The Public Humanist

First Families of Charlemont: Who, When and Why?

Drawing of a French & Indian War fortified farmstead in Charlemont that no longer exists but speaks to the complicated relationship between the British and French and their Native American allies.

Drawing of a French & Indian War fortified farmstead in Charlemont that no longer exists but speaks to the complicated relationship between the British and French and their Native American allies.

The public is invited this Friday (June 19, 2015 at 7:00 pm) to the Federated Church, 175 Main Street, Charlemont for the kickoff talk of the 2015 Charlemont Forum lecture series “First Families of Charlemont: Who, When and Why?” Every year, the Forum invites humanities scholars from a wide range of disciplines to discuss important topics that divide today’s political landscape. This year’s focus is a three-part examination of the peopling of this town titled: “Immigration: Proud Past, Troubled Present.”

Western Massachusetts has a fascinating and complex history of Indigenous and colonial occupation and utilization. This talk will examine the earliest known occupation of the region at the end of the last Ice Age up to the first Anglo-European settlement of the area in the mid-18th century in the midst of the French & Indian Wars. The focus will be on the histories, archaeology, and material culture of the groups that occupied and traversed a region that has long been the borderland between significantly different populations.

For me this topic is a deeply personal one—I grew up in Charlemont. Though my parents were newcomers to a place with a mix of old families and other more recent arrivals, I always considered myself a local.

Our excursions brought us into direct contact with the history of our small New England Arrow Headtown. We waded through streams scattered with the stony skeletons of mills that once harnessed the waterpower, and walked freshly plowed cornfields, picking up stone tools of quartz and flint that indicated the presence of even earlier occupants.

Out of these early explorations came a passion for the past and a longing to uncover the mysteries behind the fragments of objects and architecture that pepper the landscape around us. Childhood wonder at least in part gives way to an understanding that the past is just as complicated to comprehend as the present. As we try to uncover the who, when, and whys of the past it is important to question the mythologies that grew up around the Native American occupants of this area or the Europeans settlers who arrived later.

“First Families of Charlemont: Who, When and Why?” is intended to offer some local context for the broader discussion of immigration, and it will examine the myth of the “vanished Native American” as it relates to the Pocumtuck (Nipmuck) populations in this area and their complicated relationship with English settlers along the Connecticut River. This year happens to be Charlemont’s 250th anniversary which makes it an appropriate time to investigate the complex history of this town and region. It is of great import to understand the historical context of any conversation. While the topic of this talk is rooted hundreds or thousands of years ago, many of the very same universal goals and values that brought people to the area in the past can be seen in the present. We are often disconnected from that which we don’t immediately come into contact with in our daily lives—whether they are ideas, other cultures, and so forth. Contextualizing an issue locally can often grant us entrance into the broader dialogue in a profound way.

We hope to see you in Charlemont this Friday!

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