Thursday, March 21, 2019

1629 Native Americans in early New England

A Short and True Description of New England
by the Rev. Francis Higginson, written in 1629 
Printed for Michael Sparke, London, 1630.

Francis Higginson (1588-1630) was an early Puritan minister in Colonial New England, and the first minister of Salem, Massachusetts.

Now I will show you a little of the inhabitants thereof, and their government.
1585 John White (English artist, c 1540-1593) The Indian Manner of Fishing

For their governors they have kings, which they call saggamores, some greater, and some lesser, according to the number or their subjects. The greatest saggamores about us can not make above three hundred men, and other lesser saggamores have not above fifteen subjects, and others near about us but two.

Their subjects about twelve years since were swept away by a great and grievous plague that was amongst them, so that there are very few left to inhabit the country.
The Indians are not able to make use of the one fourth part of the land, neither have they any settled places, as towns to dwell in, nor any ground as they challenge for their own possession, but change their habitation from place to place.

For their statures, they are a tall and strong limbed people, their colors are tawny, they go naked, save only they are in part covered with beasts skins on one of their shoulders, and wear something before their privates. Their hair is generally black, and cut in front like our gentlewomen, and one lock longer than the rest, much like to our gentlemen, which fashion I think came from hence into England.

For their weapons, they have bows and arrows, some of them headed with bone, and some with brass. I have sent you some of them for an example. The men for the most part live idly, they do nothing hut hunt and fish. Their wives set their corn and do all their other work. They have little household stuff, as a kettle, and some other vessels like trays, spoons, dishes and baskets.

Their houses are very little and homely, being made with small poles pricked into the ground, and so bent and fastened at the top, and on the sides they are matted with boughs, and covered on the roof with sedge and old mats, and for their beds that they take their rest on, they have a mat.

They do generally confess to like well of our coming and planting here; partly because there is abundance of ground that they cannot possess nor make use of, and partly because our being here will be a means both of relief to them when they want, and also a defense from their enemies, wherewith (I say) before this plantation began, they were often endangered.

For their religion, they do worship two gods: a good god and an evil god. The good god they call Tantum, and their evil god, whom they fear will do them hurt, they call Squantum.

For their dealing with us, we neither fear them nor trust them, for forty of our musketeers will drive five hundred of them out of the field. We use them kindly: they will come into our houses sometimes by half a dozen or half a score at a time when we are at victuals, but will ask or take nothing but what we give them.

We propose to learn their language as soon as we can, which will be a means to do them good.