There’s nastiness in the air right now down in New Orleans and it is the trigger for today’s catalog of multiple things wrong on the internet. The city government of New Orleans is removing statues of renowned Confederates. Needless to say, there are many folks in favor of this, especially but not exclusively those of darker-skin pigmentation. Their position is that the city should not be honoring a bunch of dead white guys who supported the institution and continuation of slavery.

On the flip side, there are also some vocal local residents of New Orleans who are not in favor of this. No one has done a survey of the people opposed to the statue removal but their most outspoken advocates seem to be mostly those of lighter-skin pigmentation. In a soundbite, these folks argue that we should not remove these historic works of art with cultural significance, all of which were erected well before living memory merely on the basis of political correctness and modern-day offended sensibilities. Besides, the Civil War was triggered by economic issues, not slavery. Well, that’s a lot of their argument.

Here’s the link to Sunday’s New York Times article on this controversy: (accessed May 7, 2017)

Now before we look into the situation in New Orleans, let’s go off on a not-so-brief tangent and look a very similar situation involving a statue of the Puritan John Mason over which I have some rather personal feelings. For the sake of honest disclosure, this isn’t an issue where I can claim to be entirely unbiased.

Get comfortable now because this is one of the longest blog posts I have written to date.

J_M_face.JPG John Mason's Happy Face

When I was in high school, my favorite shortcut to downtown Mystic, Connecticut, took me past a statue of John Mason. Surely you have heard of John Mason? Well, this is how the somewhat-incorrect narrative over John Mason usually goes these days: in 1637 during the Pequot war, Mason led a force of colonists and Native Americans against the Pequot tribe. They marched to the Pequot village in what is now West Mystic, torched the wigwams in a surprise attack, and massacred anyone who tried to escape the fire. The village’s warriors were absent at the time; they were off on a raid to Hartford with their sachem Saccacus, leaving the village undefended. The people left behind at the village were mostly women, children, the ill, and the elderly. Mason’s force slaughtered these several hundred non-combatants with malice of forethought and then hunted down and killed the rest of the Pequots. And that, my readers, is a quick synopsis of Mason’s raid according to Wikipedia (, accessed May 7, 2017).

What’s wrong here? First, the village was not undefended, and by the way, it was also fortified by a rather effective stockade complete with two choke-point branch-barricaded entrances. The resident Pequot warriors were actually home though they were getting ready for a raid, not already away on one. Mason’s attack was not unprovoked: he and his fellow Connecticut colonists who organized the attack saw their action as preemptive self-defense in the face of a half-a-year of documented and ongoing Pequot acts of violence. The Pequots had a several-decade-long history of aggression and bullying, sometimes even with their own preferred Dutch trading partners.

Here’s another inaccurate version from the History Channel website (, accessed May 10, 2017) which is also so wonderfully incorrect that I will quote it:

“As the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay spread further into Connecticut, they came into increasing conflict with the Pequots, a war-like tribe centered on the Thames River in southeastern Connecticut. By the spring of 1637, 13 English colonists and traders had been killed by the Pequot, and Massachusetts Bay Governor John Endecott organized a large military force to punish the Indians. On April 23, 200 Pequot warriors responded defiantly to the colonial mobilization by attacking a Connecticut settlement, killing six men and three women and taking two girls away. On May 26, 1637, two hours before dawn, the Puritans and their Indian allies marched on the Pequot village at Mystic, slaughtering all but a handful of its inhabitants. On June 5, Captain Mason attacked another Pequot village, this one near present-day Stonington, and again the Indian inhabitants were defeated and massacred.”

First off, Endecott was not governor at the time. He was the person put in charge of a ninety-man force from the Massachusetts Bay colony sent to find and apprehend the natives responsible for the killings of two different trading parties. His botched attempt to force the inhabitants of a Pequot village to surrender some of the killers which Endecott was convinced the Pequots were harboring was described in scalding terms by Captian Lyon Gardener, the man in charge of the fort at nearby Saybrook, as the event that started the Pequot war.

Second, the Pequot response wasn’t just an attack on the Connecticut settlement of Wethersfield but had started off in 1636 with a half-year siege of Saybrook that including such niceties as the torturing-to-death of English captives.

Third, and best of all, there was only one village attacked with inhabitants massacred by Mason’s raid. All three on-the-ground accounts by the English commanders involved with the raid describe only one attack and massacre at the Pequot village at Mystic, which for the unaware is a location and community split between the towns of Groton and Stonington. Anything then and now which is in Mystic is by default near Stonington.

The confusion with the May 26 versus June 5 date is the cause of the faulty History Channel account of two massacres. The gap between those two dates is 11 days. That’s a telling number because there is an 11 day difference between the Gregorian calendar used by the English before 1752 and the astronomically-corrected Julian calendar that England adopted thereafter. England was one of the last countries to adapt the Julian calendar after Europe’s intelligentsia became aware of the calendar drift in the old uncorrected Gregorian system in use for over a millennium. Anyone who has done a lot of research into pre-1752 colonial history is usually aware that some accounts written after 1752 may use old uncorrected dates or post-1752 shifted dates. The drift correction between the two calendar systems is 11 days. Whoever wrote the Wikipedia account was obviously unaware of this.

