Author: Deputy Governor John Easton of Rhode Island
From the edition of: A letter, written 1675 at Newport, RI
This edition: Copyright 2011, Norman P. Burdett
John Easton was not educated in the classics as many of the writers of his day were. His spelling was even more erratic and difficult to read than others of his day. For that reason, this important document is not well circulated. This Side-by-Side Comparison Edition features corrected spellings to make it easier for the modern reader to enjoy. This edition also includes Easton´s original writing, with the original on the lefthand page and the modern spelling on the right, following page for page with the original version and accompanied by an introduction and notes by the editor.
At the time of the writing of this account in 1675, John Easton was serving as Deputy Governor of Rhode Island. As a Rhode Islander, he had an outsider's view on the impending struggle between the English and Philip's Wampanoag Indians. Rhode Island had not sent troops to fight the Pequot Indians in 1637, and had no desire to see this disagreement turn into warfare in 1675 either.
The Rhode Island colony had not been invited to membership in the United Colonies which had drawn together Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven colonies in a Confederation for mutual defense and strategy in dealing with the Native people in their jurisdictions.
As a neutral party, Easton sat with Philip on the ground near Philip's home in 1675, heard his grievances and offered a solution: binding arbitration by a Commission consisting neutral parties such as the Governor of New York and a Sachem chosen by the Indians . Philip seemed willing to try Easton´s plan, but the members of the United Colonies would not hear of it.
The Commissioners of The United Colonies regarded the Rhode Island as a home for heretics because they tolerated freedom of conscience in religious matters. It was a haven for Baptists and later Quakers. Rhode Island had from its inception walked in a more fair and honest way with their Indian neighbors than the other Colonial governments did. Respecting the Indians culture and integrity as well as their property rights, thanks to the forward thinking ideas of their founder, Roger Williams.
Easton was a Quaker, a member of that group noted for rejecting warfare as a means of solving problems, and was therefore despised by the Puritans of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The territory of the Narragansett people was included in the bounds of the Royal Charter of 1661 granted to Rhode Island. The area of "South County", RI - alias The Narragansett Country - was arguably the best farmland in New England. The Massachusetts and Connecticut settlers had their eye on this land and tried to claim it as being within their boundaries since the Pequot War. Easton cast a wary eye, not only upon the Indians, but upon the covetous neighbor colonies as well. He suspects that their desire for this territory is the underlying reason for any planned assault on the Narragansetts.
Easton´s account of his negotiations with Phillip just ten days before the outbreak of the war is considered the most fair and unbiased account of the Indians complaints and point of view, and is a real telling look into the mind of Philip at this critical time.
Books in the Rhode Island series:
Rhode Island Deputy Governor John Easton
Supplement to Rhode Island Colonial Records
Sidney S. Rider
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