The Sovereignty of Transmotion in a State of Exception: Lessons from the Internment of 'Praying Indians' on Deer Island, Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1675-1676

  • Deborah L. Madsen University of Geneva
Keywords: Metacom's War, American Exceptionalism, sovereignty, rhetoric, internment


Settler colonialism is a structure rather than an event, according to recent theorists such as Patrick Wolfe, a process marked by the clearing of colonial space through the “logic of elimination”: the separation, dispossession, removal, and disappearance of indigenous peoples from their homelands. Metacom's War offers an early instance of this process. Among the many grievances that Metacom presented to the deputy governor of Rhode Island colony, John Easton, during their negotiations in June 1675 were the increasing pace of land loss, the threat posed by forcible Christianization, and the loss of tribal jurisdiction. These grievances represent two major dynamics of later US settler colonialism: dispossession and coercive acculturation. However, at the outset of hostilities, the settler colonies employed a further strategy of Native confinement, culminating in the internment of so-called “Praying Indians” on Deer Island in Boston Harbor. Atrocities committed against Christian Indians have a special resonance: as subjects of the English Crown, a fact acknowledged by Metacom in his negotiations with Easton, these “friendly” Natives should have enjoyed the protections accorded English subjects. The denial of such protections through the suspension of English sovereign law suggests that this internment represents an instance of Giorgio Agamben's “state of exception.” The legacy of this history is twofold: first, insight into the discursive workings of settler colonialism and, secondly, the possibilities for indigenous resistance highlighted byVizenor's concept of “transmotion,” “that sense of native motion presence, [which] is sui generis sovereignty” (Fugitive Poses).

Author Biography

Deborah L. Madsen, University of Geneva

Professor of American Studies

Department of English

University of Geneva

How to Cite
Madsen, D. L. (2015). The Sovereignty of Transmotion in a State of Exception: Lessons from the Internment of ’Praying Indians’ on Deer Island, Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1675-1676. Transmotion, 1(1), 23.