Wednesday, November 24, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #17: The Susquehannocks, the Retreat of France and the Paxton Boys

The Susquehannocks were a native people occupying what is now central Pennsylvania, and the river flowing through there into the Chesapeake Bay shares their name. They had lived there for hundreds of years before the European arrivals. Captain John Smith of Jamestown, Virginia, encountered them in 1608 as he was exploring the northern end of the bay.
The Susquehannock were large-scale agriculturalists. They practiced ‘slash and burn’ farming. This involved clearing the forest by burning down trees and planting crops in their ashes, as nutrients in the soil were depleted. They moved every few decades to refresh the soil. In the late sixteenth century they also absorbed smaller pre-existing native peoples. They were really a confederacy of up to 20 smaller tribes. They were also known for fortifying their villages with log stockades. They grew powerful for a time, but all but disappeared by 1776. But let's not get ahead of the story.
They were Iroquoian-speaking, but no one knows what they called themselves. Their ancestors were likely from the Ohio Valley and migrated centuries earlier over the mountains into the headwaters of the Susquehanna River near where Pennsylvania borders New York. ‘Susquehannock’ in the tongues of their neighbors means ‘people of the flowing muddy water,’ but those near the bay at the south end were also called ‘oyster-eaters.’ and ‘Conestoga,’ after one of their last settlements.
With the arrival of Europeans, their influence both grew and became more precarious. Since they had metal tools when John Smith first met them in 1609, they had likely obtained them through fur trading with the French, both directly and through their Iroquois rivals to the north. Going eastward through the Lenape in New Netherland and New Sweden, they were able to obtain firearms and training from the Dutch, They even obtained a small cannon from the Swedes.
Their location on a major river and its tributaries put them at several trading crossroads. They traveled them on foot, but also used heavy dugout canoes on the many waterways. It also put them in a position to hijack goods meant for others, such as shipments headed westward to the Seneca on the other side of the Allegheny mountains.
Those along the Chesapeake got in early trouble with the Virginians during Bacon’s rebellion. After some Doeg Indians near Jamestown killed some Virginians, some surviving colonists crossed into the colony of Maryland and demanded a meeting with a Susquehannock village settled at a fort on Piscataway Creek, below present-day Washington, DC.
When five local sachems came to the meeting, they were all immediately slaughtered. The Susquehannock then fled the area, but not without taking some revenge on surrounding settlers.
By the turn of the century, into the 1700s, their confederacy and power changed. They were decimated by European diseases, but also violence against them by growing numbers of Scots-Irish settlers moving westward.
The wider context was rivalry between France and Britain for control of the ‘Ohio Country’—the French were being pushed out, but their native allies still persisted in fighting the British. Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, formed a broad confederation to push the British troops and squatting settlers eastward back across the mountains.
The fighting, or its aftermath, reached the town of Paxtang or ‘Paxton’ on the Susquehanna in what is now Dauphin County. It was occupied by Scots-Irish, including the first Presbyterian church in the colony.
A good number of young men, called ‘the Paxton boys’ organized to retaliate. What made them stand out, however, is they didn’t care whether the natives they were killing were involved in the hostilities or not, making no distinctions among tribes, or whether the natives concerned were Christians or not. They simply slaughtered everyone, including the last remnants of the Susquehannock living in the village of Conestoga.
“At about sixty or eighty yards from the gaol, we met from twenty-five to thirty men, well mounted on horses, and with rifles, tomahawks, and scalping knives, equipped for murder,” reads an account in Wikipedia by William Henry of Lancaster. “I ran into the prison yard, and there, O what a horrid sight presented itself to my view!- Near the back door of the prison, lay an old Indian and his women, particularly well known and esteemed by the people of the town, on account of his placid and friendly conduct. His name was Will Sock; across him and his Native women lay two children, of about the age of three years, whose heads were split with the tomahawk, and their scalps all taken off. Towards the middle of the gaol yard, along the west side of the wall, lay a stout Indian, whom I particularly noticed to have been shot in the breast, his legs were chopped with the tomahawk, his hands cut off, and finally a rifle ball discharged in his mouth; so that his head was blown to atoms, and the brains were splashed against, and yet hanging to the wall, for three or four feet around. This man's hands and feet had also been chopped off with a tomahawk. In this manner lay the whole of them, men, women and children, spread about the prison yard: shot-scalped-hacked-and cut to pieces.”
Some 140 surviving natives fled toward Philadelphia to escape the Paxton Boys, who chased them to the outskirts of the city. Benjamin Franklin organized the local militia to protect them, and stopped the Paxton Boys at Germantown. He convinced them to turn their issues into the colonial legislature. But even if delayed, the Paxton Boys had staked out and clarified a new position: the real aim of ‘Indian policy’ was to be reduced to ethnic cleansing, extermination, and genocide against any and all ‘Red Skins.’ More to come.
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NEW NARRATIVE #16: Early New York’s Waterfront Dives, the Emerging Atlantic Proletariat, and the Defeat of a 1741 Working-Class, both Slave, Native and ‘Free,’ Attempting to Put ‘the Bottom Rail on Top’

