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Indian chief; king of the Narragansets; born about 1565. He was at first unwilling to be friendly with the Pilgrims at New Plymouth. To show his contempt and defiance of the English, he sent a message to Governor Bradford with a bundle of arrows in a rattlesnake's skin. That was at the dead of winter, 1622. It was a challenge to engage in war in the spring. Like the venomous serpent that wore the skin, the symbol of hostility gave warning before the blow should be struck—a virtue seldom exercised by the Indians. Bradford acted wisely. He accepted the challenge by sending the significant quiver back filled with gunpowder and shot. “What can these things be?” inquired the ignorant and curious savage mind, as the ammunition was carried from village to village, in superstitious awe, as objects of evil omen. They had heard of the great guns at the sea-side, and they dared not keep the mysterious symbols of the governor's anger, but sent them back to Plymouth as tokens of peace. The chief and his associates honorably sued for the friendship of the white people. Canonicus became the firm friend of the English, especially of Roger Williams, who found a retreat in his dominions. Before Williams's arrival, there had been war between the Narragansets and Pequods, concerning the ownership of lands, in which a son of Canonicus was slain. In his grief the king burned his own house and all his goods in it. Roger Williams, who often experienced his kindness, spoke of Canonicus as “a wise and peaceable prince.” He was uncle of Miantonomoh (q. v.), who succeeded him as sachem of the Narragansets in 1638. Canonicus died June 4, 1647.

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