Sunday, February 14, 2016

Letter of Roger Williams to the General Court of Massachusetts - October 5, 1654




To the General Court of Massachusetts Bay.
Providence, [October 5, 1654.]
Much honored Sirs, — I truly wish you peace, and pray your gentle acceptance of a word, I hope not unreasonable.  We have in these parts a found of your meditations of war against these natives, amongst whom we dwell. I confider that war is one of those three great, fore plagues, with which it pleaseth God to affect the sons of men. I confider, also, that I refused, lately, many offers in my native country, out of a sincere desire to seek the good and peace of this.
 I remember, that upon the express advice of your ever honored Mr. Winthrop, deceased, I first adventured to begin a plantation among the thickest of these barbarians. That in the Pequot wars, it pleased your honored government to employ me in the hazardous and weighty service of negotiating a league between yourselves and the Narragansetts, when the Pequot messengers, who fought the Narragansetts' league against the English, had almost ended that my work and life together.
That at the subscribing of that solemn league, which, by the mercy of the Lord, I had procured with the Narraganfetts, your government was pleased to fend unto me the copy of it, subscribed by all hands there, which yet I keep as a monument and a testimony of peace and faithfulness
between you both.
That, since that time, it hath pleased the Lord so to order it, that I have been more or less interested and used in all your great transactions of war or peace, between the English and the natives, and have not spared purse, nor pains, nor hazards, (very many times,) that the whole land, English and natives, might sleep in peace securely.
That in my last negotiations in England, with the Parliament, Council of State, and his Highness, 1. I have been forced to be known so much, that if I would be silent, I would not only betray mine own peace and yours, but also would be salie to their honorable and princely names, whose loves and affections, as well as their supreme authority are not a little concerned in the peace or war of this country.
At my last departure for England, I was importuned by the Narragansett Sachems, and especially by Ninigret, to present their petition to the high Sachems of England, that they might not be forced from their religion, and, for not changing their religion, be invaded by war; for they said they were daily visited with threatenings by Indians that came from about the Massachusetts, that if they would not pray, they should be destroyed by war. With this their petition I acquainted, in private discourses, divers of the chief of our nation, and especially his Highness, who, in many discourses I had with him, never expressed the least tittle of displeasure, as hath been here reported, but in the midst of disputes, ever expressed a high spirit of love and gentleness, and was often pleased to please himself with very many questions, and my answers, about the Indian affairs of this country; and, after all hearing of yourself and us, it hath pleafed his Highness and his Council to grant, amongst other favors to this colony, some exprestly concerning the very Indians, the native inhabitants of this jurisdiction.
I, therefore, humbly offer to your prudent and impartial view, first these two considerable terms, it pleased the Lord to use to all that profess his name (Rom. 12: 18,) if it be possible, and all men. I never was against the righteous use of the civil sword of men or nations, but yet since all men of conscience or prudence ply to windward, to maintain their wars to be defensive, (as did both King and Scotch, and English and Irish too, in the late wars,) I humbly pray your consideration, whether it be not only possible, but very easy, to live and die in peace with all the natives of this country.
For, secondly, are not all the English of this land, generally, a persecuted people from their native soil  and hath not the God of peace and Father of mercies made these natives more friendly in this, than our native countrymen in our own land to us? Have they not entered leagues of love, and to this day continued peaceable commerce with us? Are not our families grown up in peace amongst them ? Upon which I humbly afk, how it can suit with Christian ingenuity to take hold of some seeming occasions for their destructions, which, though the heads be only aimed at, yet, all experience tells us, falls on the body and the innocent.
Thirdly, I pray it may be remembered how greatly the name of God is concerned in this affair, for it cannot be hid, how all England and other nations ring with the glorious conversion of the Indians of New England. You know how many books are dispersed throughout the nation, of the subject, (in some of them the Narragansett chief Sachems are publicly branded, for refusing to pray and be converted ;) have all the pulpits in England been commanded to found of this glorious work, (I speak not ironically, but only mention what all the printed books mention,) and that by the highest command and authority of Parliament, and churchwardens went from house to house, to gather supplies for this work.
Honored Sirs, Whether I have been and am a friend to the natives' turning to civility and Christianity, and whether I have been instrumental, and desire so to be, according to my light, I will not trouble you with ; only I beseech you consider, how the name of the mod holy and jealous God may be preserved between the clashings of these two, viz. : the glorious conversion of the Indians in New England, and the unnecessary wars and cruel destructions of the Indians in New England.
Fourthly, I beseech you forget not, that although we are apt to play with this plague of war more than with the other two, famine and pestilence, yet I beseech you consider how the present events of all wars that ever have been in the world, have been wonderful fickle, and the future calamities and revolutions, wonderful in the latter end.
Heretofore, not having liberty of taking ship in your jurisdiction, I was forced to repair unto the Dutch, where mine eyes did see that first breaking forth of that Indian war, which the Dutch begun, upon the slaughter of some Dutch by the Indians; and they questioned not to finish it in a few days, insomuch that the name of peace, which some offered to mediate, was foolifh and odious to them. But before we weighed anchor, their bowries were in flames; Dutch and English were slain. Mine eyes saw their flames at their towns, and the flights and hurries of men, women and children, the present removal of all that could for Holland ; and after vast expenses, and mutual (laughters of Dutch, English and Indians, about four years, the Dutch were forced, to fave their plantation from ruin, to make up a mod unworthy and dishonorable peace