It’s never happy when I run into errors in colonial history because I am a rather hard-core addict for that period in New England.

Now, in our postmodern deconstructionist politically-correct world, we might by justified in labeling Mason guilty of war crimes based on these accounts in the popular internet literature. We should not.

The past really is a foreign country. Let’s step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture of the Pequot War. As you probably didn’t learn in high school history, the seventeenth century was the time that the Dutch reached their zenith as a great trading and colonial power, backed by an impressive navy. While they were most famous for their establishment of the Dutch East Indies and the control of the spice trade, they also made a serious sixty-year-long attempt at colonization in North American. The first Dutch outpost was made near modern Albany, New York, in 1614, and other settlements quickly followed. They set-up commerce with the locals, especially in the lucrative fur trade. The Dutch got on rather well with the locals, and most of the native tribes were rather keen to get involved with trade for European goods. The trading partners for the Dutch in southern New England were the Pequots who had established monopoly control over wampum and furs.

By the end of the 1620s, the Pequots had established a hegemony in what is now Long Island, Connecticut and western Rhode Island through diplomacy, marriage alliances, bullying and warfare. They were not even close to Descarte’s noble savages and were far removed from a bunch nice guys. As the region’s bully boys, they controlled the trade of wampum, furs and other commodities along with their trading partners, the Dutch.

The Dutch made an attempt in 1623 to establish an outpost at the mouth of the Connecticut River on the west bank at modern Old Saybrook but they abandoned it for reasons unknown shortly afterward. In 1815, a small Dutch box was unearthed when a grave collapsed in the town of Old Saybrook. It was dated back to this original 1623 Dutch settlement. Yes, the alleged oldest artifact of European origin discovered in Connecticut is Dutch.

The 1630 advent of the Winthrop fleet with the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts Bay colony threatened the Dutch-Pequot control over regional trade. Several tribes who paid tribute to the Pequots soon allied themselves with the English, in hopes of seeing a way out from under the Pequot stranglehold on wampum and trade. Bradford’s Pilgrims had landed in Plymouth in 1620 but they were rather insular and didn’t make much of an impact on the region. The big changes started when Winthrop’s fleet of Puritans founded Salem in 1630. They quickly spread out, founding Boston soon after, but while they were doing so the Dutch were still active in trading along the Hudson and Connecticut rivers. The Dutch established a fort just south of what is now Hartford in 1633 and negotiated with the locals for the rights to lands along the Connecticut river, including the strategically-important land at its mouth, where they attached a coat of arms associated with the Dutch West Indies Company to a tree to mark their claim.

The Massachusetts Bay Puritans quickly figured out that access and control of the Connecticut river valley was highly-desirable. The land was the most fertile in New England and the river was navigable for 50 miles inland. Furs from up north traveled down the river for trade. It was along a major trading route. Can you say “prime real estate?” It had one problem: it was also territory within the Pequot hegemony.

In 1634, an English trading party led by one John Stone was killed by the Pequots or Pequot allies on the Connecticut river - the accounts are confused as to who really did the killing, but either way the Pequots got the blame regardless of actual guilt. The details are a bit convoluted but the bottom line is that when the Puritans inquired, the Pequots claimed that the killings were justified. The incident did not go over well and the Puritans were not happy with what they felt was Pequot horse puckey. The feeling among the settlers was that the killings should not go unpunished regardless of Pequot claims. Also in 1634, some of the Massachusetts settlers relocated to Connecticut, founding the independent colony of Connecticut and establishing the settlements of Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor. Some of my own ancestors were among the first settlers in Wethersfield.

Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay learned of the Dutch claim to the mouth of the Connecticut River and in the Autumn of 1635, he sent a force to seize and fortify it. The English tore down the Dutch heraldry and carved a smiley face on the tree in its place. Hearing of the English action to take their land, the Dutch responded in kind and sent a ship up from New Amsterdam (now New York City) with an armed force of their own to drive the English colonists off. Since the English force had time to set up two cannons at their fort on the west bank of the Connecticut river, they were able to repulse the Dutch ship in a short action in December, 1635. The English named the place Saybrook, in honor of the two English barons, Lord Saye and Lord Brook, to whom the English king had granted the title to coastal Connecticut.

1636. Tensions were high between multiple groups: the Dutch who had since fallen out with the Pequots, the Massachusetts Puritans, the Connecticut Puritans, the Pequots, and several other native tribes like the Niantics inside and the Narragansetts outside the Pequot hegemony. In July, English trader John Oldham was killed, probably by the Manissess tribe on Block Island. Massachusetts Bay Colony sent a punitive expedition led by Endecott of 90 men to Block Island but the Manissess took to the swamps in the middle of the island and would only engage in hit-and-run skirmishes. The Massachusetts Puritans had to content themselves with burning a few villages and corn fields. The Manissess natives they managed to catch blamed the killing of the Oldham party on the Pequots. Given what Endecott’s little force did next implies that the Manissess shifting of blame may have been believed. The Endecott force subsequently sailed to the fort at Saybrook, in part because they had instructions to apprehend the Pequot murders of the John Stone trading party, by force if necessary.

