What caused the beheading of five colonists? Throughout the period that surrounded the colonial encounter, there were many reasons for such cruel acts. Protection from colonists or retributions for past wrongdoings seem to be the most common rationales for violence and war from the indigenous people. In the case regarding the kidnapping and executing of five plantation workers in the year of 1618, the reasoning was based on these same notions, but was driven extensively by another ideal entirely. Prior to the systematic execution of the five Europeans, the gentleman who the narrator refers to as the indigenous peoples’ “king” gives an explanation for his future actions by stating that “[y]ou designed to kill us, but we hurt no man who has not first offended us; our God has given you into our hands, and you must die” (Winkfield 48). Here there are notes of the aforementioned retribution, however there is also a strong religious tie in the quote as well. This is not the only place it is mentioned during this encounter, as the entirety of the speech the “king” delivers is based around their worshipping of the Sun. Here, an act of extreme violence is justified, in the eyes of the accusers, by basing the motivations in a religious understanding. This justification can, historically, be seen to drive many of the worst areas of the colonial encounter, from both sides. Religion acts as a justification, but it is not the motivation. In this circumstance, the group of indigenous peoples wish to seek retribution for the past wrongdoings of white, European colonists, and are able to find a way to connect their actions to the wants of their God. The motivation behind the attack is revenge, but the justification is that the captors are delivered from God and are sent to die. Similarly to this, white colonists referenced God, Christianity, and purification to justify genocidal acts against indigenous peoples. These are the well-meaning words that are seen in journals, manuscripts, and memoirs from the time, used to justify the slaughter, pillage, and rape of an entire species of people. What they fail to mention is the monetary gains, political control, and power that they also receive from their actions–a healthy little byproduct of doing the Lord’s work. Acting violently without cause makes you a savage. Acting violently for God makes you a disciple. Does killing due to a will of God justify the beheading of five men? Does it justify it more so than revenge for the killing of a large number of their people? Whatever the answers to these questions may be, these people justify their actions as being right in the eyes of God.
The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Isaiah Knowlton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.