In 1741, dozens of free and enslaved men of modest or no means, and a few women, all multiracial and multinational, had gathered many times at John Hughson’s New York City tavern. Among other things, they spent a good part of their time plotting an insurrection against the worst of the rich. They hoped to spread some of their wealth about, free some slaves and servants, and make for a better order. It didn’t turn out as expected, and many lost their lives. But that gets us ahead of the story.
As noted earlier, the island where the Hudson River opened to the Atlantic was the home of the Lenni Lenape people, who called it ‘Manhattan.’ The Dutch bought it and took possession of everything, reaching up to Albany. They called it ‘New Netherlands’ and the small but busily growing port at the tip of Manhattan was ‘New Amsterdam.’ Interested in all trade, but especially furs and slaves, with ships of all trading nations coming and going, its population was polyglot, with even the Dutch as simply a large minority.
As such, ‘New Amsterdam’ practiced some tolerance. Even the whipping of slaves required special permission, and slaves had the right to marry, and even to be set free. Some captured Native People were also enslaved, but generally, they were pushed away from the Hudson Valley in all directions. The Dutch put the slaves to work building a wall of upright logs from river to river on the upper end of the lower Manhattan settlement. The idea was to keep the slaves in and Indians and other unwanted intruders out. The boundary was called ‘Wall Street’, and remains to this day, even if its origins in slavery are dimmed memories.
In 1667. across the ocean in Europe, the Treaty of Breda ended the Second Anglo-Dutch war. The Dutch did well, retaining their most prized possessions in the East Indies, while trading off a colony seen as second rate, New Netherlands, to the British. After a few strokes of the pen, the British navy sailed into the Hudson, without resistance, and the whole area became New York, and the port was now New York City. Relative to the times, it was a large town of about 6000, a number which doubled by the turn of the century. At all times, the slaves counted as 20 percent of the residents, and over 40 percent of all households had enslaved servants.
But New York was unique in its dense slavery. There were no plantations, like those in the South, where slaves, in subdivided groups, toiled in rural isolation growing tobacco or rice, and later, cotton. New York’s slaves were a floating force of unskilled day laborers or skilled craftsmen. They loaded and unloaded ships, built the city’s infrastructure, or ran blacksmith or carpentry shops owned by their masters. They actually built the city, even if they had to turn their wages over to their owners. They lived in a back outhouse of their masters, or even in their shops. By the nature of their work, they had to pass freely on the streets among others going about their business. A small but good number of Africans, moreover, were not enslaved but had ‘free’ status, and were able to intermingle with slaves on the street or at work.
The new British overlords were wary and wanted a change, passing several new repressive measures. Beyond a short distance from their master’s home, a pass was required to walk in the streets. Meetings, however causal, of more the three Africans or Native Americans were forbidden. Masters no longer were required to get permission to whip their slaves, nor were slaves allowed to marry among themselves or elsewhere. Most important, in 1711, the city set up an official slave market for buying, selling, or otherwise making labor exchanges regarding slaves. The reason was they wanted a tariff for every transaction--often more than the cash value of the slave concerned--which was difficult to assess and collect if these sales were scattered and unregulated.
The slaves hated the new market and all the new repression. On April 6, 1712, about 20 of them set fire at night to a building on Maiden Lane near Broadway. They drew back in the darkness and waited for a crowd of whites to try putting out the fire. Then they struck, with guns, swords, knives, and whatever weapons they could find, and killed nine whites and injured six more before fleeing. The city’s armed militia quickly captured nearly all of them, and snatched up many more who had nothing to do with it, 70 in all. Six captives committed suicide, knowing the tortures awaiting them. Twenty-seven were put on trial, and 20 were convicted and burned to death alive at the stake. One was ‘broken’ to death on ‘the wheel.’ A pregnant woman was convicted, allowed for her child to be born, then hung. The authorities inflicted harsher repressions citywide following the executions, extending to all people of color, slave or free. Within four years, all free Blacks who owned land had it sold out from under them.
