Common Sense and Ten Hills Farm: Tales of Terrible Historic Ignorance
Two literary works emphasize dark, ignorant aspects of America’s history
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In the current day and age, it is essentially morally impossible to ignore the tragic and inhumane history which encapsulated the founding and establishment of the United States of America. Specifically, the mistreatment of both the native inhabitants of the lands which Europeans claimed, and those forced into slavery, are aspects of this nation’s history which simply cannot be swept under the rug.
Both the historical text Common Sense by Thomas Paine and the literary text Ten Hills Farm by Catherine S. Manegold acknowledge the mistreatment of these peoples and argue that the actions of the settlers were intentionally meant to harm them without any repercussions or possible compromises.
In 1776, Thomas Paine published a pamphlet entitled Common Sense, in which he advocated for the American Colonies’ independence from Britain. To Paine, it was only common sense, as the title implies, that the Colonies would break away from the British reign.
Although not a primary focal point of the historical text, Paine does touch upon both slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans which, upon first glance, may resemble an undermining of their existence, but in reality is an argument in support of them and against Britain. Regarding this, he writes,
“There are thousands and tens of thousands, who would think it glorious to expel from the Continent, that barbarous and hellish power, which hath stirred up the Indians and the N*****s to destroy us.”
This can be interpreted in a number of ways. At first glance, it appears that he is implying that the Native Americans (which he labels ‘Indians’) and African-Americans (which he labels ‘N*****s’) are planning to revolt and destroy ‘us’, the white settlers and slave owners. However, upon further examination it can be inferred that Paine is merely acknowledging the cruel treatment of the Native Americans and African-Americans in the Colonies, and is using this as another argument for the Colonies’ separation of Britain.
He states that thousands of Colonists would agree to expel British rule from the Colonies because the British intentionally treated the Native Americans and African-Americans harshly using their “barbarous and hellish” power, and thus are responsible for both the implementation of slavery in the Americas and the mistreatment of Native Americans and their lands in North America.
Paine then references the abuse of Native Americans in America when he states that, “he who hunts the woods for prey, the naked and untutored Indian, is less Savage than the King of Britain”. Once again, at first glance, it may appear that he is undermining the Native American by stating that those who hunt and kill Native Americans are less barbaric than the British Crown, as if Native Americans are not important, but in reality he is arguing the opposite.
Paine is criticizing the British Crown for the hunting and killing of the Native Americans, and the forceful removal of the Native Americans from their very own land, essentially arguing that nobody is less barbarous than the British due to these malicious actions. He also mentions that in a few years’ time, “we, or those who may succeed us, would be as ignorant of martial matters as the ancient Indians”, implying that the Native Americans were unaware that the British were to engage them in war for their land, and as such were ill-prepared and defeated. Thus, Britain was morally incorrect for invading the Native Americans’ land and conquering them, and due to this (and other reasons), it was only morally right for the Colonists to secede.
While Common Sense acknowledges the horrors that Native Americans and African-Americans were forced to endure during the time of its writing and publication, the literary text Ten Hills Farm by Catherine S. Manegold completely submerges the reader into the perspective of the victims.
While its primary focus is on the treatment and torture of slaves at Ten Hills Farm, a large estate which was located in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the book also outlines the origins of the British settling in what would become the Colonies, discussing the horrible acts of violence and deception that they bestowed upon the Native peoples who already called the so-called “new” world home. In Ten Hills Farm, Manegold tells of an extremely powerful and cold-hearted conquest of the Native Americans by the British settlers, writing,
“Then came fishermen, laborers, ministers, and warriors…Almost imperceptibly, a complex history was casually erased, as though the god of memory had simply closed his eyes.”
Manegold argues that the settlers had no remorse for the Natives’ existence and the very land they called home “for a millennium”, as she puts it. Ten Hills Farm makes it abundantly clear that the settlers intentionally destroyed the lives of the Natives to suit their own selfish desires.
One of these settlers was John Winthrop, an Englishman who played a prominent role in establishing the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Despite claiming to be a religious man and leading the Puritans to Massachusetts such that they could establish a new religious land, Winthrop spoke of the Natives as if they were mere dirt, with Manegold stating that,
“[According to Winthrop], God had already “consumed the natives with a miraculous plague”…At Ten Hills Farm he took his own.”
Winthrop was one of the cold-hearted settlers who intentionally contributed to destroying the Natives’ lives so he could settle land which was viewed as “new”, but rather was already claimed by Natives. Then, he made matters worse by settling and establishing Ten Hills Farm, becoming the owner of numerous helpless slaves. Winthrop had no interest in compromise with the natives and did not fear repercussions from stealing their land or owning and abusing slaves. In this lens, Winthrop can be viewed as one of the numerous “barbarous” settlers that Paine was referring to in Common Sense.
Ten Hills Farm is a brutally blunt literary text, but it is this very nature which makes it extremely moving. Manegold does not hold back on portraying life as it was for the helpless Native Americans and African-Americans, admitting that this time period consisted of a “culture that…[was] notorious for the sadistic abuse of workers, [and] “men” meant either indentured servants or, more often, African and Indian slaves.”
The abuse of these ethnic groups openly ran rampant during this era, with ‘men’ referring to minorities whom rich white settlers could force to work for them, with severe and sometimes fatal repercussions occurring if they refused. Ten Hills Farm analyzes this for both Native Americans and African-American slaves but places more of an emphasis on the slavery side, outlining the absolutely brutal conditions that slaves would have to endure, both physical and mental torture.
The slaves at Ten Hills Farm had no freedom whatsoever and faced brutal punishments, often for no reason, as “almost any infraction called for a slave to be whipped, disfigured, killed by public hanging, burnt to death, or broken on the wheel”, according to Manegold. These punishments, as well as the ruling entities of the Ten Hills Farm estate and all other slave owners in the Colonies and early America, were carried out by white men who acted without remorse and feared no repercussions, as there were none for them.
Through interpretation and understanding of the foul actions committed against both Native Americans and African-Americans during the colonial time period, which are acknowledged in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and outlined vividly in Catherine S. Manegold’s Ten Hills Farm, a picture can be drawn in regards to how truly rooted in sin the establishment and development of the United States is.
Knowingly brought about by the European settlers, the physical and cultural destruction caused by them cannot even be fathomed. The actions of the perpetrators against these ethnic groups were all, of course, intentional, and so the question of whether or not the settlers acted in this manner without fear of any repercussions and without the acceptance of any possible compromises, which is argued by both the historical text Common Sense and the literary text Ten Hills Farm, becomes shockingly clear: absolutely.
Chris is a writer and publisher who travels America, and loves doing it. He also loves pizza, video games, and sports, and can tell you a thing or two about each. Follow him on Twitter and on Medium to be informed of new articles.