So Dramatic a Blog

So Dreadful a Judgment is the first of a series of historic dramas, or "museum theater" productions, created and performed by Plimoth Plantation. These interactive dramas give the audience a powerful personal encounter with history by allowing them to explore difficult and entertaining questions about the past with the characters!

Old vs. New

September 12th, 2013 by James Finelli

So I was digging through some old papers when I found a brochure, put out by Pilmoth Plantation in the 1990′s, offering So Dreadful A Judgment to schools. I thought I would post the picture from the brochure alongside a photo of the new cast. What do you think of the contrast?

Chris Hall as Benjamin Church and Nancy Eldridge as Awashonks. From a brochure sent to schools in the 1990s.

Chris Hall as Benjamin Church and Nancy Eldredge as Awashonks. From a brochure sent to schools in the 1990s.

Shani Turner as Awashonks and Brian Shepperd as Benjamin Church. Note that Brian is wearing the same coat as Chris Hall.

Shani Turner as Awashonks and Brian Sheppard as Benjamin Church. Note that Brian is wearing the same coat as Chris Hall.


Film Showing at Mashantucket Pequot Museum

September 4th, 2013 by James Finelli

We are excited to announce that So Dreadful A Judgment will be shown at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center on October 18, 2013. I’m going to be there to discuss the film as part of the conference 17th Century Warfare, Diplomacy & Society in the American Northeast. Follow the link below for the preliminary schedule for the conference.


Unseen Devastation: Depicting King Philip’s War on Film

July 4th, 2013 by James Finelli

While the movie version of So Dreadful A Judgment is now in post-production, I’ve been working on bringing together the various odds and ends related to the production process. Among these are the written titles for the film, which appear as white text on a black background at key points in the narrative. The purpose of the titles is to provide the viewer with the historical context of the Benjamin Church and Awashonks story. In absence of Hollywood resources, the written word is a powerful tool for conveying the devastation of a conflict that ended almost 350 years ago.

One way to harness both the informative and emotional power of words is by using less of them. Being blunt and to the point can be very effective, albeit somewhat stark and cold at the same time.

Casualties During King Philip’s War

English Causalities: 800 (1.4% of population)

Native Causalities: 8,000 (50%-70% of population)

As historian James Drake has pointed out, even with a high estimate of 800 English lives lost during the war, when compared to the overall impact on the colonial English population of New England between 1670 and 1680, the loss is rather insignificant in the grand scheme. In fact, Drake notes a net increase in population among the English colonials, even with war losses factored in. Native People, on the other hand, don’t fair so well. The war’s effect on the Native population during the same period is devastating. As noted above, some estimates place the number dead or sold into slavery to be as high as 8,000. Drake argues that the overall population loss among New England’s Native people, dead, sold, and refugees permanently displaced from the region, to be somewhere between 50% and 70%.

Since the loss of English lives is historically insignificant, it may be easy to assume the repercussions of King Philip’s War were mild for the English colonists. But English losses are perhaps best represented in another way.

English communities destroyed, severely damaged, or abandoned during King Philip’s War. (This is a rough list, since the records are rather imprecise.)

  1. Swansea
  2. Rehoboth
  3. Taunton
  4. Dartmouth
  5. Middleboro
  6. Brookfield
  7. Deerfield
  8. Saco
  9. Black Point
  10. Springfield
  11. Lancaster
  12. Medfield
  13. Weymouth
  14. Groton
  15. Warwick
  16. Marlborough
  17. Simsbury
  18. Seaconk
  19. Providence
  20. Scituate
  21. Sudbury
  22. Bridgewater
  23. Hartford

Damage to Native property and communities is harder to quantify for two reasons. First, accounts of the conflict come to us almost entirely from the English, and they were not overly concerned with the depredations they inflicted on their Native enemies. The second, Native style of warfare was what we today would call guerrilla war. This sort of warfare requires mobility and, generally for the safety of their community, the entire Native village would pack up their belongings and travel with their warriors.