All this is the horrific and interesting backstory to all the plotting and planning going on a few decades later in John Hughson’s tavern. What’s even more intriguing is the immediate context of the tavern, its denizens, and others like it, not that this 1712 history wasn’t on everyone’s mind. Hughson’s lower-class joint was on the waterfront, as were two or three others like it. This meant it also served as a brothel, both for seamen and locals. It also served as a ‘fence,’ a place that trafficked in stolen goods, from the ships and elsewhere. The goods were traded either for cash, alcohol, or other items of value.
A key point needs to be made here about the seamen. Their story is told in depth in many of Marcus Rediker’s books, such as ‘The Many-Headed Hydra.’ His thesis is that the proletariat of the new far-ranging capitalism is born and takes shape on the seas, as well as on land. The ships of the day were both floating factories and prisons, and the ‘motley crews’ were very diverse. Rarely was an English ship operated by all-English seaman, all working voluntarily. Ship’s captains seized their crews from the poor in jail, from drunks in bars, from captured runaway slaves and natives, and from seaman of other countries captured in battles. Disciplined violently onboard, the seamen formed bonds and overcame language barriers with a Pidgin English. They were paid little, and sometimes not at all, having to wait a year. But by that time, they had been impressed on another ship. In these conditions, the men (and a few women) set aside national differences, color distinctions, and whether you were an escaped slave or Indian. They were cast into a common lot with a strong solidarity. Sometimes they mutinied, seized their ‘factory’, turning it into a workers coop of sorts, a pirate ship. Stealing part of the cargo, to them, was hardly theft, but an indirect way of regaining a bit of their own stolen wages.
So these were the people hanging out in the waterfront taverns of the sort described above. Naturally, they were joined by locals. Women working as prostitutes, local slaves of all colors who had snuck out for the night of drinking and gambling with a piece of their master’s silverware to pay for it, and local ‘free’ laborers looking for a rowdy time apart from the more upscale taverns of their ‘betters.’
So here is one birthplace of a Turtle Island proletariat—multinational. multiracial and conspiring, poorly or wisely, to wreak havoc on some of the rich, free some slaves, and redistribute some wealth in a Robin Hood fashion. If you want to study the history of the USAmerican working class, this is one good place to begin.
Despite their plans and aims, the ‘revolt’ itself didn’t amount to much. In the Spring of 1741, a series of 10 or so fires were set in buildings of the military and the wealthy, usually spaced about three days to a week apart. There was no mass insurrection. Just the opposite took place, a massive roundup of slaves, workers, Indians, in one batch after another, over months. Hughson, his wife, children, and his prostitutes were imprisoned and tortured for information, which led to more arrests and tortures. Some 172 were tried.
“In the end,’ states Wikipedia, “thirty-four people were executed. They included seventeen black men, two white men, and two white women who were hanged as well as thirteen black men burnt at the stake. The bodies of two supposed ringleaders, Caesar, a slave, and John Hughson, a white cobbler and tavern keeper, were gibbeted. Their corpses were left to rot in public. Another eighty-four men and women faced transportation to the brutal conditions of Caribbean slavery while seven white men were pardoned on condition of entering permanent exile from New York."
As time passed, the events were cast in the history books as more of a conspiracy than a revolt, and even much of the conspiracy’s overreach was recast as a cousin of the Salem Witch Trials. Many were unjustly accused and punished. Still, the structures of race and class were herein welded together in New York, both at the top and below. More to Come.
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Monday, November 15, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #15 Albemarle democracy, the Tuscarora War, and growing slavery in what became North and South Carolina

