Presidential Election: Onward to the Past?

(This essay was originally published by the Newport Daily News on November 15, 2016.)

Though I voted for Hillary Clinton, I am a product of the American system and a believer in it. As such, I am prepared to accept and support Donald Trump as our 45th president. I hope we can all get behind him.

And who can disagree with his main election slogan: “Make America Great Again”. As an American patriot and retired Army officer, I am all for this. I guarded the frontiers of freedom for five years of my life: four years on the Inter-German Border and one year on the De-Militarized Zone in Korea. When President-Elect Trump, a baby boomer as I am, has referred to a Golden Age of America, he seems to look back to the late 40s and 50s, a time when “we were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody, we had just won a war.”

I remember those good ole days. While he was across the Hudson River in New York City, I was a few miles west in northern New Jersey, in a solid middle-working class town, Hasbrouck Heights. Even at that young age, I could sense the vigorous economic growth of the post-war years. A cow pasture at the edge of town suddenly turned into a huge factory; large grocery markets appeared where once farmers sold their vegetables by the bushel-basket.

By the early 60s, America seemed to dominate the world. We had a young, charismatic president with a beautiful wife and two young children, who led us through the Cuban Missile Crisis. American culture pervaded the world: Coca-Cola, blue jeans, Mickey Mouse, Rock ‘n Roll, and Hollywood. Our German landlady in Mainz, Germany, once related to me how in the 50s and 60s, “Made in America” was sought after; however, this was not the case by the late 70s and 80s. Yes, the good ole days—I am all for bringing them back.

Unfortunately, that world is gone with the wind. To name just a few of the changes: In 1960 the world had 3.04 billion people; today it has 7.4 billion, most expecting water, other scarce resources, and internet access. In 1960, China was ranked 6th in gross domestic product and was about to enter its disastrous Cultural Revolution. By 2010, it had climbed to 2nd behind the US, had turned capitalistic, had rebuilt its infrastructure, and was in the process of building a blue-water navy. In 1980, as I walked to teach my undergraduate class, the eyes of just about every student I passed met mine; now, most have their eyes on their iPhones.

A second concern is his credentials. When the Chicago Cubs wanted to break the century-old curse and build a championship team, they did not hire the head of Proctor & Gamble or General Electric. They hired successful baseball insiders, many from our championship Boston Red Sox. By one count there are over ten former Red Sox players and administrators who were acquired by the Cubs, including Theo Epstein, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Mike Napoli. They also hired a seasoned manager in Joe Madden, a proven performer with 21 years of coaching experience.

Mr. Trump brings to the Oval Office great credentials as a manager, businessman, and communicator; however, these a leader do not make. Especially in the current age of the anything-goes internet and after such an ill-mannered election campaign, it is essential that he be our first citizen of civility. Beyond America, I hope our president can continue to be the leader of the free world and speak to the hopes and aspirations of, not only America’s down-trodden, but the huddled and persecuted masses of the world. Even though the full promise of the American Creed, highlighting human rights and dignity for all, is yet to be fully achieved in our own country, our pursuit of these has defined America not simply for 240 years but for 400, certainly here in Rhode Island.

It has not been simply because of our battleships, bombs, and brains that we have been bestowed with this leadership mantel, but also because of our moral leadership, specifically our defense of human rights and our pursuit of social justice, however flawed and inept these pursuits may have been at times. It was one of us who formulated those transcendent words which continue to capture the hearts of so many: “all men are created equal” and “they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”

Mr. Trump’s welcomed words of conciliation and unity on election night reminded me of one of his fore-runners, also a Republican, as our country was stumbling toward the Civil War: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies… The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Fred Zilian is a writer and performer. He also teaches history and politics at Salve Regina University.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

German U-Boat Visits Newport in 1916, Sinks Five Ships after Departure

(The essay was originally published as “Courtesy During Wartime,” by the Newport Daily News on October 7, 2016.)

One hundred years ago today, October 7, 1916, a German submarine visited Newport for several hours before departing to sink at least five European merchant ships off the coast of Nantucket. At that time the United States was still a neutral country in World War I, a war that had raged in Europe and elsewhere for over two years. The major belligerents included Great Britain, France, Russia, and Italy, one the one hand, and Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire, on the other. The US would enter the war in April, 1917.

