King Philip’s Shadow

Tim Castner, Faculty

The gruesome image still has the power to shock. A grim reminder of what Thoreau termed the Dark Age of New England. The human head was impaled upon a pole and raised high above Plymouth. The townspeople had been meeting for a solemn Thanksgiving filled with prayers and sermons, celebrating the end of the most brutal and genocidal war in American history. The arrival and raising of the skull marked a symbolic high point of the festivities. Many years later the great Puritan minister, Cotton Mather, visited the site and removed the jaw bone from the then exposed skull, symbolically silencing the voice of a person long dead and dismembered. There the skull remained for decades, perhaps as long as forty years as suggested by historian Jill Lepore. Yet while his mortal remains went the way of all flesh, Metacom or King Philip, refused to be silenced. He haunts our landscape, our memories and our self-conception. How might we choose to live or remember differently if we paused to learn and listen?

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