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Susan Brownmiller
Susan Brownmiller

Thomas Traherne, the Puritan, wrote: "Verily there is no savage nation under
the cope of Heaven that is more absurdly barbarous than the Christian world."

Who were the real savages?

"The Indians of early America never raped their captives"

Bob Shepherd

Frederick Drimmer, who edited a collection of captivity narratives, wrote, "Anyone reading early accounts of captivity among the Indians is struck by the fact that female prisoners do not appear to have been abused by the Indians in the eastern section of the country." He presents a blanket summation from General James Clinton, who participated in a punitive expedition against the Iroquois in New York in 1799: "Bad as savages are, they never violate the chastity of any women their prisoners."

The first full-length narrative to become a popular success in its time was that of Mary Rowlandson, the "goodwife" of the first ordained minister of Lancaster, Massachusetts. She was taken captive in 1676, the sole adult survivor of a massacre of more than forty persons. Mrs. Rowlandson, as befitting her station, sprinkled her story with quotes from the Scriptures and plentiful thanks to the power of God for her divine deliverance, and her writing style became a model for many of the narratives that followed. Toward the end of her story, Mrs. Rowlandson made the following declaration:

I have been in the midst of those roaring lions and savage bears that feared neither God nor man nor the devil by night and day, alone and in company, sleeping in all sorts together, and yet no one of them ever offered the least abuse of unchastity to me in word or action. Though some are ready to say I speak it for my own credit, I speak it in the presence of God and to his glory.

Mrs. Rowlandson's case was not atypical. Isabella McCoy, captured by the St. Francis Indians in 1747, also averred that she had not been raped. The anonymous narrator of the battles of Trenton and Princeton ... claimed that British abuse of women had been "far Worse in this Respect than an Indian War, for I Never heard nor read of their Ravishing of Women ...." Another anonymous author, who penned A Narrative of the Capture of Certain Americans at Westmoreland (1780), saw fit to comment, "I don't remember to have heard an instance of these savages offering to violate the chastity of any of the fair sex who had fallen into their hands."

Susan Brownmiller continues, noting that the passages by General James Clinton and by the anonymous Westmoreland author both refer to the Iroquois, which she calls a most remarkable nation whose structure was based on a matrilineal foundation in which played an important political role, unlike other Indian tribes and unlike existing white civilization.

Drimmer points out, "It was a custom for the braves to make elaborate preparations before going on the warpath, and these included the practice of continence and rites of purification. To abuse a female captive would have weakened the Indians' 'medicine.'"

I believe it was the anthropologist Malinowski who stated that among the so-called 'primitive' tribes that are matriarchal in structure, the phenomenon of rape is unheard of.

By contrast, existing white civilization was (in Riane Eisler's word) androcratic and male dominated. The whites typically flattered themselves on their advanced civilization, their enlightenment. They expected that their Euro-centric empire would defeat the "primitives." Darwin, for example, made such a prediction time and again in his writing:

In Chapter 5, Descent of Man, Darwin said:
At the present day civilised nations are everywhere supplanting barbarous nations, excepting where the climate opposes a deadly barrier; and they succeed mainly, though not exclusively, through their arts, which are the products of the intellect. It is, therefore, highly probable that with mankind the intellectual faculties have been mainly and gradually perfected through natural selection; and this conclusion is sufficient for our purpose. Undoubtedly it would be interesting to trace the development of each separate faculty.

In Chapter 6, Descent of Man, Darwin said:
At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

The smug attitude of many European-descended people attracted the barbs of some of the wittier (and humbler) of their fellow whites. America's Ben Franklin suggested concerning the anti-native sentiments of whites, that the so-called enlightened (Euro-centered) attitudes may not be the final word. Whites disdained native heathenism looked down their noses at primitive tribal peoples. Franklin remarked, "Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours, which we think the perfection of civility."

I think to myself, what is civilized about a race of people who tell themselves rape is okay? History tells us that it was not the native or tribal folk you did the raping, but the supposedly white, civilized Christians.

Also reference James Axtell, "White Indians of Colonial America." The reports of Roger Williams of Rhode Island, and accounts of (among others) Mary Jemison, Mary White Rowlandson, etc.

White Indians

James Axtell�s studies of the early Americans who were captured by various Indian peoples give us a picture of these �white Indians� � many of whom chose to remain with their tribal captors. Axtell writes that many captives soon discovered that the English had no monopoly on virtue and that in many ways the Indians were morally superior to the English, more Christian than the Christians.

As early as 1643 Roger Williams had written a book to suggest such a thing, but he could be dismissed as a misguided visionary who let the Narragansetts go to his head. It was more difficult to dismiss someone like John Brickell, who had lived with the Indians for four and one-half years and had no ax to grind with established religion. �The Delawares are the best people to train up children I ever was with,� he wrote. �Their leisure hours are, in a great measure, spent training up their children to observe what they believe to be right. . . . As a nation they may be considered fit examples for many Christians to follow. They certainly follow what they are taught to believe more closely, and I might say more honestly, in general, than we Christians do the divine precepts of our Redeemer. . . . I know I am influenced to good, even at this day,� he concluded, �more from what I learned among them, than what I learned among people of my own color.� After many decades with them, Mary Jemison insisted that �the moral character of the Indians was . . . uncontaminated. Their fidelity was perfect, and became proverbial; they were strictly honest; they despised deception and falsehood, chastity was held in high veneration.� Even the Tory historian Peter Oliver, who was no friend to the Indians, admitted that �they have a Religion of their own, which, to the eternal Disgrace of many Nations who boast of Politeness, is more influential on their Conduct than that of those who hold them in so great Contempt.� To the acute discomfort of the colonists, more than one captive maintained that the Indians were a �far more moral race than the whites.�

The soreness of the land - the prophecy of Kate Luckie, Wintu Spirit Woman

The bridge is love ~ native spirituality is the wordless song of the heart

Indians and Ancient Israel - amazing discovery of many similarities

Wisdom of the Great Chiefs - native words still speak from long ago

Chief Seattle's oration, 1854 - ringing in modern ears like prophecy

Our dear Lady Lynn something of gentleness on the web.

John Marrant, black apostle to the Cherokee - with credibility among Native folk, he won many

John Stewart "Man of Color" - adopted by the Wyandotte; he let his light shine

The American Indian Heritage Foundation Providing relief services to native peoples in North America.

NARF : Native American Rights Fund - 38 years of standing firm for justice.

Hanksville Index of Native American resources on the internet.

Never Give Up. The native American saga of hope and triumph.

White man's legacy of the rape ethic. A Brownmiller site.

Thomas Traherne, the Puritan, wrote: "Verily there is no savage nation under
the cope of Heaven that is more absurdly barbarous than the Christian world."

When you need me
just whisper my name in your Heart
I will be there

Text passages selected by
Bob Shepherd
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