On Saturday afternoon, October 7, the German submarine, U-53, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Hans Rose, entered Newport harbor and anchored near the cruiser flagship of Rear Admiral Albert Gleaves, commander of the Atlantic Destroyer Flotilla, based in Newport. Besides Rose, the crew consisted of three officers and 33 enlisted men.

hansrose-jpeg

Hans Rose

U-53 was an impressive piece of German engineering and technology. At 212 feet long, it was powered by two 1200-horsepower diesel engines, enabling it to reach a surface speed of 17 knots, a submerged speed of 11 knots, and also to range 9,400 nautical miles. For armament it had four 18-inch torpedo tubes and a pair of 3.5-inch deck guns. According to Rose, it could receive radio transmissions from 2,000 miles.

Once anchored, Rose brought his crew on deck in full uniform complete with medals. He made courtesy calls to both Rear Admiral Gleaves and Rear Admiral Austin M. Knight, commander of the Newport Naval Base and president of the Naval War College. He was told that because of United States neutrality, he could remain but a few hours in Newport or risk internment. Unfazed, he invited high-ranking naval officials and their wives aboard the submarine for a tour and drinks, also inviting members of the press. Before departing the city, Rose was seen handling local newspapers which carried shipping news, suggesting perhaps the true motive for his visit. The very next day it would sink off Nantucket at least five European merchant ships.

However, while the October 7 edition of the Newport Daily News carried a small article on the visit, its lead article was on the World Series between the Boston Americans and the Brooklyn Nationals. Its bold headline read: “More Than 42,000 See the First Big Game.” The game was played “before what was apparently the largest crowd which ever looked upon a battle of base ball (sic).” (Boston won that game and the series four games to one.) Also reported on the front page were the winners of the individual baseball titles. Tris Speaker, playing for Cleveland, won the American League batting title (.390) while Lou McCarty, playing for New York, took it for the National League (.339). Ty Cobb finished second behind Speaker in batting but stole the most bases (68) and had the most runs scored (113).

The paper also contained a large ad for the remarkable “Studebaker”: “Success Is the Thing that Succeeds.” It asserted great claims for the superior performance and sales of the vehicle for the previous 13 months throughout the country as well as in Newport and closed with “Buy a Studebaker,” $875 for a 4-cylinder and $1085 for a 6-cylinder.

Two days later on October 9, the Daily News gave a full report on the nefarious activities of U-53 after departing Newport on its “…Errand of Destruction Off Nantucket Lightship.” It indicated that upon leaving Newport “she changed from a craft intent upon paying social courtesies to one of destruction.” “Soon after daylight Sunday [it] sank her first ship near Nantucket Shoals lightship which is well outside the neutral zone.”  In sum it sank at least five merchant ships, three British, one Dutch, and one Norwegian.

The Newport navy flotilla was mobilized to rescue passengers, most ships departing only half-manned.  There were no reported casualties from the sinkings as Kapitanleutnant Rose allowed all passengers and crew to abandon the ships before he torpedoed them.

Admiral Gleaves indicated that there were 220 survivors, including 32 women and 10 children. The survivors were brought to Newport by the navy ships; mild weather and calm sea allowed no loss of life in the rescue operations. Newport’s population, including such high society people as Mrs. French Vanderbilt and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, remained at the Government Landing “practically all night, waiting to receive the survivors,” who were cared for locally then subsequently given transport to New York City and Boston.

Historian Brian Wallin underlines the significance of that weekend for Americans by stating: “it demonstrated to Americans the destructive power of German U-boats and served as a warning of what would come if the United States entered the war on the side of the allies.”

Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com) teaches history and politics at Salve Regina University.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Great Wall of Trump

(This essay was originally published by the online History News Network as “The Great, Sad, Impractical Wall of Trump”, on September 25, 2016.)

This is not the first time in history that a superpower notable has called for a long, protective wall to hold back unwanteds, although perhaps the first time the leader has been so demagogic as to assert that he will have the unwanteds pay for it.

In 117, Hadrian became the emperor of Rome as it was reaching its zenith. His 73-mile, east-west wall across Great Britain took six years to complete and demarcated the northern limit of the Roman Empire in its province of Britannia. Historians disagree about the reasons for the wall. When he acceded to the throne, there was much rebellion throughout the Empire, not only in Britannia, but also in Egypt, Judea, Libya, and Mauritania, and he wished to shore up defenses on the frontiers. Clearly one of the reasons was to keep out the barbarian Picts, Celts, and others. Secondly, it served as a visible and prominent symbol of Roman power—manned with Roman forces, turrets, watchtowers, white-washed and gleaming in the sun. Also in question was its effectiveness, although it appears there was no major invasion from the north while the wall was manned.

