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Sketch of Connecticut, Forty Years Since/Chapter III

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[15]
CHAPTER III.

     "Our kings!—our fathers!—where are they?
                         An abject race we roam;
      And where our ancient kingdoms lay,
      Like slaves we crouch—like aliens stray;
      Like strangers tarry but a day,
                         And find the grave our home."


IN the vicinity of the town which we have described, was the residence of a once powerful tribe of Indians, But diminished in numbers, and oppressed by a sense of degradation, the survivers exhibited the melancholy remnant of a fallen race, like the almost extinguished embers of a flame, once terrible in wildness. The aged remembered the line of their hereditary kings, now become extinct; the younger preserved in tradition faint gleams of the glory which had departed. Yet, in the minds of all, was a consciousness that their ancestors possessed the land, in which they were now as strangers, and from whence their offspring were vanishing, as a "guest that tarrieth but a night."[1] The small territory, on which they resided, was secured to them by government; and its fertile soil would have been more than adequate to their wants, had they been assiduous in its cultivation. But those roving habits, which form their national characteristic, are peculiarly averse from the laborious application, and minute details of agriculture. Here and there, a corn-field without enclosure might be seen, displaying its yellow treasures [32] beneath a ripening sun; but such was their native improvidence, that the possessor, ere the return of another Autumn, would be as destitute of food, as he who had "neither earing nor harvest." The productions of a little spot of earth, near the door of many of them, denominated a garden, supplied them during the gentler seasons, with the more common vegetables; yet so reckless were they of futurity, that cold winter's want was unthought of, as long as it was unfelt, and the needs of to-morrow never disturbed the revel of to-day. In their simple estimation, he was a man of wealth, whose dominion extended over a cow; yet it was wealth rather to be wondered at, than envied. To roam freely over the forests, and drink the pure breath of the mountains; to earn with their arrows point, the food of the passing day, and wrap themselves in a blanket from the chill of midnight, seemed all the riches they coveted—all the happiness they desired.

These were, however, more properly, the lineaments of their character, in its native nobleness. Civilization had excluded them from the forests, their original empire, and awakened new wants which they were inadequate to supply. It had familiarized them to the sight of the white man's comforts, without teaching them the industry by which they are purchased. It had introduced them to vices which destroyed their original strength, like the syren[2] pointing in derision to the humbled Sampson, whose locks her own hand had shorn. Thus they sacrificed the virtues of their savage state, and fell short of the advantages [33] which a civilized one bestows; and striking, as it were, both upon Scylla and Charybdis, made ship wreck of all.

Still some interesting features might be traced amid this assemblage of gloom; some individuals remained, around whom, as around Philipœmon, "the last of the Greeks,"[3]. gleams of brightness lingered. A few warriors, who, in the contest of 1755, dared death for the country which had subjugated them, still survived, to speak, with flashing eyes, of battle, and of victory. Some, who had shared the toils of that recent war which had emancipated from British thraldom one who was to rank among the nations of the earth, remained, to shew their wounds, so poorly requited. Many might still be found, in whose hearts, gratitude, hospitality, and inviolable faith, the ancient characteristics of their race, were not extinguished.

But over the greater mass hung the cloud of intemperance, indolence, and mental degradation. Consciousness of their own state, and of the contempt of others, presented hopeless obstacles to every reforming hand, except His who brought light out of chaos. The dwellings of this dilapidated tribe, though universally in a state of rudeness, exhibited considerable variety of appearance. Occasionally, the ancient wigwam might be detected, lifting its cone-like head among the bushes; then a tenement of rough logs, reeking with smoke, would present its more substantial, though less romantic structure. Those, which fronted the road, were usually of boards, [34] sometimes containing two rooms, with a chimney of stones, and admitting comparative comfort. Trees, loaded with small apples, yielded their spontaneous refreshment to those, who never cultured the young sapling when the parent stock decayed.

Their situation afforded conveniences for their favourite employment of fishing; and a few boats in their posssession, enabled them to pursue their victims into the deep waters.

The females were more easily initiated into the habits of civilized life. These, they readily saw diminished their labours, and augmented their consequence. Still the prerogative of dominion, entrusted to man by his Maker, is tenaciously cherished by the American Indian. He slowly yields, to the courtesy of example, the custom of making his weaker companion the bearer of burdens, and the servant of his indolence. In this perishing tribe, the secondary sex were far the most docile, whether religious truth, or domestic economy were the subjects of instruction.

