WHITMAN — Lyric poet Faye George of Bridgewater kicked off Thanksgiving week with readings and a discussion of her collection, “Voices of King Philip’s War,” at the Whitman Public Library on Monday, Nov. 21 — the 396th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing in 1620.
“That’s really not a very long, long time, is it?” she said. “And look what happened in that interval. … This was all forest.”
George has published five collections of her poetry. She’s been working on the King Philip book [2013, WordTech Editions, softcover, 142 pages, $20] for several years, perhaps unwittingly at first, as it flowed from her personal interest in that period of local history.
“We thought it would be topical and timely” to host George, said Library Director Andrea Rounds of the appearance, which was part of the Local Author Series funded by the Friends of the Whitman Public Library.
George related how one of her first jobs after high school was as a page in Shawmut Bank.
“They had a mascot symbol of [Shawmut sachem] Obbatinewat,” she said. The image spurred her to learn more of local history. George said her initial research was not directed, but rather sprang from idle curiosity stemming from her first realization that King Philip was not a European nobleman but the son of Massasoit.
“I’d like to know more about this,” she said of her thought process.
One reference source would lead to another and she would sit on her porch in Weymouth, where she lived at the time, and read and make notes.
George spoke of the plagues, which wiped out several small Algonquian bands prior to 1620, as well as inter-tribal clashes before the founding of the Plymouth Colony, which she termed “nothing in the way of absolute, take-no-prisoners, burn-it-to-the-ground warfare that the English brought.”
She wrote poems in the voice of several native peoples who played key roles in King Philip’s War, relying on her past research, interspersing passages from historic documents with her interpretation of how the native peoples would feel.
“The attitudes presented come from my imagination,” she said. Events portrayed are taken from the historical record, while some of the behaviors and attitudes are lost to history. George then recreated scenes within the context of their roles in events.
“I am primarily a lyric poet,” she said. “This was a total departure for me.”
After her third book, she felt the time was right to go back over her past notes, which led to the first of her monologue poems. That monologue dramatizes Philip’s brother Alexander’s (Wamsutta) refusal to surrender to the summons of Gov. Edward Winslow after Wamsutta was accused of selling Wampanoag land directly to colonists, rather than to the Plymouth colony. Alexander’s sudden death in Plymouth led the Wampanoags to suspect he was poisoned.
“… Summon me? — Wamsutta, Alexander,
Of the Wampanoag Federation!
Not for this did my father [Massasoit] and our people,
With all good will,
Give yours a place to make their homes
And dwell among us;
Not to submit as slaves to English law,
Not to live as
Children of the English governor!
Now you hear this;
We are not your children, neither your slaves. …”
— Excerpt from “Alexander: Wamsutta,” from “Voices of King Philip’s War”
“I had no idea how many voices there would be,” she said. “These characters that emerged were all from the historical record. These were real people.”
George noted that, since the Algonquian peoples had no written language, she had to depend on the histories written by white colonists, including the Christian missionary John Elliot, who had taught himself the Massachusetts dialect of the Wampanoags.
“It was a sad reality that, had they worked together, had the tribes been less competitive … they certainly, I believe, would had gotten a better deal than they did get,” she said. “Because they were just destroyed.”