(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).
(August 18, 2018). So, who were the people enslaved by my ancestors during and after King Philip’s War? Metacomet’s wife and nine year old son were held captive and sold into slavery by my ancestors.
“The war in the south largely ended with Metacomet’s death. Over 600 colonists and 3,000 Native Americans had died, including several hundred native captives who were tried and executed or enslaved and sold in Bermuda,” according to this website. The enslavement took different forms: some “surrendered” while others were held captive in servitude for a specific length of time, and others were captured and bound for Barbados and other Caribbean islands as slaves in perpetuity. (For a recently published scholarly study on this subject, I recommend Fisher 2018).
I have attempted to find documents about additional specific individuals enslaved and murdered by my ancestors, but have not succeeded (yet). In the process, I have learned a bit about the communities and the historical records. Therefore, I offer this word of acknowledgement and regret to the descendants.
First, there were many indigenous communities involved in the war: the Wampanoag, Pokanoket, Nipmuc, and Narraganset (Mohicans become involved after Metacomet established a winter camp in New York). Some indigenous groups sided with the English and some were known as “Praying Indians” – those who had converted to Christianity. Each group, it seemed, responded to the growing population of English colonizers in their own way and without the benefit of knowing what the future would hold. Your people were fierce combatants in the defense of your home and your right to exist – because it was your very existence that was threatened by the arrival of my ancestors. While some cooperated with the English, some also fought the expansion of English colonies in order to save your heritage, your customs, you livelihood, your families, and the sacred places of your ancestors. I believe these things are true across the board: I know you had families, and that you taught your children with joy, with discipline, with beliefs and values that serve your communities. I imagine a bucolic scene with a community of people going about your daily activities of preparing food, playing games, teaching important lessons and sharing stories that inspire and entertain. I imagine there might have been on-going and perhaps difficult conversations among you about how to respond to the increasing number of English people building homes and towns. The English used to come and hunt and then leave, so when they started arriving with their families, and stayed; that must have been strange to you. In sociology we call this a couple of different things: rapid social change, and culture clash. Both concepts represent disruptions that are difficult to manage.
My ancestors say that they were looking for “religious freedom” and that might been largely true from one individual to the next, but they were also financially obligated to turn a profit for their investors and to expand their land holdings. I have found many instances in my genealogical record where my ancestors received “land grants” to cultivate their new life and to grow their families. These “grants” actually mean something different to you, I imagine: theft, fraud, deception, destruction, and greed. The so-called “purchases” of your land (with the first documented sale at the place now called “Sachem’s Rock” in East Bridgewater, MA) indicates the culture clash of that time. The English thought of land as a commodity to be bought and sold, cultivated and developed; your ancestors did not share that concept, but agreed to allow the English to build on these lands. Modern people are trying to make it a tourist destination; and having been there recently, I see it as a solemn place for mourning the losses and destruction that followed. It is a place of reckoning.
Second, I know that after the Mayflower Pilgrims arrived you provided some assistance and yet Bradford and Standish called you savages and killed your people. They tried and sometimes succeeded in converting your people to the version of Christianity they favored. They also used whatever inter-tribal conflicts that may have existed at the time to further drive wedges between your communities because the colonizers stood to gain so much from that tactic. I know that Standish beheaded and impaled on stakes at Plymouth the head of one of your warriors, and Standish was not alone in this grisly practice. I know that the relations between your people and the English were even more complicated with the arrival of 20,000 more English settlers during the Great Migration. When I drive through those towns now and I see the names of places and buildings using your ancestors’ name, I can only imagine what that is like for you to see.
Third, I know you must be extremely strong, resilient, and determined people to survive and grow under such deadly circumstances. According to Professor Fisher’s research, some of your ancestors may have “surrendered” to the English as a strategy to survive, to continue living, and for their children to continue living. He writes:
“Being shipped out of the country as a slave was perhaps the worst possible fate, but even local slavery and servitude struck fear into the hearts of Indians and threatened to undermine the entire social fabric and kinship networks of regional communities. Hundreds, if not thousands, of natives turned themselves in to local English governments or English-allied native leaders, hoping to avoid slavery at all costs. But these “surrenderers” often found themselves subjected to similar treatment as enemy Indians, ranging from being sent out of the country, resettled to new, designated areas, forced to serve in English homes as slaves and servants, and having their children forcibly placed as servants in English households. The threat of enslavement weighed heavily on the psyche of New England’s natives, particularly during King Philip’s War. Far from being a minor consideration, the threat of enslavement was one of the key factors when it came to natives fighting and—later in the war—surrendering” (Fisher 2017, p. 2).
