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*Every so often I'll add a small chapter to this story of the Massachusett Federation. There is really nowhere one can learn this story in one place. There are no books about these people. I know this story after years of research with the primary sources in libraries across New England, and after learning some of the oral histories from Indians in Southern New England. I hope everyone enjoys this. I will try to keep dramatization to a minimum, but there will be some.
Chapter One - Apparition of the Sky World
Disputes among nations had been nothing new. Long-standing tensions had been a part of life for neighboring peoples in the northeast woodlands. Competition over trade and natural resources inevitably led to conflict. However, complex alliances and peace-keeping governments had been well established, and a balance of power was achieved. For the most part prior to European contact, the northeast woodlands was a peaceful place to live. But it was all about to change.
At the turn of the 16th century, two navigators had sent word back to Europe that they had found a place where fish was so thick that one had to do nothing more than dip a basket in the water to pick them up. The navigators were John Cabot and Gaspar Corte Real. The place was off the coast of Newfoundland.
Over the next 50 years, hundreds upon hundreds of ships would make the expedition to these new, rich fishing grounds. Greed was fueling the industry to push the limits of their ships. The loss of the lives of their sailors were a trivial matter compared the profits they were collecting. The sailors were, after all, mere peasants. The French had the upper hand in the industry. By 1550, they had more than 500 ships leaving their ports each year bound for Newfoundland.
Eventually the French set up shop in present-day Quebec and Maine. There they met Indians by the thousands. According to every single primary account in every language, these Indians were courteous, kind, generous, and quite happy to trade with them. The French saw an opportunity to exploit these good-hearted people for even more profit. After all, the French were perfectly willing to sacrifice their own peasants to make money, and these people were even less than peasants -- they were wild savages. Looking back on it, however, one can't help but ask the question, "Who were the savages, really?"
And so began the French fur trade in present-day Quebec and Maine, and thus completely upsetting the balance of power once established by Indian governments and peace-keeping alliances. Those who traded with the French now had access to guns more powerful than any of their own weapons. They had a new alliance, and tensions would no longer be kept in check by the old alliances. Power in this region was quickly changing.
The Indians of Maine and Quebec weren't only introduced to the power of the gun. They were also introduced to another more sinister demon -- liquor. It spread so quickly and took ahold of them so strongly that within just a few decades there were official warnings that no one should venture through their territory without having drink with them for trade, else one might lose his life. The French understood what alcohol was doing to their trading partners, and so they took full advantage of that too.
Now we turn our attention to present-day Massachusetts, for it was around the latter part of the 16th century -- near the area of present-day Salem, Massachusetts -- that Nanepashemet was born. Nanepashemet had descended from a line of sachems that had led their people for as long as anyone could remember. These were people whose ancestors had lived on that same hilly land for more than 30,000 years. They were a people of those very hills. They were the Massachusett.
The Massachusett in the 16th century were expert fishermen, agriculturalists, astronomers, hunters, cooks, herbalists, doctors, artisans, and athletes. They had a rich mythology, and a deeply reverent spirituality. They respected and cared for their elders, and loved and nurtured their children. They were healthy, attractive, and peaceful. In short, there was very little that could be considered undesirable in their way of life. It was nearly perfect. As harsh as the elements made life for these people, they not only coped and adapted, but they flourished.
We know very little about the childhood of Nanepashemet. But we can certainly guess that he was likely raised learning the ways of a sachem. He was taught how to be a leader, not a ruler -- for sachems led their people. Sachems were not kings or tyrants. If a sachem wasn't considering the benefit to all his people in the decisions he made, and if he didn't follow the counsel of his elders and spiritual leaders, then the people would simply choose another sachem to follow. It was representative government in its truest and purest form.
We can be sure that the day came when Nanepashemet was to become a man. This included a rite of passage that required him to go off into the wilderness for a period of months to, "survive on his own." In reality, he was regularly visited by elders where they taught him the skills and spiritual ways that he would require for life as an adult in the northeast woodlands. It was the same way the elders had been taught when they were teenagers.
Entering his later teen years, Nanepashemet had his eye on a very pretty girl from a village called Wenotomies a few miles inland. He pain-stakingly polished and drilled hundreds of wampum beads, and with his grandmother's help he strung them together in a beautiful belt. The designs on the belt were more than just decoration -- they symbolized his proposal of marriage.
And so Nanepashemet took this wampumpeag by canoe up the Missituck, or great tidal river, eventually reaching Wenotomies. Once there he entered the wetu of this pretty girl and her family, and with all the bashfulness of a teenager (but also the courage of a future leader) Nanepashemet read the wampumpeag and proposed marriage.
The girl's family would consider the proposal for several days. That was the custom. It's easy to imagine the anxiety with which Nanepashemet must have languished over those few days. Would she accept? Of course she would! He is a future leader, after all. But what if her family disapproves? What if he had looked like a buffoon reading the wampumpeag? What if they think him unfit to marry their daughter?
But word would come eventually. Her family would accept the wampumpeag, and the girl would indeed accept the marriage proposal. Nanepashemet was to become a husband.
We don't know of any details of the wedding, but it was likely a very traditional affair on a hilltop with a breath-taking view, and all the pomp and circumstance afforded a future sachem and his bride. We can imagine the marriage pole and the colorful ribbons. We can see the exchange of gifts. We can even feel the warmth of the sacred fire, and the joy of the singers and dancers as they feasted and caroused in celebration of the nation's newest couple.
The revelry continued well into the night. Darkness fell onto the proceedings like a blanket. It was autumn and the air was crisp, cool, and clean. The stars were shining brightly in seeming approval of this latest union.
But there was something else in the sky -- a very bright, looming eminence. It was a heavenly body that most everyone had only heard stories about from their elders, but never imagined actually seeing it. Only the oldest of the wedding guests had witnessed it before with their own eyes in their younger days.