Like Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China was to serve as a barrier between the civilized and uncivilized world to its north and also as a symbol of the power of the Qin Dynasty, the first Chinese empire. The first part of the wall was built in the 3rd century BC in response to the threat posed by the nomadic Xiongu people on China’s northern frontier. Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi sought to strengthen fortifications to keep the nomads out. He sent Meng T’ien with 100,000 men to address the challenge. The Han Dynasty historian Sima Qin describes how Meng “seized control of all the lands south of the Yellow River and established border defenses along the river….” “The whole line of defenses stretched over ten thousand li [about 3300 miles]….” Over the centuries the wall was expanded so that it eventually stretched to over 13,000 miles. In addition to a defensive fortification it also served the purposes of border control and migration control. Effective at times as it might have been, it certainly did not prevent the conquering of China by the Mongols in the 13th century or the Manchus in the 17th.

The most heavily militarized border in the world today is the De-militarized Zone which divides North and South Korea, where I served as an Army officer 1981-82. It is 160 miles long and about 2.5 miles wide. I was stunned the first time I traveled to the DMZ and surveyed the extensive fortifications—fences, minefields, ramparts, watchtowers, and even hooks submerged in the Imjin River. At that time South Korean boats were patrolling the river because an infiltrator had been detected shortly before my arrival. Clearly a tremendous amount of resources has been expended by both sides on these border fortifications. At present, the United States maintains about 28,500 military personnel in support of South Korea. Despite all the effort, North Korean tunnels have been found under the DMZ in 1974, 1975, and 1979. At the time I served there, intelligence sources estimated that the North Koreans had dug probably over 20 such tunnels, still undiscovered.

These examples suggest that unless a country is prepared to expend great resources in building and policing a wall, human ingenuity finds ways to breach it in proportion to the strength of the incentives—empire, more grazing land, conquest, and now economic opportunity and wealth from drug money. And the more impermeability a country seeks with its wall, the greater the expenditure of resources.

Robert Frost wrote about walls between neighbors in his poem, “Mending Wall”. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down,” Frost says to his neighbor. In his election-season pandering to conservative, dominant-culture Americans, Trump clearly embodies Frost’s neighbor who resists the needlessness of the wall on certain parts of their border—where Frost’s apple orchard borders his neighbor’s pines and where there are no roaming cows to keep in.  However his neighbor, holds fast and says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’”

A retired Army officer, Fred Zilian teaches history and politics at Salve Regina University, Newport, RI.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Civilization’s Essentials, Part I: Faith

Stunned I was when my daughter informed me that my twin grandsons had their first Junior Pee Wee (10-11 year olds) football game on Sunday, August 28, here in Portsmouth, RI. College football did not begin until the following weekend, and professional football a week later.

As last year, they began summer practice five nights per week, beginning August 1, pretty intense for boys that age. (This switched to three nights per week once school began.) This has impacted substantially on my ability to spend quality time with them in the afternoons and evenings.

Very early in my youth I can remember playing football with my friends, tackle as well as touch. We donned some ragged, pathetic football gear, rode our bikes to the nearest field, and got down and dirty. At twelve, I played Pop Warner youth football the very first year it was organized in my northern New Jersey hometown of Hasbrouck Heights. I continued to play through high school and also freshman football in college. In hindsight I can say that it helped me in my character formation, not so much the year we were state champs, but more so the year we lost most of our games. It was also on the football field where I first met the man who would become my primary mentor, teacher, coach, and eventually close friend. Even after he passed in 2004, his words and advice continue to resonate in my ears.

Earlier that Sunday I had attended mass at St. Barnabas Church. It was a decent crowd for a sunny Sunday morning in late August. However this crowd paled in comparison to the masses at Portsmouth High School football field. It was a happening place. The first thing which struck me was the over-crowded parking lot. Second was the number of entire young families in attendance. This was clearly not just a dad-son affair; this was an activity for the whole family. Indeed, there was organized activity for both genders. The boys were on the football field; on the sidelines were the young girls, 24 by my count, fully outfitted in their cheerleader costumes, including polka-dot bows in their hair.

