Vacuum Domicilium

The Metacom Saga is the true story of the King Philip’s War, Philip’s last chance to drive back the frontier settlements from their native lands and regain his culture’s sovereignty.

The conflict stands as the first prolonged Indian war with the English colonies. Its themes that are present in this story can also be found in today’s current history.

The Pilgrims arrived in Cape Cod Bay in November 1620, so they were ill-prepared to build a colony in the harsh environment of the New World. They were short on supplies and low on food. Because they arrived so late in the season it was already cold. The ground had become too hard to build a settlement, forcing them to spend the first winter on the Mayflower.

Massasoit, Philip’s father, took a leap of faith. He offered a hand of friendship. His people helped the Pilgrims by teaching them how to live off the land. The Wampanoag shared their skills at farming, hunting, and how to harvest the bounty from the sea. The two cultures entered an agreement of mutual protection. The Wampanoag provided intel on the surrounding land and other villages in the area that Plymouth needed to be aware of, which gave them opportunities to reach out and make new allies.

For Massasoit, he had his own agenda. From 1616 to 1619, his land had undergone a great plague that decimated thousands of his people. Historians believe that the disease was likely small pox brought to their lands by European contact. The Narragansett tribe in the west was a constant threat. With his tribe’s weakened condition, Massasoit payed an annual tribute to his neighbors. By agreeing to a relationship with the Pilgrims, Massasoit felt that he would gain a strong military ally and bring status to himself as a sachem and his tribe.

This relationship benefited both cultures.

The Pilgrims attempted to establish a self-government that would be loyal to the King, create laws, acts, ordinances, and offices necessary to lead the colony’s benefit, and everyone must abide be these laws.

There would were soon be events that would change things forever. Historically, this catalyst would cast New England into turmoil and fire.

In 1630, there was a significant change came when the Puritans settled in the Massachusetts Bay north of Plymouth. It was a “Great Migration” from England. A charter from King Charles in hand, the leaders felt little need to establish any formalized alliances with natives since they only had contact with a few villages.

Plymouth offered decorum to Massasoit. Behind the scenes, for some, there would be racism. For others, this would not matter, as in future generations there would be intermarriages.

The same can not be said of the Puritans. A significant change was coming.

The Puritans came with a charter from King Charles to establish a colony. The terms of this charter would be the ember that would spark the fire that would partly cause the King Philip’s War and set New England ablaze.

In 1630, the Puritans settled in Massachusetts Bay. They dismissed the natives since they had only contacted a few villages nearby. According to the charter, the Puritans were claiming the land north of Plymouth by the law of “discovery.”

The “Law of Discovery” is the European accepted a law that any nation to first claim any discovered new land or resource through exploration (in this case America), may claim it as sovereign land under the name of their monarch.

It is the idea that the land is there for the taking, and that the natives are uncivilized. They do not recognise property, and they do not use the land, and it is there for the Europeans to both take and put to good use and assume that there had been no one there beforehand. 

But there was a catch. What if there was a tribe who had already settled there? Here, they used the law of VACUUM DOMICILIUM. That land was there for the taking, that natives were uncivilized, did not recognise property, and most times did not use the land and was there for the Europeans to both take and put to good use and presumed to not be there beforehand. 

Any colonist who wished to move into a certain plot of land could claim it. The leadership would often find in favor of the settlers because they assumed that all natives were all hunters and did not farmers. They believed that the natives did not have permanent homes.

VACUUM DOMMICILIUM is the concept of “empty land”. Many sachems, seeing no use to it, would sell this land to different parties. This became a source of conflict. Plymouth had become upset with Philip for selling land to Rhode Island and other parties, and demanded that Philip sign treaties that would require him to only sell land to the Plymouth colony.

It angered Plymouth that Philip had been making transactions such as this because 1) he was selling valuable territory and 2) he was selling the land at a cheaper price.

As English settlers purchased land from the Indians, the Indians didn’t understand what “forever” meant. They believed that they could still live on the land. While some land owners allowed small groups to stay to control the wolf, fox, bear, and cat populations, others would evict. The Indians did not understand English law.

Over the next thirty years, the Indians lost more and more of their land. Sometimes certain English tricked them. Sometimes they took it from them as punishment for so-called crimes. In other cases, villages were in need, and the sachems and elders would sell tracts of land in exchange of money, food, supplies, blankets, pots, kettles, powder, and shot.

The point that must stress is that they abused some natives. Most did not know how to speak English. They did not know how write in English. When documents are being signed, a great number did not know what they were signing. This was one of the direct causes of the war.

Four hundred years ago it was an accepted belief system. This concept does not differ from the Jim Crow Laws. This does not differ from how the native Americans are still being treated. The example does not differ from how the Chinese were treated in the 19th Century. Or how the United States detained the Japanese into containment camps during WWII. I This brings to mind the Black Lives Matters movement.

What I find hard to swallow is that VACUUM DOMICILIUM was a law, that allowed a European power to take what they wanted and push an indigenous people aside. Today we have laws supposed to protect our citizens from such unfair practices.

Why must history repeat itself? Why is it we can’t learn from our mistakes?

We define vacuum Domicilium as an empty home. There are so many people protesting today with violence. If our society cannot learn to negotiate, we will not have a society. In 1678, at the end of the King Philip’s War, 90% (some sources say 60%) of the 35,000 member native population had perished. This includes men, women and children. Some died in combat, some died with disease. A few thousand escaped to New York and Canada. Pockets settled near Cape Cod. 1,200 prisoners were transported to Barbados as slaves.

The English colonies destroyed or displaced an entire culture.

This land wasn’t empty. Savages did not occupy this land. In fact, there were examples where they were more innovative; and without who’s help, our founding families would have perished.

John Winslow wanted the Puritan settlement to be a ‘A City On A Hill’. He wished to be a beacon to the rest of Europe as the model settlement to be Christian and be pious and interact with the native peoples.

How did that work for them?

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