We're not sure exactly sure what Nanepashemet must have thought when he saw this great dancing star. We're also not sure what the spiritual advisors might have told everyone. It was probably regarded as all things in their world -- as a significant spiritual sign. But what exactly did it mean? We can only guess what they concluded. If the situation to the north of them in Maine and Canada was any indication, it was a very ominous sign.
It would be another 76 years before Edmond Halley would put his name to this heavenly body -- this apparition of the Sky World.
Chapter Two - Friends And Enemies
Nanepashemet knew trouble was brewing. He had heard the stories of the French to the north. He had heard about their terrible guns. He had heard about the misery and strife they brought to allies in Maine and Canada. He had also heard about the English and how they were kidnaping warriors from nations to his south and east -- how these trusting men were lured into captivity, and never seen again.
But not everything in life was so grim. Nanepashemet and his beautiful wife had their first child -- a son they named Wonohaquaham. This must have pleased Nanepashemet greatly. His sachemdom was assured of a male heir -- a warrior like himself who would carry on the leadership of his people. There is no greater joy in life than seeing one's own face in that of an infant's.
When Nanepashemet took over his sachemdom in the early part of the 17th century, he was inheriting leadership of one of the most powerful nations north of Virginia. Within a day's notice he could summon in excess of 3,000 warriors. In two day's time that number could more than triple.
Nanepashemet was the head of a tightly-knit federation of clans, villages, and tribes that stretched from the present-day Blackstone River in Rhode Island on the south, to the Merrimack River in New Hampshire on the north, to the Connecticut River on the west, and Atlantic Ocean on the east.
In addition to this federation, there was a confederacy of nations that included the powerful Narragansetts on the south, the Wampanoag on the south and east, as well as the Pennacooks and Penobscots on the north. This great confederacy banded together and formed a strong alliance of protection against their traditional enemies of the Iroquois Confederacy. These confederacies created a strong balance of power that kept the peace in the region for hundreds of years.
But the French had infiltrated Quebec and Maine, which sent a shock-wave through the northeast confederacy. The alliance that included the Penobscot and Pennacook was imploding. French fur traders with their guns and their liquor and their great influence over trade relations were pitting clan against clan, tribe against tribe, and nation against nation.
By 1615, the Mi'Kmaq, their French allies, and their guns were raiding villages as far south as the Merrimack. They eventually killed the Great Sachem -- or Basheba -- of the Pennacook. Although this was an internal struggle of the Wabanaki Confederacy between Mi'Kmaq, Penobscot, and Pennacook, the Massachusett had strong alliances with their friends on the other side of the Merrimack. Nanepashemet and his warriors were drawn into the fight, and they sought compensation for the loss of their Pennacook friends.
For the previous 30 years, disease had also been ravaging the Wabanaki Confederacy. The French had introduced horrific plagues and illnesses for which those peoples had no immunity. As Mi'Kmaq warriors and their French allies moved southward, they began spreading the contagions to more and more populations. When Massachusett warriors conducted raids against these enemies to the north, they brought back captives -- usually women. They also brought back those same diseases.
War raged on for a couple of years. And so, too, did this deadly exchange of disease. The lifeways of the Massachusett were their biggest enemies in the spread of disease. They were, as a people, so close to one another -- they huddled together to hear stories, they lived as large families in relatively small areas, and news was spread from village to village by foot. Their physical closeness, their love for one another, and their intimacy would help the deadly diseases spread like wildfire. As they cared for one another, they contracted the diseases. As they buried their dead and conducted their sacred rituals, they contracted the diseases. As the pauwau tried to heal one, he spread the disease to others. Nothing in their lives were prepared to deal with such an insidious enemy as diseases like these.
With warriors dying by the score from the terrible plagues, fewer and fewer were left to defend their lands and their homes. The Mi'Kmaq and their French allies made relentless attacks along the coast, and the Massachusett were forced to give up their way of life and flee inland. Nanepashemet reluctantly abandoned his homeland near present-day Salem and moved further inland to a defensive fort along the Missituck -- the great tidal river -- in present-day Medford, MA.
By now, Nanepashemet and his wife had three children. In addition to their oldest son Wonohaquaham, they had a middle son named Montowampate, and their youngest was a daughter they named Yawate. As Nanepashemet's sachemdom was falling apart around him, his concerns switched to his family. He knew his fate was likely sealed, and it was imperative that his wife and children remain safe.
Nanepashemet's wife and children did not go to the defensive fort in Medford. Instead, Nanepashemet entrusted his closest friend and spiritual advisor, a pauwau (or medicine man) named Webcowit, to take his family to a safe location. Webcowit hailed from a village called Musketaquid, now present-day Concord, MA. That was likely the chosen place for Nanepashemet's wife and children to enter hiding. No one knows for sure exactly where they went.
As they said their farewells, Nanepashemet's wife had one last surprise for her husband. She was pregnant again. She felt certain she would see her husband again, and by that time he would be able to hold his newest child in his arms. But winter was fast approaching, the enemy was closing in on Nanepashemet, and it was time for the family to go. We can only imagine Nanepashemet's heartache while watching his wife and children slowly drift away by canoe toward Concord. We can only wonder if Nanepashemet knew in his heart that it would be the last time he would see them.
Chapter Three - Arrival of the Invaders
The year was now 1620 and Nanepashemet's wife had been in hiding for four years -- longer than anyone could've foreseen. She gave birth to a son, and all four of her children were well cared for and healthy. Her eldest son Wonohaquaham was now about 14-years-old, his brother Montowampate was 11, their sister Yawate was about 6, and the newest member of the family, Wenepoykin, was just a toddler of 3.
Nanepashemet really didn't have any chance of survival. With the devastating sickness killing nearly all of his warriors and incapacitating most of the others, he was left virtually undefended. Somehow, he escaped the illness. But he didn't escape the Mi'Kmaq. A war party was sent up the Missituck where they found Nanepashemet in his defensive fort. They stormed his pallisade and killed him. But he didn't go down without a courageous fight, likely with thoughts of his family in the back of his mind driving his will to survive.