Still the distaff, the needle, and the loom were less congenial to their inclinations, than the manufacture of brooms, mats, and baskets. In the construction of the latter, considerable ingenuity was often manifested; and their extensive knowledge of the colouring matter, contained in the juices of plants and herbs, enabled them to adorn these fabrics with all the hues of the rainbow. Bending beneath a load of these fabrics, and often the [35] additional weight of a pappoose, or babe, deposited in a large basket, and fastened around the neck with a leathern strap, might be seen, walking through the streets of the town, after a weary journey from their own settlement, the descendants of the former lords of the soil, perhaps the daughters of kings. Clad in insufficient apparel after the American fashion, with a little round bonnet of blue cloth, in a shape peculiar to themselves, and somewhat resembling a scallop-shell, and a small blanket thrown over the shoulders, if the season were cold, they would enter every door in search of a market. There, in the soft, harmonious tones, by which the voice of the female native is distinguished, they would patiently inquire for a purchaser. If all their humble applications were negatived, they might be heard requesting in the same gentle utterance a little refreshment, or a morsel of bread for the infant at their back. I will not say that these entreaties were always in vain—but the poor, famished dog, which would be crouching at the feet of the suppliant, was too happy if he could obtain a fleshless bone, to allay the cravings of hunger.

These females, when employed as they sometimes were, in the families of whites, to repair worn chairs, were uniformly industrious, and grateful for any trifling favour. In their own culinary processes, they were studious of comfort as far as their rude notions, and imperfect knowledge extended. Dishes composed of green corn, and beans boiled with clams, and denominated Succatash, [36] the same grain parched nicely, arid pulverized, by the name of Yokeag, fish, or birds, prepared in different ways, with cakes of Indian meal baked in ashes, or before the fire upon a flat board, gave variety to their simple repasts.

They were likewise the physicians of their tribe. They regarded no toil in travelling, or labour in searching the thickets, for medicinal plants and roots. To sooth the agony of pain, or conquer the malignity of disease, was a victory, which their affectionate hearts prized more than the warrior, who intoxicated with false glory, boasts of the lives he has destroyed. Their knowledge of aperients and cathartics, was extensive; their antidotes to poison were also considered powerful, and their skill in the healing of wounds was said to have been justly valued in time of war. Such were the females in their best estate; and such the poverty and degeneracy of the once powerful tribe of Mohegans.

Yet, strange as it may seem, amid their degradation they retained strong traits of national pride. In the gravity, and dignity of brow, which the better sort assumed, might be traced a lingering remnant of the creed of their ancestors, that the red man was formed before his white brethren, and of better clay. The proud recollections of royalty were cherished with peculiar tenacity; and the most distant ramification of the blood of their kings, preserved in tradition with all the Cambrian enthusiasm. The place of burial for their monarchs was never suffered to [37] be polluted by the ashes of the common people. It is still visible, with its decaying monuments, in the southern part of the town; and its mouldering inscriptions have appeared in the records of recent travellers. A few years only have elapsed, since a Mohegan who was employed in mowing, in the northern part of the town, and a Pequot who was passing through it, both died on the same day, apparently destroyed by the excessive heat of the weather; perhaps, the victims of some latent disease. Coffins were provided by the inhabitants, and the bodies, laid therein with those demonstrations of respect, which they were accustomed to pay to the forsaken tenement of a soul. Most of the population of Mohegan attended the obsequies, which were solemnized upon the Square, opposite the Court-house. As the clergyman lifted his voice in pathetic tones, to Him "who hath made of one blood, all who dwell upon the face of the earth," the females throng ed to his side, as if they loved and revered the ambassador of that Great Spirit, who giveth life arid taketh it away. Tears flowed over their sad faces, as they gazed upon the lifeless forms; but on the countenances of the men, was a dark expression, as if they remembered that they were but servants, where once their fathers were lords. This recollection occupied their minds more than the scene which mournfully illustrated the equality of man. At length the dissatisfied spirit revealed itself in words. Graves had been prepared for the unfortunate men, in the burial-place of the northern parish of Norwich, [38] whose white monuments might be seen through the trees, which surrounded the green where they were assembled. "These men shall not lie side by side," they exclaimed, with their usual conciseness and energy. "Ask ye why? In one of them is the blood of our kings. He was sixteenth cousin to our last monarch. The other is an accursed Pequot. Think ye the same earth shall cover them? No! Their spirits would contend in their dark habitation. The noble soul would scorn to see the vile slumberer so near. They could not arise and walk together to the shadowy regions, for their everlasting home is not the same."

