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Unformatted text preview: Clash of Cultures: Interpreting Murder in Early Maryland New World conquest sparked unexpected, often embarrassing contests over the alleged superiority of European culture. Not surprisingly, the colonizers insisted they brought the benefits of civilization to the primi- tive and savage peoples of North America. Native Americans never shared this perspective, voicing a strong preference for their own values and institutions. In early seventeenth-century Maryland the struggle over cultural superiority turned dramatically on how best to punish the crime of murder, an issue about which both Native Americans and Europeans had firm opinions. The actual events that occurred at Captain William Claiborne’s trading post in 1635 may never be known. Surviving records indicate that several young males iden- tified as Wicomess Indians apparently traveled to Claiborne’s on business, but to their great annoyance, they found the proprietor entertaining Susquehannock Indians, their most hated enemies. The situation deterio- rated rapidly after the Susquehannock men ridiculed the Wicomess youths, “whereat some of Claiborne’s people that saw it, did laugh.” Unwilling to endure public humil- iation, the Wicomess later ambushed the Susquehannock group, killing five, and then returned to the trading post where they murdered three Englishmen. Wicomess leaders realized immediately that something had to be done. They dispatched a trusted messenger to inform the governor of Maryland that they intended “to offer satisfaction for the harm . . . done to the English.” The murder of the Susquehannock was another matter, best addressed by the Native Americans themselves. The governor praised the Wicomess for coming forward, announcing that “I expect that those men, who have done this outrage, should be delivered unto me, to do with them as I shall think fit.” The Wicomess spokesman was dumbfounded. The governor surely did not understand basic Native American legal procedure. “It is the manner amongst us Indians, that if any such like accident happens,” he explained, “we do redeem the life of a man that is so slain with a 100 Arms length of Roanoke (which is a sort of Beads that they make, and use for money.)” The governor’s demand for prisoners seemed doubly imper- tinent, “since you [English settlers] are here strangers, and coming into our Country, you should rather con- form your selves to the Customs of our Country, than impose yours upon us.” At this point the governor hastily ended the conversation, perhaps uncomfortably aware that if the legal tables had been turned and the murders committed in England, he would be the one loudly defending “the Customs of our Country.” ¥¥¥¥ E uropeans sailing in the wake of Admiral Christopher Columbus constructed a narrative of superiority that survived long after the Wicomess had been dispersed—a fate that befell them in the late seventeenth century. The story NEW WORLD ENCOUNTERS O U T L I N E...
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- The Bible, Native Americans in the United States