Englishman’s Foot

Englishman’s Foot is a non-native plant introduced by English settlers to the New World. The plant sprouted from the manure, dropping from the equally non-native cattle. It spread unabated throughout New England, and metaphorically named by the native people.

The story is a familiar one. Dissenters of the Church of England, disciples of reformer John Calvin, departed for Holland, washing their hands of what they viewed as 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 the French they had acquired from couriers du bois.

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 welcome these newcomers, rather than force them back to the sea.

Dispatching the English-speaking native, Samoset, Massasoit hoped to learn the intentions of these outsiders. His own people weakened, especially by small pox, and perpetual warfare, influenced his decision to feel out an alliance with these gun-toting English settlers. In particular, against the Narragansett of nearby Rhode Island. Massasoit’s peaceful reception forged an uneasy pact that helped the Separatists survive their “starving time.”

After Massasoit’s death in 1661, followed by his eldest son soon after, King Philip, became the new sachem of the Wampanoag.

Philip’s time witnessed a massive expansion of British New England. Ships from East Anglia seemed to appear daily on the horizon, emptying thousands of new settlers to the Bay Colony. Plymouth Separatists welcomed a massive influx of Puritan dissenters under Governor John Winthrop. The Massachusetts Bay Colony pressed hard on native lands. It wasn’t long until Philip’s tolerance for the English reached a breaking point. By 1675, King Philip determined to take the action his father had avoided-force the English back into the sea.

It was a forlorn hope, and Philip met his end at the hands of a fellow-Wampanoag, an informer. The sachem’s corpse was mutilated, his torso drawn and quartered, and his head posted on a pike in Plymouth as a warning. Philip’s head remained on that pike for decades. 

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

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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