14 May 2015

Beheadings, classism, and religious intolerance

Forgotten aspects of the United States' colonial heritage:
Just as the Indians in Virginia were seen "defacing... and mangling [the colonists'] dead carcasses into many pieces, and carrying some parts away in derision," so the Virginians "ransaked their Temples, Tooke downe the Corpes of their deade kings from of[f] their Toambes," engaged freely in scalping, and did not hesitate to decapitate their enemies in campaigns of terror.  (Percy, casually: "I cawsed the Indians heade to be Cutt of[f]"; Kiefft, coolly: ten fathoms of wampum for a Raritan's head, twenty for a suspected murderer's.)
An excerpt (p. 502) from Bernard Bailyn's The Barbarous Years; The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675.

This practice was a carryover from the mayhem known to the colonists from their European forefathers' genocidal wars (p. 498):
The retaliatory executions in the conquered city of Mons, in Hainault, proceeded at a leisurely pace: for a full year "ten, twelve, twenty persons were often hanged, burned, or beheaded in a single day.  The experience and knowledge of such extreme but not uncommon events were carried to North America by the many veterans of the Dutch rebellion and the Thirty Years War who were sent to the colonies...

So closely linked were the incidences of racial conflict, so extended their dedly aftermaths, that one can conceive of a single, continuous Euro-Indian war - precisely the Virginia Company's hoped-for 'perpetuall Warr without peace or truce" - that lasted from 1607 to 1664 and beyond...
From this book I also learned about the extreme classism towards the poor practiced by the colonists:
They therefore prohibited anyone "whose visible estates, reall and personall, shall not exceed the true and indifferent valew of two hundred pounds, shall weare any gold or silver lace, or gold and silver buttons, or any bone lace above two shillings per yard, or silk hoods or scarfes, uppon the poenaltie of tenn shillings for every such offence."  Those who defied this ruling would be taxed at the level of wealth they pretended to - provided, they added in an elegiac conclusion that went to the heart of their discontents, that the law would not aply to anyone "whose education and imployments have binn above the ordinary degree, or whose estates have binn considerable, though now decaied." (p. 469)
It was interesting to learn that the colonists and the Native Americans freely exchanged children for prolonged periods of time in order to develop bilingual translators (p. 304).  There was also a lot of religious intolerance -
[The Jews] were, Stuyvesant wrote his superiors in Amsterdam, "a deceitful race," blasphemers who would infect the entire colony with their elemental corruption.  He appealed to the West India Company for permission to expel them forthwith... The colony had trouble enough, [Megapolensis] pointed out, with "Papists, Mennonites, and Lutherans among the Dutch; also many Puritans or Independents and many atheists and varioius other servants of Baal among the English under this government, who conceal themselves under the name of Christians; it would create a still greater confusion if the obstinate and immovable Jews came to settle here." (p. 252-4)
There's lots more in this comprehensive book about the often-suppressed "dark side" of the colonial existence in North America.
Later generations, reading back into the past the outcomes they knew, often gentrified this passage in the peopling of British North America, but there was nothing genteel about it. It was a brutal encounter—brutal not only between the Europeans and native peoples, despite occasional efforts at accommodation, and between Europeans and Africans, but among Europeans themselves...

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