Such was the haughty spirit, which lurked in the bosom of an oppressed, a crushed people. They could not forget the throne that was overturned, though they grovelled among worms at its footstool.

Yet this tribe, now so despised, was once formidable to our ancestors. Its friendship was courted, and its aid, during the wars with Philip, in the seventeenth century, was very important to them in the infancy of their colony. It Was, at that time, formidable both for extent of territory, and number of warriors. Its power was increased by the conquest of Sassacus, king of the Pequots, who at the arrival of the English had under his dominion 26 sachems, and 700 warriors; and also by the subjugation of the Nipmucks, whose strong hold was in Oxford, in Massachusetts, though their dominion extended over a part of Connecticut. These conquests were achieved by the enterprise [39] prise and talents of Uncas, a monarch whose invincible courage would have been renowned in history, did he not belong to a proscribed race; whose wisdom might place him by the side of the son of Laertes, had we but an Homer to immortalize his name; and whose friendship for our fathers ought to secure him a place in the annals of our gratitude. Originally of the nation of the Pequots, he revolted against the tyranny of Sassacus, whose kingdom comprised the whole sea-coast of Connecticut. Uncas partook of his blood, and had a command among his warriors, but rebelled against his arbitrary rule, and departed from his jurisdiction.

Considerable address must have been requisite to render himself the monarch of another tribe, and make the royal honours hereditary in his family. When, at the arrival of our ancestors, the enmity of the Pequots discovered itself in such terrible forms of conspiracy and murder, that unable to perform in safety the duties of the consecrated day of rest, armed sentinels were stationed at the threshold of their churches, Uncas continued their unalterable ally. When the bravery of Mason staked, as it were, the existence of Connecticut on the firmness of one little band, Uncas, with his warriors, partook every hard ship, shared every danger, and, by his counsels, and superiour knowledge of the modes of Indian warfare, greatly facilitated the victory over their ferocious foes. His presence of mind, in any sudden emergency, would have ranked him among heroes, had he borne a part in the wars of Rome. [40] Thrice, assassins were employed against his life, and succeeded in wounding him, but he discovered no perturbation. One, bribed by Miantonimoh, his deadly enemy, in 1643, shot him through the arm, but, like the wretch employed against the great Coligny by the Medicean faction, fled, without daring to meet the eye of the hero. Another, instigated by the treacherous Ninigrate, in 1648, approached him as he stood unsuspiciously in a ship, and pierced his breast with a sword. But the wound was not mortal, and, in both instances, his cool and majestic deportment evinced his contempt of treachery, and his superiority to the fear of death. But, though prodigal of his own blood when danger impended, he was tenacious of the lives of his people.

Sequasson, a sachem on Connecticut River, having destroyed one of his subjects, and refused to make reparation, Uncas challenged him to single combat, and slew him; cancelling with his blood the debt of justice, which he had scorned to acknowledge. The same tenderness for the lives of his followers may be discerned when they were drawn up in battle array, against the force of Miantonimoh, his mortal foe. During the short pause which preceded the encounter, the Mohegan monarch, lofty in native valour, approaching from his ranks, stretched forth his hand toward his antagonist, and said,—

"Here are many brave men; but the quarrel is ours, Miantonimoh. Come forth, let us fight together. If you [41] destroy me, my men shall be yours; if you fall, yours shall be mine."

The haughty king of the Narragansetts answered proudly,—

"My men came to fight, and they shall fight."

They fought and were defeated. The vanquished leader was taken prisoner by Uncas, who, contrary to the expectations of his followers, restrained that rage of vengeance, which savages rank among their virtues. He led his captive to Hartford, and delivered him to the justice of the Colony, submitting his personal resentment to the sanction of laws, which he acknowledged to be more wise than his own. They decreed his death, on account of many crimes, and restored the victim to his conqueror. Uncas returned with him to the spot where the battle was fought, and when the carnage, which Miantonimoh had caused, was before his eyes, an Indian executioner cleft his head with a hatchet. Uncas, having yielded so much to the forms of, justice, now testified some adherence to the savage customs of his country; which, if fully observed, would have demanded the torture of the criminal. Severing a piece of flesh from the shoulder of his lifeless enemy, he devoured it with expressions of triumph. The fallen monarch was then laid in a grave, over which a heap of stones was raised, and the spot, which is a short distance north-east of Norwich, bears the name of Sachem's Plain to this day; as an Israelitish valley was denominated {tag|[42]}} Absalom s Dale, from the pillar erected in remembrance of that false prince.