There are, however, some well documented attacks on Native communities by English soldiers. The most notable was the destruction of the Narragansett fortified town at modern day South Kingstown, RI. What made this devastating attack possible was in part the fact that the Narragansett were not at war with the English colonies at the time. The assault on the Narragansett community is especially important to our film because both Awashonks and Benjamin Church were present. Church as part of the attacking United Colonial force, and Awashonks as a refugee of the conflict that she was trying to avoid.

The destruction of the Narragansett fortified town at South Kingstown brings us full circle. A battle including as many as 2,000 participants can’t be faithfully reconstructed for a small film project. And so we return to words. The title cards in So Dreadful A Judgment will provide some of the above information. Unable to depict the devastation wrought by the war, words paint a picture for our audience. It’s a picture that appears rather bleak for Native people generally, and for Awashonks specifically.

The Fate of Awashonks

June 12th, 2013 by James Finelli

Hello Everyone. It’s been a while since I’ve posted news on So Dreadful A Judgment. It looks like it’s going to be a big year for our film, so I’ll have more updates and news as the summer progresses. For now, I thought I would post a short summery I put together about what we know of Awashonks during the period after King Philip’s War.

Awashonks at the Plymouth Colony Court. From So Dreadful A Judgment.

Awashonks at the Plymouth Colony Court. From So Dreadful A Judgment.

Awashonks shows up in the records only once after the war. She’s brought before the Plymouth Court in July of 1683 and is accused of helping to kill the illegitimate child of her daughter Betty. It appears that a Sakonnet woman, referred to in the record only as “Sames [Sam's] squaw” or “Sames wife,” had accused Betty of being pregnant out of wedlock.  Sam’s wife told the court that Awashonks ordered her whipped for spreading lies about Betty, but in fact Betty had given birth to a child. Now the child was dead, and the court believed that Awashonks, her daughter Betty, and her son Peter, had killed the child to hide the illegitimate birth.

Awashonks argues before the court that Betty’s child was born dead and therefore no murder took place. Lack of evidence against her forces the court to dismiss the charge. However, because the birth proved that Sam’s wife had told the truth, Awashonks, Betty, Peter, and two other Sakonnet women involved in the cover-up, where forced to pay damages. The court also ordered Betty whipped for committing the English crime of fornication.

Attempting to understand this incident, historian Ann Marie Plane writes, “The 1683 infanticide prosecution signals the effects of a new English influence over postwar Indian politics. No longer would Awashunkes or other Indian leaders be able to wield power separate from and equal to that of English authorities. All natives, not just the leaders, were now subjects of the English government, and thus could make appeals for English aid if frustrated by native authorities.”

Thus in such a manner Awashonks disappears from the historical record, leaving us to speculate on what her last years must have been like.

So Dreadful a Judgment Teaser Trailer

September 12th, 2012 by James Finelli

While Wes is deep in the editing process, he was kind enough to offer a dramatic preview of the footage from So Dreadful a Judgment. The MPAA film rating in the beginning isn’t real, but I think a nice touch.

So Dreadful a Judgment – Teaser Trailer from Plimoth Plantation on Vimeo.

The filming of So Dreadful a Judgment has been funded in part by The Ida and William Rosenthal Foundation.

Benjamin Church, the Clark Garrsion House, and Plimoth Plantation

September 10th, 2012 by James Finelli

Now Mr. Churches consort, and his then only Son were till this time remaining at Duxborough, and his fearing for their safety there … resolved to move to Rhode-Island; tho’ it was much opposed both by the Government, and by Relations. … Then preparing for his Removal, he went with his small Family to Plymouth to take leave of their Friends; where they met with his Wives Parents, who much perswaded that She might be left at Mr. Clarks Garrison, (which they supposed to be a mighty safe Place)… Mr. Church no ways inclining to venture her any longer in those Parts, and no arguments prevailing with him, he resolutely set out… But by the way, let me not forget this remarkable Providence. viz. That within Twenty-four hours or there abouts, after their arrival at Rhode-Island, Mr. Clarks Garrison … was destroyed by the Enemy.

