a Puritan war against natives of Massachusetts

By courtesy of Delancy Place, here is Karen Armstrong’s account of a 17th century war of Massachusetts Puritans against a native American tribe.

The Puritans of Massachusetts had no qualms about killing Indians. They had left England during the Thirty Years’ War, had absorbed the militancy of that fearsome time, and justified their violence by a highly selective reading of the Bible. Ignoring Jesus’s pacifist teachings, they drew on the bellicosity of some of the Hebrew scriptures. [Emphasis added.] ‘God is an excellent Man of War,’ preached Alexander Leighton, and the Bible ‘the best handbook on war.’ Their revered minister John Cotton had instructed them that they could attack the natives ‘without provocation’ — a procedure normally unlawful — because they had not only a natural right to their territory, but ‘a special Commission from God’ to take their land. Already there were signs of the exceptionalist thinking that would in the future often characterize American politics. In 1636 William Bradford described a raid on the Pequot village of Fort Mystic on the Connecticut shore to avenge the murder of an English trader, contemplating the fearsome carnage with lofty complacency:

“Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatched, and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.”

When the Puritans negotiated the Treaty of Hertford (1638) with the few Pequot survivors, they insisted on the destruction of all Pequot villages and sold the women and children into slavery. Should Christians have behaved more compassionately? asked Captain John Underhill, a veteran of the Thirty Years’ War. He answered his rhetorical question with a decided negative: God supported the English, ‘so we had sufficient light for our proceedings.’

Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), pp. 265-266.

British author Karen Armstrong (born 1944) is a former Roman Catholic nun best known for A History of God (1994), a book that traces the evolution of the idea of God from its ancient roots in the Middle East to modern times. TdJ circulated an earlier excerpt from Fields of Blood here.

At the time English colonists were slaughtering natives in North America, Spanish were doing the same, or worse, to natives of New Spain (Mexico), Central America and South America. Native Americans were also attacking unwelcome European intruders. In addition, various native tribes were warring with one another. All this is true but does not, in my opinion, excuse the behaviour of English settlers in the New World.

Keep in mind, also, that pacifist Quakers in the colony of Pennsylvania managed to live in harmony with native tribes. Violence breeds violence.

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