The character of Uncas comprehended many noble properties. He was indignant at oppression, of invincible valour, of inflexible friendship, careful of the lives of his people with parental solicitude, possessing presence of mind in danger, wisdom in council, and a Spartan contempt of personal hardship and suffering. The historians of that age, who were acustomed to represent the natives in shades of indiscriminate blackness, have been careful to give us the reverse of the picture. They assure us that the wisdom, by which they profited, partook too much of art and stratagem to be worthy of commendation. They inform us that he was tyrannical, in his administration, to the remnant of the Pequots who were subjected to his dominion. This was undoubtedly true, yet William the Conqueror, with all his superiour advantages of education and Christianity, was more oppressive to his Saxon vassals, than this Pagan king. They also accuse him of having been inimical to the Christian faith. Probably the independent mind of the Pagan preferred the mythology in which he had been nurtured, to the tenets of invaders, who, however zealously they might point his race to another world, evinced little disposition to leave them a refuge in this. Possibly, he might have thought the injunctions of the Prince of Peace, not well interpreted by the bloodshed that marked the steps of his followers. Yet, under the pressure of age, and at the approach of [43] death, he pondered the terms of the gospel, which in his better days, he had not appreciated, and felt the value of that "hope, which is an anchor to the soul." Like the patriarch Joseph, he "gave commandment concerning his bones." He had selected, during health, a spot for his interment; and his dying request was, that all the royal family might be laid in the same sepulchre. His people revered the injunction of their deceased king, and continued to lay his descendants in that hallowed ground, until the royal line became extinct. It is situated within the town of Norwich, about seven miles from the common burial place of Mohegan.

Uncas was succeeded by his son Owaneco, commonly called Oneco, who continued a faithful ally of our fathers, during the wars with Philip, when the destruction of the colony was attempted by more than 3000 warriors. On the 9th of December, 1671, when Massachusetts and Connecticut hazarded a battle with Philip, and the combined force of the Nipmucks and Narragansetts, Oneco accompanied them with 300 warriors.

They endured without complaint, the hardships of a march at that inclement season, and displayed the same firmness in the cause of another, which the whites evinced in their own. On their arrival where the enemy were embodied, after sustaining a sharp conflict with an advanced party, they found that the greatest part of the force was in the fort with their king, in the centre of a morass. This was ascertained to be of unusual height, great strength. [44] and so artful a construction, that only one person could enter it at a time without the utmost difficulty. The troops, on approaching it, found themselves in a hazardous situation, being seriously annoyed by the fire from within the fortification, without the power of acting upon the defensive. In the council of officers, held at this criti cal juncture, Oneco exclaimed, with all a hero's enthusiasm,—

"I will scale these walls. My people shall follow me."

They assented with surprize and gratitude, and instantly Oneco, with his bravest warriors, was seen at the top of the fort. From hence they hurled their tomahawks, and took deadly aim with their fire-arms, among the mass within. In their steps ascended the intrepid Capt. Mason, the first among the whites who hazarded so perilous an adventure. Here he received his mortal wound, and the troops from Connecticut, who followed him, sustained the heaviest share in the loss of that day. Six hours the horrible contest continued. Through the huge logs of the fort, blood streamed in torrents, and of the great numbers, which it contained, scarcely 200 escaped.

New-England, that day, bewailed the death or wounds of between 5 and 600 of her colonists, and of this loss more than a fourth part was sustained by her faithful allies, the Mohegans. Three hundred wounded men were borne, by their companions, 16 miles to a place of safety, on the day of this fatiguing battle. Many of these perished, in consequence of a storm of snow, which rendered [45] the march almost impracticable; and 400 soldiers were disabled from action by the severe cold. In all these dangers and suffering s, Oneco never shrunk from his friends, or refused any aid, which it was in his power to offer. Sometime afterwards, in a conflict with the Narragansetts, he rendered our ancestors essential aid, and by his followers, the wily sachem, Cononchet was destroyed in a river, where he had sought concealment. Again he hazarded his life, and his people, in a battle, where the Narragansetts, led on by their queen, the wife of Philip, were defeated, after displaying great valour. Until 1675, when the campaigns of Philip were terminated by his death, Oneco continued to lead his men into every scene of danger, which threatened his allies. Frequently unnoticed, and usually unrewarded, he suffered nothing to shake the constancy of his friendship, or to induce disobedience to the command of his deceased father, never to swerve from his oath to the English. When the Machiavelian policy of Philip was ultimately defeated by the undaunted Capt. Church, the head of that "troubler of Israel," was presented him by the warriors of Oneco, who had drawn him from beneath the waters, where, like the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth,[4] he had sought shelter.