Graphic: Storming of the Tuscarora Fort Neoheroka by English colonists and their Native American allies, North Carolina, 1713.
By the last half of the 1600s, The Tuscarora and other native peoples in their region, recently named ‘Carolina’ by a king and ‘lord proprietors’ across an ocean, were having troubles with the newcomers living among them. The ‘Indians’ prized the metal goods and weapons, but they also suspected the settlers were the source of the new diseases that were wiping out entire villages. Before the Europeans, some estimates have the Tuscarora at 20,000 in population. Now that had been cut in half, if not more. The same was true of other tribes. They were also angered, in the southern part of their region, at the violent raids to seize their young men, women, and children, to be sold into slavery.
By 1670, four centers of power emerged in Carolina. One was in the south. Charles Town and the land nearby was developing as a slavocracy, the enslavers compelling growing numbers of Africans and captured Indians to grow and harvest rice and tobacco as export crops. Europeans without slaves were hired as overseers or pushed to the margins. The enslavers were also patriarchal, keeping their wives down while taking Africans and Natives as concubines.
The second settler region was in the north of ‘Carolina’, called the ‘Albemarle Settlements’, after the name of the sound near the Virginia border and the ‘Great Dismal Swamp.’ Tobacco was still grown and exported, but the settlers were largely Quaker and ‘Leveler’ smallholders, and many without any servants. An initial battle was waged, successfully, to change the proprietor’s law that refused people without servants the right to own land.
For religious and political reasons, these settlers attempted fair relations with the native people. Patriarchy also had less of a grip, as Quaker women were often outspoken leaders. The Quaker faith allowed male-female equality, which spilled over to the social sphere. Far from enslaving the Tuscarora, there was intermarriage among them—native men taking European wives and vice versa, facilitating relative harmony and exchange. Escaping slaves, both African and Indian, passed through Albemarle to get into the Great Dismal Swamp, where they formed independent and self-sustaining ‘maroon’ colonies, some of which lasted until after 1865. For a period of ten years or so, ‘Albemarle’ was, to a notable degree, a zone of democracy and cooperation among Quaker-influenced settlers, escaped slaves, and the Tuscarora and other native peoples.
The other two power centers were within the northern Tuscarora area. When their matrilineal groupings and clans grew beyond a certain size, they were often subdivided. The northernmost was headed by Chief Tom Blout. The other just below, along the Neuse River, was headed by Chief Hancock. Some accounts say Blout got his name because his mother was English, even though living within the tribe. Hancock picked his from that of a local well-off settler family. Picking an English name as ‘King’ was a custom started by Powhatan.
As the raids to capture them as slaves persisted, the Tuscarora under Chief Hancock waged a war of resistance (1711-1715) against Europeans, some involving bloody massacres. This was called the ‘Tuscarora Wars.’ For a time, those under Chief Blout defended the Europeans against Chief Hancock, leading the Hancock’s death. But the slave owners in the south around Charles Town, enlisting native warriors from other tribes, marched north continued all-out attacks on all the Tuscarora. In the end, the bulk of the Tuscarora who had been led by Hancock, packed up and left the Carolinas altogether, and made a long march through Virginia and Western Pennsylvania, until finally reuniting as the ‘Sixth Nation’ with their ‘Five Nation’ cousins among the Iroquois near Niagara. A smaller group under Blout was encircled and restricted to a small reservation along the Roanoke River, which was constantly encroached upon and reduced in size. A small area of this still remains with them today.
As a consequence of these upheavals, starting in 1710, the European residents of both regions of the Carolina province, petitioned the King to subdivide the area into the colonies of North and South Carolina, which was made official in 1729. African slaves continued to grow in number in South Carolina, while European immigrants, especially the Ulster-Scots or ‘Scots-Irish’ flowed into the piedmont of North Carolina from the north. Other native peoples were continually pushed westward and African slavery continued to grow in both new colonies. (More to come)
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Monday, November 08, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #14: The Tuscarora, Quakers, and Early Battles over Slavery

