Bridging the Colonial Wilderness Barrier
October 10, 2007
From the perspective of a twenty-one year old college student in the twenty first century, it is hard to relate to the colonist's of the 16 and 1700's. Crossing the frontier was a necessary task for these colonists to begin new lives in New England. The only way to tap into this same theme is through placing one's self in the wilderness, both physically and mentally, and peering out to the other side. As a class we were able to accomplish this by visiting the Buttolph-Williams House of Old Wethersfield and look upon this house through the cover of trees, just as these earlier settlers and Native Americans had done. The story of Eunice Williams is a wonderful example of the reciprocal theme of embracing the wilderness, by personal choice alone. In The Unredeemed Captive by John Demos, we hear the story of the raid upon Deerfield in 1704 and the significance of not only the torturous trek these captives endured, but the willingness for one child, Eunice Williams, to attach herself to these Native Americans captures and to embrace life in the wilderness.
The wilderness' is very often perceived as a dark, unpredictable, untamed environment. The main goal of the early English settlers was to tame' the wilderness, to leave any remnants of home, any shelter associated with home, and start anew. These early English settlers were not outdoorsmen' by nature. The wilderness became a place of fear, the unknown. Back in England, homes, communities, places of worship, were all built to create that separation from the wilderness. Structures were barriers to the wilderness and evidence of how the English had become a civilized people. These ideas bled through to the colonial settlers. They had left all these physical barriers against the wilderness, and were forced to cope with life on the other side.
To the Indians, the dark, unpredictable and untamed wilderness' is there home. Without the Indians and their extensive and remarkable survival knowledge, the trek of these captives would have been a much more deadly task. The Indian experience coming upon such a structure as that of the Buttolph William's house was entirely different from that of the English settlers. Instead of being from the outside looking in', they are from the inside looking out'. The wilderness must hold a sense of comfort and security for the Indians. This structure, although indeed large and ornate for its time, must have been completely imposing and scary even. The striking difference from nature that these kinds of structured exhibited must have been completely foreign to the natives. One thing to remember is that this was indeed their land, so aside from being foreign I could also feel the anger in this type of intrusion. The resentment, the anger that these Indians felt is evident through the appalling acts committed in these raids and through the crossing with English captives.
It is hard to imagine how these Englishmen and women felt crossing the frontier to establish communities in New England. As students in a New England university we al have the luxury of living in the same areas these colonist's stumbled upon and tamed. Buildings such as the Buttolph-Williams House and many houses built during the 16 and 1700's still stand and can be admired. Upon visiting the Buttolph-Williams House in Old Wethersfield, we proceeded as a class to the backyard of the structure, and more importantly, placed ourselves in the wooded area adjacent to the house. This was the vantage point of many early English colonists who stumbled upon houses such as the Buttolph- Williams House. Although this particular home was a mansion by New England standards, man-made structures of any kind must have been emotionally imposing. After a long and treacherous journey through the wilderness of New England, stumbling upon a structure such as the...
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