King on DeLucia, 'Memory Lands: King Philip's War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast'

Author: 
Christine M. DeLucia
Reviewer: 
Alice King

Christine M. DeLucia. Memory Lands: King Philip's War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020. 496 pp. $32.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-300-24838-8

Reviewed by Alice King (University of Virginia) Published on H-War (July, 2020) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=55132

In Memory Lands, Christine M. DeLucia analyzes the historical memory of King Philip’s War among Native and non-Native people in New England between the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries. Prompted by colonial expansion, the war was fought between English colonists and a coalition of Native groups including the Wampanoag and their leader Philip, or Metacom, between 1675 and 1678. DeLucia argues that a broader understanding of the shadow of King Philip’s War is best accessed through the “memoryscapes” that developed in the war’s wake (p. 1). Residents of the Northeast enacted their remembrance of the war not principally through language, as Jill Lepore contends in The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity (1999), but through material factors like landscapes, monuments, archives, and objects, and the immaterial: ceremonies, stories, and relationships. These visible and invisible commemorations infused the landscape with memory, emotion, and narrative, creating chorographic links between past and present. The Northeast was not a tabula rasa waiting to be inscribed by English pens, DeLucia argues, but a rich and complex “memorial terrain” before and after the war (p. 15). 

These memories and places are inherently dynamic, changing with the seasons, with time, with use and neglect. Memory Lands is a correspondingly dynamic story that spans centuries and traverses multiple locations in order to capture Native “survivance:” Indigenous endurance in the face of persistent colonialism (p. xvii). DeLucia’s methodology has not been to every scholar’s taste: Memory Lands weaves together colonial records, material objects, literature, ceremonies, interviews with descendant communities, and the author’s own photographs and stories, driven by “decolonizing methodologies” which stress that valuable knowledge exists in multiple places, including in the oral traditions of Native peoples (p. 20).[1] Historians often zoom in on conflict: after all, conflicts generate reams of sources that appear to offer certainty. However, if we only ever deal with Native communities through the lens of conflict, DeLucia contends, it skews our understanding of their experiences. We need to recognize “regathering, recovery, [and] regeneration,” as well as “extraordinary violence” (p. 23). Native peoples did not vanish from the picture, as first Puritans and later Yankees would have us believe; instead, they adapted and survived, remembering their histories in complex and varied ways.

In part 1, “The Way to Deer Island,” DeLucia traces how Native peoples have navigated the lasting effects of colonialism in the land and waterscapes around Boston in the wake of King Philip’s War. In October 1675, Massachusetts Bay leaders used Deer Island, a peninsula just north of Boston, as an internment camp for Praying Indians, a decision ostensibly for the Natives’ protection but one rooted in deep fears about their loyalty. “Unknown numbers” of Native people died from hunger and exposure while confined to the island (p. 30). Despite colonial efforts, Boston remained a Native space during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, even as white Bostonians memorialized King Philip’s War and told mythical stories of vanished Indians who had passed out of existence through colonial violence, cultural atrophy, and racially mixed marriages. Native presence persisted even as Boston handed Deer Island over to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority to be used as a sewage treatment plant in the 1990s. Native groups including the Muhheconneuk Intertribal Committee on Deer Island lobbied unsuccessfully against the plant. DeLucia bookends part 1 with the 2010 Deer Island Sacred Run and Paddle, organized by the Natick Nipmuc Indian Council. Tribal members and supporters paddled mishoonash, wooden dugout canoes, from Plymouth Plantation to Deer Island, a sacred journey retracing the movements of their ancestors and a powerful statement of Native survival in the face of attempted exile and destruction. 

Part 2, “The Narragansett Country,” takes a similar approach to Narragansett Bay, site of the Great Swamp and Nipsachuck massacres. Great Swamp formed part of Narragansett homelands long before the war and remains so to this day. DeLucia’s longue durée approach leads the reader along the winding road of the Narragansetts’ struggle through colonization, pointing out moments of violence and resilience, including the forced detribalization of the Narragansetts in 1880, the Society of Colonial Wars markers commemorating their supposed destruction, the tribe’s eventual federal recognition in 1983, and the bitter local debate over their attempts to build a casino in the 1990s. 

Memory and history interact in both Native and non-Native commemorations of King Philip’s War. Rather than presenting them as oppositional, DeLucia views memory and history as “mutually constitutive,” at times supporting and at times undermining each other (p. 12). Memory is not the sole province of Native people and history the possession of Euro-Americans: indeed, DeLucia’s analysis of the creation of historical memory by organizations like the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association and Historic Deerfield in the Upper Connecticut River Valley forms one of the most compelling sections of the book. In part 3, “The Great River,” she traces how these nineteenth- and twentieth-century antiquarian groups gathered objects from sites of violence, including the Falls Fight of May 1676—a massacre of several hundred Native locals and refugees by a band of colonial soldiers—and turned them into artifacts stored in the Indian Room of the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield. Competing memoryscapes exist in the Deerfield area. One is a Euro-American space shaped by nineteenth-century Yankee myths of vanished Indians crushed by Puritan forebears, memorialized in stone markers and museum exhibits. The other emphasizes the centuries of Native use of the river valley for fishing grounds, maize cultivation, beaver trading, alliances, and kinship networks. These memoryscapes clashed with potent significance in 1999 when pan-Indian activists painted “Free Leonard Peltier” onto a monument to William Turner, captain of the colonial force at Falls Fight, covering a marker to massacre with the undeniable evidence of resistance. 

Part 4, “The Red Atlantic,” traces the commemoration of Algonquian people sold into slavery in the aftermath of King Philip’s War. DeLucia uses the issue of Indigenous enslavement to pose fascinating questions about what scholars should do when oral traditions and the documentary archive tell competing stories. King Philip’s young son and other relatives and allies were sold into slavery in Plymouth in the spring of 1677. Some members of Wampanoag communities believe that colonists shipped these relatives to Bermuda, where their descendants remain to this day, a story that is yet to be confirmed by colonial documents or modern archeology. While acknowledging the debate over the veracity of this story, DeLucia argues that it points to a wider and underappreciated Indigenous facet of Atlantic slavery, and to the expansive nature of Native communities that stretch far beyond the bounds of reservations. Native people enslaved in the wake of King Philip’s War felt the impact of the conflict as far away as Barbados, the Azores, Jamaica, and Tangiers. 

The final chapter, “Algonquian Diasporas,” speaks most clearly to DeLucia’s ultimate goal for the project: the “reopening” of history about King Philip’s War (p. 325). DeLucia is comfortable leaving her reader with more questions than answers, especially on the precise contours of Indigenous enslavement in the Atlantic. This can be unsettling for historians trained to avoid speculation and to prioritize “hard” forms of written evidence over the more dynamic stories contained within memory. DeLucia underscores that she did not set out to write a comprehensive narrative of the war. Readers will gain most from the text if they approach it already equipped with knowledge of the established timeline of the conflict. Instead, Memory Lands is a provocative and valuable contribution, one that prompts us to consider how we know what we know about King Philip’s War, to think about which sources historians have believed and which they have neglected, and to recognize that there are still vital and alternative stories to tell about colonial New England.

Note

[1]. See, for instance, The American Historical Review’s recent exchange on the interdisciplinary Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) methods used by DeLucia and Lisa Brooks, author of Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018): “AHR Exchange: Historians and Native American and Indigenous Studies,” American Historical Review 125, no. 2 (April 2020): 517-51.

Citation: Alice King. Review of DeLucia, Christine M., Memory Lands: King Philip's War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast. H-War, H-Net Reviews. July, 2020. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=55132

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