There were so few of his followers left that even his tomb was hastily built. That was highly irregular for a sachem of Nanepashemet's stature. But it was indicative of the utter desolation and despair his people were experiencing. There were so few villages left intact that once Nanepashemet was killed the Mi'Kmaq no longer had a reason to raid. There was no more corn, there were no more furs -- there was no one left to kill and nothing left to take.
When Nanepashemet's wife and children finally emerged from hiding, what they found at their former homeland was utter devastation. Entire villages were completely wiped out. Nearly ninety-five percent of the people that she once knew were gone. There were so many dead that there was scarcely anyone left to bury the bodies. Entire families lay motionless inside their wetus. Warriors, slain by the Mi'Kmaq, litter the ground. The world that she once knew had been irreparably altered forever.
But she also had reason to hope. She had four young children to raise. Although their numbers were few, there were people left in some of the villages of her husband's former domain. There was nothing left to do but pick up the pieces and carry on. But someone had to take the initiative. Someone had to step up and lead these battered and fearful people. Someone had to restore hope. Tradition allowed her to take on that role.
And so it was that Nanepashemet's wife would become leader of her husband's former domain. There were no ceremonies, at least none that history recorded. There wasn't the pomp and circumstance normally afforded the inauguration of a leader. But, nevertheless, she became widely recognized by the remaining Massachusett as their female chief. They called her the Squaw Sachem.
As can be well imagined, the politics of the area had been thrown into utter turmoil. Although a few villages of her husband's former domain pledged their loyalty to her, there were others who had formed new alliances. In fact, since her husdband's death, two village leaders who once paid tribute to Nanepashemet attempted a take-over and declared themselves in charge of the Massachusett. They were Chickatawbut of the Blue Hills and Obatinua of Shawmut at present-day Boston.
To make matters worse, the powerful Narragansett in present-day Rhode Island had largely escaped the pestilence that had devastated Massachusetts nations. They were now the most populous and powerful peoples in the northeast, and they looked to extend their territory and lay claim to all of Massachusetts. But their biggest obstacle was the Wampanoag in northeast Rhode Island and southeast Massachusetts. Although equally as devastated as the Massachusett, the Wampanoag still had enough gumption left to resist the Narragansett take-over.
There was even more trouble for the Squaw Sachem in this volatile region. Not only had Mi'Kmaq warriors begun renewing sporadic attacks along the coast, but the Massachusett traditional enemy in the Iroquois Confederacy, a people they called the Mohawk and feared greatly, had heard about the desperate state of the Massachusett. They, too, sought to take advantage, and they began conducting raids from the west.
The Squaw Sachem was literally surrounded. She was raiding Obatinua at Shawmut to regain that territory and open a vital link from her land to Boston Harbor. Chickatawbut and Obatinua had formed an alliance with Massasoit of the Wampanoag. The Mohawk pressured her from the west. The Mi'Kmaq were pressuring from the north. The Narragansett were pressuring from the south.
But the Narragansett were a bit different. She had cordial relations with them from the former northeast confederacy that existed during the time when her late husband was still in power. So, the Squaw Sachem seized the opportunity, and quickly formed an alliance with the Narragansett. This was an ominous sign for the Wampanoag. This new alliance threatened to decimate them. Their villages would quickly be swallowed up by this powerful new force.
The whole region looked to be on the brink of a devastating war. Tensions were high, and all of present-day Southern New England was ready to explode.
And it was against this backdrop that the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Harbor. The timing couldn't have been more perfect for the English invaders. Completely unbeknowst to them, the volatility of the region and the devastated condition of the nations at the time of their arrival was their only saving grace. Had they arrived just a few years earlier or later, Plymouth Plantation would never have been possible. But, as state of affairs were, the English found a very desperate ally in Massasoit and the Wampanoag, and for the time being the great regional war had been averted.
Chapter Four - A New Alliance
So, once again, the balance of power in the region had shifted dramatically. Despite its size and power, the Narragansett were no match for the threat posed by the English invaders at Plymouth. It certainly wasn't their numbers, for the English were a paltry few. It wasn't their guns, either, for those were no match for the size or might of the Narragansett warriors.
No, the only thing the Indians feared from the English invaders was the devastating disease they spread. The Narragansett knew that nearly 95% of the people north of them had been completely wiped out. They knew the cause of the disease was the white men. The Narragansett had mercifully been spared by limited contact with both whites and peoples from the north. They weren't about to invite misery upon themselves. So, the Narragansett backed off their plans to invade Wampanoag territory.
That decision left the Squaw Sachem and the Massachusett in a very vulnerable position. They could no longer count on the protection from the threat that their Narragansett alliance posed to the Wampanoag. They now faced the prospect of losing their identity and being swallowed up by the Wampanoag, and the Squaw Sachem came to terms with the possibility of losing all her powers of leadership.
In the meantime, the pauwau Webcowit from Musketaquid had fulfilled his promise to his old friend Nanepashemet. He honored his ancestors' tradition by marrying the Squaw Sachem. He retained his powers as spiritual advisor to the nation, but left Massachusett leadership solely in the hands of his new wife. It wasn't a loveless marriage as both parties cared deeply for one another. But it appears to have been more a marriage of custom than anything else.
The Squaw Sachem's children were growing older, and she decided to place them in vital territories in her domain. They could operate as outposts and oversee lands that were important to the remnants of her federation. The Squaw Sachem herself would remain in her beloved homeland of Wenotomies, now in present-day Arlington, MA.
Her eldest son Wonohaquaham became sachem over the most important territory -- Mishawum. A relatively small area of land situated in present-day Charlestown and Chelsea, Mishawum represented an important link from the Atlantic Ocean to the great tidal river called Missituck. It was a rich fishing place, a vital trade link, and the heart of the busiest canoe highway in Massachusett territory.
