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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Diplomacy in Boston

By Daniel Gookin (1612–1687)

[From Historical Collections of the Indians in New England. Written in 1674.]

NOW we are come to speak of the Maquas more particularly, which I promised in the beginning of this chapter. These Maquas live near unto certain lakes, about fifty miles from Fort Oranje, now called Fort Albany, upon a branch of Hudson’s River. The place they live at is reported to be a fertile and pleasant country. It lies between the French that live upon Canada, and the English and Dutch that live upon Hudson’s River. Those Indians are greatly addicted to war, spoil, and rapine. They heretofore lived in towns, or forts, not far one from another; but were all in confederacy with each other. Their manner was to rob, kill, and spoil their neighbor Indians far and near: and with the beavers and other furs, thus taken by violence, to barter heretofore with the Dutch upon Hudson’s River, now with the English that possess that country, for those necessaries they wanted, especially for guns, powder and shot, and other weapons for war….

There were five Mawhawks, or Maquas, all stout and lusty young men, and well armed, that came into one John Taylor’s house, in Cambridge, in the afternoon. They were seen to come out of a swamp, not far from the house. The people of the house, which I think were only two women and a lad then at home, seeing them so armed; for they had every one of them a firelock gun, a pistol, an helved hatchet, a long knife hanging about their necks, and every one had his pack, or knapsack, well furnished with powder and bullets, and other necessaries; and also the people perceived that their speech was different from our neighbor Indians; for these Maquas speak hollow and through the throat more than our Indians; and their language is understood but by very few of our neighbor Indians;—I say, the people of the house suspected them, sent privily to them that had authority, a little distance in the town, to give order and direction in this matter. Hereupon a constable with a party of men came to the house, and seized them without any resistance. Some think they were willing to be apprehended, that they may better see and observe the English manner of living. The constable was ordered to carry them to prison, and secure them there, until such time as they might be examined; which was done, and they were all put in irons, and their arms and things taken from them and secured. The English had heard much, but never saw any of those Maquas until now. They differ nothing from the other Indians, only in their speech. At their being imprisoned and their being loaden with irons, they did not appear daunted or dejected; but, as the manner of those Indians is, they sang night and day, when they were awake.

Within a day or two after, they were removed with a guard, from Cambridge to Boston Prison, at which time the court sat; before whom they were examined at several times, upon divers interrogations, too long to insert. The sum of their answer was, that they came not hither, with an intent to do the least wrong to the English, but to avenge themselves of the Indians, their enemies. They were told, it was inhumanity, and more like wolves than men, to travel and wander so far from home, merely to kill and destroy men, women, and children,—for they could get no riches of our Indians, who were very poor,—and to do this in a secret, skulking manner, lying in ambushment, thickets, and swamps, by the way-side, and so killing people in a base and ignoble manner: whereas, if they were men of courage, valor, and nobleness of spirit, they would fight with their enemies openly and in a plain field, which our Indians would gladly accept and engage with them, and make an end of the cruel war, one way or other: but thus to be destroyed gradually, in such a manner, was altogether inhuman and barbarous. To these things they answered shortly: It was their trade of life: they were bred up by their ancestors to act in this manner towards their enemies.

The Indians, our neighbors, flocked into Boston, in great numbers, not only to see those Maquas, but earnestly to solicit the court not to let them escape, but to put them to death, or, at least, to deliver the Maquas to them to be put to death. “For,” said they, “these Maquas are unto us, as wolves are to your sheep. They secretly seize upon us and our children, wherever they meet us, and destroy us. Now, if we had taken five wolves alive, and should let them go again, and not destroy them, you Englishmen would be greatly offended with us for such an act: and surely,” said they, “the lives of men are of more worth than beasts.”

These kind of arguings and solicitations of our neighbor Indians put the court upon serious thoughts, how to manage this affair, as became wise and Christian men. For as, on the one hand, the Maquas had never done any wrong to the English: and that we should begin a breach with them, in taking away these men’s lives, we well knew the temper and spirit of that people was so cruel, and bloody, and revengeful, that they might, and probably would, in a secret and skulking way, destroy many of our people, so that none could be safe in their goings out and comings in: on the other hand, it was considered that our neighbor Indians would be offended, that we did not gratify their desires. But of these two evils the court chose to avoid the former; forasmuch as we had more ties and obligations upon our neighbors, both of Christianity, and sobriety, and commerce, than upon the others: and hence did endeavor at present, and might have opportunity hereafter, to quiet and compose their minds, declaring unto them: First, that it was not becoming the prudence or honor of so great a people as the English were, nor suitable to the Christian profession, to begin a war with a people, that had not killed or slain any Englishmen. Secondly, for the English to espouse the Indians’ quarrel, the cause whereof we knew not, or which party were the aggressors, was not lawful for the English to do. Thirdly, to take away the lives of five men, that were now in our power by their own voluntary coming into one of our towns, and had not done us any wrong, personally considered, it would be great injustice.

These and some other reasons were given to our neighbor Indians, who, though not satisfied at the present, yet were quiet. The result of the court in this matter was, to dismiss these five Maquas, with a letter from the court sent by them to their chief sachems, of this import: That although the English had seized five of their men, that came armed into one of the English houses, and had examined them: yet we had released them, and secured them from the Indians, and conducted them in safety out of our borders, and have returned all their arms and things unto them, and given them coats: and have sent this letter by them to their chief sachem, to forbid any of that people, for the future, to kill and destroy any of the Indians under our protection, that lived about forty miles from us on every side: which they might distinguish from other Indians, by their short hair, and wearing English-fashioned apparel. Secondly, they were required not to come armed into any of our towns. But if any of them were sent, and came upon any business to us, they were to repair to the magistrate, and get the first Englishman they met withal, to conduct them to whom they were to declare their errand. With this letter, and a convoy of horse to conduct them into the woods, clear of the Indians, their enemies, they were dismissed, and we heard no more of them since.

After this, as I last remember, in the summer, 1669, the war having now continued between the Maquas and our Indians about six years, divers Indians, our neighbors, united their forces together, and made an army of about six or seven hundred men; and marched into the Maquas’ country, to take revenge of them. This enterprise was contrived and undertaken without the privity, and contrary to the advice, of their English friends. Mr. Eliot and myself, in particular, dissuaded them, and gave them several reasons against it, but they would not hear us: but the praying Indians were so cautioned by our advice, that not above five of them went; and all of them were killed but one.