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Friday, November 28, 2008

Massasoit of Plymouth

Here is a statue of Massasoit in Plymouth, Mass. Massasoit was the sachem of the Pokanoket, part of the Wampanoag Confederacy, and his place in history is to be a hero of two opposing nations. It is a unique position, few men ever achieve the position of being hero to both sides, and he leaves a complicated, but equally important legacy to both.

This man visited Plymouth in 1621, with the allegiance of a handful of other Wampanoag sachems behind him, negotiated a treaty with the English settlers who were tenuously, and so precariously attemping to establish themselves in the tract of land they called New England. Their sea crossing on the Mayflower was hellish, and their first winter here even moreso.

In exchange for the promise of the English to ally themselves with the Wampanoags against the Narragansetts, Massasoit promied them security and land. He also prevented them from dying of starvation during those early years of settlement. There was peace, an often uneasy peace, but still peace, between the new Plymouth settlement and the Wampanoag all the remainder of Massasoit’s lifetime. After his death, the bloody King Philip’s War altered the political landscape, which is a subject for another time.

For now, between the rather classic Roman-like monument with its gates that shields Plymouth Rock from further damage by tourists, and the magnifcent Mayflower II, the replica of the ship that brought the English settlers, Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims, we have somewhere in the middle the statue of the man of the hour. He determined that his people, who had been descimated by smallpox in the handful of years before the treaty with the English, would not be left helpless. Because of him, they, and the English settlers survived, both for that day, and in history.

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