Anglos in New England before 1620

Brian McKnight's picture

So, I know we've all done this, but I remember reading something in grad school...twenty years ago...that told a story about the earliest New England colonists discovering a European already living in the region upon their arrival, but I can't find it.  Does this sound familiar to any of you who are specialists in the region and era?  It had to be a reasonably popular source because the era and region are outside of my area of specialization.  I appreciate your help in identifying it...or confirming to me that I'm historically delusional.  Best, Brian

Categories: Discussion

You may be thinking of William Cronon's Changes in the Land (1983; NY: Hill and Wang, 2003), Chapter 5/pg 84. (Grad student here, I just read this a couple weeks ago myself... it is a memorable passage!)

"When the Pilgrims first landed on Cape Cod in 1620, they discovered “a place like a grave” covered with wooden boards. [...] There, in the same red powder, were the remnants of a man: some of the flesh remained on the bones, and they realized with a shock that “the skull had fine yellow haire still on it.” With the bones, “bound up in a saylers canvas Casacke, and a payre of cloth breeches,” were a knife, a needle, and “two or three old iron things,” evidently the dead man's most personal belongings. A blond European sailor, shipwrecked or abandoned on the Massachusetts coast, had lived as an Indian, had perhaps fathered an Indian child, and had been buried in an Indian grave. His circumstances may or may not have been unusual—even this we cannot know—but they betokened an already long and continuing exchange between peoples on opposite sides of the Atlantic."

I bet you’re remembering that the Puritans who came to Boston in 1630 found the Rev. William Blackstone had settled on that peninsula ahead of them.

J. L. Bell