Date of Award

2001

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Welch Everman

Second Committee Member

Deborah Rogers

Third Committee Member

Richard Brucher

Abstract

The Wilderness King, Part 11, John Sassamon is a verse play set in seventeenth century New England during the period leading to the outbreak of King Philip's War (1675-81). In per capita terms that war remains the most devastating conflict in U.S. history with a ten percent casualty rate among the English adult male population alone. Moreover, the New England colonies lost the almost de facto autonomy they had enjoyed before the war; because of it they would not recover independence until a century later. Another effect of the war was the collapse of the cooperative, pluralistic society between the newly arrived Europeans and native Americans which had enabled the original English inhabitants to survive in a harsh and unfamiliar land. In such an atmosphere the drama I have written about the life of John Sassamon unfolds. As an Indian standing astride two cultures by virtue of his literacy and his fluency in languages, he had staked his career on the continuation of the bi-cultural world he had always known. That world began to unravel despite his efforts to forestall it. Ultimately, he could not negotiate the demands of the new age. In this respect Sassamon establishes an American character archetype; in him we see a man who struggles to keep two dividing cultural strains together. When this proves impossible in the period leading to hostilities, he is pulled away from his conscience and his ideals by the inexorable shift of political power then underway. In this environment he betrays the probable losers of the conflict, and aids its probable winners. Because he spies against the Pokanokets, they execute him for treason. In the aftermath his death sparks one of the most destructive wars in American history.

Share