A group made up of men from both the Endecott punitive expedition and Fort Saybrook sailed from the fort to a major Pequot village on the east bank of the Pequot – now –Thames river. (As a native of southeastern Connecticut, I will make a note here that we pronounce Thames phonetically with a long “a” vowel sound and no hard “t” at the beginning, unlike the pronounciation of the river with the same spelling in England whose name rhymes with phlegm.) Once there, they attempted a rather strong-armed and untactful attempt to have the killers of the John Stone party delivered to them. Oddly enough, at the same time they also attempted to bargain with the Pequots for corn. To say that the parley did not go well is an understatement.

Captain Lyon Gardiner, the man in charge of the fort at Saybrook, later wrote a scathing account of the fiasco and what he thought of the punitive expedition’s unrealistic instructions and expectations. His rather blunt and down-to-earth outlook on how to deal with the Pequots makes for some interesting reading. His disgust for the Massachusetts Bay Lt. Governor John Winthrop as an armchair general leaps out from between the lines and right off the page. The negotiation failed and the Puritans left after setting some wigwams on fire. The native interpreter for the Puritans also killed one Pequot during the breakdown of negotiation. The occasion was not a good example of effective diplomacy.

The Pequots took a dim view of having one of their own killed and their wigwams burned down by the English. They retaliated not against the Puritans of Masachusetts Bay colony responsible for the botched negotiation but with a half-year siege against the nearest English target, Gardener’s under-funded and under-supplied little fort at Saybrook, from September, 1636 through April, 1637. They killed several of the Saybrook men, wrecked several of the settlement’s buildings and fields, and attempted to block all English shipping on the Connecticut river with mixed results since canoes were not exactly optimum vessels for that sort of thing. Gardiner lost several men. The ones not killed outright but captured by the Pequots were tortured to death. One was roasted alive. The Pequots also taunted the inhabitants of the fort with shows of force and baiting tactics. Their verbal taunts included threats to massacre the Connecticut settlers at Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield, the next nearest targets to Pequot territory. Given the ongoing hostilities by the Pequots, Gardener’s men and the Connecticut settlers took these threats seriously.

In late April, 1637, things really escalated. On April 23, a band of about a hundred Pequots (one account says two hundred) attacked a group of settlers on their way to their farm fields at Wethersfield. They killed seven or nine men, women, and children plus 20 cows (one account says several horses). They also took two adolescent girls captive. The Pequots took their two captives plus the clothes of the settlers they had killed. They put on the white linen shirts of the dead settlers and made a point of paddling provocatively past the Saybrook fort thus arrayed. The Saybrook men shot the peak of the bow off one of the canoes with their cannon but stopped firing when they realized that the two captive girls were aboard. Those two girls were later rescued by the Dutch and delivered wearing only some jackets the Dutch had loaned them – the Pequots had stripped the terrified girls of their clothes.

Between the siege of Saybrook and the Wethersfield attack, the Connecticut colonists became convinced that the Pequots would actually carry out their threats to destroy their settlements. This caused the three riverside towns of Connecticut colony - Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield – to declare a preemptive war on the Pequots. The leader of their 90 man army was John Mason of Windsor. Those 90 were most of the able-bodied men of the young colony of approximately 250 settlers. At least one of my Wethersfield ancestors was part of that force. Their instructions were to preemtively attack the fortified Pequot villages at Mystic and Weinshauks (Fort Hill in Groton) in order to head-off the unfortified settlements’ destruction by Pequot raids – or at least, that’s how the situation is described in the settlers’ accounts of Mason’s raid. Mason’s force was inflated by the addition of 200 Narragansett warriors and 60 Mohegans under the famous Sachem Uncas who joined them along their march. There were more Native Americans in the little army than there were Puritans. The Narragansetts and the Mohegans saw the attack as an opportunity to wreak vengeance on the hated Pequots. The firsthand account by Captain Underhill makes it clear that many of the natives who joined with Mason’s force were intimidated by the Pequots and the prospect of possible Pequot reprisals if the raid failed – this is a measure of just how formidable the Pequot reputation was for violence among the neighboring tribes.

In order to surprise the Pequots, Mason’s force took a roundabout route and approached from Narragansett territory to the east. According to Mason’s own account, by the time the little army arrived in Pequot territory, the Puritans were exhausted by their two-day march, the hot weather and low supplies. They decided to skip the assault of Weinshauks and launch a surprise attack on just the fortified village above the Mystic river, at dawn on May 26, 1637.