Thomas Church, “Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip’s War,” in So Dreadfull a Judgment, ed. Richard Slotkin and James K. Folsom (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1978) p. 420

On March 12, 1676, a group of eleven Native men attacked William Clark’s house on the Eel River, about three miles south of the Town of Plymouth and potentially located somewhere on our museum grounds. It was a Sunday; some of the attackers had been friendly with Mr. Clark and knew on this particular day the defences of his “slightly fortified” house would be weakened by the fact that most of the English inhabitants would be attending church. Forty years later, Thomas Church would hold the attack on the Clark Garrison House, and his father’s choice not to tarry there, as an example of God’s protection of his father, mother and Thomas himself (the “then only Son” quoted above).

In the overall narrative of Entertaining Passages, the Clark Garrison House is a minor footnote—one of many incidents and acts of “Providence.” Garrisons, or fortified houses, were extensively used during King Philip’s War (1675-1676) to defend English communities from attack and frequently served as a refuge for a town’s inhabitants. But what is particularly interesting and important about this event is its connection to us here at Plimoth Plantation. In 1941, Harry Hornblower, amateur archaeologist and the future founder of the museum (to learn more about archaeology at Plimoth Plantation click here), conducted the first of a series of digs at what is known today by archaeologists as the R.M. site. So called because of a spoon recovered at the site engraved on the handle with the initials R.M., there is some question as to the precise identity of the excavated remains of a 17th-century structure, or series of structures, and the R.M. to whom the spoon once belonged. (For an analysis of the site by the Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project click here)

One common theory maintains that the R.M. site and Clark Garrison House are one and the same. Several features of the site seem to support this theory. First, the site is located in the general area of William Clark’s property. Second, is the date of the site seems to correspond with the period during which Mr. Clark’s home was used as a garrison and was destroyed. However mundane a pile of clay tobacco pipe stems may seem to a casual observer, their rather distinct evolution of style over the course of the 17th and 18th Centuries has made it possible for archaeologists to date a site with reasonable accuracy. The pipe stems located at the R.M. site seem to indicate the date of the site to be approximately 1620 to 1680, with a slightly greater concentration of stems falling between 1650 and 1680. Thirdly, discolored soil found on the site may indicate the structure had been burned. New England ministers Increase Mather and William Hubbard both state in their histories of King Philip’s War, published in 1676 and 1677 respectively, that the garrison’s attackers burned the house.


Brass projectile point, 1600-1650; Colonists traded brass kettles to Native People for fur and other goods. Native People frequently cut the brass into pieces to make projectile points, jewelry, hair combs, and other items.

Buttons, 17th century, silvered bronze with cast rose pattern.

Iron Shot Mold and strips of cast lead shot, 1625-1675. The scissors-like shot mold (one half missing) cast a single piece at a time. Smaller shot was cast in strips. Note the lead sprue that connects them.

March 12. This Sabbath eleven Indians assaulted Mr. William Clarks House in Plimouth, killed his Wife, who was the Daughter of godly Father and Mother that came to New-England on the account of Religion, … and she herself also a pious and prudent Woman; they also killed her sucking Childe, and knocked another Childe (who was about eight years old) in the head, supposing they had killed him, but afterwards he came to himself again. And whereas there was another Family besides his own, entertained in Mr. Clarks house, the Indians destroyed them all, root and branch, the Father, and Mother, and all the Children. So that eleven persons were murdered that day, and under one roof; after which they set the house on fire.

