Map of Indian Lands by Sidney PerleyNative Americans

Joseph English: Loyalty and Survival in the Life of a Colonial Native Scout

Joseph English, a grandson of the Sagamore Masconomet, apparently grew up in Ipswich at a time when only a handful of Native residents remained. The influence of Anglo-American society and culture would have made a profound impression on him. His viable options as an adult were accommodation or relocating beyond the frontier of New England.

A Thesis in the Field of History for the Degree of Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies
by Benjamin Webster
Harvard University, May 2021

Abstract

Joseph English was a man of Native American ancestry who served in New England’s military in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Captured in action and taken prisoner to Canada, he escaped, returned to Massachusetts, and went on to achieve renown as a scout and pilot in the Merrimack Valley. As a descendant of sagamores on both sides of his family, he also participated in land transactions with English colonists.

This thesis reviews primary evidence on Joseph from archival documents, deeds, and other sources to construct a rough narrative of his life. It also puts Joseph’s life into context by exploring matters such as the intercolonial wars pitting New England against New France and its Native allies, the position of “friend Indians” within Massachusetts, and the nature of Anglo-Native land transactions.

Finally, the paper attempts to explain why Joseph, a Native person, chose to align himself so closely with the interests of the English colonists. It finds that in cooperating with the settlers, Joseph English was carrying on a family tradition already in its third generation. Through land transactions and military service, he demonstrated his loyalty and deflected the hostility of white settlers. At a time when Indians in New England faced numerous threats, Joseph chose allegiance to the English as the most promising strategy for survival.

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