The needler in the haystack.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: Remembering my illegal immigrant roots


The Pequot War became a model of European-Native American interactions.

This Plainfielder, taken aback by the xenophobia so much in evidence these days (alas, even in our beloved Queen City, whose history is studded with immigrants' contributions), finds Thanksgiving a good day to ponder my own illegal immigrant roots.

On my father's side, both Starrs and Damons were among the Puritan families to arrive in the New World in the early 1630s, settling in Scituate, Massachusetts. From there they fanned out westward, first to Middletown, Connecticut, thence to Vermont and finally to Pomfret, a township platted in the Holland Land Company's western New York lands, and along the Cuyahoga River in Connecticut's 'Western Reserve', now known as Ohio.

On my mother's side, her Scots-Irish forebears were among those colonisers sent by King James I (of Bible translation fame) to displace the O'Neill and O'Donnell clans from their Ulster homelands in the early 17th century. Coming to the New World in the colonial era, they ultimately took up farming in Nebraska territory in the latter half of the 19th century, settling on lands from which the United States had displaced the Oglala Sioux.

Jobless, persecuted on account of their religion (the Starrs and Damons), and pawns in the English politics of dominating Ireland (the Clines and Weavers), they saw in the New World only opportunity.

Had they any second thoughts about their impact on the New World: the diseases they unwittingly brought which decimated Native Americans; the treachery and betrayal which were the foundation of their advantages; the lost opportunities snuffed out by 'Manifest Destiny'?

If they had any, I am unaware of them.

What I have learned is that my own family story is not so unique (for another somewhat similar one, see Woodbridge public information officer Lawrence Ervin McCullough's Thanksgiving reflection here).

McCullough's family became entwined with the fate of the Wampanoag tribe, which he erroneously reports as being made extinct, and with the Pequot (whose near extermination by the English in the Pequot War provided a model of European-Native American conflict for the next two and a half centuries).

McCullough's essay points to a pair of heartening trends in facing the changes that are inevitably facing us as more and more newcomer Americans swell the US population.

But, as he points out, he has some 'bigtime karma to work off' on account of his family history.

I guess I could say 'double that for me', given both sides of my own family.

So, while my Puritan and Scots-Irish genes give me an intense sense of civic obligation and being subject to the 'city upon a hill' syndrome, they are counterbalanced by the view the America is a grand experiment, to which all can bring their ingenuity, dedication and hard work.

What about your family experience this Thanksgiving Day?


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6 comments:

Nat Singleton said...

Turkey day here -food, food , football and more food, as we celebrate the great cornucopia that is American and honor that apocryphal day when our Pilgrim forefathers sat down with the Wampanoag Indians in a should, could, must have happen meal of brotherly love. And while the Pilgrims have prospered, the results were catastrophic for the Wampanoag . They were nearly driven to extinction. But after 300 hundred plus years, some good news has come their way. The U.S. government has recognized their surviving descendents as a tribe. A tribe , can you say casinos on Cape Cod.- jackpot time, only in America.. Let us pray.

Note: Confession, part of my family is Wampanoag.

Blackdog said...

Well Nat that means we are related!
Wampanoag have been Federally recognized for a while. I wasn't aware of any casinos in the near future and as far as Gay Head goes it is shunning of the white ways and a return to tradition . . . no alcohol, cigarettes, drugs , gambling, etc.!
The Scottish side came over a little before the Pilgrims because of religious persecution, we are from a Hamlet in Aberdeenshire named Blackdog!
The original patriarch of the family married a Native Woman. One of my Native relatives and two Scottish fought at Lexington and are commemorated on a plaque there!
I have relatives on both sides of King Phillip's War. And this is just my father's side. On my mother's side the Scotch/French Mohawk legacy is just as interesting and varied with lineage that goes back to Mary and Elizabeth I.
And we left MA and headed to Canada, out West and down to New Jersey and parts farther south,as my Grandfather had told me because of the Damned Irish Democrats taking over Boston after Grandfather Curtis passed away!
To You and Dan a Happy Holiday!

Prof. Williams said...

I celebrate Metacom (King Philip), Tecumseh, and Crazy Horse!

Rebecca

1bigsoul said...

Mr. Singleton, my sincerest apologies for any harm my ancestors may have caused any of yours. I wrote the piece because even after all this time in this land of promise and new beginnings, there are still so many people unable to get along. Prayer is a start for improving that, for sure.

Mr. Damon, could be our peeps knew each other on their way through Connecticut and beyond. From what I can tell those Puritans kept on moving till they felt they'd found God's half acre.
-- Lawrence Ervin McCullough

Dan said...

Blackdog -- It's a smaller world than we can imagine: my stepmother's parents (McGowan) emigrated from Aberdeenshire in the 1920s, she is the only one of their children born in the US (1926).

Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving!

Dan said...

1bigsoul: Since the countryside was pretty sparsely settled back then, they certainly could have come across each other.

There are two books I enjoy that fill out the picture of how everyone got from where they started to elsewhere...

SMALL TOWN AMERICA: A Narrative History, 1620 to the Present; by Richard Lingerman (1980), and

THE RISE OF THE WEST, 1754-1830; by Francis S. Philbrick (1965), in which the 'West' refers mostly to the country west of the Monongahela/Ohio and east of the Mississippi.

Though most of the genealogical info available is pretty colorless, it is fascinating to understand our peeps' peregrinations against the backdrop of the ordinary history of their times.