Her next son, Montowampate, became sachem of the area called Saugus. It included the present-day towns of Lynn and Marblehead. Saugus was Nanepashemet's homeland. More importantly, Saugus had miles of coastal access with critical supplies of clams, mussels, lobsters, cod, and other resources from the ocean.
Her youngest son, Wenepoykin, was still a boy. Nevertheless, he was installed as sachem of a large land mass called Naumkeag, stretching from present-day Salem to Pawtucket Falls in East Chelmsford, MA. Naumkeag was a vast area of uplands forests. It included rich hunting lands and important natural resources such as berries, grapes, seeds, nuts, and roots, as well as trees for construction of everything from canoes to wetus to baskets. Naumkeag was also a vital link to the Merrimack River and close Massachusett allies in present-day New Hampshire. Wenepoykin was aided in his early leadership by an uncle until he was old enough to lead by himself.
As far as the Squaw Sachem's daughter Yawate, history doesn't tell us if she ever took on a leadership role during this time period. The English record-keepers of the day were decidedly sexist. If Yawate was in a leadership role, the English would not want their women learning about a young female ruler in Massachusetts territory. So we are ignorant of the facts. But we do know that Yawate was alive, well, and highly respected at this time nonetheless.
As Squaw Sachem and her children awaited the next move by the Wampanoag and their Plymouth allies, a curious thing happened -- more English arrived at the doorstep of Massachusett territory. The most important of those was headed by a man named Captain Wollaston.
Wollaston had arrived at Plymouth colony in 1624 on a crown-backed business venture with a few dozen men, most of whom were indentured peasant servants. But Wollaston and his men, not having quite the piety of the Plymouth pilgrims, were quickly dismayed with Plymouth Colony. So they left and ventured into Massachusett territory to settle their own land in present-day Quincy, MA.
The Squaw Sachem quickly seized the opportunity to create her own alliance with these new English arrivals. Such an alliance would once again restore a balance of power that would leave her far less vulnerable to the Wampanoag. She now had access to the same guns that Massasoit so desperately needed to fend off the Squaw Sachem.
With the help of their new-found Massachusett allies, these English arrivals settled a colony they called Mount Wollaston. The Massachusett helped these English men find food, grow crops, and hunt. They also traded furs for guns, thus arming the Massachusett for the first time. The Squaw Sachem now had the protection she so desperately needed, and her federation of clans, villages, and tribes were safer now than they had been at any time since Nanepashemet had been killed by the Mi'Kmaq.
But there was a problem. Captain Wollaston had ventured to the so-called New World for one reason and one reason only -- for profit. He wasn't making any money. So he made an attempt to gain some profit by selling his indentured servants to the tobacco plantations in Virginia. But his servants would have none of that. They had made so many friends among the Indians in that short time that Wollaston was powerless to do anything about the rebellion of his servants. Nearly broke from the venture and in absolute misery from the conditions, Captain Wollaston abandoned Mount Wollaston.
But one of the men who stayed, once a partner of Captain Wollaston's, was a man named Thomas Morton. Morton was a blithe fellow whose spirit harkened back to the jovial times of Renaissance England. He loved strong drink and good fun. He also acquired a great respect for the Indian population he encountered in the New World. He considered them far more civilized, courteous, kind, and considerate than any of his brutally pious Plymouth countrymen.
Additionally, the couple of dozen former indentured servants once under Captain Wollaston's harsh rule were now free men able to do as they pleased. Their peasant backgrounds made them well-suited to life among the Massachusett Indians, whose very belief-system was completely opposite from the class system of England. The peasants were treated by the Indians, for probably the first time in their lives, as equals. Also, the pagan-based Christianity that these Englishmen were raised with had many similarities to the Indian spirituality of the New World.
Morton renamed the colony from Mount Wollaston to Mare Mount. Mare was simply the word for a hill by the sea. But there was a humorous double-meaning to the name, as the word was pronounced more like, "merry." And merry it was indeed.
And so, for a couple of short years, Mare Mount flourished. It was a place where Indians and English drank together, danced together, laughed together, sang together, traded together, had respect for one another, and enjoyed the prosperity of mutual comraderie. It was proof that the English of the Old World could live in perfect harmony with the Indians of the New World. It was such a wonderful place that it attracted all manner of men escaping the harsh miseries of Plymouth Colony. For that reason alone, it was not to last long.
Chapter 5 - The Fall Of Ma-re Mount
The trading post and settlement at Mare Mount was an unrivaled success. The Englishmen and Indians were indeed living and trading together with a mutual respect and harmony. It was in stark contrast to the tensions of the harsh Plymouth Colony. As a result, it was also a threat to the Plymouth Colony.
Having heard of the revelry taking place there, the Squaw Sachem became a regular visitor to Mare Mount. Not only did the trading post provide her people important trade goods such as guns needed for their defense, but it introduced them to beer, rum, and cider. Having used herb and root concoctions such as hellabore to achieve altered states of conciousness for a millenia, there is little doubt the Massachusett enjoyed the English firewater. It is further likely that they enjoyed it far too much.
It was at Mare Mount that the Squaw Sachem met an Englishman named Edward Gibbons. Gibbons had arrived to the New World with Captain Wollaston and elected to stay when Wollaston returned to England. Whether Gibbons was an indentured servant or not is impossible to say. But what we do know of Edward Gibbons is that he was quite fond of the drink.
Exactly what the nature of the relationship was that developed between the Squaw Sachem and Edward Gibbons we can only speculate. But there is no doubt that in those early days at Mare Mount, the two became very close friends. The importance of this relationship will become clearer later in our story.
Morton and his Englishmen enlisted the help of Massachusett men to fell a tall pine tree. They stripped its bark and branches, and then nailed the skull of a buck near its top. Together, the Indians and the English erected this pole in one of the earliest observances of May Day in the New World. To the English, it was the medieval festival of Sts. Philip and Jacob. To the Indians, it must've seemed like an early planting celebration.
