My historical novels Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife, Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter, colonial New England, travels, and whatever else seizes my fancy...

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Cochecho Massacre: More Forgotten American History

Columbus and Taino Indians
Let’s get it straight: Columbus did not discover the New World. When his little fleet arrived in 1492, the Americas were already occupied by as many as 100,000,000 Indians. Within 500 years, European diseases had wiped out some 90% of them. Resettlement, enslavement, and what could easily be taken for genocide took a very heavy toll on the survivors.

Looking at that progression, it’s easy to think Native Americans were doomed as soon as the first Europeans stepped onshore. Not quite. Around 1000 A.D., when Greenland’s Vikings tried to colonize Vinland (coastal New England), an arrow shot into their leader’s heart by a one-footed Indian discouraged them for good.

Vikings at Iceland
620 years passed before Englishmen created a permanent toehold at Plymouth, Massachusetts. They succeeded primarily because the native occupants were wiped out two years before by disease introduced by transient fishermen. The Pilgrims were severely weakened by their own illnesses, but Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag tribe let them stay, and sent the English-speaking Squanto to help the starving Pilgrims raise crops. An American legend was born. 

Squanto and Pilgrims
A half-century later New England’s tribes regretted their tolerance. Their croplands were purchased or seized, their game shot or driven away, and they could no longer support themselves by trapping fur or making wampum to sell. In 1675 Massasoit’s grandson, King Philip, led a concerted effort to push the invaders back, but New England’s tribes were defeated by the settlers’ superior firepower. Most Wampanoags and Narragansetts were slaughtered or enslaved, but some took shelter with other tribes.
I am in the preliminary stages of a novel about King Philip’s War. Peni Jo Renner’s forthcoming historical novel, Cochecho, covers the aftermath of that conflict. Like my historical novels Rebel Puritan, The Reputed Wife, and The Golden Shore (coming in spring 2017), Peni is exploring her ancestry in fiction, beginning with Puritan Witch and Letters From Kezia, and continuing with the doomed settlers of Cochecho in her latest work, appropriately titled Cochecho.

Wampanoag attack
That was the Indian name for Dover, site of the first English settlement in New Hampshire. In 1676 the Christianized Pennacook Indians were friendly with their English neighbors, but also gave refuge to several hundred fugitive Wampanoags. Alarmed by that threat, Major Richard Waldron asks Massachusetts for help, and two companies of militia are dispatched to Cochecho.

Grace Hampton was only six when her parents were killed by Indians. She and her sister are sent to live with an uncle in Cocheho. Now nine, Grace overhears Major Waldron plotting with the militia captains, but it means little to her.
1689 attack on Dover, NH
Nine-year-old Menane wants nothing more than comfort for his sick grandmother when he steals a blanket at Cochecho. Grace helps him hide from its vengeful owner. Thus begins an improbable bond which persists despite the slaughter of Wampanoags and Pennacooks by Waldron and the militia, and through the years until 1689, when the Pennacooks take their revenge on Major Waldron and the other English settlers at Cochecho.

Peni Jo Renner
Peni does a terrific job of bringing Cochecho and its people to life, both English and Native American. Both sides commit questionable acts, but both were also capable of heroism and tenderness. Peni’s story is an even-handed and enjoyable read, and offers a rare look into America’s forgotten history.

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