Mason’s original plan was to attack the village, put the inhabitants to the sword, and then plunder the place. Nowhere is it clear that killing women and children was part of the planned attack though Underhill’s account seems to imply that it was. The force was split, each half to attack the two entrances into the village which were on opposite sides of the circular wood-and-earth battlements. Captain Mason attacked one entrance and Captain Underhill attacked the other. The two doors into the fortified village were narrow and easily defended. The wigwams inside were tightly packed, preventing mobility by the attackers. The entrance arrangements were well-designed to impede any attack by creative chokepoints, as Underhill quickly learned. Only two men were killed in the initial assault but a third of the force was wounded trying to force the two entrances.

The initial attack bogged down so Mason changed tactics midstream. He must have realized his original plan was not working as he had planned and if he persisted, he would lose the fight through attrition. The Pequots in the village outnumbered his force by more than four-to-one. His injury rate were already high. He remarked to his men that they would not progress if they kept doing what they had done so far; instead, he decided to burn the village and set the nearest wigwams on fire. Mason’s account and Underhill’s account do not agree with regards to the fire. Captain Underhill wrote that Mason had him set fire to his side of the fortified village while Mason did the same on the opposite side. Mason’s account does not mention that Underhill set a fire on his side of the village but rather that he and his men had to retreat when the fire that Mason set spread quickly their way.

Underhill’s account is worth quoting at this point:

Captaine Mason and my selfe losing each of us a man, and had neere twentie wounded: most couragiously these Pequeats behaved themselves: but seeing the Fort was to hotte for us, wee devised a way how wee might save our selves and prejudice them, Captaine Mason entring into a Wigwam, brought out a fire-brand, after hee had wounded many in the house, then hee set fire on the West-side where he entred, my selfe set fire on the South end with a traine of Powder, the fires of both meeting in the center of the Fort blazed most terribly, and burnt all in the space of halfe an houre; many couragious fellowes were unwilling to come out, and fought most desperately through the Palisadoes, so as they were scorched and burnt with the very flame, and were deprived of their armes, in regard the fire burnt their very bowstrings, and so perished valiantly : mercy they did deserve for their valour, could we have had opportunitie to have bestowed it; many were burnt in the Fort, both men, women, and children, others forced out, and came in troopes to the Indians, twentie, and thirtie at a time, which our souldiers received and entertained with the point of the sword; downe fell men, women, and children, those that scaped us, fell into the hands of the Indians, that were in the reere of us; it is reported by themselves, that there were about foure hundred soules in this Fort, and not above five of them escaped out of our hands.

Once the fire was set, Mason ordered his forces to retreat and surround the circular fortification. Anyone trying to escape the burning village was to be killed. This indeed is what happened. The several hundred inhabitants of the village, the defending Pequot warriors, the women, the children, the ill, the injured, and the elderly were all killed, either in the flames or by Mason’s men. Mason’s Mohegan and Narragansett allies formed an outer ring to catch anyone who managed to break through the Puritans’ encirclement. In his account of the war, Mason justified the massacre as an eye-for-an-eye action for the English who had been killed by Pequots.

The massacre at the Pequot village was a shock to the Native Americans, both to the Pequots and to the Puritans’ allies alike, and also to some of the younger settlers in the raiding party who had no previous experience in warfare. The power of ensemble musket fire was also a shock to the Native Americans of both sides, this battle being the first time they had experienced such a thing. The Native Americans were unnerved that musket balls had greater reach than their arrows. Apparently the native way of war between tribes did not encompass killing non-combatants, or at least that is what some modern commentators have claimed. Such claims do not stand up well given that the Pequots tortured their captives from Saybrook to death, killed non-combatants at Wethersfield and threatened to exterminate all the settlers of Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield. No amount of whitewash can cover up the fact that the Pequots used acts of violence to bully their neighbors and terrorize the English settlers.

One account of the battle states that there were only five survivors from the Pequot village at Mystic. Another account says that only 14 Pequots survived the conflagration: seven captured and seven escaped. Those who escaped probably alerted the nearby Pequot villages, if neighboring natives didn’t know already from the plume of smoke. Mason’s mid-battle decision to burn the village was made to turn a battle of attrition into a win against a larger foe. Mason was deep into enemy territory, his force was exhausted, and his supplies were getting low. He was not in a good position to fend off any counter-attack and he knew it. His wounded men prevented him from making a quick exit away from the hill where the burnt village was located. Mason’s tired force made camp just below the burnt-out village. An unknown number of Pequot assailants arrived to harrass Mason’s encampment but they were reluctant to come into range of the Puritans’ guns. If the Pequots had known how low the Puritans were on ammunition, they could have successfully counter-attacked. Mason was fortunate that the Pequots did not discover this.

The next day, Mason’s force made the eight-mile march to his rendezvous with the ships from Saybrook sent to pick them up along the banks of the Pequot (Thames) river. The Puritans and their native allies were pursued and sniped-at by arrows for most of that march. The uninjured Puritans in the little army fired back. By the time the little army reached the river, over a third of Mason’s remaining Puritans were injured. They put the wounded on the ships and most of the remainder walked the rest of the way to Saybrook, burning every wigwam and killing any Pequots they encountered. Mason’s and Underhill’s justification for their successful extermination tactics as the Will of God will leave a bad taste for most modern readers.