But the symbolism of the event was obvious in its parallels. Dancing around a pole of ribbons was something the Indians did at marriage ceremonies. Certainly the deer skull nailed to the pole must've been significant to the Massachusett. The veneration of the spirit of such an animal was something that had been a part of their lives for as long as anyone could remember.
So, right there at Mare Mount began a process of cultural sharing between Europeans and Indians. It was a process that would influence both cultures greatly for centuries to come. It would influence medicine, agriculture, religion, and even law and government structure. It would also lead to the cultural assimilation and Indian persecution that would stretch across the entire continent.
While Morton, his men, and the Indians were celebrating together at Mare Mount, even more English were arriving to Massachusett territory. This time it was a small contingent of Puritans who were looking for a place to settle. They were advance parties surveying the land for a mass exodus of even more Puritans who would follow in the coming years.
The leader these men first encountered in the New World was the Squaw Sachem's eldest son Wonohaquaham. Once again, Wonohaquaham was looking to strengthen the defenses of his people, and nothing could get that done faster than creating yet another alliance with these new Englishmen. There was a symbolic exchange of goods that to Wonohaquaham signified the Englishmen's willingness to become allies. Unfortunately, language barriers had the Englishmen believing that they had purchased the land.
Land ownership was a concept that was out the realm of the Indians' belief system. To them, it was inconceivable that any man could own a piece of land. But for the English, land ownership was the main element of wealth that separated the rich from the poor, the privileged from the common, and the government from the people. Land owners could vote and hold office. Others could not. So it came to be that the English owned first Salem, then Boston, and then Charlestown.
They so disliked the Indian language that they immediately gave an English name to Wonohaquaham. They called him Sagamore John. They would do the same for all his siblings. Montowampate would be called Sagamore James, Wenepoykin would be called Sagamore George, and Yawate would be given the name Abigail. It was the very first attempts in history by the invaders to anglicize the Indians. It would hardly be the last.
Mare Mount was now becoming wildly popular. Servants were leaving their duties in Plymouth to join the trading post. Newcomers from England were finding life much better on the Mount than anywhere else in the territory. The officials at Plymouth felt they had to act fast. They were unhappy that Morton and his men were trading firearms to the enemies of their Wampanoag allies. They were even more unhappy with what they perceived as a moral breakdown in their community.
Governor William Bradford of Plymouth called the goings-on at Mare Mount, "great licenciousness." He said that the Englishmen and Indian women were, "dancing and frisking together." He described them as, "madd Bachinalians." He called Thomas Morton a, "lord of misrule over a school of atheism."
Morton was arrested by Plymouth authorities and exiled to England. Mare Mount was burned to the ground. That was one of the most significant events in the early history. It ensured that the Indians and the English would not be permitted to live in harmony. It solidified the Puritan law as the law of the land. It sealed the fate of the Indians for the next two-and-a-half centuries.
Chapter Six - The Puritan Exodus
By the late 1620's, Puritans were arriving to the shores of Massachusett territory by the hundreds, and then the thousands. In just a ten-year period, more than 20,000 Puritans had made the voyage across the Atlantic.
As the Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony, they made many abrupt changes to the way English and Indians would interact and conduct trade. The English saw how the Indians valued wampum. Although wampum was culturally important to the nations of Southern New England, it was anything but a form of currency. It had ceremonial value. It was used for ornamental purposes. It was given in trade and used to pay tributes. But wampum's most important function to the Indians was the recording of important historic events, family genealogies, creation stories, and other spiritually significant mythological tales. A millennia of Massachusett culture was written in wampum.
But the Puritans turned it into a form of currency nonetheless, having no regard for the record-keeping of what they perceived as a savage and heathen people. Being savvy and greedy businessmen, they saw an opportunity to take advantage of the Indians by giving cultural objects monetary value. They then planned to control the wampum market and thereby control the entire economy of the region.
Prior to the Puritan arrival, the manufacture of wampum had been controlled mostly by the Narragansett and Pequot Nations. Creating the small beads was a pain-staking process. Creating enough beads to make an entire belt required intensive labor indeed. But the Puritans arrived with a drilling technology that made wampum manufacturing much easier. They eventually would flood the market, forcing down the value of wampum, and ultimately leading to the economic collapse of all New England's Indian nations.
But first the Puritans had to acquire land. They did that by taking advantage of language barriers, Indian desperation, and the Indian fondness for alcohol. The Massachusett and their allies were still in a very desperate state. The Mi'Kmaq attacks continued along the coast. The Mohawk attacks continued from the west. They still had not fully recovered from the illnesses that were devastating their populations. There wasn't an Indian in Massachusett territory that didn't want an alliance with these new English arrivals.
For the Puritans it was a simple matter. Entertain a sachem, give him gifts, get him drunk, and convince him to affix his mark to an English land deed. That satisfied the English courts and gave the Puritans title to the land. The unwitting Indians were duped into believing that they had formed an alliance and would share the land with the English. They had no idea that they were selling their land for a few bushels of corn, or an English coat, or a belt of wampum.
To the Indians, sachems did not own land. But as far as English law was concerned, sachems had all the power of a king. And so it happened that one single Indian sachem could have the power to sell away all the land of his people. It was not Indian law but English law imposed on the Indians, and their very social structure was contradictory to this English form of land transaction. And when the English came upon a tract of land for which they could find no attributable sachem, they simply declared it vacant and claimed title anyway.
The Squaw Sachem's eldest son Wonohaquaham had become closest to the Puritans. It was upon his territory that most of the English had settled. By now he had fully understood the consequence of the alliance. But since there was still plenty of land for everyone, and he so desperately needed the English for protection against Massachusett enemies, he accepted the loss of land.