with the Indians.
How frequently is that saying in England, that both Scotch and English had better have borne loans, ship money, &c, than run upon such rocks, that even success and victory have proved, and are yet like to prove. Yea, this late war with Holland, however begun with zeal against God's enemies, as fome in Parliament said, yet what fruits brought it forth, but the breach of the Parliament, the enraging of the nation by taxes, the ruin of thousands who depended on manufactures and merchandise, the loss of many thousand seamen, and others, many of whom many worlds are not worthy ?
But, lastly, if any be yet zealous of kindling this fire for God, &c, I beseech that gentleman, whoever he be, to lay himself in the opposite scale, with one of the fairer. buds that ever the fun of righteousness cherished, Josiah, that zealous and melting-hearted reformer, who would to war, and against warnings, and fell in more untimely death and lamentations, and now stands, a pillar of salt to all succeeding generations.
Now, with your patience, a word to these nations at war, (occasion of yours,) the Narraganssetts and Long Islanders, I know them both experimentally, and therefore pray you to remember,
First, that the Narragansetts and Mohawks are the two great bodies of Indians in this country, and they are confederates, and long have been, and they both yet are friendly and peaceable to the English. I do humbly conceive, that if ever God calls us to a just war with either of them he calls us to make sure of the one to a friend. It is true some distaste was lately here amongst them, but they parted friends, and some of the Narragansetts went home with them, and I fear that both these and the Long Islanders and Mohegans, and all the natives of the land, may, upon a found of the defeat of the English, be induced easily to join each with other against us.
2. The Narragansetts, as they were the first, so they have been long confederates with you ; they have been true, in all the Pequot wars, to you. They occasioned the Mohegans to come in, too, and so occasioned the Pequots' downfall.
3. I cannot yet learn, that ever it pleased the Lord, to permit the Narragansetts to stain their hands with any English blood, neither in open hostilities nor secret murders, as both Pequots and Long Islanders did, and Mohegans also, in the Pequot wars. It is true, they are barbarians, but their greatest offences against the English have been matters of money, or petty revenging of themselves on some Indians, upon extreme provocations, but God kept them clear of our blood.
4. For the people, many hundred English have experimented them to be inclined to peace and love with the English nation.
Their late famous long-lived Canonicus so lived and died, and in the fame moft honorable manner and solemnity (in their way) as you laid to sleep your prudent peacemaker, Mr. Winthrop, did they honor this, their prudent and peaceable prince. His son, Mexham, inherits his spirit. Yea, through all their towns and countries, how frequently do many, and oft-times one Englishman, travel alone with safety and loving kindness!
The cause and root of all the present mifchief, is the pride of two barbarians, AfcalTaffotic, the Long Island Sachem, and Ninigret, of the Narraganfsett. The former is proud and foolish ; the latter is proud and fierce. I have not seen him these many years, yet from their sober men I hear he pleads,
First, that AicalfalTotic, a very inferior Sachem, bearing himself upon the English, hath slain three or four of his people, and since that, sent him challenges and darings to right, and mend himself.
2. He, Ninigret, consulted, by solemn messengers, with the chief of the English Governors, Major Endicott, then Governor of the Massachusetts, who sent him an implicit consent to right himself, upon which they all plead that the English have just occasion of displeasure.
3. After he had taken revenge upon the Long Iilanders, and brought away about fourteen captives, divers of their chief women, yet he reftored them all again, upon the mediation and defire of the Englifh.
4. After this peace made, the Long Islanders pretending to unifit Ninigret, at Block Island, slaughtered of his Narragansetts near thirty persons, at midnight, two of them of great note, especially Wepiteammoc's son, to whom Ninigret was uncle.
5. In the prosecution of this war, although he had drawn down the Islanders to his assistance, yet, upon protestation of the English against. his proceedings, he retreated and dissolved his army.
Honored Sirs,
1. I know it is said the Long Islanders are subjects ; but I have heard this greatly questioned, and, indeed, I question whether any Indians in this country, remaining barbarous and pagan, may with truth or honor be called the English subjects
2. But grant them subjects, what capacity hath their late massacre of the Narragansetts, with whom they had made peace, without the English content, though still under the English name, put them into?
3. All Indians are extremely treacherous; and if to their own nation, for private ends, revolting to strangers, what will they do upon the found of one defeat of the English, or the trade of killing English cattle, and persons, and plunder, which will, most certainly be the trade, if any considerable party escape alive, as mine eyes beheld in the Dutch war.
But I beseech you, say your thoughts and the thoughts of your wives and little ones, and the thoughts of all English, and of God's people in England, and the thoughts of his Highness and Council, (tender of these parts,) if, for the fake of a few inconsiderable pagans, and beasts, wallowing in idleness, stealing, lying, whoring, treacherous witchcrafts, blasphemies, and idolatries, all that the gracious hand of the Lord hath so wonderfully planted in the wilderness, would be destroyed.
How much nobler were it, and glorious to the name of God and your own, that no pagan would dare to use the name of an English subject:, who comes not out in some degree from barbarism to civility, in forsaking their filthy nakedness, in keeping some kind of cattle, which yet your councils and commands may tend to, and, as pious and prudent deceased Mr. Winthrop said, that civility may be a leading step to Christianity, is the humble desire of your most unfeigned in allservices of love,
Roger Williams, of Providence colony, President. 








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