Since Groton was one of the frontier towns that was obliterated in King Philip’s war, Suzanne’s story takes me to the heart of the Indian conflict. I, like most authors who write of this period of history, struggle to do justice to both sides in King Philip’s war. As Jill Lepore states in her work In the Name of War, history is written from the biased viewpoint of the victors. In the case of wars with Natives, who left few written accounts beyond those connected to land deeds, writers must search eyewitness accounts, transcribed oral histories, and read between the lines to find the truth. Fortunately, I’ve found several histories that provide views from “other” viewpoints than white European settlers, in this case, a history of indigenous peoples.
Since many of these histories have been published since I began this project in 2014, I am caught up in a constant revision to my narratives. I am grateful to have read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s history, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, which won the 2015 American Book Award. She models the progress of colonization in five steps that mirror the history of Groton, Massachusetts. She writes that colonies usually begin as trading posts, where traders and natives stand, if not on equal footing, at least where both groups need and benefit from one another. The two meet and exchange the shallowest knowledge of each other. In my novel, Suzanne stands in a similar relationship in her first encounter with the Native American medicine woman, Dancing Light. The two medicine women have mutually beneficial knowledge and initiate trades. Suzanne can offer white medicine for white men’s diseases; Dancing Light can introduce her to new cures and sources for herbals that they both use. These enlightened women seek knowledge beyond their extensive training that can benefit their respective communities.
In the second stage of colonization, once the transient and seasonal traders are followed by permanent settlers, the social dynamics shift. With the settlements now encroaching on native lands and threatening native ways and means, both communities begin to raise defenses. The natives are no longer trading on equal grounds as the trades become increasingly European goods for Indian land. However, the deeds show two understandings of the land use. The natives grant the settlers “kin” status; they allow the settlers to come and go freely, to plant and build. The settlers believe they own the land, can improve and sell it. The natives resist; the unsettled communities lose mutual trust, begin to arm. The Europeans drill militia to protect their new land holdings. The native warriors outfit themselves with English guns, learn to shoot and make ammunition, in debt to the overcharging English, debts paid with yet more land. Though Dancing Light can invite Suzanne to her Nashaway birth and naming rite, Suzanne cannot repay with an invitation to a Christening unless she converts her. The wheels of separation begin to turn, reveal their diverging paths.
In stage three of colonization, the settlers and natives try to work through their differences with treaties and laws, the colonizers seeking control of the indigenous peoples, the Indians resisting. Incorporation brings laws banning the sale of guns and rum to natives. Once the settlers succeed in converting their neighbors to Christianity, the resistance escalates. Narratives on each side debase the “others.” Though Suzanne and Dancing Light try to work through their differences, the dehumanizing narratives of their respective communities dash their hopes. Still not breaking their bonds, the escalation of animosity in their communities’ tugs at their loyalties. The two women metaphorically swear a kind of fealty to each other. But just as treaties are broken, the feeblest attempts at protection turn into disaster for anyone resisting the rise of conflicts.
Step four is the outbreak of extreme violence. The Indians want to drive the Europeans to the sea and reclaim their territories. The European conquerors want to drive the Indians from their settlements and claim the land coast to coast. Both sides sink into savagery, no longer following the rules for warfare in their respective cultures that respect civilians. Caught in the throes of madness, the two women flee: Dancing Light journeys north with her tribe to avoid any alliance with the warring factions; Suzanne returns to Watertown to escape the censorship of the Groton townspeople on a trail of shame.
At the last and final step, the Indians are removed from their homelands and the settlers move back into the territories they’ve wrenched from them. That isn’t the end of Suzanne’s story, who is left to wrestle with her conscience, newly awakened by the devastation that surrounds her and the need to give up her alliances to embrace life in its raw possibility.
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