It is clear that the Pequots underestimated the Connecticut settlers. The massacre and burning of the Pequot village at Mystic had the effect of breaking the morale of the Pequot nation. The Pequots fell apart in the face of the superior technology of the musket and the tactics of no-quarter-given total war that had evolved in the religious wars of post-Reformation Europe. Out of fear of further English reprisals, an estimated 3,500 Pequots abandoned their lands and fled their twenty or so villages to take refuge with other tribes. Some remaining Pequot warriors fought on. The Puritans assembled a second force of 100 men and along with their native allies, they pursued the clumps of the fragmenting Pequot tribe until by the end of Summer when most of the Pequot warriors were dead. The Pequots were either killed, enslaved by hostile tribes, or lived as refugees sheltered by other natives out of reach of the English. Gardener’s account of the colonists’ insistence that the tribes of southern New England and the Hudson river valley kill any refugee Pequot warriors and deliver their severed heads to the English makes for some very sobering reading.

John Mason was considered a local hero for his part in stamping out the Pequot menace. Many years later, in 1889, a statue of John Mason was erected on the site of the Pequot Village he burned down, just about four houses away from the home of one of my good friends in high school. Every time I dodged the Allen Street traffic light on my shortcut into downtown Mystic, I would pass the statue of old John Mason with his dour face gathering more blue-green patina there on Pequot Hill.

So what’s the point of this shaggy dog story and what does it have to do with New Orleans and someone being wrong on the internet? Well, here’s the gig: in 1992, a member of the Eastern Pequots, whoever they are, began a campaign to remove the statue of John Mason from the site of the Pequot village he destroyed. You see, it’s the modern narrative that has prevailed: John Mason and his Puritan militia massacred the defenseless Pequot nation. None of the Pequot bullying and aggression seems to matter in the modern narrative of the Pequot massacre. None of the atrocities visited upon the English at the Saybrook settement nor the fear of the two hundred and fifty settlers of the Connecticut colony is ever taken into account in most of the whitewash of the popular modern narratives. Yes, people now will pay heed to the wealthy Pequots and their billion-dollar casino when they say they are insulted by the statue of the man who massacred the Pequot village at Mystic. Heaven forbid that we offend the folks who bring all that gambling revenue into the local economy. Yes, the funny odor you smell is the whiff of sarcasm.

The Pequot-backed campaign to remove John Mason’s statue succeeded in 1995. I have missed his dour scowl on my old shortcut into downtown Mystic though in one of my more open-minded moments I might concede that the location of the statue on top of the massacre site was kinda tacky by modern standards. Mason’s hometown of Windsor has given the statue a new home. The State of Connecticut spent just under twenty thousand dollars repairing and relocating the statue, a sum that the wealthy Pequots did not contribute to. At the rededication ceremony of the statue in Windsor were a handful of protesters. One held a sign that read “Remember the Pequot Massacre.” Another sign read: “No Hero.”

What is at stake here are the values that our modern American society has an obligation to honor. What is more important to us, the offense of a vocal minority or a respect for the historical cultural milieu that expressed its esteem for the man who saved his colony’s settlements from the aggression of a violent native tribe? Does it not matter at all that Mason was a friend and strong advocate for the Mohegans and their rights for the remainder of his life? Just how far can one take political correctness? Just where do we draw the line between respect for a minority group and absurdity, especially at taxpayer expense?

The New York Times summarized the situation this way:

“the four-year controversy regarding the fate of the statue, boiled down to respect both for the Pequots who died where the statue stood, and for the freedom of expression exercised in 1889 when the statue was originally dedicated with a plaque honoring Major Mason for overthrowing the Pequot Indians and preserving Connecticut's settlements from destruction.“

Put the shoe on the other foot for a moment. What concession should the modern Pequots make to address any offense that I may personally harbor because my Wethersfield ancestors were terrorized and assaulted by their bullying ancestors? Oh, whoops! I’m so sorry. Pardon me for being politically incorrect.

And now, let us move on to the situation in New Orleans. What’s going on there is analogous to the John Mason flap. First the city government in April removed an obelisk commemorating the 1874 uprising of the white citizens of New Orleans in opposition to the then-ongoing persistence of the policies of Reconstruction. The modern black citizens of New Orleans were rather offended by this symbol of white supremacy and discrimination, and to be frank, I can’t really fault them for that. That obelisk really was a memorial to the Jim Crow-era of racial discrimination.

In addition, there are three statues in New Orleans of well-known men of the Confederacy and these are now being removed in concession to the complaints of one group of citizens in the city, many of whom have skin of darker pigmentation. The statues are of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and General P. T. G. Beauregard. The argument to remove the statues is that they are monuments to men who supported the slavery of people with darker skin pigmentation. Though the Civil War has been over for more than a hundred and fifty years, many people in New Orleans are offended by the statues and what they may symbolize to people living today. Arrayed against the protestors of the Confederate statues is some rather vocal opposition.

