Teachers Workshop: Investigating 17th Century New England Indian Slavery Through Primary Source Materials

On July 14th and 28th, Indian Papers Project editors, Paul Grant-Costa and Tobias Glaza, participated in Mapping a New World, an NEH-sponsored Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop for School Teachers.

The gathering, held at Boston Harbor/Deer Island and the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at Boston Public Library, was part of a week-long study of places of conflict and colonization in the 17th-Century.  Other sessions were held at Plimoth Plantation, the Museum of Fine Arts – Boston, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.  In the July 14th workshop, teachers were drawn from all parts of the country. In the 28th, they came from schools in Massachusetts.

In the Indian Papers Project Workshop, teachers visually explored Deer Island and the other islands of Boston Harbor where anywhere from 750 to 1065 Native people were confined in the winter of 1675 during King Philip’s War.  In a classroom setting, they also investigated the war and its consequential slavery of Native bodies through the primary source petitions to the Massachusetts General Court of a number of individuals: colonists, a representative of Empire, and several Native leaders.

Broken into five groups, participants encountered one specific historical person’s voice with the relevant documents in multiple forms — photocopies, digital surrogates, and then Indian Papers Project typographical transcriptions and regularized annotated texts.  After reading the petitions and getting a better sense of the petitioner and his or her concerns, the teachers formed new groups with representatives from each of the five groups and role-played how each historical person might have responded to the others’ requests.

The tasks, which sometimes tested their paleographic skills and kindled their imaginations, were designed to provide an experience of scholarly inquiry through original materials in the New England Indian Papers Series’ collection and an insight into the multiple perspectives on identity, colonialism, international enslavement, and imperialism.

A wrap-up session solicited ideas on how the teachers might use the exercise in their own classes.


Welcome to Our New Consulting Editor

Please welcome a new member of our editorial team, Julie Fisher.

Julie holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Delaware with a focus on Early American and Native American history. Her research centers on English-colonial politics, language acquisition, and borderland communities. She is the co-author of Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts: Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-Century New England and Indian Country, which appeared with Cornell University Press in 2014. Building on this work, she is now editing a collection of letters by Rhode Island’s founder, Roger William, that highlight Williams’ role as a skilled bilingual and formative political actor in Indian-English politics.

Julie will serve as a consulting editor, assisting Project editors with transcribing materials from the Massachusetts Archives during the NHPRC and NEH grant periods.

Access to the Past

NMAI Article

Following up on our recent post, the editors would like to let our readers know about an article about the Project, Access to the Past, in the latest issue of American Indian. In it, we talk about some of the ways we engage with communities, and our thoughts on why we do.

American Indian is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian‘s award-winning quarterly magazine about Native art and culture in the Americas.

And more to come soon about what we have been up to since our last postings.

Coming Soon . . .

Dear Colleagues,

As you are probably aware, it’s been some time since we’ve updated the Op-Ed Blog.  We’ve been quite busy.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting news about things we’ve been working on for last several months.

Watch this space,

-The Editors

“We did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.”

For this Thanksgiving, we republish our post of November 27, 2013.

tdayFrank James, whose Wampanoag name is Wamsutta, organized the United American Indians of New England in 1970 after a speech he had written for the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim arrival was considered inappropriate and too inflamatory by the event’s organizers. 

It began like this:

I speak to you as a man — a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict parental direction (“You must succeed – your face is a different color in this small Cape Cod community!”). I am a product of poverty and discrimination from these two social and economic diseases. I, and my brothers and sisters, have painfully overcome, and to some extent we have earned the respect of our community. We are Indians first – but we are termed “good citizens.” Sometimes we are arrogant but only because society has pressured us to be so.

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you – celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People . . .

The comment continued to a criticism of the mythology that has grown around Pilgrims, Thanksgiving, and the treatment of American Indians.

. . . History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly different cultures met. One thought they must control life; the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood.

The white man in the presence of the Indian is still mystified by his uncanny ability to make him feel uncomfortable. This may be the image the white man has created of the Indian; his “savageness” has boomeranged and isn’t a mystery; it is fear; fear of the Indian’s temperament!

In the place of this speech, James was offered an alternative, written by a public relations person, but he refused to be censored and withdrew from participating in the celebration.  Instead, he led a protest on Cole’s Hill near Plymouth Rock and close to a replica of the Mayflower where stood a statue of the Wampanoag leader Massasoit.  The protest included burying Plymouth Rock, boarding the Mayflower to remove the Union Jack flying from its mast, and replacing it with the flag that had flown over liberated Alcatraz Island.

tday-2Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered on Cole’s Hill on Thanksgiving Day, not to celebrate the Pilgrims’ arrival but to commemorate a National Day of Mourning.  The photograph above was taken on November 28, 1996 at the 27th National Day of Mourning.  The following year, as protesters and hundreds of their supporters attempted to march through the center of the Town of Plymouth, a confrontation with police lead to violence.  Protesters were clubbed and maced.  Twenty five were arrested for disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly.

As part of a subsequent settlement between the Town of Plymouth and the United American Indians of New England, the parties agreed to place a plaque at Cole’s Hill to recognize the significance of the first protest in calling for a national day of mourning. 

One of the plaques, in part, reads:

Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression that Native Americans continue to experience.

Despite the controversy, the National Day of Mourning commemoration still continues to attract people to its message.  (A video of the 2011 protest can be seen here.)  As two movement leaders, Mahtowin Munro (Lakota) and Moonanum James (Wampanoag), explain,

Increasing numbers of people are seeking alternatives to such holidays as Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. They are coming to the conclusion that, if we are ever to achieve some sense of community, we must first face the truth about the history of this country and the toll that history has taken on the lives of millions of Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian, and poor and working class white people.

The myth of Thanksgiving, served up with dollops of European superiority and manifest destiny, just does not work for many people in this country. As Malcolm X once said about the African-American experience in America, “We did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.” 


For Frank James’ full 1970 speech, click here.  To read more about the 1997 incident, see James W. Baker’s Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday (University of New Hampshire Press, 2009).  For more on the history of Plymouth Rock, see Chapter 5 of Peter Gardella’s American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred (Oxford University Press, 2014).

The image of the 1996 protest (top) is from the Yale Indian Papers Project’s photograph collection.  The photograph of the 1970 National Day of Mourning (bottom) courtesy of ManyHoops.com