Natives, Racism, and Deerfield

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Thu Feb 28 08:47:27 MST 2002


This end-of-February [2/28 and  sometimes 2/29] is the anniversary of the
1704 raid by Abenakis and some Caughnawaga Mohawks and French on the British
town of Deerfield, Massachusetts.  If that raid hadn't occurred, I [and a
great many others] probably wouldn't be gracing this essentially wonderful
mudball called Earth.  It's a revealing tale about racism [English] and the
total absence of it [Native Americans.]

Racism -- the quack and deadly effort to deny the humanity of the victim --
is a relatively new [ca. 1500s] phenomenon that began under the aegis of the
newly Protestant English and Dutch.  It was a clear effort to rationalize
genocide against Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans and
justify other awful things. The Catholic countries were certainly caught up
in ages-old cultural ethnocentrism -- the doctrine of "cultural
superiority," also quite false -- which has been used to rationalize all
kinds of hideously self-serving goals and practices. But ethnocentrism did
not [and doesn't] go the final and ultimately terrible and irreversible mile
of racism and seek to deny the basic humanity of the victim.  To a racist,
the victim is seen as genetically sub-human; to an ethnocentrist, the
victim, should he or she convert to the ethnocentrist's cultural position,
then  becomes essentially "OK."

The Native/European situation in eastern Canada and the northeastern portion
of what's now the United States was extremely complex from the outset. The
Natives of the Abenaki [or Wabanaki] Confederacy were almost always aligned
with the French -- against the encroaching and oft-urban English whose view
of Natives was generally [not always] from a racist perspective even though
they had some Indian allies at various points.  [The Scots, with an entirely
different socio-cultural background, could often be much better and, over
time, frequently married legally into Indian Nations -- a very common French
practice always.]  By the latter 1600s and the beginning of the 1700s,
England's racism was brutally obvious:  Cotton Mather termed Natives "wild
animals" and "children of Satan," cholera-infested blankets were
deliberately given as ostensible gifts to Natives, formal English bounties
were paid for the heads and scalps of Abenaki men and women and children.
That sanguinary and repressive English racist legacy still shapes much of
the United States and Canada to this moment.

The Abenakis with some Caughnawaga Mohawks and the  French -- accompanied by
Jesuit priests -- swept down from the St. Francis Abenaki  refugee mission
setting [Odanak, Quebec]  on Deerfield, killing many and burning much of the
English town.  About 100 English captives of all ages were taken and
ultimately "distributed" among the various Catholic Indian mission
communities where most got along well.  Among them were two very small
children, Samuel Gill and Rosalie James.

These were taken to St. Francis and raised as Native [and as Jesuit
Catholics.]  In 1715, they formally married each other -- ultimately
producing seven children who were biologically "white" but totally Native in
the socio-cultural sense.  One of those, Marie-Appoline, is my g/g/g/g/g
grandmother.

And another of these seven children was Joseph-Louis Gill, who became chief
of the St. Francis Abenaki and served well in that capacity for 50 years.
Obviously, the Natives weren't in the remotest sense racist -- nor have they
ever been at anytime, anywhere.  The "white captive" into full tribal
membership and participation [usually to the point of not wanting to return
to the Anglo world even when the opportunity presented itself] is a
not-uncommon "frontier" account.  And, of course, runaway African slaves
frequently found very safe haven and full citizenship in many Native tribal
nations.

In 1759, the evil [and I don't use the word lightly]  Major Robert Rogers
attacked and burned St Francis, including its church, killing many women and
children.  Among the women killed was the Abenaki wife of Samuel Gill,  the
biologically "white" and 100% Abenaki Grand Chief. The Indians fought back
effectively.  Wounded while defending St. Francis was my g/g/g/g/g
grandfather, Gabriel Annance, a young Mohawk from the not-distant Catholic
mission town of Caughnawaga who had married Marie-Appoline.  This was the
beginning of the famous Mohawk-based but St. Francis Abenaki Annance family
line -- one of our family's several major Native genealogical rivers. Almost
all of the Annances, several of whom attended Dartmouth College in the
latter 18th century and the earlier portion of the 19th century --and their
descendants and their various connections --consistently married other
Indians over the long pull.

Rogers' raid is the basis for an essentially  anti-Indian 1936 novel,
Northwest Passage, by Kenneth Roberts.  In 1940, it was made into a
well-known movie [starring the usually good and socially conscious Spencer
Tracy] which is also bigoted as hell.  Tracy redeemed himself many times
over in future roles:  Bad Day at Black Rock, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,
Inherit the Wind -- and many more of which many of us, I'm sure, are quite
fond.  But I am NOT fond of Northwest Passage.

The good and scholarly Jesuit, Father J.A. Maurault chronicled much of this
far-ranging and long-enduring episodic drama in his classic [in French]
Histoire des Abenakis.  This is a large, substantial study which goes
through to the mid-1800s and contains the Gill and Gill descendants
genealogy in considerable detail.  By that date, as Fr. Maurault calculated
it, there were almost a thousand known descendants of the two white
"captive" children.  The number today, of course, would be vast.

So here is a biologically "white" Grand Chief -- for fifty dramatic years --
of an Indian Nation.  How many Anglo towns have ever had a Native mayor to
this day?

In Solidarity -- and Unity

Hunter [Hunterbear]

Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]
www.hunterbear.org  ( social justice )


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