Long before Europeans and their 'great canoes' started to occupy and trade along the seacoast of Turtle Island, the Tuscarora people had migrated southward from the Great Lakes area and settled in the piedmont region of what was to be called 'the Carolinas.' They were 'Iroquoian' speakers, related to the five-nation confederacy living near the Niagara region and the mountains of what is now Pennsylvania. Just to their east, along the coastal bay and outer banks, lived a dozen or so Algonquin-speaking tribes. In the mountains far west of them lived the Cherokee.

Their name is pronounced 'tuh-skuh-roar-uh', which is close to their own name, 'Skarureh.' It means both 'the people who gather hemp' or 'the hemp-shirt wearers.' What we now call 'Indian hemp' is a very useful plant that produces strong fibers. The Tuscarora used hemp to make cloth for shirts, for rope and for ceremonial objects (some varieties of hemp contain cannabis). The hemp cloth, along with occasionally dying their hair red with bloodroot, made the Tuscarora stand out. Otherwise, they were like many of their neighbors. They lived in matrilineal villages with farms growing the usual 'three sisters', maize, beans, and squash. They had strong and skilled warriors, but they were known to be more peaceful and accommodating than warlike. They loved to play Lacrosse.

For several hundred years the Tuscarora thrived in their region. Their crops did well and the wild game was plentiful. They also made dugout canoes to fish the rivers and shallow coastal bays. They were especially fond of crayfish. Their homes were made of bent poles covered with layers of bark, but they tended to be smaller and more rounded than the 'long houses' of their cousins to the north. By the end of the 1500s, they were undoubtedly aware of Europeans--the Spanish failures in South Carolina and the failure of the 'lost colony' of Roanoke in the northern islets inside the Outer Banks. They would soon become aware of Jamestown and its early struggles.

What they didn't know was the deal-making going on across the ocean. In 1629, King Charles I handed out a land patent to Robert Heath, for all the lands north of Florida and below Virginia, stretching far to the west, at least to the Mississippi, even the Pacific. Naturally, he wanted it named after himself, 'Carolina.'

Unfortunately or not, he was beheaded and Cromwell ran the country for a decade or so, briefly unconcerned about colonies. apart from Ireland. The land grant was moot and put in the trash bin. But in 1660, the monarchy was restored with Charles II in charge. He came up with a new deal, a 'proprietary colony,' where he would name several 'lords proprietors' to take over Carolina, divide it up, and run it as they pleased.

"The Lords Proprietors named in the charter," says Wikipedia, "were Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon; George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle; William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven; John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton; Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury; Sir George Carteret; Sir William Berkeley (brother of John); and Sir John Colleton."

So with the stroke of his pen, Charles II had named new chieftains and overlords for the Tuscarora and dozens of other peoples as well. It mattered little whether any of high-born Englishmen had ever set foot on Turtle Island. But the Lords Proprietors quickly got to work, and in1670 sent 150 colonists to set up, naturally, 'Charles Town' near the old Spanish fort. Lord Shaftesbury, from London, planned the streets for the town and encouraged settlers from the sugar colony of Barbados to populate it. The same deal was made to William Sales, then governor of Bermuda, to round up a few boatloads of the residents of that colony to be removed to Carolina. In turn, Sales was named the first governor of the province.

The northern edge of Carolina bordered Virginia, and the border was ill-defined. A good number of Virginians, and people passing through Virginia, were suffering from the religious intolerance of Governor Berkeley, a High-Church cavalier, including many Quakers. There were also people feeling the edge of his crackdown on Bacon's Rebellion. Carolina had no churches to speak of then, and somewhat tolerant policies on religion. In 1672, George Fox, a founder of the Quakers, decided to explore the area himself, found it welcoming, and invited Quakers to move there in sizeable numbers. They did so, making a point of purchasing land from native leaders.

