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I agree with Joel Helander that the documents depicting the founding of Guilford should remain in Town Hall with an adequate interpretation. But I disagree about that interpretation, depicted in the Dec. 24 story “Guilford Plans to Enhance Display of Agreement Between Colonizers, Indigenous Tribe.” The events, knowledge, and motives between English and Menunkatuck were more complex.
English and Algonquin-speaking people didn’t hold fundamentally different understandings of property. Private property had never existed before it emerged in Britain roughly between 1550 and 1650. Even then, it wasn’t widely practiced and remained shocking and repellent to a majority. Peasants, Indians, and most humans who’ve ever lived thought of all property in land as common property. The Guilford Covenant says it plainly: “We…sit down and join ourselves together in one entire plantation and to be helpful each to other in any common work.”
The transfer of Guilford from a Menunkatuck to an English commons makes no sense without the Pequot War. Two years before, a force of around 400 Englishmen, Mohegans, and Narragansetts attacked the Pequot village near Mystic and massacred around 500 men, women, and children in the first example of genocidal intent among the colonizers. When the founders of Guilford arrived from England, they confronted Menunkatuck who no longer believed the English could be allies. Rather than attempt to live among the Puritans and risk being subject to forces (including the powerful Narragansetts) that would back them up in any conflict, the Menunkatuck moved out.
Overcoming legacies of racism and supremacy requires unstinting honesty in our historical understanding. Our reckoning with the past should avoid false notions of progress and inevitability, should include what English and Menunkatuck shared in common, and stress the events and relationships that help us see Guilford as part of the dispossession of Indigenous North America.