Some guys just don’t know when they’re not wanted. Take Captain John Mason, a founder of Hartford. He is now known as an Indian killer by people who have learned the truth about the 1637 massacre in Mystic, Connecticut of 500 Pequot men, women, children, and elders.
His nine-foot, two-ton stone likeness was voted out of Mystic in 1996 and moved to Windsor. Now in 2021 he is being evicted from that town as well. Soon he will vacate the premises atop the Connecticut State Capitol, thanks to three years of hard work by State Sen. Cathy Osten.
Why can’t John Mason and his defenders take a hint?
As odious as Mason’s actions were, this controversy is deeper than just one man. Our country is finally starting to reckon with its past. We aren’t content to simply maintain the status quo by repeating lies about history. The truth will set us free from the crippling racist nonsense still used today to prop up voter suppression, health inequities, police violence, and mass incarceration, all of which have their roots in an ideology that relies on bigotry.
It’s not necessary here to give a detailed description of the early European settlers’ violence against the Pequots and other tribes. Even our state historian Walter Woodward admits that John Mason and his men committed atrocities. The soldiers ambushed Pequot families as they slept and set fire to their homes. (This was exactly the opposite of how Hartford leader Rev. Thomas Hooker ordered Mason to engage in battle.)
The settlers’ notion of “total war” (there are no innocents) was on full display, shocking even the local indigenous fighters, who could be brutal, but were pikers compared to the righteous white men. After all, Englishmen like Mason had centuries of practice mounting crusades against the Islamic Mideast, subjugating the Irish, and exploiting India. The Peqouts were just another group of heathens.
Some Connecticut historians and preservationists (apologists, actually) protest that John Mason is being “cancelled” because of his horrible deeds. He isn’t being cancelled, he is being shunned (as Job said in the Bible, to shun evil is wisdom). He certainly does need to be remembered, just as we need to remember how the Confederacy enslaved four million people. He just should not be canonized.
Eric Foner, the prominent historian and winner of the Bancroft and Pulitzer prizes, writes that “historical monuments are an expression of power, an indication of who has the power to choose how history is remembered in public places.” Defending Mason and other state scoundrels may sound like a noble defense of Connecticut’s past. It is not. It’s a coverup.
We don’t need monuments to John Mason. His statue is not history, it’s a false idol that we worship at our peril. Defenders of John Mason: time to go.
Steve Thornton writes for ShoeleatherHistoryProject.com