Flawed logic drove tercentenary marker removal

April 24, 2024

The logic behind removing the tercentenary markers seems to rely on the narrative that evil settlers set out deliberately to mistreat indigenous peoples, so they do not deserve to be remembered. This dark, simplistic view is presentism (fitting the past to modern prejudices). It is insensitive and wrong.

The Puritans were not conquistadors. They were refugee families, a religious people struggling to reconcile their deep beliefs with the practicalities of survival. By English law, the land was theirs, yet they sought to purchase, not take it. Conquest was not their aim. Survival was.

Nor were the indigenous peoples an identity group. Tribes responded independently, sometimes the settlers’ allies, sometimes enemies. Some individuals became Christians, and in King Philip’s War, some fought beside the settlers. The figure on the state seal acknowledges those who saved and later defended the colony.

The Puritan achievement was to establish a revolutionary precedent, communities governed by the will of the people and not obedience to tyrants. The seal’s raised sword warns the King not to impose tyranny. Our town meetings are their legacy. They valued universal education as the foundation of democracy. They were the forerunners of our republic. They deserve to be remembered for that. Removing the markers is the moral equivalent of book-burning. It is cultural barbarism. It is ungrateful.

Not incidentally, the Tercentenary Commission chose Samuel Eliot Morison to compile the marker texts. He was a Democrat, a progressive and a meticulous historian, professor of American History at Oxford and at Harvard, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He admired indigenous cultures. He argues the indigenous point of view persuasively. It is inconceivable he would condone texts prejudicial to indigenous peoples.

So, let’s undo the vandalism. Put back the markers. Invite indigenous descendants to honor their ancestors. Let’s model tolerance and do history inclusively, by addition and not subtraction.

Mark Dobbins

Elsinore Street