Story of Mason, Uncas shows history more complex than heroes & villains
Sadly, for thousands of years human beings have killed each other all over the globe. Prior to the caucasian people intruding upon North America and into what is now Connecticut, the Pequot Tribe invaded this region and promptly subjugated local tribes. They utilized fear, coercion and torture, killing many of their own race in the process.
Although they initially invited the colonists for reasons of trade, when they could no longer control their hegemonic situation, they started planning to eliminate the competition. Things became rather complex.
In 1637, John Mason was the commander in the Pequot War but he was no more of a genocidal butcher than Uncas or Sassacus. Actually, they were all prominent warriors, who fought for their survival. In war, the bottom line is to kill your enemy before they kill you. Sassacus survived and fled to New York, but the Mohawks promptly killed him, cut off his head and hands, and sent them to Boston as an offer of friendship to the English.
Uncas then became the dominant sachem because he allied with the Colonists and became blood brothers with John Mason. Some historians think that he played the pivotal role in vanquishing the dominant Pequots, betraying his own race and relatives to suit his own ambitions.
Some would argue that the Pequots might have been victorious if not for Uncas' actions. So why does John Mason unfairly always get all the blame for the Mystic massacre?
In the late 1800s, at the height of a national statue movement, the prominent citizens of Mystic decided to honor their local hero who preserved the nascent settlements from destruction with a towering symbol of their pride. The resulting artistic sculpture is a historical expression of the values of that era.
Naturally some of the surviving Pequot descendants disapproved of this symbol of Major John Mason on the sacred site where their ancestors perished. However, in the 1990s, when the Pequot Tribe was re-birthed, the chairman Richard “Skip” Hayward thought the statue should remain there so people would not forget their darkest hour. The Tribe was planning a cultural museum and would be able to portray their own version of that era and events.
Regardless, controversy erupted in Groton over the statue. While many aspects were debated, freedom of expression was mostly swept aside. Given the political correctness scenario, and out of respect for the sacred site, it was decided to relocate the statue to Windsor, which John Mason founded and where he resided in 1637.
When the statue was moved it was also re-birthed to represent the Major in a balanced and comprehensive manner for his entire life as a public servant instead of for just one questionable deed. He was the preeminent founder of the Connecticut Colony and did many things that he deserves to be honored for, which is why the original plaque was removed and the present one exists.
This was an equitable compromise for most people, but not the extremists.
At the time, it was proposed to add three more plaques on the base to provide multiple perspectives and elaborate on the many historical complexities. Unfortunately, the state neglected to do this, but now realizes this is what is needed. Historians can determine the appropriate text and allow this important symbol to better educate the public in the future.
It should not be necessary to relocate the John Mason statue yet again, however, given the Wild West climate of political correctness and vandalism, this important historical symbol needs to be fully protected. What is necessary is for the public to better understand the complexities of our history and have a modicum of acceptance for some of the questionable aspects, including the negative flaws of human nature.
No one is perfect. There is good and bad in all of us.
Few realize the extent to which John Mason protected Uncas and that several generations of Masons even went broke and died in their efforts to protect Mohegan lands from the unscrupulous Colonial authorities. Talk about complexities! This legacy is the antithesis to bombastic labels that narrow-minded extremists unfairly use to vilify John Mason.
Haters will always be bitter and vengeful, not allowing an old wound to properly heal. But we do not have to capitulate to their unrealistic demands. Instead, we should convince them to put the moccasin on the other foot.
Marcus Mason Maronn is a descendant of John Mason. He lives in Old Lyme.