Subjects Unto the Same King: Indians, English, and the Contest for Authority in Colonial New England

Subjects Unto the Same King: Indians, English, and the Contest for Authority in Colonial New England

Subjects Unto the Same King: Indians, English, and the Contest for Authority in Colonial New England

Subjects Unto the Same King: Indians, English, and the Contest for Authority in Colonial New England


Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title

Land ownership was not the sole reason for conflict between Indians and English, Jenny Pulsipher writes in Subjects unto the Same King, a book that cogently redefines the relationship between Indians and colonists in seventeenth-century New England. Rather, the story is much more complicated--and much more interesting. It is a tale of two divided cultures, but also of a host of individuals, groups, colonies, and nations, all of whom used the struggle between and within Indian and English communities to promote their own authority.

As power within New England shifted, Indians appealed outside the region--to other Indian nations, competing European colonies, and the English crown itself--for aid in resisting the overbearing authority of such rapidly expanding societies as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Thus Indians were at the center--and not always on the losing end--of a contest for authority that spanned the Atlantic world. Beginning soon after the English settled in Plymouth, the power struggle would eventually spawn a devastating conflict--King Philip's War--and draw the intervention of the crown, resulting in a dramatic loss of authority for both Indians and colonists by century's end.

Through exhaustive research, Jenny Hale Pulsipher has rewritten the accepted history of the Indian-English relationship in colonial New England, revealing it to be much more complex and nuanced than previously supposed.


Land. A boundless canopy of forest shelters the soil of New England. Rock juts from the earth. Orange clumps of lichen blunt the sheer blocks of granite jumbled in crevices and tumbled down cliffs. White pines, thicker than a man can reach around, shoot to neck-craning heights, their roots clinging to stone up to the very edge of the shore. Cedars and spruces dot the coast as well, and “the scent of our Aromatic, and Balsam bearing pines, spruces, and Larch Trees with our Tall Cedars, exceeding all in Europe,” wafts far out to sea. At the feet of these giants, light filters green, dappling the forest floor, which is clear of all but berry brambles. These— hurtleberry, blueberry, checkerberry—grow in the ashes of last year’s fires, set to nourish them and to clear a path for game by the people of the land: the Massachusetts, Nipmucks, Narragansetts, Pennacooks, Mohegans, Pequots, Wabanakis—great peoples, and great in number. They plant, trap, fish, harvest, hunt, and dwell on the land, setting their wigwams streamside in fishing season, moving them inland when the cold winds of winter blow. Further west, large villages of Pocumtucks and Norwottocks tend rich fields of maize.

Sea. The Atlantic stretches pale, gray, and endlessly eastward. Its waves fling clams and mussels along sandy shores. Natives skirt the coast in canoes whose bark sides are peeled from birches of the forest. From time to time whales beach themselves on the sand, offering unexpected bounties of meat that native leaders—sachems and sagamores—will distribute to their people. What is not expected from the sea is men, and when they come they are hailed, up and down the coasts of the land as “manittóo,” like gods. Equally remarkable are the ships that bring them. Their unfamiliar construction and great size lead some natives to describe them as enormous birds, floating islands, or clouds. The newcomers offer bright beads of glass, heavy cloth, metal pots, and knives. Natives accept the gifts and offer in exchange the rich furs of beaver, marten, fox, and deer. Soon more men come from the sea, bearded and barking out short, harsh syllables of sound. Not all the newcomers are content with the peltry the natives offer. Some want captives and take them, luring them onto their ships with their tantalizing goods, then carrying them away as their kin’s cries of loss ring from the shore.

Death. What the travelers leave behind, other than their trinkets and . . .

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