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Sachem’s Head November 25, 2015

Posted by michaelnjohns in history.
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Yesterday I watched the Thanksgiving story as told by the animated cast of Peanuts. It was a harrowing tale of miraculous survival against all odds, a story of friendly Native Americans who shared their land in an effort at peaceful coexistence.  A lovely, sanitized story appropriate for children.

Today I learned about Sachem’s Head in a fascinating reading while surfing about the history of our own Thanksgiving feast.  Sachem’s Head is the name of streets, a yacht club, a region in Connecticut and a region of Massachusetts, etc. Connecticut, there’s an ironic state name in view of the history.  I used to re-read and mispronounce it re-read it as “Connect, I Cut.”  Sachem’s Head is not just a location, but a proud admission, a proclamation, a warning.  Sachem’s Head tells a cautionary tale about trusting others.

We are more progressive than we used to be, but not as progressive as we think we are.  In the history books Sachem’s Head was never taught to me.  But Sachem’s Head, depending on which state you find it in, either belonged to Pometacom, or to Canonchet, Native American chiefs.  And the tale confesses that English settlers, or at least their leaders, couldn’t be trusted.

Sachem was the title given to the Native American leaders.  And as for these two, Sachem’s Head wasn’t a territory but a body part.  Their heads were removed and set on pikes by the English settlers.  One of them, on public display, according to the story, stayed out for 20 years.  I’m certain this was a display of power, and a warning to any who might potentially have vengeful souls.  Such as the children, who were sold as slaves, or their children.  So who were the “savages” of the story here?

I also want to know why the name “Sachem’s Head” is still being used by the people of the northeast United States.  It’s a term of barbarism describing those who overpowered the barbarism of the locals who used to live there.  This story is a pretty well written, if one-sided, description of the events of those days.  It depicts men and women fighting for religious freedom, land, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  And I’m not talking about the English.  And the name “Sachem’s Head,” especially when applied to some rich people’s land or club, smacks of an elitism I’m not sure should be so proudly hailed.

THAT BEING SAID…

I’m not sorry that I live in America.  I’m a patriot who loves this country, and our freedom to be and to do and to say and to believe. I believe our cultural progress is a thing to be proudly hailed, the ignominious “Sachem’s Head,” and other historical errors notwithstanding.  Could that conflict have been resolved peacefully?  I have no idea; I wasn’t there.

Could any of our conflicts be resolved more peacefully?  I have no idea.  It’s just possible that the history books, written by the winners, will skillfully omit those grim and gory details and leave us with names like Sachem’s Head, without the memory or the meaning behind them.  When I first looked for Sachem’s Head, I didn’t find the history.  I had to dig to find the meaning, because the name itself has been sanitized and now just refers to the locations, and the clubs.

I’m embarrassed that socially accepted slavery existed so long in this country.  I’m embarrassed that in American history, peaceful natives were forced to convert by the sword to a foreign religion, to foreign customs, to a foreign language.  I’m embarrassed that  other, some even highly promoted or encouraged, socially accepted aberrances continue to this day.  Cat-calling of women, for instance.  Bullying.  Child abuse.  Spouse abuse.  Greed.  Selfishness.  Simple theft, and a more complicated form of theft, also called “business acumen.”  And by the way, “business acumen” might very well have been used to describe our treatment of the native Americans back in the late 1600s, other slaves, minorities of all stripes, and anyone who is by wealth standards considered “poor,” or powerless.

I’m considered “poor.”  It’s because I don’t want to fight.  Like the peaceful Tisquantum I’ve worked for beans and tried my best to help others.  And here in America, there are people who have come along beside me to help me in my times of need.  I’m very grateful that help is available here because in other areas of the world, that help would not be given for the asking.

I keep seeing on the news, the petty squabbles and unnecessary death and the subsequent social unrest and grief.  I keep seeing the trouble caused by people with over-inflated concepts of their own self-entitlement.  None are as big as my newly discovered Sachem’s Head scandal, but I hope the contexts serve as cautionary tales to people.  I’m not going to mourn things that happened far in the distant past, but I’m going to learn from them.

I don’t want to take home these lessons:
1) you can’t trust anyone (alas, I already believe this in bitterness of heart)
2) lock your doors and consider purchasing a gun while you still can according to our rights under the Second Amendment.  I had a chance to shoot a .22 at a recent Boy Scout camp.  8 of 10 shots were in the bull’s eye, the other two, close enough to kill if I were shooting a live target.

Please, people, let’s be civilized.  We Americans are supposed to be “one nation, under God, indivisible,” but instead all I see is every man for himself.  Be like Tisquantum and bring something helpful to the table this Thanksgiving, to share with society.  And if you’re one of those people with “business acumen,” please realize we only win if we all win.  I realize it depends on your definition of “all,” so let me help you understand if you don’t:  I’m part of your “all.”  And your neighbors are.  And every other American citizen is.  So let’s help each other win.

I suppose I could be rich if I were a fighter, or if I were self-entitled.  I could have a respected position, or title, if I pushed for that as part of my own agenda.  Or, I could be a martyr to my cause and find my own “Sachem’s Head” on a proverbial pike.  But we’re too progressive to actually hang someone’s head on a pole to display our power.  At least I hope we are.

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