Writing Weetamoo to Death
William Hubbard, Increase Mather, Daniel Neal, Daniel Strock, and Samuel Hopkins Emery wrote in three different centuries, across which the military, political, and literary context of New England drastically changed. All these different authors participate in the colonial project through their different engagements with Weetamoo’s death.
In what ways do the gaps and shifts of these narratives demonstrate the subjectivity of their “histories”? How do the different accounts re-enact and reinforce the colonial violence of Weetamoo’s death?
Mather and Hubbard
As noted earlier in the path, Mather’s History of King Philip’s War (1676) and Hubbard’s History of the Indian Wars in New England (1677) were written to naturalize and justify the ongoing occupation of Native space in New England. By writing Weetamoo as a symbolic victim who died in her own homeland, by depicting her kin’s mourning as inhuman, “horrid and diabolical,” and by celebrating the violence her body, Hubbard and Mather engaged in the production of the “warlike savage” stereotype of Native peoples.[i] For Mather and Hubbard, writing at the war’s end, dehumanization and violence were not only acceptable, but important colonial tools.
In 1747, Daniel Neal published his History of New-England. Throughout the 1700s, stereotypes around “warlike savagery” remained dominant in colonial histories and literature. In part, these writings were shaped by the Anglo-Abenaki wars; the continuing presence of conflict in the Northeast meant that dehumanizing language and violent depictions continued to be narratively important. Neal briefly employs “noble savage” imagery in Weetamoo’s death, calling her a “brave Queen” - perhaps because, nearly a hundred years later, he could safely romanticize her image without legitimating the threat she posed to the colonists. However, Neal also claims that her men “traiterously deserted her,” leading to her alleged flight and drowning. He also follows Hubbard’s language to describe their mourning: “hideous Howlings and Lamentations.” On the whole, then, Neal characterizes “her men” as savagely warlike, even while he characterizes Weetamoo as savagely noble. It is interesting to consider whether the narrative choices of his “history” reflect the gender politics of his time as much as they reflect the presence of the Anglo-Abenaki wars.[ii]
In 1850, when Daniel Strock published his Pictorial History of King Philip’s War, the political and literary climate in the Northeast had shifted significantly. Strock acknowledges the possibility of colonial violence in Weetamoo’s death, writing: “whether she was first ‘half drowned,’ whether she was murdered by her people, or whether she met her death in any other way, equally violent, cannot now be ascertained”.[iii] Strock questions the validity of Hubbard’s and Mather’s drowning narrative, couching “half drowned” in quotes as if to ask what it means. Like Neal, Strock also posits the possibility that Weetamoo’s warriors were “traiterous.” But he also slips in the final, “equally violent” possibility, without naming it explicitly: the possibility that she was killed by colonists.
Even more important is Strock’s description of what happened after Weetamoo died:
Strock’s concern for Weetamoo’s body is deeply gendered. It is also deeply tied to the 19th century literary tendency to “romanticize the safely dead Indian”.[v] While Strock cultivates sympathy toward Weetamoo’s plight and even humanizes the “Mournful proof of their love” of her kin, it is striking that he dwells so much on her body after her death. By the 1850s, the Indian Wars were over in New England, and the actual events of wartime became distant to most local non-Native New England readers. As Jean O’Brien notes extensively in Firsting and Lasting, the mid-1800s saw an increasing number of historical texts writing “extinction narratives” about Native peoples in New England. The Last of the Mohicans in 1826 is perhaps the most famous example. O’Brien argues that the nationalist identity of non-Native New Englanders was constructed against “the backdrop of a past symbolized by Indian peoples and their cultures.”[vi] As Berkhofer frames it, “the safely dead Indian” allowed “famous Indians of the past” to be “revived as noble figures in the first half of the nineteenth century”.[vii]
...colonists found her naked body by the water’s edge. Their enemy was taken at last; yet she was dead, and more than that her corpse was the corpse of a woman. Surely they would bury it, if not with magnanimity, yet with decency, since the manly heart wars not on the dead. On the contrary, they indulged in taunts over the body [and] cut off the head.[iv]
In other words, Strock was able to mourn Weetamoo precisely because she no longer represented a present threat at the time he was writing. He is able to acknowledge the possibility of violence, and to condemn it, because her death becomes part of a noble, almost mythic, past - a backdrop to the nation. That he includes the possibility that she was “murdered by her people [warriors]” suggests that there is a gendered element to her mythic symbolism.
Samuel Hopkins Emery’s 1893 History of Taunton is a testament to the power of historical bias and the strength that Hubbard’s and Mather’s narratives hold in historical texts. Emery discusses Lockety Fight alongside Weetamoo’s death, in the same paragraph, even; yet he disassociates the two events. He even utilizes Hubbard’s and Mather’s language about Weetamoo to describe the events at Lockety, twining the two events together, yet unable to acknowledge a possible connection between them. Why? Why did he implicitly trust Hubbard and Mather so much?
One possibility is that the narrative of Weetamoo going back to her home at Mattapoisett to die made poetic sense to historians - particularly in the 19th century, in the context of writings that mourned the passing of Native leaders as tragic, but inevitable, events. If Emery accepted the Mattapoisett narrative presented by Hubbard and Mather uncritically, he would have had no reason to place Weetamoo at a battle further to the north.
Another possibility is that Emery may not have expected Weetamoo, as a woman, to be at a battle. Emery was likely using Clark as a source; based on Clark’s account, and corresponding with the “Lockety Fight” label on the map that Emery used in his book, Emery did know that this “exploit” at Lockety was a battle. Perhaps he was unwilling to consider that a woman leader might have been with a group of warriors who were near Taunton for the purpose of fighting.
Jason Edward Lewis: Unraveling Colonial Cycles of Violence
All these writers, regardless of their individual sets of knowledge about Weetamoo’s death, re-enact and reinforce the original act of colonial violence of Weetamoo’s death and of the false narrative that Hubbard and Mather created. In this way, and in many others, colonization is cyclical; it is, as Patrick Wolfe has written, “a structure, not an event.”[viii]
Cherokee, Samoan, and Hawaiian poet, programmer, and designer Jason Edward Lewis has dealt critically with the ongoing nature of colonialism in his creative works. His interactive, touch-based poem (or PoEMM - “Poetry for Excitable Mobile Media”), “No Choice About the Terminology,” features repeating, scrolling lines that readers can interact with using a touch screen or smartphone .[ix]
The final line of his poem speaks to the cycle of colonial violence: it is the only line that does not scroll, but types, over and over again, letter by letter, “we must remain dead.” The act of remaining dead, Lewis suggests, is a continuous process. By turning the act of “remaining dead” into a teleological statement that is constantly in the process of being completed, Lewis points to the way that colonization relies not only upon the violence of the past, but the continual enforcing and evolution of that violence to carry the colonial structure into the future.
However, Lewis also points to the role of the individual, his poem’s reader, in enacting that structure: if the reader taps the line to stop it from scrolling, it stops completing. Even though the reader did not create the process by which the line runs, they nevertheless participate in it. However, they also have the power to resist it, and to put a stop to the cycle that began so long ago.
Now, we are in a new time. This is a new telling of the story. It is a story that does not follow the basic facts of Hubbard and Mather. It is a story that acknowledges what may have been Weetamoo’s last battle. It acknowledges that, in spite of the many years of false narratives, Weetamoo is not a victim. And, while it is not a definitive story, it is a beginning.