The English were very fond of Wonohaquaham, who they had given the name Sagamore John. They said he was of gentle and good disposition. They also said he possessed a tremendous sense of humor, often imitating the English to uproarious laughter -- much to the delight of the Puritans. The English also reported good things about Wonohaquaham's brother Montowampate, who they named Sagamore James. But the youngest sibling Wenepoykin, who the Puritans named Sagamore George, was not well-liked by the English.
But the English reports about these men reflected more of each one's tolerance and willingness to hear the proselytizing by the pious Puritans, and were not at all indicative of their actual dispositions. It appears Wonohaquaham and Montowampate were willing to listen and gave the Puritans hope that they would convert, although they never did. Wenepoykin, however, wanted nothing to do with the Puritan religion.
All three men had married. But not much is known about Wonohaquaham's wife. But we do know he had at least two sons.
Montowampate married a woman named Wanunchus. She was the daughter of Passaconaway, the legendary Basheba of the Pennacook. The Pennacook were the long-time Massachusett allies who lived north of the Merrimack River. We do know they had children, but we don't know their names, genders, or how many they had.
Wenepoykin married a woman named Ahawayet, the daugher of Poquannum who the English called Black Will. Poquannum was sachem of Nahant -- a peninsula not far from Lynn, MA -- which was an area loyal to the Squaw Sachem. They would have three daughters -- Potoqhoontaquah, Petaghunckay, and Wuttaquatinmisk. The beauty of these three ladies would become legendary. Together they would be called Wanapanaquin, meaning the feathered or plumed ones. It was a variation of their father's name which referred to a feather.
Their sister Yawate, too, would marry. She married a man named Awassamug. He was the son of a Nipmuc sachem named Wuttawushan from the area of present-day Natick, MA. That was also an area that was loyal to the Squaw Sachem. They would have three sons.
For Squaw Sachem and her family, reality was starting to set in regarding the very one-sided alliances they had made with the English. Not only had the Puritans taken ownership over land that was presumed to be shared, they were boldly extending settlements into lands that they did not own. Moreover, English cattle was largely allowed free-range, and the animals were regularly entering the Indian settlements and eating everything in sight -- corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, grapes, and herbs. Some Englishmen had even entered and accidentally burned down two of Wonohaquaham's wetus. Life had become chaotic for the Indians, who now seemed powerless to stop the Puritan invasion of their lands and way of life.
The Puritans had convinced Wonohaquaham that the courts would help him gain satisfaction for any wrongs done to him by the English. He brought civil suits to gain compensation for his losses. He received a full judgment for the burning of his wetus. He received a paltry judgment for the loss of his crops since the court found the Indians mostly responsible for failing to fence their land. But he received no satisfaction for the loss of his land. The courts continually stalled the cases.
But there was one incident that, to the Massachusett, was a complete betrayal of their alliance with the English. During a visit to Agawam in the area of present-day Ipswich around the year 1631, Wonohaquaham and Montowampate were badly injured when their old enemy from the north, the Mi'Kmaq, attacked. Montowampate's wife Wanunchus was captured by the enemy.
Although a ransom was paid and Wanunchus was returned two months later, the Puritans refused to offer any military aid to the Massachusett. They did not come to their defense. They would not launch a counter-attack against the Massachusett enemies. Instead, the English adopted the policy that such hostilities were between Indian nations and they would not get involved.
We can only imagine the intense feeling of betrayal that the Massachusett must have felt. The English were stealing their lands. The English were destroying their lifeways. The English were trying to convert them away from their spirituality. The English were giving them new names. The English were controlling their economy. The English were offering no help to them against their enemies.
What was this alliance good for anyway? Unfortunately, the coming months would prove to be definitive for the Massachusett. Events would take place that would leave the Indians with absolutely no choice but to rely on the English for their very lives. It would no longer be an alliance, and the Indians would become wards of the Puritan state.
Chapter Seven - Smallpox And Genocide
During the organization of the Salem Church in 1629, the Squaw Sachem's old friend from Ma-re Mount, Edward Gibbons, was considered for membership into the Puritan congregation. He was made to repent for his sins during the, "Merry Mount Society," and was described as being, "no debauchee, but of a jocund temper."
Gibbons's stay in Salem didn't last long. But he also didn't leave Wonohaquaham's domain. A year later he was admitted as an inhabitant of the Charlestown settlement. A year after that, he married a woman named Margaret, and they were admitted to the Boston Church. By 1634 they would have their first of five children, a son named Jotham Gibbons.
Edward Gibbons would become one of the most important and influential political, military, and business leaders in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He would own the largest pig farm in the colony, he would also own several ships, and eventually he would be named Major-General of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's militia.
But while the early 1630's were great for Edward Gibbons, they were equally as devastating to the Massachusett Indians. The mass exodus of Puritans brought thousands of English to the shores of Massachusetts Bay. With them also came unfathomable diseases.
But this time close contact with these new Englishmen was unavoidable. With their lifeways so disrupted, the fur trade slowly collapsing, and wampum losing value, the Indians had little choice but to work for the English. Their only other options were to flee to other nations, or starve to death. So the Indians performed hard labor for just enough English money to keep themselves fed.
The Squaw Sachem and her people had not nearly recovered from the diseases that had killed almost everyone just 15 years earlier. But since then there had been many new marriages and many new children, giving survivors plenty of reasons to hope. But that hope would evaporate quickly in 1633.
This new round of illnesses included the smallpox, which was the most widespread and devastating. Although the Squaw Sachem's family was able to avoid the earlier plagues, they would not be so lucky this time. Wonohaquaham, the Squaw Sachem's oldest son and greatest diplomat, would lose his life. One of his sons would also perish. Wonohaquaham's younger brother Montowampate, too, would die from the smallpox, as would nearly 90 percent of the Massachusett survivors of the first plague.