And, here’s another excerpt that is especially agonizing:
“According to some reports, there were native parents—even non-combatants—who were so distressed by the prospect of their own children being sent overseas as slaves or being forced into slavery and servitude in English households that, rather than allowing their children to be enslaved, they simply killed them, or gave them over to another native to be killed. Surely this was a radical course of action that the majority of native parents did not choose,” (Fisher 2017, p. 9).
(I can only imagine what you think about the “stand your ground” laws in places like Florida. It must strike you as the height of hypocrisy. Where was that idea when my ancestors were stealing your land, murdering and enslaving your people, and building towns on your sacred lands?)
Finally, I know this is lame and far too late, but I want you to know how sorry I am that my ancestors did this to you and your communities continue to struggle with the impact of these 400 years of contact. It did not have to be the way it was — finer ideals existed at the time, ideals of cooperation and interdependency, but those ideals gave way to a far more brutal pursuit of profit, greed, acquisition, domination, and expansion. The so-called “manifest destiny” was a manifest betrayal of your humanity and your communities, and your families, and your dignity. I am so sorry.
I want to learn more about what became of your people who were enslaved and sent to the islands. When I do, I will write about that too. I would also welcome the opportunity to meet you in person (if you are willing) and to learn more about your history from your perspective. Thank you for reading this.
This war did not spring up on our land, this war was brought upon us by the children of the Great Father who came to take our land without a price, and who, in our land, do a great many evil things… This war has come from robbery – from the stealing of our land.
— Spotted Tail, Lakota Sioux Chief
July 21, 2018 — (This one is hard for me to write; I have been avoiding it for a while. Please bear with me. Reading historical research can be a real kick in the gut when the names of my ancestors are part of the history, it has taken me a while to get my bearings on this one.)
Born in 1638, he was the son of Massasoit who was sachem (or “chief”) to the Wampanoag people in Massachusetts. Massasoit was initially helpful and friendly to my ancestors when they arrived and struggled to survive. Metacomet’s older brother, Wamsutta (the English called him King Alexander) inherited the title of sachem when their father died in 1661. Wamsutta died shortly thereafter, and then Metacomet became the sachem of his people. The English called him King Philip. As such, he considered himself the equal to the English King, Charles II.
During his time as sachem, Metacomet was allied with Weetamoo, who was sachem to the Pocasset and his sister-in-law (widow of Wamsutta). While inheriting complicated relations with the English colonists — it wasn’t all bad for the Wampanoag, the trade of beaver skins, the apparent cooperation on where the English could establish their colonies, etc, carried some benefits — Metacomet became convinced that his brother, Wamsutta, was deliberately poisoned by Governor Winslow, who is described by Philbrick as “one of Plymouth’s most aggressive and unethical purchasers of Indian real estate,” (p. 214, in his book, Mayflower, published in 2006). The belief that Winslow poisoned Wamsutta then chilled their relations.
Metacomet attempted to build an alliance of other tribes to combat the expanding encroachment of the English colonists on their land. Since the trade with the English included tools and weapons, the sachem was looking to expand their purchase of guns from the English. The English were happy to engage in the trade so long as it was profitable to them, the English passed a law in 1674 to repeal a ban the sale of weapons to the native tribes (see Philbrick’s book, Mayflower).
Without going into the entire history of King Philip’s War in this post (it’s very long and complicated), I will end this obituary with what Philbrick wrote about Metcomet’s death:
“ [Metacomet] was dressed only in his small breeches and stockings. They [Caleb Cook and Pocasset Alderman who sided with the English] waited until he came within range,  Cook pulled the trigger of his musket, but the weapon refused to fire” (p. 336). Alderman shot next and landed the fatal shot. Captain Benjamin Church was leading their expedition and then ordered Metacomet’s remains to be drawn and quartered. According to my family genealogy of allied families, Metacomet’s severed head was “deposited in the cellar” of the Leonard family home. Later, his severed head was displayed on a spike in Plymouth colony. Metacomet’s wife and nine year old son were captured and shipped to the Caribbean to be enslaved, along with thousands of other native people.
I am not trying to romanticize Metacomet; he had the normal strengths and flaws of any person — he was devoted to his people and sacrificed his life for their protection. He was also brutal in warfare to his adversaries and was, apparently, ineffectual at building the alliance he thought would aid their mutual protection. He lived in difficult times and faced adversaries whose need/greed for land and profit resulted in the destruction of his people.
According to Philbrick, “it has been estimated that at least a thousand Indians were sold into slavery during King Philip’s War, with over half the slaves coming from Plymouth Colony alone. By the end of the war, Mount Hope, once the crowded Native heart of the colony, was virtually empty of inhabitants. … the Pilgrim’s children … had taken conscious, methodical measures to purge the land of its people” (p. 345).
