Academic journal article Early American Studies

American Mordecai: Scriptural Allusion and the Work of Remembering in Lion Gardiner's "Relation of the Pequot Warres"

Academic journal article Early American Studies

American Mordecai: Scriptural Allusion and the Work of Remembering in Lion Gardiner's "Relation of the Pequot Warres"

Article excerpt

With respect to literary interpretation, Lion Gardiner's "Relation of the Pequot Warres" presents challenges that distinguish it from the other narratives written about the Pequot War of 1636-38. Including Gardiner's, there are four such narratives. Two accounts were published in the war's immediate aftermath: Philip Vincent's A True Relation of the Late Baiteli fought in New England (London, 1637, 1638) and John UnderhiU's Newes from America (London, 1638). Two additional accounts were written, though neither was published in its entirety in the seventeenth century. John Mason's A brief history of the Pequot War was printed in part (though misattributed) in 1677, but it did not appear in complete form until 1736.The other is Gardiner's "Relation," which, though probably based on his wartime journal, was not organized into its final version until 1660. It remained in manuscript form in various Connecticut records collections until it was rediscovered in 1809 and printed in the Massachusetts Historical Society Collections in 1833. 1

Gardiner, Vincent, Underhill, and Mason all recognized the inherent dramatic possibilities, images of spectacular violence, and cultural symbolism of the war. Each attempted to sort through (often to justify the New England colonies' decision to go to war) the series of skirmishes and miscommunications between the Pequots and the various English, Dutch, and Native Americans (Narragansetts, Wampanoags, Niantics, Nipmucs, Mohegans, and Montauks) living and trading in and around Connecticut. All four recounted, often in vivid detail, the war's horrific events: the Pequot attack on the English settlement at Wethersfield, the New Englanders' retaliatory torching of the Pequot village at Mystic, and finally the systematic execution and enslavement of the Pequot survivors.2 The English attack on Mystic in particular lends itself to vivid reimaginings. An engraving published in UnderhiU's account, for example, depicts a bird's-eye view of concentric circles of armed English soldiers and their Mohegan allies surrounding the Pequot village, setting their houses on fire, then shooting those who ran from their burning homes (see figure 1). Of the devastating attack he helped lead Mason wrote, "Thus were [the Pequots] now at their Wits End, who not many Hours before exalted themselves in their great Pride, threatening and resolving the utter Ruin and Destruction of all the English, Exulting and Rejoycing with Songs and Dances: But God was above them, who laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven: Thus were the Stout Hearted spoiled, having slept their last Sleep, and none of their Men could find their Hands: Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies!"3 Mason's images of a haughty nation justly punished by God's fiery wrath typify the symbolic logic used in these accounts. William Bradford, for example, expressed a similar sentiment when he described how the "fearful sight" of Pequots "frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same . . . seemed a sweet sacrifice," one that merited English praise for a God "who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy."4

Despite the conflict's inherent dramatic tension, violent imagery, and epic symbolism, Gardiner's "Relation" and the other Pequot War narratives have been read primarily as historical, rather than literary, artifacts.5 This neglect is somewhat surprising given the interest shown in other colonial narratives, such as Thomas Harriot's A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, William Strachey's A True Reportory of the Wracke, John Smith's The Generali Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles, and Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation. These other texts of course benefit from their focus on the dramatic nature and cultural significance of first contact. …

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