Quanopin Will Not Be Coming for Dinner

That’s right.  Even if I could send an invite to him and his wife, back in time about 335 years and translated into the Wampanoag language, I’m pretty sure that the man and “the proud gossip” would have no interest in the type of food we eat.

The first order in explaining myself here is to share a bit of vocabulary that I just learned.  We all know the celebrity chatter concept behind the word gossip, but do you know the archaic usage?  Let dictionary.com enlighten you:

. archaic a close woman friend
Archaic . a friend, especially a woman.
Word Origin & History


O.E. godsibb “godparent,” from God + sibb “relative”. Extended in M.E. to “any familiar acquaintance” (mid-14c.), especially to woman friends invited to attend a birth, later to “anyone engaging in familiar or idle talk” (1560s). Sense extended 1811 to “trifling talk, groundless rumor.” The verb meaning “to talk idly about the affairs of others” is from 1620s.
As you will see in the context of what I am about to share, gossip means “woman friend.”  The woman being referred to is the writer’s captor.
English: The title page of the first edition o...

The writer was Mary Rowlandson, and the excerpt below is taken from A Narrative of the Captivity. In 1676 Rowlandson was taken from her home in Lancaster (about 30 miles west of Boston) during a Wampanoag raid as part of what has become known as King Philip’s War.  Throughout the writing she uses the term master to refer to Quanopin, who was “a secondary chief in the hierarchy of several Native American peoples” (Notes from Elements of Literature, Fifth Course: Literature of the United States, (c) 2000 by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston). So, I guess, he was the vice chief of the Wampanoag Indians.

During her captivity Rowlandson experienced quite a different way of life than that to which she was accustomed.  Dietary habits were mentioned frequently.  Some of her foods she earned by doing sewing projects for members of her Native American community.  As I was reading the narrative, I was struck by this section:
“During my abode in this place, Philip spoke to me to make a shirt for his boy, which I did, for which he gave me a shilling: I offered the money to my master, but he bade me keep it:  And with it I bought  piece of horseflesh.  Afterward he asked me to make a cap for his boy, for which he invited me to dinner.  I went, and he gave me a pancake, about as big as two fingers; it was made of parched wheat, beaten, and fried in bear’s grease, but I thought I never tased pleasenter meat in my life.  There was a squaw who spoke to me to make a shirt for her sannup [(husband)], for which she gave me a piece of bear.  Another asked me to knit a pair of stockings, for which she gave me a quart of peas:  I boiled the peas and bear toether, and invited my master and mistress to dinner, but the proud gossip, because I served them both in one dish, would eat nothing, except one bit that he gave her upon the point of his knife.”

Pea Shelling
Image by Rick Scully via Flickr
What’s with the peas+bear combo that just didn’t cut it, Mrs. Q? Or perhaps you’re just not a veggie fan.  It’s not as though they had a plethora of yummy foods to choose from any time they wanted.   I didn’t expect that kind of culinary snobbery.  Perhaps there is more to this than meets the tummy.  I’m no expert on Native American culture – but if anyone out there has something to add, go for it.
Around our house we eat a lot of differnt food combinations. If we have meat at all, there are usually vegetables served too – and not always as separate courses.  Last night we had pizza topped with ground turkey and corn, among other things.
Well, Mary, don’t fell bad. If I had peas and bear to work with,  I probably would have done the same thing.  I think.
Wait a minute! Nathan just offered an alternative understanding of the phrase “because I served them both in one dish.”  Perhaps both is referring not to the food items, but to the people.  “Because I served [both people from] one dish.” Sounds romantic. So does feeding each other.  But with a knife??
 How would you understand the text?  Either way I find it interesting.  If the lady that we kidnapped for two years made us a meal and served us both out of the same dish I think that we would both eat it.  Wouldn’t you?

Note:  I’m having fun with this piece, but please do not understand my lightness in a condescending manner.  The whole Native American/Early American history thing is an ugly time for many reasons; I certainly don’t make light of that.  Food is scarce for many people, and we try hard to show gratefulness for every bit we get.  I’m just playing around with the humor that is available.

By Naomi Bird

Wife of tenor Nathan Bird, pianist, organist, former music therapist, writer, tea-drinker, mom of two mini-sopranos and two mini-tenors, and learner of loving the arts.

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