The arguments to leave the statue in place are quite similar to the dialog that was kicked up over the statue of John Mason. The rest of this paragraph is a partial list of the opposition arguments that have been aired thus far. (I'm not supporting any of these arguments, I'm just listing them here.) The arguments include protestations that the statues have intrinsic aesthetic and historical value independent of the support for slavery by the men they commemorate; this line of argument is bolstered by the fact that two of these statues are on the National Register of Historical Landmarks. Further, the statue-preservation proponents argue that removing the statues based on modern offense disrespects the historical and cultural milieu of the late nineteenth century society that erected them. Some have argued that the Confederacy which these men supported was not formed to preserve slavery; but rather that it was formed because of issues of economics and states’ rights. They also argue that removing the statues is the same as trying to deny and erase a whole chapter of New Orleans history. This synopsis should give you an idea of the noise being generated right now in New Orleans.

Once you look past the local details though, there are underlying issues at stake here. For example, just where is the line between respecting the voices of a vocal minority and absurdity? What are the limits of political correctness? Where is the limit to the rights of individuals and minorities at the expense of the commonweal?

Sound familiar?

For the sake of argument, let’s extrapolate for a moment. The City of Vienna was occupied by the Soviets at the end of World War II. The soldiers of the Red Army merrily raped almost every ambulatory female in Vienna regardless of age during their occupation. They forced the citizens of Vienna into involuntary labor gangs to rebuild the city. When the Soviets finally vacated Vienna, they left behind an unknown soldier memorial capped with a statue of a Red Army infantry private. Frau Weissgabber, my German teacher in Vienna, said the women of the city called it the statue of the unknown rapist. Frau Weissgabber was one of those rape victims during the Soviet occupation. This is a story that was repeated in every city and town occupied by the Soviets at the end of WWII.

One would think that there would be support in Vienna to tear that statue down. When asked by one of the gals in my German class why the statue remained, Frau Weissgabber said it was important, that the people of the Vienna saw meaning in the statue - because when they looked at it, they would remember. You could almost hear the sound of knives being sharpened when she said that and it was easy to guess what the Viennese found worthy of remembering. Vergessen Nichts, meine Freunden!

In reality, Frau Weissgabber’s account is not correct. The statue remains because its preservation and maintenance were written into the terms of the treaty that established the current Austrian state when the Soviets left in 1955. If there were ever a reason to tear down a statue, the women of Vienna have one. There are still people living there today who were raped during the Soviet occupation.

Austria is a neutral country by treaty and not part of NATO. When I lived in Vienna I found it very interesting that whenever the army of neutral Austria was out practicing war maneuvers, the anti-tank caltrops were always placed facing the Eastern Bloc.

The moral of this little Viennese digression is to point out the reality of offense to the victims of acts committed within living memory versus the disconnect over the possible offense taken for historical acts beyond the reach of living memory. There is a school of thought that monuments should be left alone which are connected with historical people and events that are beyond living memory.

The flip side to this is that there are people right now who feel justified in vandalizing and removing Soviet WWII monuments in today’s Europe, especially in those places that were occupied by the Soviets because of people still living today who suffered under those regimes. Mind you, every time such removals or vandalism happen, the folks in Russia are offended because they feel it shows disrespect for Russia’s undeniable and disproportionately-huge efforts and suffering during WWII. Regardless of that, ten or twenty years from now when the last women raped by Soviet soldiers in Vienna have died, will the vandalism and desire to remove the statue of the unknown rapist then lose its all meaning when measured against its historical value? One can argue that vandalism of any kind is never justified but what about the removal of Soviet memorials? What about the feelings of the adult children of those raped Viennese woman toward that offensive statue? What about the feelings of future descendants fifty years from now or a hundred years from now? Where do we draw the line between personal offense and historical preservation? When should cultural and historical preservation arguments override the complaints of a vocal minority? This is the slippery slope we’re sliding down when we try to tackle such questions.

In New Orleans, this issue is quite germane because the historical value argument was the subject of a two-page newspaper ad in the May 3, 2017, issue of the Advocate, a local newspaper. The ad contained an open letter from the prominent New Orleans civic leader Frank Stewart to the mayor Mitch Landrieu. It’s worth a read if you have the time so here’s the url for it: (accessed May 7, 2017)

Stewart makes the historical preservation argument. Two of his examples for comparison to the Confederate statues in New Orleans are the Colosseum in Rome and the Pyramids of Egypt. He points out that both were built by slave labor but that it would be absurd to tear them down because someone could be offended over that fact. In reality, Stewart cuts straight to the gist of the historical preservation argument by choosing these two extreme examples where historical value vastly outweighs any possible complaints of offense over associations with slavery. His point is understandable: in the fullness of time, there will come a day when there is no one left to be offended by any monument, building, memorial, or place; and all that is left in the end is the intrinsic historical and cultural value. This is as true for the Colosseum and the Pyramids of Giza today as it will be some day for the statues of John Mason and Jefferson Davis, for the site of the massacre at Wounded Knee and Mount Rushmore, and eventually even for the Swastika. Time heals all wounds, though sometimes that time may be measured in the thousands of years.

