What Was Then, Is Still Now: A City Upon a Hill of Oppression

The author of last year’s blog post spoke on how today’s American public is generally ignorant of the original “fantasy of religious superiority and human inequality,” inspired by Winthrop’s “City Upon the Hill.” However, I feel as though subconsciously, it is exactly those ideas that dangerously fill many Americans with pride when imagining their beloved, “City Upon a Hill.”

In her first remove of, A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, Mary Rowlandson writes:

“It was a solemn sight to see so many Christians lying in their blood, some here and some there, like a company of sheep torn by wolves.”

These opening words illustrate a Native attack on Lancaster, referring to Natives as wolves, and puritans as sheep. Rowlandson’s choice of simile is biblical. Followers of Jesus were typically referred to as innocent flock of sheep. With this immediate biblical framework, Rowlandson creates dichotomy and opposition- something I’d like to argue has been used over time as propaganda to support the oppression of Natives and people of color.

While Rowlandson’s narrative may have been a soft weapon against stereotypes of Native, Indigenous tribes with the ways in which her narrative had the power to move even present day students into feeling empathy for her, this does not take away from the amount of power her narrative has in uplifting westernized superiority over Native, Indigenous culture. Rowlandson describes her observations of the Algonquin culture, referring to many of the men and women using (the then) familial terms such as “papoose.” Through her intimate connections with Native Mothers and the community she becomes a part of, readers are left pondering what Rowlandson really thought of the Algonquin people. For a split second, an educated reader provided with the context of her narrative, is able to perceive Native American culture in a different light; one in which humanizes the differences in their culture through the ways in which they are connected to concepts of family, love, and protection.

However, in most high school public history courses, this version of history is not emphasized nor explored. Furthermore, although Rowlandson denies some stereotypes, such as all Native men being drunks, her narrative still promotes the idea that her captivity was an act of God, dismissing the circumstances that had to have been met in order for the Algonquin people, natives of the land, to retaliate in such a way.  Rowlandson and her story, a best seller throughout all the colonies, promotes superior Puritan ideals and beliefs over the mass killings of Native Americans whom experienced several other devastating forms of oppression such as starvation, separation, etc. In America, the world’s “melting pot,” I can still see the ways in which Christianity is held up as a dominant religion, even beside the fact that westernized religion has led to the persecution of countless souls throughout American history. In our nation’s flag salute, we are identified as “one nation, under God,” not Budha, not Allah, or so forth. With nearly all Presidents citing Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill,” this goes to show that no matter how progressive we like to think our nation has become, it will always be affected by how deeply rooted its’ history is in narratives such as this, where history is one sided, easily consumed and dependent upon the oppression of others.

-By Angelica Costilla-Mancha

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