As I walked the several hundred yards from the lot to the field, I passed the other teams and coaches who had just finished playing or were prepping for their games later in the day. The younger teams had already played and were now receiving their post-game talks from their coaches and departing with their families. Such a sight are these Mighty-Mites (7-8 years), looking hardly human. They are walking shoulder pads surmounted with helmets. I passed one young family which was trying to deal with a bedraggled and overheated son. As he complained, Mom said: “You can take that off in the car.” Dad, offering little solace, joined in with: “See, no one else is complaining.” Two generations ago, this football extravaganza would have been perfectly normal on a Saturday morning or afternoon. Now it has migrated to Sunday.

Under development on this gridiron altar are such things as teamwork, work ethic, discipline, physical courage, and football skills, all laudable traits which the ancient Greeks would admire. The Spartans especially would have high praise for those attributes which would relate to the battlefield. Generally at seven years, boys were taken from their families, placed under the supervision of the city-state, made to live in small groups, and subject to strict discipline and very demanding training.  Plato himself would have praised the development of what he would call technical virtues.

Still, I cannot help wonder about the opportunity costs, in the first instance to the children and the families, but also to our society at large. Positioning football on Sundays makes it very challenging for a Christian family, whose children wish to play football and cheerlead, to attend faith-based, communal worship together. The ancient Greeks, who gave us the Olympics, would shudder at this; religion was embedded in their Olympic Games. Societies require individuals, rich in faith, to sustain them, and communal religious worship has been an effective, traditional way to nurture faith.

Fred Zilian played intercollegiate football and baseball and coached baseball and basketball at Portsmouth Abbey School for fifteen years. He lives in Portsmouth and teaches history and politics at Salve Regina University.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Pentagon Celebrates 75 Years

(This essay was originally published by the Newport Daily News on September 10, 2016.)

September 11 marks the 75th anniversary of the ground-breaking for the Pentagon, the home of the U.S. Department of Defense. It is also the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on it.

The need for such a building to house the War Department, then scattered among many buildings in Washington, DC, was underlined by the eruption of World War II in Europe in 1939. The original site chosen was a 67-acre plot of land called Arlington Farms. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to move the site to a location known as Hell’s Bottom to remove it farther from Arlington Cemetery. Construction began on September 11, 1941.

Millions of cubic yards of soil were transported to the site to level it. Since steel was in short supply and because of the sogginess of the site, concrete pilings were poured in place. Concrete was also used for the ramps between floors.

Even though about 4,000 workers were on site day and night, by December the project was behind schedule. Then came Pearl Harbor on December 7. The original design was expanded to include five concentric rings and a fifth floor, and the workforce expanded to 6,000 people. At its height, the operation produced 3500 yards of concrete daily.

The first tenants moved in April 1942, and the building was declared finished on January 15, 1943, at a cost of $83 million.

At 9:37 AM, September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 77, commandeered by five terrorists, crashed into the Pentagon, penetrating 310 feet as it pierced the outer three rings (E, D, and C rings). This attack killed the 64 people aboard the plane and 125 people in the building.

The Phoenix Project, the name for the rebuilding plan, envisioned a three-year project; however, construction workers vowed to complete it in one, a feat they accomplished at a cost of $5 billion.

This largest office building in the world contains 17.5 miles of corridor, 6.5 million square feet of floor area, and holds 26,000 employees who engage in 200,000 phone calls each day. Each outside wall is 921 feet long and 77 feet high. The area encompasses 200 acres of lawn and 8770 parking spaces. It includes medical and dental facilities, a post office, a bank, a pharmacy, gift and floral shops, a DMV service center, a fitness facility, and 17 different types of food places. In the center is an open area with trees and benches. At the very center of this area is a small structure which the Soviets during the Cold War assumed housed something malicious. However, the structure has always been a simple food stand.

pentagon_getty-thehill

       (Getty Images, thehill.com)

           Of all my assignments during my Army career, the two years at the Pentagon (1982-84), where I served on the Army Staff, were especially challenging and rewarding. It was quite intimidating at first with so many high-ranking officers and officials. This was before personnel computers; “Word-processing” stations at certain locations had just been established. Therefore, all work had to be hand-drafted and given to the office typists. My major duties included preparing briefing papers and giving briefings to Army leaders, accompanying Army leaders on trips to European countries, drafting letters for Army leaders to send to their foreign counterparts, and interacting with military attaches of other countries who were posted at embassies in Washington DC. As my regional specialty was Europe, probably the most interesting issue I monitored was the deployment of the intermediate range nuclear weapons into several allied European countries. The assignment was such a change from my preceding assignment in the Republic of Korea where I served on the De-Militarized Zone in a troop unit. It was such a stark contrast to come from an overseas assignment in a troop unit in a developing country to the fast-paced, high-level, political-military world of Washington, DC and the Pentagon. And the traffic was horrible.