The coming clashes can be readily seen. The settlers from Barbados called themselves 'planters,' even though personally they never got their hands dirty. They owned and managed sugar plantations worked by slaves, and now on the mainland, they used slaves to grow rice and tobacco. They would buy bondservants and African slaves or they would have militias capture native peoples, including the Tuscarora, and work them as slaves. If they balked, they would trade the native slaves off to the Indies in exchange for Africans, or simply for the money. The Quakers, on the other hand, were developing into an anti-slavery force, and one that tried, as best as they could, to treat native peoples as equals as well. Contradictions were soon to explode. More to come.
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Tuesday, November 02, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #13 The Apalachee, DeSoto's Violent Slave Catching, and the Fate of Spanish Carolina.

The Apalachee were a native people who had made their home in the southern woodlands near the eastern edge of what is now called the Gulf of Mexico. They were mound-builders, erecting ceremonial earthworks in their major villages. This means they were also the southeasternmost part of what is now called the Mississippian culture of mound builders. This broader group covered the entire southern part of what is now the US, bordered by the Mississippi River on the west and the Ohio River to the north. Other native peoples lived there, too, but the mound-building made them unique.
The Apalachee had a warrior caste to be feared. As noted earlier, they first encountered the strange men of the ‘great canoes’ in an armed group headed by Ponce De Leon. The Spaniards were trying to seize the Apalachee and turn them into slave labor for Hispaniola, Cuba, and elsewhere, but as they learned the hard way during the DeSoto expedition, it was not so easy.
For thousands of years, the Apalachee lived in settled villages in homes made of palm branches and cypress moss. They grew several varieties of squash, maize and beans, and smoked fish and other game for long-term storage. (One Spanish raid of one of their stores provided several hundred of the Spanish marauders with supplies lasting nearly six months). With their surpluses and networks, the Apalachee were able to build their mounds and trade for goods reaching to the Great Lakes, the Great Plains, and down into Mexico.
The Apalachee were also known for a sport, a ball game with a small clay ball wrapped in animal skin, and a goal post. The ball had to be kicked to hit the post to score. Up to 40 or 50 men from rival villages took part, and the play could be as violent, or worse, than today’s hockey games.
Fierce as they might be, the Apalachee succumbed to the ‘invisible bullets’ of the Spaniards, as their villages after Desoto’s attacks and looting, were ravaged by smallpox and other diseases. Many of the tribal remnants moved northward to merge with their cousins, the Muscogee Creek Confederacy. Those remaining were absorbed into the Florida Spanish missions as forced labor while being ‘converted’ to Catholicism.
At the time, the turn into the 1600s, Spain’s ‘La Florida’ meant more than the name suggests today. It stretched from New Orleans in the west, to the Chesapeake Bay in the northeast, and to Tennessee to the north. The violent slave-raiding tour of Desoto around the Southeast is fairly well known, and continued until he died at the Mississippi. So is the Spanish founding of St Augustine on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Less known is the founding of St Elena at Parris Island, SC by the Spaniards,1566-1587, along with a string of forts reaching into the interior of the Carolinas, including one at Joara, a Cherokee town in what is now western North Carolina.
This was largely the work of Juan Pardo, a Spanish explorer. He was charged with the task of finding an overland route to the silver mines of Mexico from the Atlantic coast. The Spanish at the time thought the Appalachian Mountains (later named for the Apalachee) were a continuous chain reaching into the far southwest and Mexico.
Save for St Elena, Pardo’s forts quickly collapsed, once the native peoples around them discovered they were parasitic, and had no regular supply of trade goods. Their fate underscored a point: many European settlements survived or failed at the sufferance of the native peoples around them.
In 1586, Sir Francis Drake, the 'privateer' discussed earlier, attacked and burned St Augustine, a move that caused Spain to pull back from the Carolinas and defend what we today call Florida.
The geography of what was called Carolina, at least its coastal area, sharply divides the northern half from the southern. The north has large bays and sounds, protected by a long string of barrier islands, the Outer Banks. The sound area was home to one group of native peoples that included the Pamlico, while the inland piedmont was home to a larger grouping whose center was the Tuscarora. The arrival of English settlers was soon to reshape them all. More to come.
[A key source: New Voyages to Carolina: Reinterpreting North Carolina History, edited by Larry E. Ise and Jeffrey J. Crow]

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