Too bad Frank Stewart is dead wrong regarding the factual content of his two examples. Mr. Stewart’s history here is straight of out of Hollywood. The Jewish slaves of Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments and the biblical book of Exodus are not the corvee labor or permanent paid workforce that built the Pyramids of Giza. In fact, the discovery and excavation of the workers’ village at Giza and the reconstruction of their lives is one of the most exciting and groundbreaking stories in archeology of the last thirty years. The pyramids were not built by slaves. Check out the references listed below on the Pyramids of Giza if you’re curious to learn more on this subject. The Nova article is especially good.

Let’s move on. It’s useful now to quote Mr. Stewart about the Colosseum:

“It was built by slaves, who lived horrible lives under Roman oppression, but it still stands today and we learn so much from seeing it.”

It would be fair to forgive Mr. Stewart for this mistake. He has merely followed along with one of the stickiest and most pervasive historical myths going. In fact, he didn’t include the one detail that persists almost everywhere you look about the construction of the Colosseum, from the tour guides in Rome itself to almost every website I looked concerning this subject on the internet. The usual narrative here is that the Colosseum was built by Jewish slaves captured from the fall of Jerusalem during the Jewish War. Depending on the website, the number of Jewish slaves will vary anywhere from 14,000 to 70,000. After I found over 20 of such websites, I stopped counting.

The myth that the Colosseum was built by Jewish slaves has no basis in any of our source material from Roman antiquity. Just to be sure, I spent an entire evening checking the sources, both primary like Josephus and Suetonius, and high-content secondary like Gibbon, Durant, and various archaeology journals; however, I was confident before I double-checked that the slave narrative for the Colosseum was inaccurate. I just finished watching a series of Teaching Company lectures on Greek and Roman Engineering given by Dr. Stephen Ressler, a professor of Civil Engineering at West Point, so I was already primed with the knowledge that the Colosseum – or the Flavian Amphitheater, to use its real name – was built by specialized and skilled labor, especially because of its innovative use of mixed materials including concrete. Such labor was either provided by skilled free men who were hired or highly-skilled slaves who were contracted through their owners.

In Rome at the time, there were different types of slaves with differing rights according to Roman law. Slaves with specialized skills actually had a comfortable standard of living, the ability to make and save their own money, the ability to hold property, and certain labor rights such as days off and the right to buy their own freedom. They were valuable property and as such, they were well treated. If there were any slaves involved in the Colosseum construction who were oppressed, those would have been the unskilled quarry slaves who mined the travertine, marble and tufa stone for the project. Mine slaves were the lowest of the low, men who were convicted criminals sentenced to hard labor for the rest of their miserable lives with no right to buy their freedom. There may have been slaves in the workforce that built the Colosseum, but they would not have been the sort of slaves who were abused and oppressed.

Next, let’s look at a typical manifestation of the Jewish slave narrative that’s as pervasive as the incorrect myth that pepper was used to cover-up the taste of spoiled meat in the Middle Ages. Here’s a typical example:

“The emperor Titus brought 20,000 Jewish slaves to Rome, slaves used to bulid (sic) the Roman Coliseum (sic). Proof of this lies in the Arch of Titus, which depicts a menorah as part of the bounty from Jerusalem. To this day, the Talmud forbids Jews from walking under the Arch.”

Oh boy – where to begin? I love the faulty logic here. A depiction of booty from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem displayed in Titus’s triumph parade does not prove anything other than the sack of the temple by the Romans when Jerusalem fell. The display of booty does not imply or infer anything about the fate of the Jews enslaved by the Roman when the Jewish rebellion was crushed. The only mention of those enslaved during the Jewish war comes from Josephus. A relatively-recent article in the always-delightful Biblical Archaeology Review sums things up nicely here:

“according to Josephus, 97,000 Jews were taken prisoner during the war with the Romans (this may be the source of the tradition, otherwise unattested, that Jews actually built the Colosseum); of those over 17 years of age many were sent to work in Egypt, while those under 17 were sold.”

Frank Stewart’s examples are based on popular historical myths, not facts. He might have been better off using the giant statues of Buddha destroyed by the Taliban as an example. It is another extreme example, where historical and cultural value should have trumped any modern-day indignation the Taliban felt over the presence of idolatrous images made over two thousand years ago.

In looking at the issues of historical and cultural preservation of monuments versus a group’s offense over what those monuments symbolize for them personally, it is clear at least to me that the balance between the two is rather fluid. For example I find the offense of the rather flush folks claiming to be Pequots over something that happened almost 400 years ago to have a lot less traction than the offense of the folks with darker skin pigmentation in New Orleans. Mason’s raid was not against a peaceful tribe, something that all these modern Pequots and their apologists tend to gloss over. I find I have a lot more sympathy instead with the desecration of a sacred mountain that Mount Rushmore represents for my the Sioux neighbors on the reservation in South Dakota next to my family’s homesteaded farmland. On the other hand, one can make a good argument for the removal or at least relocation of the Confederate statues in New Orleans on the basis that there is offense here that’s within living memory. Where is my justification for making such claim? Simply because those statues are the symbols of discrimination against black people which is something that still happens in our country today. Racial discrimination is not just something within living memory, it is still present among us today in the here and now.

