Tuesday, July 19, 2011

controversial topics #1: Iroquois slaughter ordered by George Washington, 1779

George Washington was one of my childhood heroes. As kids, we loved hearing how he chopped down his father's prized cherry tree when he was six-years-old. Whether fact or myth, the story set a good example about telling the truth. Personally, I was relieved he didn't get spanked because maybe my parents would follow his parents' example.
Dear America: Cannons at DawnSo as a grown up I was thrilled to write about the Father of Our County for Scholastic's Dear America series, first with The Winter of Red Snow then its sequel, Cannons At Dawn.

Research is one of my most favorite things in the world, but sometimes I hate what I discover. Details about war, for instance, and ugly truths about heroes.

Confession: When I learned how cruelly General Washington treated the Iroquois, there was a flicker in my brain that said, 'ooh, my characters don't need to mention this.' It was 1779. The Indians were aiding our enemies, the British, but Washington said that before there would be any peace talks with the tribes, he was going to teach them a lesson: He ordered his Generals Sullivan and Clinton, to destroy the Iroquois settlements in western New York. The campaign was a victory for the American army, but devastating for our Native Americans.

In Cannons At Dawn Abigail writes in her diary:  "Thousands of our soldiers burned the grain and vegetable crops, the cornfields, and fruit orchards. They set torches to the longhouses. Forty villages went up in flames. Now there will be no fall harvest and nothing for the Indians to plant in the spring. Many warriors died defending their homes, many were captured, then marched to a prison camp."
          Abby and her mother are further distressed knowing winter is coming and these Indian families will have nowhere to live. In fact, many who fled north to Fort Niagara starved and froze to death. Abby says, "When I imagine their suffering, my heart hurts."

My flicker of denial passed and I got mad. Why hadn't I learned this as a kid? Was this blight of history ignored in the California schools because the Revolution was "back East"?  Whatever the answer, I decided my characters should report all sides. It's a chance for today's children to glimpse a tragic but important truth:

War is hell. Heroes can disappoint. 


Heather Spiva said...

Oh yeah, so true. There aren't just two sides to every historical story, but sometimes three or four. And WHY didn't we learn all of it? Usually, it all comes down to politics, I'm afraid... literally. Politicians. Those deciding what and what not we should learn.
I tell you, I learned more history watching Glenn Beck's "Founding Father's Friday" (back when it was on) than EVER before. I want my own kids to hear these amazing things I never knew!
Thanks for telling all sides, even if it is sad, or embarassing, or just downright wrong.

Kristiana Gregory said...

Heather, I agree ... thank you for your comment!