My ancestors who fought in King Philip’s War include:
Caleb Cook, b. 1651, d. 1721
Joseph Benson, b. 1640, d. 1706
Gershon Dodson, b. 1653, d. March 26, 1676 (during one of the battles of the war)
Samuel Edson, b. 1645, d. 1717
Zachariah Gurney, b. 1660, d. 1732
John Holbrook, b. 1622, d. 1699
Increase Niles, b. 1646, d. 1693
And the Leonard home where Metacomet’s severed head was “deposited in the cellar” was in Taunton, MA. (a reliable source claims that the Leonard’s were “friendly” to Metacomet and “after many generations” returned the remains to Metacomet’s descendants).
Philbrick, Nathaniel. 2006. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. New York, NY: Penguin.
(June 5, 2018) — The first of my ancestors whom I discovered owned people in chattel slavery is Rhoda Barton, born in Bridgewater, MA in the middle of the 18th Century, and did not venture more than 30 miles away from her birthplace. Apparently, she had a privileged life, married well, and had nine children.
“Much like other families in this time, the Barton’s were slave owners. The slaves typically were in the house for help with chores and taking care of the children.” Evidently, her husband, Colonel William Barton, was quite a guy. There was a long period of time (14 years) when Mr. Barton was incarcerated (after the American Revolution) because he refused to pay a fine for a charge he deemed unfair/unjust. With friends in high places (in this instance the Marquis de Lafayette) his debt was paid for him and he was sent home to his family.
War is hell, as the old saying goes. Col. Barton fought in the American Revolutionary War and gained some praise from General Washington as a result of a raid that resulted in the capture of British General Richard Prescott. On his famous raid, there was an African American man:
“Jack Sisson—In December 1776, Sisson was among forty American soldiers selected by Colonel William Barton to capture a British general in Newport, Rhode Island. The nighttime raiders crept past British warships and guards. Sisson forced his way into the house, and then the bedroom, in which the general slept. One account says he used his head to open the door! In 1778, Sisson enlisted in the First Rhode Island Regiment.”
The Barton’s were not the people who held Mr. Sisson in slavery; that was Mr. Thomas Sisson; I have not been able to find the names of the people who were enslaved by the Barton’s. Mr. Jack Sisson, however, was granted his freedom a year after the successful raid. Reading about this raid is fascinating in itself. Reading that Mr. Jack Sisson was a key player in this event is all the more thrilling to me. And knowing that he later was released from chattel slavery is a relief.
Still, that does not provide me with information about who the enslaved people were in my ancestor’s home. I will keep looking and report on it when I find something new; but in the meantime, I am left with many more questions than answers as to Mrs. Barton’s role in it. With 9 children to raise, during which time her husband was frequently away for extended periods, I can imagine the household was a busy place. I am tempted here to speculate, but doing so runs the risk of simply imposing my own biases and fears, or hopes, into the historical record that would certainly not be accurate. So I will not speculate. So, when I first read about the Barton’s and their life together, and the fact that they participated directly in chattel slavery, I felt sick to my stomach. I really did not want this to be part of my family history. But it is.
Am I applying a contemporary lens to an historical period when the moral compass was so different from where we are now? Probably. Is that fair? Yes, I think it is. Here’s how I see it: First, one of the reasons why hindsight is 20/20, as the old saying goes, is because we are reflecting on the past with a newer perspective. It’s important to do that. We ache and stretch and yell for injustices to be addressed, to be acknowledged, and to be remedied. Every generation sees past generations through its own lenses; ours is no exception. We can now say that we oppose racism, not many people say that they are openly racist; that’s a consequence of social activism that confronts racism in the current and previous generations with an agenda to end the injustices. A similar claim could be made about the modern #MeToo movement. So, by taking a modern look at historical events, we can still learn about how we got to where are in modern social life.
Second, slavery was not an accident; it was a deliberate and lucrative business that profited the slave holders and cost the enslaved in unimaginable ways. We like to talk about slavery using passive voice construction (i.e., chattel slavery occurred in the United States from 1620-1865). It didn’t just “occur” – it was built; it was deliberate. It was instituted on the basis of ideas that some groups of people are inferior to other groups of people, that there was ‘manifest destiny’ to establish colonies here that resulted in the nearly complete destruction of Indigenous people, that capturing, buying, and selling other people from other lands would help to build the colonies, the economies, and generate huge profits for the owners. It was deliberate; calculated, encouraged, profitable, and deadly to those who were enslaved. I think it’s time to stop talking about slavery using passive voice construction. To promote that goal, I am looking at the role my own ancestors played in the institution of American Chattel Slavery.
