Thanksgiving a reminder of the cost of America's "progress"

By Carla Bell
November 20, 2017

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is a two-part tale of interpretive literary work. It’s described as a depiction of the life and struggles of a Christian believer. Bunyan, a Puritan preacher, penned the book in Bedford, England over the course of his imprisonment for evangelical work. The book is well-loved amongst those of the Christian faith and is generally considered a staple of Christian discipline.

While Bunyan was incarcerated in Europe, Metacom, chief of the Wampanoag tribe – also named Philip by Puritan urging for the comfort of the colonists – had reached the limit of his hospitality and patience with their efforts to occupy and control greater shares of the land that had always sustained his people. This set into motion what came to be known as King Philip’s War in 1675.

Metacom was captured in August of 1676, by a company of rangers emulating Indian war tactics under the shrewd leadership of Captain Benjamin Church, and was fatally shot in Rhode Island by an Indian convert to Christianity, an ally of Church’s. This shooter, John Alderman, was rewarded with the severed right hand of the deceased and Church is now considered the forerunner of the modern day U.S. Army Ranger.

“In keeping with English punitive tradition, the ‘treasonous king’ was beheaded and his body quartered, the quarters hung from trees ‘here and there,’ wrote one historian, ‘so as not to hallow a traitor’s body by burial.’ Authorities in Plymouth ransomed Philip’s head and placed it on a spike atop a prominent hill overlooking town”.

It’s said that Metacom’s head remained on a pike at the entrance of the city of Plymouth, Massachusetts – the Puritans’ pride for two decades. Following Metacom’s assassination, his wife, young son, and thousands more Natives were sold into slavery in Bermuda, with hundreds dead. Indian slaves were often sold to plantations in the West Indies in exchange for African slaves.

It was during the time of King Philip’s War in the 17th century that “Puritans became noted for a spirit of moral and religious earnestness that informed their whole way of life, and they sought through church reform to make their lifestyle the pattern for the whole nation.” But the acts of these Puritans are difficult to imagine – ungodly, really – and it’s reasonable to conclude that there’s a seed of Puritanism in any denomination separated from Catholicism, which has a bushel and a peck of its own problems.

Finally, we gain a clearer understanding of Puritanism and its hypocrisy. To our shame, Puritans are recognized the world over for their work in founding the American colonies and, subsequently, the American Government. In 1678, around the time that Church’s band of Puritans exterminated Metacom and his tribe, The Pilgrim’s Progress, a Puritan’s preacher’s allegorical Christian primer, was published in England.

The white haired guy from Quaker Oats is someone’s sweet and non-threatening idea of a Quaker. William Penn was a leader amongst them. Quakers, also called the “Religious Society of Friends,” not unlike the Puritans, consider themselves proponents of honesty, integrity, purity, and religious freedom. Though not his to give, King Charles II, back in England, granted Penn ownership of land already inhabited by indigenous people. That land would become known as Pennsylvania, where Penn and his followers would encroach, and remain.

Penn named Philadelphia, Greek for brotherly love, in October 1682. Two years later “the peculiar institution” of African chattel slavery began there, followed immediately by William Penn himself taking into bondage three black human beings at his Pennsbury Manor, just a few minutes’ drive north of the city.

We typically make no distinction between a Puritan, a Quaker, or other religious sects of that time, and it turns out there’s no need because they’re basically the same. But are we different?

The pilgrim’s progress, actually, not allegorically, is America. This Native American Heritage Month, let’s reflect on American History – hatred, genocide, theft, broken promises, neglect, racism, Americanization, discrimination, and inequity – and begin to write a bright new chapter.

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Carla Bell is a Seattle-based writer and abolitionist engaged in restorative justice and civil rights advocacy, supporting community resilience and healing, and a perpetual student of arts and culture.