The Squaw Sachem and her daughter Yawate would emerge from the plague unscathed. But the youngest in the family, Wenepoykin, would not. Although he would survive, the terrible ulcers from the disease would forever alter his appearance by claiming the better part of his nose. It would become a source of ridicule for the rest of his life. When once the English called him Sagamore George, they would now refer to him as, "No-Nose." That undignified label was apparently used so much that it would reach us in various historical records some 380 years later.
The Narragansett nation, who had somehow evaded the earlier plagues, were nearly as devastated as the Massachusett in 1633. The illnesses and deaths displaced them as the most populous and powerful force in the region. This led to yet another power vacuum, altering the regional balance. Much like the Narragansett had 15 years earlier, there would be a force ready to fill the vacuum. This time it would be the Pequot.
The Pequot had formed an alliance with the Dutch at New Amsterdam (New York) and shared a veritable monopoly on the fur trade for nearly a decade around present-day New York and Connecticut. But the Puritans from Massachusetts Bay were slowly branching out into that region, establishing a trading post at Saybrook, and settlements at Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield -- all in present-day Connecticut.
The area was in turmoil. The Pequot attempted to extend their area of influence to include all lands from Long Island, to Narragansett territory, to Wampanoag territory. The Mohegan, enemies of the Pequot, saw an opportunity to form an alliance with the newly-arrived English. And the English saw yet another opportunity to pit nations against one another while quietly reaping the windfall caused by the strife.
Since the Narragansetts were crippled by disease, the Pequots enjoyed almost complete control over the manufacture of regional wampum. But the Puritans were now manufacturing wampum at a much faster rate and flooding the market, further threatening Pequot interests.
Tensions were high when brutal smuggler and slaver John Stone found himself on his ship at the mouth of the Connecticut River. He was such an undesirable that he had been banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for breaking so many laws. While in Connecticut, Stone attempted to brutally kidnap Western Niantic women and children to sell into slavery in Virginia and the West Indies. The Western Niantic were allies of the Pequot. Stone, along with seven of his crewmen, were killed in the attempt.
Officials of the Massachusetts Bay Colony quickly denounced the killing, and also demanded that the Pequot turn over those responsible for Stone's death. But the Pequot Sachem Sassacus refused. This would be the first of several brutal events that would cause tensions in the area to become practically unbearable.
A Dutch trading vessel had also arrived in Connecticut. A principal Pequot sachem named Tatobem boarded the vessel with the intent of conducting trade. Instead, Tatobem was seized and a substantial ransom was demanded for his return. The Pequot paid the ransom -- an entire bushel of wampum -- and they received Tatobem's corpse in return.
In 1636, an English trader named John Oldham was on a trading voyage to Block Island. His ship was attacked, looted, and Oldham and several of his crew members were killed. It is unknown to this day exactly who attacked Oldham's ship. But Eastern Niantic Indians living on Block Island would pay the price. Massachusetts Bay officials would send the militia to raid Block Island, and they burned the Niantic villages to the ground.
The English didn't stop at Block Island. They went on to Saybrook where they raided a Pequot village along the coast. The English demanded that those responsible for Stone's and Oldham's deaths turn themselves over to the militia. But the Pequots stalled, and the English eventually raided a virtually empty village before returning to Boston.
The Pequot began exacting revenge on English settlements. They raided Saybrook and Weathersfield. In all, the Pequot killed roughly 30 English settlers. The Connecticut colonists then raised a militia of about 100 men. With them were a few dozen Mohegan warriors.
The militia attempted a raid on the main Pequot fort at present-day Groton. But the Pequots were too powerful, and the English militia and their allies were turned back. They retreated to present-day Rhode Island where they enlisted the help of several hundred Narragansett and Eastern Niantic warriors. In addition they were joined by colonial militia from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In all, they were a fighting force of about 400 men.
The Pequot Sachem Sassacus with a couple of hundred warriors left their women and children hidden in a defensive palisade at present-day Mystic, CT, as they planned a siege on Hartford. The Narragansett would lead the English militia right to this defensive palisade.
With more than 700 Pequot women and children inside, the English militia set the palisade afire. Those Pequots who were not burned to death were shot by English guns as they tried to escape the flames. In all, only 7 were taken prisoner, and only 7 more escaped into the woods.
Captain John Mason would declare, "God laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven. Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies"
And so, on May 26, 1637, the first attempted genocide against the American Indian had ocurred. As horrifying as it was, it would hardly be the last.
Last edited by ForestJim (Jan-17-2007 12:52:am)
Chapter Eight - Impoverishment and Grace
The regional impact of the attempted genocide against the Pequot people cannot be understated. To the Indians, the brutality of the English warfare was on a horrifying scale. The complete destruction of so many women and children was positively unimaginable.
For several months following the massacre, the Puritans hunted down every last Pequot they could find. Those who escaped execution were distributed around the region to become slaves in English households, servants to other nations, or they were sold into slavery to the West Indies. Laws were established declaring the extinction of the Pequot people. The laws even went so far as to prohibit the use of the word Pequot.
In exchange for their lives, surviving Pequots were required to pay an annual tribute to the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This marked a new form of profit-making for the English, one which had no reciprocal value for the Indians. In addition to the collection of annual tributes, it became common practice in English law to fine Indians for a variety of minor crimes. The sum was not insignificant. In one 30-year period, the total collected from the Indians added up to more than 7 million beads of wampum.
In order to avoid starvation, the Indians paid the English for food. In order to survive a winter, they paid the English for coats and provisions. When they broke the law, they paid fines to the English. Eventually, the Indians had nothing left to give. Their histories, their genealogies, their stories, their legends, their songs, their poetry -- all collected over a millennia and recorded in wampumpeag -- all went to the English. When all those wampumpeag were gone, Indians were forced to repay their debts in servitude and slavery.
