Englishman’s Foot

“The Spaniard might prove as cruel as the savages of America, and the famine and pestilence as sore here (Holland) as there, and their liberty less to look out for remedy.” William Bradford, On Plymouth Plantation

The story is a familiar one. Dissenters of the Church of England, disciples of reformer John Calvin, departed for Holland, washing their hands of English apostasy. After a time among the Dutch, these expatriates watched in horror as their children came of age in the secular world of the Continent. Alarmed, William Bradford and other Separatist leaders determined to leave Holland as well, to take their chances in the New World. 

Bradford, later explained this decision in On Plymouth Plantation, deciding it was better to lose their offspring to the tomahawk than to lose their mortal souls to God. 

You know the next part of this story. 

Pilgrims, The Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, Samoset, Squanto, Corn, Thanksgiving, shoe buckles, etc . . .

But this story concerns those already inhabiting the New World, the indigenous peoples of America. In truth, white men had been poking around the shores of early America well before the Mayflower sailed. Explorers, trappers, and fishermen had already encountered native people, trading goods, microbes, cultural practices, and language. Some indigenous folk spoke a bit of English, or French they had acquired from European adventurers.

In 1621, the Pokanoket peoples of the Wampanoag Confederacy observed the arrival of the Pilgrims to Massachusetts Bay. Their sachem, or leader, Massasoit, made the decision to cautiously receive these newcomers, rather than force them back to the sea. Dispatching an emissary, the English-speaking native, Samoset, Massasoit hoped to learn the intentions of the outsiders. His own people weakened, especially by small pox, and intermittent warfare, shaped the decision to pursue an alliance with these gun-toting English settlers; in particular the Narragansett of nearby Rhode Island. Massasoit’s peaceful reception led to an uneasy pact that permitted the Separatists to survive their “starving time” and thrive.

After Massasoit’s death in 1661, and the death his son, King Alexander, King Philip, the second son, became the new sachem of the Wampanoag.

Philip’s time as sachem witnessed a massive expansion of British New England. Ships from East Anglia seemed to arrive daily emptying thousands of settlers to the Bay Colony. Plymouth Separatists were followed by a massive influx of Puritan dissenters under John Winthrop. Consequently Massachusetts Bay Colony steadily encroached upon Indian-held lands, increasing deforestation, diminishing game, and forcing native people further inland. Philip’s compliance with English suppression reached a breaking point by 1675, and he determined to take the action his father avoided-pushing the English back into the sea, or die trying.

Eventually Philip was murdered by an informer, a converted fellow native, known as John Alderman. Philip’s corpse was mutilated, his torso drawn and quartered, and his head posted on a pike in Plymouth for good measure. His head remained on display for decades. 

In the end, and it was the end, Philip’s wife and son were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

Englishman’s Foot is a non-native plant introduced by English settlers to the New World. The plant grew from the manure of roaming cattle. Englishman’s Foot proliferated in New England, and named by the native people.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” a two-part memoir. Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

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