A retired Army officer, Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com) teaches history and politics at Salve Regina University.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rio Olympic Games Rooted in Ancient Greek Games

(This essay was originally published as “Ancient Roots of Olympics,” by the Newport Daily News on August 19, 2016.)

Among their many other innovations, the ancient Greeks invented organized, competitive sports, commonly accepted to have begun in 776 BC. The ancient Olympic Games continued for almost 1200 years until the Christian Emperor Theodosius outlawed the games in 393 AD as a form of pagan ritual. While the modern Olympic Games, re-instituted in 1896, share some similarities with the ancient Games, there are also vast differences.

The ancient Games were and the modern Games are truly majestic spectacles. However, the ancient Games were more than just a remarkable athletic event. Writer Tony Perrottet describes the overall experience at the ancient Games as a combination of “Carnival in Rio, Easter Mass at the Vatican, and a tour of Universal Studios.”

Ancient Olympics 1, Collage, pinterest.com

(pinterest.com)

          We are not sure why the ancient Greeks began the Games; however, they were certainly motivated by religion, dedicating the Games to their main god Zeus. Factors which help explain their initiation include the ancient Greeks’ love of physical exercise and challenge, their adoration of the beauty and functionality of the human body, and finally their intense competitiveness.

In modern times, the site of the Games is determined by a formal, complex bidding process among major cities of the world. Rio is the first South American city to host the Summer Games, and the Rio Games are the first to be held in Latin America since 1968.

Unlike the modern Games, the ancient Games were held in one place, Olympia, a rather remote location in southwest Greece on the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Ancient Greece was not a unified country as we know it today. It was a collection of city-states (town and city political units) which shared a “Greek-ness”: common linguistic, cultural, religious, and political elements.

As today, the ancient Games took place every four years. Also as today, there were many other regular athletic competitions, the three other important games being at Delphi, Corinth, and Nemea. The Games of Zeus at Olympia, however, were the most sacred and prestigious and the olive wreath prizes were the most coveted. There were no winter games; these were added to the modern Games in 1924. The Rio Games will last for a total of 17 days while the ancient Games were simply five days.

While today’s Games may have an air of spirituality at certain times, the ancient Games were imbued with religion. A sacred war truce was declared for the month preceding and the month after the Games. The altar of Zeus and the eventual 40-foot statue of Zeus played large roles in the Games, the statue becoming one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Finally, of the five days of the ancient Games, over two full days were devoted to religious ceremonies and rituals.

While the modern Games are open to the best athletes of the world, the ancient Games were restricted to adult, free-born, Greek males, at least until Rome annexed Greece in the second century BC. Women, slaves, and foreigners were banned. Greek girls, probably teenagers, had a separate sporting event dedicated to the goddess Hera.

Attire was starkly different. Athletes, and eventually their trainers, were stark naked. The Greeks believed that only barbarians would be ashamed of displaying their bodies. This also helped to eliminate any vestiges of social status differentiating the competitors.

Ancient Olympics 2, Runners, quatr.us

(quatr.us.com)

          The Rio Games are featuring 28 sports, including two new ones: rugby sevens and golf, with 306 events at which medals may be won. The ancient Games contained 18 core events, many similar to today’s events, such as running, boxing, javelin, and discus. However, the ancient Games also included others, such as chariot racing, a foot race in full armor, and finally the pankration, an extreme form of wrestling and boxing even more of a brawl than our professional “ultimate fighting”. Only eye-gouging was banned. There were no team sports, ball sports, swimming events, or marathons, even though we get our word “marathon” from ancient Greek history. There were also events for boys 12-18 years of age.

In terms of prizes, while today’s Olympics offer “gold”, “silver”, and “bronze” medals, the ancient Games at Olympia awarded olive wreaths. There were no prizes for second or third place. Just like today, however, lucrative benefits flowed for those who were victors. Every city in ancient Greece had cash prizes for athletes who won, but also other benefits, such as victory parades, lifetime seats at theatrical venues, pensions, community roles, and free meals.

Attendance at the ancient Games was restricted to men and unmarried women, with strict punishment for married women who sought to attend.

The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus in the first century pondered the popularity and longevity of the Games and argued that they were like life itself: “Unpleasant and difficult things happen in life. Don’t they happen at Olympia?” The heat of the sun, the crowds, the bad washing facilities, the rain, the noise, the shouting, and many other annoyances. “But of course you endure all of it because it’s unforgettable spectacle.”

