Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Who Taught the Stockbridge Indians to Moon?

Yes, you read that title correctly, if you were thinking of "Mooning" as the pulling down of one's pants to expose one's butt as an intended insult.

William Kellaway's book, The New England Company 1649-1776 , is a history of the mission society that went by that same name.

The New England Company was the London-based philanthropic organization that supported the mission town in Stockbridge, Massachusetts starting in the 1730's. I'm not completely cynical about organizations like The New England Company...

I'm not starting the argument that they were ethnocentric; they were, we know that, this is about something else: Stockbridge, Massachusetts was a strategic location in the ongoing wars between Britain and France. If we can assume that the mission society gave the Indians something good (just for now, feel free to argue against that later), religion, "civilization," whatever, it certainly wasn't free, because the people of Great Britain got an excellent guerrilla warfare unit out of the deal.

During the American Revolution, the Continental warship Bonhomme Richard, commanded by John Paul Jones, won a hard-fought engagement against the British ships of war HMS Serapis and HMS Countess of Scarborough off the east coast of England. I figured it would be more appropriate to illustrate this entry with warships of that era than with a picture of a "moon."

By the 1770's Great Britain had become the enemy. The Stockbridges - lets remember they consisted of Mohicans and Wappingers and other Algonkian remnants - were the only Native nation to fully side with the thirteen colonies, that is, the Americans, for the whole Revolutionary War. At that point the officials of The New England Company had a chance to show that it was really about religion, that their support of the mission across the ocean was more than just a sort of inducement to support the British in war. And sure enough, the New England Company pulled through, paying John Sergeant Jr.'s salary as late as May of 1783 (Kellaway, page 278).

Things eventually broke down, however. There were logistical reasons for the breakdown, but there was also the realization that some of the New England Company's American commissioners were "among the prime leaders and first stirrers up of the rebellion."

The once-loyal British-allied Indians had been made 'treacherous' by the white Americans. (In other words, the Stockbridge Indians sided with the Americans, becoming "traitors" in British eyes.) This brings us to possibly the most remarkable incident in Kellaway's entire book:

[T]he Stockbridge Indians had been brought to Boston when British naval vessels were there on purpose to insult them, and were taught, by turning up their backsides, to express their defiance of them (Kellaway, 280).
So there you have it: One of the things the Stockbridge Indians learned before they left Massachusetts was how to insult people by "mooning."


Savage said...

Jeff, when I get back to Milwaukee I must send you a famous political cartoon from the Revolution, depicting an unruly group of Americans heaping insults on Old Man England, while he tried to keep control over them by means of string tied to their noses. One of the "patriots" was mooning England, pants down and all! In another version of this someone drew pants on the fellow, perhaps early evidence of political correctness.
Clearly the Bostonians were quite use to this form of insult.

Savage said...

I tried to post here, it was deleted. So here is the shortened version. A famous political cartoon depicts unruly Americans insulting old man England -- one of them mooning the gent. In a later publication of the cartoon someone drew pants over the patriot. Not surprised the Stockbridgers picked up a few tips from Bostonians.