Increase Mather, “A Brief History of the Warr with the Indians in New-England,” in So Dreadfull a Judgment, ed. Richard Slotkin and James K. Folsom (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1978) p. 112

Accounts differ on the number of English killed. Mather and Hubbard both put the number at eleven. However, the records of the Plymouth Colony Court name only one casualty in the attack. On July 7, 1676, three Native men were convicted by the Plymouth Court of raiding William Clark’s house and murdering his wife Sarah. No mention is made of the death of an infant child or the presence of a second family at the home. In fact, a fourth Native man is prosecuted in connection with the raid on July  21, and at his trial he stated that the raiders expected only three people (perhaps Clark’s wife and two children) to be at home. Unfortunately, he says nothing of the number of inhabitants they actually found, nor does the court explicitly connect any other deaths to the raid beyond that of Sarah Clark.

The mystery extends to the R.M. site itself. Before writing this post I had an interesting conversation with our Curator of Collections, Karin Goldstein. In 1941, the R.M. site was located on Hornblower family property. Today that property is now part of the modern living history museum Plimoth Plantation. Karin oversees the artifacts from the R.M. site which are held within the museum’s archeological collections. While discussing some of the questions surrounding the R.M. site she made some fascinating observations that in my mind deepen the mystery even more. She questioned to what extent the site had been burned. Karin pointed out that the Standish site in Duxbury, also 17th-century, had been so obviously burned that the archeologists had even found melted window glass. On the other hand, if the R. M. site was a garrison house, then the abundance of pipe stems found at the site may indicate that a large number of men were standing around and smoking while on watch.

And what of the R.M. for whom the site is named? Perhaps, it was Plymouth resident Robert Morton. Maybe he was one of the militiamen standing around William Clark’s “slightly fortified” house smoking a clay pipe. Perhaps he forgot his spoon.

More Photos from the Set

August 21st, 2012 by James Finelli

We just finished up filming yesterday on the movie version of So Dreadful a Judgment. Here are some of the pictures from the set.

Awashonks (Shani) and Josiah Winslow (Scott) at the Plymouth Court

Shani and Scott performing in Act 3. I'm holding cue cards and our director, Wes, is on camera.

Philip as Peter Awashonks

Awashonks (Shani) with her son Peter (Philip)

Awashonks (Shani) examining damaged corn.

Wes using a camera crane to do a tracking shot of Shani in the corn.

Thank you again to Marie Pelletier for taking these great photos.

The filming of So Dreadful a Judgment has been funded in part by The Ida and William Rosenthal Foundation.

Goodbye Amanda

August 15th, 2012 by James Finelli

We would like to wish our wonderful Public Programs and Museum Theater intern, Amanda Coffin, the best of luck as she pursues a career where she can help bring museums and traditional theater closer together. The energy and expertise she brought to our team will be much missed. Thank you Amanda for adding Dramaturgy to Plimoth Plantation’s vocabulary!

Amanda patiently waiting between takes with cue cards.


Film Production Photos

August 13th, 2012 by James Finelli

This past week we completed the filming for Acts 1 and 2 of the film version of our play So Dreadful a Judgment. Here are some photos from the set.

Awashonks (Shani) and Benjamin Church (Brian)

Our director Wes giving Shani and Brian their motivation.

Cameras are rolling!

Benjamin Church (Brian) going to get some work done on his plantation.

Benjamin Church (Brian) and his wife Alice (Amanda)

Alice Church (Amanda) embracing her husband before he departs to meet Awashonks.

Benjamin Church (Brian) riding in a mishoon to his meeting with Awashonks.

Thank you to Marie Pelletier for taking these beautiful photos.

The filming of So Dreadful a Judgment has been funded in part by The Ida and William Rosenthal Foundation.

Awashonks: Have we met?

August 10th, 2012 by James Finelli

“Awashonks, sqauw-sachem of Sogkonate, was the wife of an Indian called Tolony, but of him we learn very little. From her important standing among the Indians, few deserve a more particular attention; and we shall, therefore, go as minutely into her history as our documents will enable us.”

Samuel G. Drake, History of the Early Discovery of America and the Landing of the Pilgrims (Boston: Higgins and Bradley, 1854) p. 249

“They found hundreds of Indians gathered together from all Parts of her Dominion. Awashonks her self in a foaming Sweat was leading the Dance. But she was no sooner sensible of Mr. Churches arrival, but she broke off, sat down, calls her Nobles round her, orders Mr. Church to be invited into her presence.”