Fred Zilian teaches history and politics at Salve Regina University.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Metacomet’s Death Ends King Philip’s War in Southern New England

(This essay was originally published as “1676: Metacomet’s Death Ends Bloody Colonial War,” by the Newport Daily News on August 12, 2016.)

Three hundred and forty years ago today, Metacomet, chief sachem of the Wampanoags, was killed by the colonial militia and its Native American allies, essentially ending King Philip’s War in southern New England. This war, named after Metacomet who had earlier taken the European name of Philip, devastated both the English settlers and the Native Americans. About one-third of the towns of New England (Connecticut to Maine) were destroyed. Historian Nathaniel Philbrick estimates that per capita the war was twice as bloody as the Civil War and seven times as deadly as the Revolutionary War. Plymouth Colony lost about 8% of its adult male population; the Native Americans lost 60-80% of their total population in southern New England. Through it all Aquidneck Island never saw conflict.

There were several underlying causes to the conflict. First, the pressure of demographics from the wave of migration to America. While the first settlers in New England sought to maintain peaceful relations with native peoples, later groups came with various motives and did not necessarily share the same view. Over the succeeding decades, pressure on the land and the Native Americans increased. By 1676, it is estimated that the European population of New England was about 70,000.

Second, differing conceptions of agreements and of the relationship between humans and the land. The English came from a capitalistic society based on the right to own private property and on the rule of written law and contracts. Native Americans did not put much stock in written contracts and did not commonly accept that human beings could “own” land.

Third, power politics. Many different Native American tribes occupied New England, the largest being the Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Narragansett, Mohegan, and Pequot. They could be friendly but also bitter enemies. European settlers entered this political environment, and complicated it.

Fourth, the death in 1661 of Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag and friend of the settlers, followed by the death of his eldest son, Wamsutta, in 1662. This brought Metacomet to the leadership of the Wampanoag. Unlike his father, he did not strive for peaceful relations with the settlers; rather he became more and more irritated by their increasing numbers and their ways.

Metacom, Paul Revere, 1772, Granger Collection, NY

Metacomet, Engraving by Paul Revere, 1772

Granger Collection, NY

The immediate cause for the war came in June 1675 when three Wampanoag were brought to trial for the death of a Christianized Indian, John Sassamon. He had earlier informed the English that Metacomet was building a Native American alliance to wage war against the English. The three men were found guilty and were hanged on June 8, 1675, at Plymouth. On June 20, a band of Pokanoket-Wampanoag attacked the Plymouth Colony settlement at Swansea, burning it and killing several people.

The spring of 1676 brought calamity to English settlements from the Connecticut River to Maine. After successful attacks on English militia and their Native American allies on the Blackstone River and then at Rehoboth, the Native Americans burned Providence on March 29. However during the succeeding months, the scales tipped toward the colonists and their Native American allies.

By August 11, most colonial forces were disbanded. However, Plymouth militia Captain Benjamin Church and the allied Sakonnets were still searching for Metacomet and his band. An Indian whose brother was killed by Metacomet decided to desert. During the early morning of August 12, he guided Church and about two dozens colonists and Sakonnets to Metacomet’s hideout near a swamp at Mount Hope. They surrounded the swamp and attacked.

Once attacked, Metacomet leaped to his feet, grab his powder horn, bullet pouch, and musket, and began to run into the swamp. He approached Caleb Cook and a Pocasset Indian named John Alderman. When Cook’s weapon failed to fire, Alderman shot Metacomet through the heart.

Church gathered his men and told them of Metacomet’s death. The group cheered “Huzzah!” three times, a common cheer at that time. Church stated that because Metacomet “had caused many an Englishman’s body to lie unburied and rot above ground, that not one of his bones should be buried.”  He then directed a Sakonnet to quarter the body, a common treatment for criminals in that era. Church awarded Metacomet’s distinctively scarred hand to Alderman, who later preserved it in rum and exhibited it for “many a penny” for years to come.

On August 17, Pastor John Cotton led his Plymouth congregation in a day of Thanksgiving. Shortly after the service, Church and his men arrived with Metacomet’s head, a great prize of war. The church record states that the “head was brought into Plymouth in great triumph … so that in the day of our praises our eyes saw the salvation of God.” For more than two decades the head remained on a stake as the town’s main attraction.

A retired Army officer, Fred Zilian teaches history and politics at Salve Regina University.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment