Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts

Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts

Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts

Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts


The encounter of natives and colonists in New England is a rich source of folklore and scholarship. The story, which usually ends with the defeat of Metacom (King Philip) in 1676, tells of how the natives were overwhelmed by the colonists. That picture, though rich and deeply tragic, is misleading. Disease, economic and ecological intrusion, and political and military pressures did alter native life. Some groups were largely destroyed or driven out by the English. But many others persisted in the region, as villages or as networks of families and individuals on the margins of colonial society. Their history offers a new and enlightening view of eighteenth-century New England. Behind the Frontier tells the story of the Indians in Massachusetts as English settlements moved past them between 1675 and 1775, from King Philip's War to the Battle of Bunker Hill. Daniel R. Mandell explores how local needs and regional conditions shaped an Indian ethnic group that transcended race, tribe, village, and clan, with a culture that incorporated new ways while maintaining a core of "Indian" customs. He examines the development of Native American communities in eastern Massachusetts, many of which survive today, and observes emerging patterns of adaptation and resistance that were played out in different settings as the American nation grew westward in the nineteenth century.


Textbook Indians disappear when conquered. Real people are not, however, quite so obliging. Today the Pequots operate the most lucrative casino in America (perhaps the world), gleefully winning a measure of restitution from the inheritors of the Puritans who supposedly wiped out that tribe in 1637. And soon the Gay Head tribe, a community that you will frequently encounter in this book but was believed to have "died" in the late nineteenth century, will build its own casino.

Historians generally close their studies of Indians and colonists in southern New England with the colonists' military triumph in 1676. But I find more fascinating the continued struggles of the "losers": how they survived by shaping new cultures and communities that absorbed a multitude of changes while maintaining essential traditions. This study examines the process of adaptation and persistence among the natives of eastern Massachusetts in the century following political and demographic subordination.

After 1676, Indians were but a few scattered islands in the English sea of eastern Massachusetts. This helpless, conquered minority may seem inconsequential. Yet the natives remaining within the Bay Colony posed a significant concern to the governor and General Court, even threatening the relationship between the colony and the Crown in 1760 when a lone Mashpee carried his community's complaint to London. Indians were also dominant in a number of villages. People in towns around Mashpee, for example, remained anxious about their unpredictable neighbors into the nineteenth century. Between 1744 and 1805, Natick Indians held most of the political cards in the town's dispute over its meetinghouse location--even when fewer than a dozen individuals remained. While the numbers and resources of Indians shrank during the eighteenth century, some groups still controlled important resources: Chappaquiddick held some of the best grazing lands on Martha's Vineyard, for example, and Mashpee became one of the few places east of the Connecticut River where deer could still be hunted.

"Indian" has become a controversial word in the late twentieth century, as Native American activists work to increase our understanding of this . . .

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