Third, as an advocate for reconciliation, a necessary step towards reconciliation is to acknowledge and account for the harm. Upon learning that the Barton’s held people in slavery, I want to learn who those people are; where are their descendants, how have their children fared in life? I may never know the answers to those questions. Acknowledging that these people existed then, and probably still exist now, is paramount to moving closer to reconciliation. I would like to know more about them. They are not an historical abstraction any more than I am. We have a shared history.
Thank you for reading this.
(May 29, 2018) Here’s the thing: If my calculations are correct by the time we get to our 10th great grandparents, there should be 4096 of them. My teachers taught me to show my work (how I derived an answer to my math problems — which, in all honesty, I hated math; but it does come in handy). So, here is my calculation based on the assumption that everyone has two (biological) parents, and the generations grow exponentially by a factor of two; so I am listing the number of people in each generation:
1 – me (born in 1961)
2 – my parents (born: 1930s)
4 – my grandparents (born: 1887-1901)
8 – my great grandparents (GGP) (born: 1870s – 1880s)
16 – my 2x GGP (born around 1840s)
32 – my 3x GGP (born around 1810s)
64 – my 4x GGP (born around 1780s)
128 – my 5x GGP (born around 1740s)
256 – my 6x GGP (born around 1710s)
512 – my 7x GGP (born around 1670s)
1024 – my 8x GGP (born around 1630s)
2048 – my 9x GGP (born around 1590s)
4096 – my 10 GGP (born around 1560s)
I have not documented all of these 6,144 people; so far I have focused on my paternal side and as far back as the 1560s in England. And this calculation does not factor in aunts/uncles, cousins, or step families. All of whom are part of my heritage. In my ancestry, there are families that had 10-20 siblings per family. It’s nearly incalculable to estimate how many people I am related to biologically, and who also come from the early migrants into Massachusetts.
Here is how the explosion of the continuous line of migrants into Massachusetts developed as best I can tell:
1620 – 102 people on the Mayflower arrive; but half of them die in the first winter.
1630 – 506 migrants (390 in Plymouth)
1640 – 8932 residents (1020 in Plymouth),
NOTE: the chart indicates that this includes “White and Negro” persons – but does not indicate Indigenous people who are already here.
1650 – 14,037 residents (1566 in Plymouth)
1660 – 20,082 residents (1980 in Plymouth)
1670 – 30,000 residents (5333 in Plymouth)
1680 – 39,752 residents (6400 in Plymouth)
1690 – 49,504 residents (7424 in Plymouth) – after this, Plymouth merged with Massachusetts colony.
1700 – 55,941
1710 – 62,390
1720 – 91,008
1730 – 114,116
1740 – 151,613
1750 – 188,000
1760 – 202,600
1770 – 235,308
1780 – 268,627
This is what sociologists refer to as “rapid social change” and it can generate a great deal of stress in the lives of those who are living in the midst of it. Consider these stressors: infrastructure for feeding and housing a growing population; setting up businesses and commerce for communities to emerge; establishing schools for children to become literate and capable; harvesting natural resources (timber, for example) to build economies; and the list continues.
My ancestors did that. If I were more statistically oriented, I could calculate the probability of each generation having been involved in the production of institutionalized chattel slavery given all of this information. But, that’s not really my thing. I can say that the probability is very high that my early colonial ancestors participated in, endorsed, and perpetuated in laying the foundations of the racial caste system we still see present in modern society. That makes me nauseous.
On the other hand, a point of pride is that my ancestors were instrumental in setting up the first “public school” in 1645. According to the genealogy compiled by my distant cousins in 1972, “The minutes of the town meeting at Marshfield, held August 1645, report, “on motion being made for one to teach school, we, whose names are underwritten, are willing to pay yearly besides paying for our children we shall send, viz. Robert Carver, — 10s.”” There is also evidence that my 9xG grandfather, Robert Carver, was granted 40 acres of land to cultivate. He and his wife had one son, John Carver.
What I do not know yet is what they cultivated and how many people they had working for them and under what conditions. I will try to find that out as the journey continues.
I also do not yet know how many of my early (1620s-1700) ancestors participated in the slave economy, or how many enslaved people were living in Massachusetts in the Colonial period, were enslaved by my family members. But, I did find this information: “From fewer than 200 slaves in 1676, and 550 in 1708, the Massachusetts slave population jumped to about 2,000 in 1715. It reached its largest percentage of the total population between 1755 and 1764, when it stood at around 2.2 percent. The slaves concentrated in the industrial and seaside towns, however, and Boston was about 10 percent black in 1752.”
