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I take my children to the library, where they seem far more interested in the toys and games than they are in the books. That leaves me with a half-an-hour to an hour of waiting for them to tire of much the same toys we have at home. Fortunately, the nearby young-adult section has a bunch of history books. Being geared for teens, I can manage to make it through one in a couple of sessions at the library. Also, being a lighter read, when the inevitable fisticuffs start between the children, it is easy to stop and start reading without losing concentration.

This week I pulled Flames over New England: The story of King Philip’s War, 1675-1676 from the shelf. Although I know I knew it once, perhaps in high school, I had to read the book to remember that King Philip is actually an Indian chief, not a Spanish King. It is the history of the point where the Algonquin (the language group of the various tribes of New England) people decided they’d taken enough of the English colonist’s shit, and were to take no more.

So far, I’ve only read the first Chapter, which is the background for the War, not the war itself. I’m enjoying the way the book is written. It relies heavily on original source material, and includes quotes, but (keeping in mind the teenage reader) is written in a smoother prose than a more scholarly book might be. The footnotes and context for the quotes are lacking, so a little faith is required in the author’s mix of present day narrative and contemporary views. The serious historian would not be amused, but for a quick read it fits the bill.

New England at that time consisted of four chartered colonies; Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Their rise from barely-viable outpost to self-sufficient colonies on a trajectory to independence took place within the lifetime of the founders, and is an amazing story. The book raises to prominence the issue of land rights relative to the rights of the Indian tribes. For example, while the founder of Rhode Island had serious religious conflicts with the Puritans, he was actually banished from the Massachusetts Colony for dispute over Indian land rights. He believed that the Indians themselves had the rightful title to their land, and that grants by the King were irrelevant. The author does add that, while the colonists believed in their own racial superiority and the right of their King to grant them the Indian’s land, by-and-large they were fairly compensated for the land which they transferred to the colonies during this period (although the author wonders if they fully grasped the concept of land ownership).

Also an interesting point: Did you know that the name of this state remains The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations? It is abbreviated for convenience, but that designation has never changed.

Finally, the book highlighted the legal restrictions placed on the Indians. They were forbidden by law from “modern” technologies. I found the described the original Connecticut Gun Control laws.

And they [the Indians] had not been permitted to buy or own firearms until 1665 – a permission that was withdrawn whenever the colonists feared there was a danger of an uprising.

Elsewhere the author describes the prosecution of an Indian for discharging a firearm on a Sunday.

It’s not about the guns; it’s about the control.

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