved Indians and Africans worked closely within families and in the development of trades, skills, and agriculture. The working conditions were harsh, and given the long winters in New England, the experience must have been brutal. In addition, the families that formed among enslaved people did not result in those families raising their own children. Newell reports on a couple who were enslaved to different “masters” and they (the enslavers) took ownership of the enslaved couples children alternately. Some of the enslaved people were sentence to perpetual servitude as a consequence of criminal convictions according to the legal standards of the day.
The practice of captivity and enslavement of Indigenous people was one of the major causes of conflict that contributed to the outbreak of war in 1675. One particularly gruesome story reported by Newell is of two men: “Cornelius The Dutchman” and Samuel Moseley (p. 142-143). In the summer of 1675, they killed or captured approximately 120 Indigenous people including a large group of women and children. The captives were later traded in to authorities for payment. Cornelius the Dutchman sold the people he captured to Samuel Shrimpton who was “an Atlantic merchant and one of the richest men in Boston,” (p. 142). They were extremely violent towards their captives (even by the standards of the day). I am looking for additional information about Cornelius the Dutchman, and may have more to write about him in the future.
I will end with this quote from Professor Newell: “Over the course of the war, the Native American population in southern New England declined from eleven thousand to fewer than five thousand. But captives experienced an even more negative trajectory. By war’s end, the efforts of [colonial commanders] had converted more than two thousand surviving Indians into English captives. … Towns and central councils became dealers in Native American human capital, which they distributed to leaders, veterans, and householders, as well as to wealthy investors. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of New England households acquired Indian servants, in many cases their first non-English laborers” (p. 158).
Their first ones.
Their. First. Ones.
Their — possessive pronoun
First — initial experience
Ones — possessions who were people. First people. First Nations.
Jesus wept (John 11:35).