To be honest, I think some folks down in New Orleans have taken a bit too much offense. As one person of darker skin pigmentation suggested, he would like the city to provide sledgehammer to use on the statues:

“let everybody take a whack — just like the Berlin Wall.”

Such a response is more in line with defacing Soviet monuments or blowing up Buddhist statues. When monuments are declared offensive by a vocal collection of citizens, their destruction may not be right the answer if they also have their own own intrinsic cultural and historical value beyond the offense they give.

There's something in the undercurrents of these incidences that is disturbing and that thing is a fight over societal values. A lot of these statues were erected to honor people we used to call leaders or heroes, people who were exemplars of characteristics worthy of emulation. When a group of people claims that they are offended by a statue or memorial and demand its removal, they are really making a claim that their values are as worthy or more worthy than the values originally honored. Here's the important part: the thing that's shared by all these incidents is provocation, whether it's a demand for removal or an act of vandalism. Defacing a monument or demanding a statue be removed because one is offended is not an act that encourages people to engage in in polite and meaningful dialog or to explore their differences and come to an understanding of each other;s point of view with mutual respect. Instead, it's like someone getting in your face, yelling that you've insulted them and demanding you do something about it. Anything resembling respect is missing here. The very act of being offended over statues and memorials for whatever reason is in itself offensive, not because of the issues involved but because of the provocation.

References on the Pequots and John Mason:

  • Shermon W. Adams and Henry R. Stiles, The History of Ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut, Vol. 1, New York: Grafton Press, 1904; accessed May 9, 2017;
  • Connecticut State Library, "1752 Calendar Change," accessed May 10, 2017;
  • Sam Libby, “A Statue Finds a New Home in Windsor,” New York Times, July 7, 1996; accessed May 8, 2017,
  • The Manshantucket Pequot Museum, “Battlefields of the Pequot War,” accessed May 8, 2017;
  • The Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation, “The Pequot War,” accessed May 8, 2017;
  • John Mason, "A brief history of the Pequot,” University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, 1966.
  • Marco Ramerini (Dietrich Köster, translator), “Dutch New York: The Dutch Settlements in North America,” Colonial Voyage (blog), accessed May 7, 2017;
  • Tully, William B. Tully, “Town of Old Saybrook", in: The History of Middlesex County 1635-1885, J. H. Beers & Co., 1884; accessed May 7, 2017;
  • Underhill, John and Royster, Paul , editor, "Newes from America; Or, A New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; Containing, A Trve Relation of Their War-like Proceedings These Two Yeares Last Past, with a Figure of the Indian Fort, or Palizado" (1638). Electronic Texts in American Studies. Paper 37; accessed May 8, 2017;
  • The History of the Pequot War: The Contempory Accounts of Mason, Underhill, Vincent and Gardener, Cleveland: The Helman-Taylor Co., 1897; accessed May 8, 2017;

References on New Orleans:

  • Richard Fausset, “Tempers Flare Over Removal of Confederate Statues in New Orleans,” New York Times, May 7, 2017; accessed May 7, 2017;
  • Frank Stewart, “Open Letter to Mitch Landrieu,” May 3, 2017; accessed May 7, 2017;

References on Soviet Memorials of WWII:

  • Paul Hofmann, “Vienna to Quietly Commemorate Russional Ouster of Nazis in 1945,” New York Times, April 13, 1970; accessed May 9, 2017;
  • Wikipedia, “Soviet War Memorial (Vienna),” accessed May 9, 2017;

References of the Pyramids of Giza:

  • Britannica Library, s.v. "Pyramids of Giza," accessed May 8, 2017,
  • Nova, “Who Built the Pyramids?” February 4, 1997; accessed May 8, 2017,
  • Writer873, “The Great Pyramid of Giza: Last Remaining Wonder of the Ancient World,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, January 18, 2012; accessed May 8, 2017; /article/124/.

References on the Flavian Aphitheater (Colosseum):

  • Keith Bradley, Slavery and Society at Rome, (Cambridge University Press: 1994).
  • Louis H. Feldman, “Financing the Colosseum,” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 27, no. 4 (2001): pp. 24–36.
  • Sarina Roffe, “Jews Built Roman Coliseum (sic) After Destruction of Second Temple: A Historical Background of Italian Jewry,” JewishGen Sephardic SIG, accessed May 9, 2017;

Reference on the Buddhas of Bamiyan:

  • Luke Harding, “Taliban blow apart 2,000 years of Buddhist History,” The Guardian, March 3, 2001; accessed May 10, 2017;