Hart of the Matter

Column: Important lessons from (almost) forgotten history

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 5/12/22

As someone who makes it their profession to know things and seeks out knowledge when I find myself ignorant on issues of importance, I will admit flatly that I was ashamed to learn how little I truly …

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Hart of the Matter

Column: Important lessons from (almost) forgotten history

Posted

As someone who makes it their profession to know things and seeks out knowledge when I find myself ignorant on issues of importance, I will admit flatly that I was ashamed to learn how little I truly knew about early colonial activity and their relationship with the Pokanoket people.

I grew up in Massachusetts, and I am proud of the education I received from my public schools. But I have also become increasingly aware that even with that most satisfactory of foundations, the gaps within my understanding of this most important era of America’s earliest days as an English colony is riddled with gaps and a lack of proper context. We learned about Plymouth Colony and Squanto and, as I have realized, pretty much ‘yadda yadda yadda’d’ through to the Revolutionary War.

Coming to Rhode Island, and specifically to Warren, has been especially illuminating in providing that realization. When I first came to the Times-Gazette last summer, I arrived at a wonderful moment in history following the historic land acknowledgment brokered between the Warren Town Council and the Pokanoket nation. I got to witness for myself the celebration of their culture — which for centuries had been wrongly muted and repressed — and I wondered how such a crucial story could go untold throughout all the years of my formative education.

Thanks to the fantastic efforts of the Sowams Area Heritage Project, and through the direct telling of stories from Pokanoket leaders that have persisted, despite all odds against them, it feels as though the dial is finally moving and more people will become aware of this incredible and largely forgotten story.

It cannot be understated, and as Dr. David Weed said himself during an unveiling of a new historic marker near Kickemuit Middle School this past Friday, that without the Pokanoket people and their leader, Massasoit Osamequin, the colonists of this area would not have survived their first year in the New World. Learning of the treaty between Osamequin and the colonists is to learn that, initially, there was great hope for a tenable union between those who had inhabited the land for millennia, and those who came to forge a new beginning for themselves.

Unfortunately, as we all know, cultural and philosophical differences — combined with the worst impulses of human nature, including greed and a sense of inherent superiority — proved to be too powerful for these different worlds to coincide peacefully. When conflict arose, gunpowder and iron proved too mighty a force to overcome, and the native peoples suffered America’s original sin as a result. There is no avoiding this dark truth of our history, and it must be told in order to appreciate the context for which we find ourselves in today.

I am grateful to have come to a place where there is a desire to explore these dark chapters of our past and celebrate those characters who may have been lost to the annals of history without such efforts. I am grateful we understand the importance of passing these lessons onto the next generation, who will be better, more empathetic, and more informed citizens for learning about them.

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Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Media Group team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaymediagroup.com.