Good Friday coincided with my company's "every other Friday off" scheme. (Which I think I've explained before, we call it 9/80, 80 hours in 9 days, blah, blah, blah, so I'll not explain it again, at least not today.) So...
Friday off, The Missus Herself being in California, it was a day when I decided that some of those things she takes care of while I'm at work would needs be taken care of by Yours Truly. I waited but finally decided that those things weren't going to magically happen by themselves. One of the chores I needed to do was purchasing more comestibles for the feline staff. For those who don't know, the members of the species Felis catus can be rather finicky eaters. At least the house-bound variety seem to be. So not just any food would do.
Now some months back, our local grocery emporium decided, much to my dismay, that stocking the brand of cat food which my felines desired, would be discontinued. I was all aback but fortunately The Missus Herself was around and discovered that both Walmart and the commissary on base still stocked that brand. Long story short, Friday I resolved to head off to the base (one of the naval variety if you must know) and purchase cat food, and various and sundry other divers items for which I had a need.
After logging a successful mission to the commissary I decided that as I had just finished Nathaniel Philbrick's excellent The Last Stand (that very morning) and as Barnes and Noble was on the way home, why not stop by and see what other books by Mr. Philbrick might be on hand? I had two in mind, one on the Mayflower, for the local history that was in it, and the other on Benedict Arnold, for the general history that was in it.
Well, Valiant Ambition was available, but in hardcover. Mind you, I'm not averse to purchasing hardcover books, but Friday I was feeling a bit parsimonious so opted not to drop thirty Yankee dollars on that most excellent book (knowing that it would indeed, someday, be available in paperback at about half the price). Apologies Mr. Philbrick, Friday you were the victim of my cheapness. Blame it on my Scottish ancestry if you will, but there it is.
On the gripping hand, I did purchase his book The Mayflower and the Pilgrims' New World and commenced to reading it that very afternoon. (I picked up another couple of books as well, one historical, the other historical fiction, but they don't fall into the scope of today's tale so I'm not going to tell you which books they were. Suffice to say that one led to a TV series, and turning to the other, there are at least two movies based on the other author's work. And that of his Dad. Keen readers are welcome to guess in the comments which two works I allude to.)
So. The Mayflower. I think most of us of a certain age know the tale of that particular ship and the group of people deposited on these shores by that vessel. I wonder if they still teach that subject in school? I have my doubts as education seems to be a less than reputable field these days. Sad to say as I have a number of friends who are school teachers and let's just say, they don't pick the curriculum. Those "above" them do that. While I have no evidence to support my theory that politics is involved, I dare anyone to prove me wrong.
In reading this book I have learned many things, all of which track closely with my earlier studies in this area. One thing I did not know is that the area of New England which I currently inhabit was rather heavily populated prior to the Pilgrims ever landing and screwing things up for the natives. (If you believe that line of reasoning. I don't, not exactly, but we'll get there. I hope.)
While there were no European settlements this far north in the 1600s, fishermen from Europe were along these shores chasing the abundant fish species along the coast. (There's a reason it's called Cape Cod.) Now from time to time, sea travel being a very dangerous thing in those days (well, it still is but far more so back then), the fishermen would occasionally have to put ashore. To make repairs, to get water and perhaps food, in the form of game, and they would have occasion to make contact with the local inhabitants. Whom we used to know as "Indians" but now that's not politically correct, or so I'm told.
So yes, Europeans making contact with folks from another continent. What happens? Oh yes, diseases for which the natives have no natural antibodies will sometimes take hold and devastate a population. And so it was that when the Pilgrims landed, there were a lot fewer "indigenous personnel" than had been previously the case. I mean, according to the book, thousands had died on account of what some historians figure was the bubonic plague. The Pilgrims found deserted villages, places where the dead still lay in situ because no one was left to bury them.
I did not know that.
One reason I bought the book was for the account of King Philip's War, a topic I was (oddly enough) familiar with from my school days. Seems that one of the main roads through my little bay-side town is named for the aforementioned King Philip, whose actual moniker was Metacomet. Said main drag being called Metacom Avenue (which apparently is another way of saying Metacomet, my guess is that we pale faces from Great Britain being generally horrid with language and spelling couldn't make up our minds what to call him, so he got stuck with King Philip, though I doubt he called himself that*.)
When we first moved here, I picked up a military history magazine primarily because it had an account of King Philip's War and it indicated that that nasty conflict took place right here in my backyard. So to speak. Mr. Philbrick also points out in the book that Metacomet was the son of Massasoit.
Yes, well he's the chap, according to some histories, that essentially saved the Pilgrims from starving to death. That whole "First Thanksgiving" thing if you recall the history you learned as a child. (For those of us of a certain age.) Now Mr. Philbrick does not trash that story, he simply tells it like it really happened. Based on his historical research and not relying on modern myths of that time. (It's also worth noting that both Virginia and Massachusetts claim the "honor" of the first Thanksgiving. Just thought I'd mention that. For the purposes of this post, and to remain somewhat accurate, we're talking of the first New England Thanksgiving, not the first American Thanksgiving. Me being a huge fan of both New England and Virginia.)
Did the natives save the Pilgrims at the end of their first year in Plymouth? Why yes, yes they did.
Oh, and Massasoit lived in the area which now forms the town directly north of my current domicile. I did not know that. (As Plymouth is a bit of a hike on foot from where Massasoit lived, well, read the book. It explains it well, but suffice to say, they walked. Not many horses in New England back in the day. In fact, none would be a reasonable estimate.)
While I'm only half way (or so) into the book, I have already learned a few things, as I mention above. But one theme that has struck me after reading The Last Stand and now The Mayflower, is just how devastating it is for a people when an advanced culture makes contact with them. When has that ever worked out to the credit of the allegedly more advanced culture? (I say allegedly because often it's the technology which is more advanced and perhaps not the underlying morals and mores of the "advanced" culture. Though those who portray the natives of this continent in terms of being at one with the land and living in peace, really need to dig into that topic a bit more. Warfare is endemic amongst all varieties of our species.)
So the Mayflower landing at Plymouth leads inevitably (in my estimation) to the Battle of the Little Big Horn. One group moves because of pressure from another group, which displaces the next group of people, which displaces the next, until eventually there's no place else to go. Battles are fought, less "advanced" cultures are wiped out or subsumed and we get history.
Yes, the victors get to write the histories, but sometimes someone will dig into things and present the viewpoint of the vanished culture. Not always, but it happens.
And if you look at it objectively, while it was called Custer's Last Stand, which it was on the personal level for Custer and his battalion of the 7th Cavalry, in reality it was the last stand of the culture of the Great Plains. While the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho won the battle, they ultimately lost the war.
If you read The Mayflower, you can see how events in New England in the 1600s led, almost inevitably, to the Greasy Grass in 1876.
Everything is connected. You just need to find the threads. If you study the past, you just might learn something.
* Update: Actually Metacom did call himself Philip. He and his brother both took English names. His brother, who became sachem after Massasoit, took the name Alexander. After his death Philip (ex-Metacom) became sachem. Apparently one of the English referred to him as "King" Philip as Philip considered himself on a par with Charles II of England. So King Philip he became. (I should have read further into the book before making such gross assumptions. Live and learn.)