The historians of that day, who were more accustomed to stigmatize, than to praise the natives, could not withhold the epithet of "lion hearted," from the name of Oneco. Yet, whether his merits have ever been fully acknowledged [46] by the descendants of those whose existence he was instrumental in preserving, let our national annals bear witness. He died childless, and was succeeded by his brother Joshua, a peaceful prince, who is scarcely mentioned in the records of that age, except as executing deeds for the conveyance of lands to the English. As soon as they obtained respite from war, the same spirit, which incited the more southern settlers to search for gold, moved them to desire the possession of all the patrimony of the aborigines.

"Soon," said these unhappy people, "we shall not have land enough left, on which to spread our blankets.

Mahomet, the eldest son of Uncas, inheriting a war-like disposition, had slain, in a private feud, one of his people who had given him offence. The avenger of blood, who by their laws is permitted to take the life of the murderer, slew the young prince ere he was crowned, Uncas, then hoary with age, deeply regretted the loss of his favourite son, but was too wise to complain of the ancient laws of his tribe. Covering his face, for a short time, to conceal the anguish of a parent for his first-born, he again raised his eyes, and said with an unmoved countenance,

"It is well, my people. Let him be carried to his grave."

Joshua was succeeded by the brother-kings, Benjamin and Samuel. The first being the eldest, had the right to reign and was saluted by the nation as its sovereign. [47] The younger, manifesting a more pliant disposition to the will of the colonists, was supported by them. He adopted a military dress, and was fond of the customs and conversation of the whites. The elder, strong in native eloquence, drew around him the strength of his tribe. Like Cyrus and Artaxerxes, the rival monarchs of Persia, separate interests awoke their ambition, yet not like them did they lift their hand against each other in battle. Kindred blood restrained the animosity which their partizans would fain have fomented; and their example is a reproof to more civilized combatants, who can not only forget that they had but one father, but even that "one God created them." At length the elder king paid the debt of nature, and though he had been wise and humane, yet among the adherents of his brother was no mourning. But death, as if determining that the grief should be general, smote the younger also, and they reposed in one grave. On the tomb-stone of the favourite of our ancestors, the following epitaph was inscribed. It was the production of a late celebrated physician of Norwich, whose memory is embalmed by excellence and piety, more than by his poetical talents.

              "For beauty, wit, and manly sense,
               For temper mild, and eloquence,
               For courage bold, and things wauregan,
               He was the glory of Mohegan."[5]

The line of the royalty of this tribe became extinct in the person of Isaiah Uncas, who received a partial education [48] at the seminary of President Wheelock, in Connecticut,[6] but seemed not to inherit either the intellect, or enterprise, which distinguished the founder of that dynasty.

Notes[edit]

  1. John Wesley, O the Hope of Israel, the Savior Thereof. Compare to Jeremiah 14:8-9.
  2. Delilah, see Judges 16:16-21 and Wikipedia's article about Samson.
  3. William Adolphus Wheeler, in An Explanatory and Pronouncing Dictionary of the Noted Names of Fiction[1] (1872) at page 209 explains: "Last of the Greeks [Latin Ultimus Græcorum, Greek Ύστατος Έλλήνων.] An appellation conferred upon Philopœmen (B.C. 253-183), a native of Arcadia, and the last really great and successful military leader of the ancient Greeks. 'One of the Romans, to praise him, called him the Last of the Greeks, as if after him Greece had produced no great man, nor one who deserved the name of Greek.'" He cites Plutarch as his source.
  4. This appears to be a reference to James Scott, First Duke of Monmouth, who attempted to invade England and was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor. According to T.B. Macaulay, History of England p. 419, after trying to evade capture Monmouth was discovered in a ditch.
  5. D. Hamilton Hurd's History of New London, Connecticut attributes the poem to Dr. Elisha Tracy and renders the poem as follows:
             SAMUEL UNCAS.
              For Beauty, wit, for Sterling sense,
              For temper mild, for Eliquence,
              For Courage Bold, for things wauregan,
              He was the Glory of Moheagon,
              Whose death has caused great lamenation,
              Both in ye English and ye Indian Nation.
  6. Moor's Indian Charity School, also known as the Lebanon Indian School in Lebanon, Connecticut, was the predecessor of Dartmouth College.