Thanks for reading this.
(May 27, 2018) — The thing about discovering that my ancestors participated in the economic institution of slavery is that it changes everything I thought i knew about my heritage. Growing up in New England, going to public schools meant that I learned about the Pilgrims, wore their funny hats, and how they had a lot of help from “the Indians” when they settled — sort of like it was one big happy family. I made handprint turkeys cut out of construction paper and headbands with construction paper feathers when it was my turn to play the part of the happy and welcoming Indian. One of my all time favorite field trips as a kid was going to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. I remember very clearly that people were there dressed in Colonial clothing, women were making meals on the hearth and men were hammering nails in the blacksmith shop. Children were playing games that were popular during the Colonial times and best of all, I had rock candy for the first time in my life. I loved it. I loved the re-enactment of colonial life. I loved “going back in time” and talking to people who talked like the colonial people did. It was idyllic. I felt at home. I still love going on these tours. I do not remember if they had cranberry bogs or talked about the cranberry harvest at Sturbridge Village. They did not have reenactments of people held in “perpetual servitude” as the Massachusetts law allowed for in those days. Nothing that I recall was mentioned about people who were enslaved.
As I advanced to junior high, I learned that people were held in captivity and forced to work in deplorable conditions, often suffering illness and injury without much concern or care for their well-being. If I remember correctly, the textbooks in my junior high history classes did not go into much detail about the conditions of slave labor, but I learned that it happened in American South. I do not recall learning about people being enslaved in Massachusetts colony. In my high school classes, the lessons were a bit more detailed — but the history of enslavement was mainly taught as a factor associated with Civil War, and not much else was said about it: we did not learn when slavery as an economic institution was started, or where, or why, other than southern plantation owners held hundreds of people in chattel bondage for the benefit of their agricultural production, and perhaps other labor needs.
So, while I found myself really grossed out about the lives that enslaved people were forced to live, and I was disgusted by the old Southerners who enslaved them, treated them miserably, and then profited from their labor; it was distant from me and my heritage. My people did not do it. My people fought for the Union in the civil war… my people were on the good side of this terrible history. I did not have to relate personally to slavery as an institution, because I did not see myself or my ancestors in that history.
I grew up knowing that my ancestors were from England, and arrived in Massachusetts in 1638 — the earliest known and documented relative that I had in North America, that is. I knew that my 9th Great Grandfather arrived in Massachusetts early on and may have been related to Captain John Carver from Mayflower fame (I will write more on that in the future).
Now that I know my ancestors authorized slavery in Massachusetts in 1641, and that I have documented at least two relatives (so far) who held people in bondage as slaves, it’s personal. In the colony, so it seems, the earliest attempt to enslave people was targeted towards the Indigenous people of Massachusetts. “These savage barbarians” proclaimed William Bradford who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620, “were readier to fill their [the Pilgrims] sides full of arrows than otherwise!” And did not take well to “the yoke”.
In 1638, the same year my long-known ancestor arrived, a ship named Desire brought enslaved African people to Massachusetts from the West Indies. It seems they were the “cast offs” from the vigorous and lucrative sugar industry, so they were a “bargain” for the slave owners.
Take a moment, if you will, and consider the degree to which one must be dehumanized in order to see them as a “bargain” for purchase?
What has changed in me from learning about this history? Slavery, as an economic institution, started in the place where my ancestors thrived, partly because black ancestors were enslaved. And so now it is personal to me. I am not removed from it because I’m from “the North.” I do not know if slave labor was used in the harvesting of cranberries, but I aim to find out and also to dig into the old records to see if my ancestors were involved in that. But, I can’t drink cranberry juice, or have cranberries on my salad without wondering about it. Thanksgiving, of course, is mythical in many ways and if we want to be true to the Pilgrim’s experiences, we ought to be eating venison that Indigenous people hunted. But turkeys are a bit easier to make using a hand print and construction paper, I suppose.
I have long hated the injustices of slavery, I am a sociologist and so my training is to examine closely how power is exercised and how it is used to maintain large scale social inequalities. But now it is not just an abstraction, a theoretical concept I teach my students. Now it is a personal conundrum that I have to resolve. Slavery is not a problem from the distant past of American history. Slavery is alive. It’s a shape shifter in some ways, and it benefits from the “cloak of invisibility” (to borrow from Harry Potter) … More on that later.
So, what has changed? I have. I own this. I will keep digging and as I find new information, I will share and own it. Claiming it and acknowledging that I have inherited advantages that I never wanted, but I have to look at it, long and close up, and I have to work on making amends.