Thomas Church, “Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip’s War,” in So Dreadfull a Judgment, ed. Richard Slotkin and James K. Folsom (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1978) p. 398

The Historical Awashonks

Even without Thomas Church’s depiction of Awashonks in Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip’s War, we would actually know more about the central figure of our film than most human beings of the past. Unlike Awashonks, the vast majority of people show up in the historical record as a name, or not at all.

As the Sachem (leader) of the Sakonnet people, in what is today Little Compton, Rhode Island, Awashonks appears multiple times in various Plymouth Colony records between 1671 and 1683. A few of these records give us some hint into her mindset–maybe even her personality. One significant event that helps us try to understand who Awashonks was, what her life was like, and how it may have influenced who she was as a person appears in the Judicial Acts of the Plymouth Colony Records (original spelling intact):

On July 7, 1674, a rival Sakonnet Sachem, named Mammanuah, accused Awashonks and her people of “forcably detaining the land of the said Mammanewah,” by “assembling … about the middle of March last” upon a portion of the lands he claimed as his own. In addition, he told the court, they “did forcably molest and hinder the said Mammanuah from giving possession of a persell of the said land to such of the English, to whome hee had sold the same, by violent binding the said Mamanuah in the same place, insulting over and threatening him, while hee lay bound before them, indeavoring, as they declared, to cause him to relinquish his title to his said land.”

Not surprisingly, the court found in favor of Mammanuah and granted him the disputed land which he intended to sell to some Englishmen. On top of losing land which may have encompassed part of a seasonal residence for the Sakonnet people (Native People of Southern New England alternated between summer and winter dwelling sites in the 17th Century), Awashonks was forced to pay 5 pounds in damages, plus court fees.

Giving Awashonks a Voice

The court records, Puritan chroniclers, land deeds, and Entertaining Passages all give us wonderful details about what Awashonks did, what she suffered, where she went, and who she associated with. But few of these sources give us much that can be translated into dialogue. It’s one thing to say that Awashonks and her people had lands taken from them by English courts. It’s another to say how she felt about it. That’s when we have to look to other period sources to find an authentic voice. Below is an example of a primary source that we used to give words to Awashonks’ emotions:       

“So must we be one as they are, otherwise we shall be all gone shortly, for you know our fathers had plenty of deer and skins, our plains were full of deer, as also our woods, and of turkeys, and our coves full of fish and fowl. But these English having gotten our land, they with scythes cut down the grass, and with axes felled the trees; their cows and horses eat the grass, and their hogs spoil our clam banks, and we shall all be starved.”

Speech of Narragansett Sachem Miantonomo recounted in Lieutenant Lion Gardener, A History of the Pequot War (Cincinnati: J. Harpel, 1860) p. 26

And here is the dialogue we gave to the character of Awashonks in our film:

“But is it time to fight? Without fighting you off, someday we might forget our fathers ways. Our fathers once had plenty of deer and skins. The woods were full of turkeys and the coves full of fish and fowl. But you English have gotten our land. You mow down the grass and cut down the trees. Saving our ways might be worth the risk. I want Sakonnet to be like it was when I was a child.”

Would the real Awashonks please stand up?

But does all this tell us who Awashonks was?

That’s the big question. Who was Awashonks as a human being? What was her personality like? What was her relationship to Benjamin Church (her closest English neighbor) and how did that influence her decision to submit herself and her people to Plymouth Colony in 1676?

These are the sort of questions that the role-players at Plimoth Plantation’s 1627 English Village ask themselves all the time. They are questions that anyone who writes or performs historic drama or “museum theater” must ask.

In producing So Dreadful a Judgment, we are faced with a potentially unanswerable question: How much of our Awashonks is the true Awashonks? Can we ever really know her?

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