But for the Squaw Sachem of the Massachusett, she had one thing left that still had great value to the English -- her land. And so, piece by piece, the Squaw Sachem sold her land to the English in exchange for her survival and the survival of her remaining people. She sold some tracts of land for bushels of corn. Another tract she sold for the mere price of a new coat paid to her yearly just to keep her warm each winter. Since the Massachusett were so desperate just to keep themselves alive, the price of great swaths of land could be nothing more than small comforts.
As a likely testament of the true chauvinism of the English, the Squaw Sachem's mark alone on land deeds wasn't enough. For every land deed marked by Squaw Sachem, the English apparently also required her husband Webcowit to make his mark next to hers. After all, English courts could very well question the veracity of a document endorsed by a woman all by herself. Although Webcowit maintained his position as spiritual leader and had no real powers of leadership, his mark appears on all those land deeds nonetheless.
The Squaw Sachem's old friend from Mare Mount, Edward Gibbons, was now one of the most prominent businessmen in the colony. He was rich. He owned several ships. He was a successful entrepeneur. It appears Edward Gibbons took some measure of pity on his old friend and her situation. He purchased from the Squaw Sachem a large tract of land for 36 shillings -- not a small price for the times. Gibbons was then reimbursed by the townspeople at Charlestown for that land. Gibbons's generosity is demonstrated in the fact that the likelihood was very small that the settlers at Charlestown would've paid the Indians so much for that same land.
Gibbons apparently also brokered an additional land deal between his old friend and the Charlestown settlement. This time it was for a large portion of the Squaw Sachem's homeland of Wenotomies in present-day Arlington. Merely looking at the price paid for the land tells the story of how desperate the situation was for the Squaw Sachem and her people. The land at Wenotomies was purchased for 21 coats, 19 fathom of wampum, and 3 bushels of corn. That likely fed and clothed them for one winter.
The Squaw Sachem would not give up all of her land, however. She reserved one tract that included the Mystic Lakes, a natural spring, and rolling hills along the present-day border of Winchester and Arlington. She stipulated that the land was to be used, "while the squaw liveth," by all the Indians for planting, hunting, and fishing. Today that tract of land is on the site of the Winchester Country Club. But that would not be the end of the story of this piece of property.
Even in the face of absolute misery, starvation, and desperation -- after so many of her people had died of disease -- including two of her beloved sons -- after so many of her people had been killed by enemies, or sold into slavery to pay off debts; after everything she had been through, the Squaw Sachem still pulled off one last act of graciousness and generosity that would shine brightly in the historical records centuries later. To show her gratitude, the Squaw Sachem deeded her last bit of land on this Earth -- the aforementioned site along the Mystic Lakes -- to Jotham Gibbons, the eldest son of Edward Gibbons. Jotham was just 3-years-old at the time. The land was to be transferred into Jotham's name upon the event of Squaw Sachem's death. And so the only words handed down to us by history that can be directly attributed to the Squaw Sachem herself echo through the ages.
“This I do without seeking to of him or any of his; but I receiving many kindnesses of them, am willing to acknowledge their many kindnesses by this small gift to their son."
It is somehow fitting that this powerful woman and dynamic leader who persevered through unfathomable adversity would communicate her grace and generosity to us centuries later as the only surviving record of her words. It is powerful evidence of the true character and integrity of this amazing figure from history. Her example speaks volumes about the Massachusett as a people.
Chapter Nine - Death of a Sachem
The Squaw Sachem led a quiet existence on her land near Wenotomies following the events of the late 1630's. We hear very little about her for a few years. But for the Indians of Nipmuc Country, part of her former alliance, life was becoming increasingly more difficult.
As the fall of the beaver trade coincided with the arrival of devastating plagues among the Iroquois Confederacy, brutal wars were breaking out to the north and west. These terrible battles resulted in increased raids by the Mohawk into Nipmuc country, as they sought furs and provisions they desperately needed.
Facing relentless attacks and possible starvation, the Nipmuc sachems sought help from the Squaw Sachem. She arranged an agreement with the English. In 1644, the Squaw Sachem and four sachems from Nipmuc Country signed a Treaty of Submission, effectively placing their lands and people under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
In the meantime, the Squaw Sachem's old friend Edward Gibbons had made a ruinous business decision. He agreed to allow Charles La Tour, who was in a dispute over control of Acadia in present-day Maine, to bond his ships to do battle there. By 1645, La Tour was defeated. The ships were destroyed, and Edward Gibbons was in financial ruin. Gibbons was then forced to sell off all of his vast land holdings. In a show of sympathy for Gibbons's plight, the Massachusetts Bay Colony named him Major-General of the militia -- a salaried position.
The Squaw Sachem's last surviving son, Wenepoykin, continued to be ridiculed for his appearance, having lost his nose to ulcers during the smallpox epidemic. To make matters worse, he was increasingly frustrated by attempts to establish control over English settlements on lands in his domain -- including lands he inherited when both of his brothers died of smallpox.
Indians who were starving and desperate sometimes claimed ownership of land belonging to Wenepoykin in order to collect the money from bogus land sales to the English. But as far as the English were concerned, all sales were final. As long as a deed was marked and English courts were satisfied, they didn't particularly care who they paid for the land.
It was around this time when the missionary John Eliot arrived on the scene. He made it his life's work to Christianize the Indians of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He began traveling to Indian villages to preach. He eventually would learn to speak enough of the Massachuset language to deliver sermons to the Indians in their own tongue.
By 1647, the Squaw Sachem's husband and spiritual advisor to her people -- Webcowit -- would take an active interest in Eliot's teachings. He asked Eliot why it took the English 27 years to teach them about God, allowing so many to, "grow old in sin." His comments showed the kind of skepticism with which Webcowit likely regarded the Englishmen's religion.
The Squaw Sachem was now around 70-years-old and had lived a very hard and very difficult life. She had once been the wife of the most powerful man in the region. She had given birth to three sons and a daughter. She watched all of them grow into adulthood, marry, and have children of their own.
She survived relentless attacks by enemies from the north and west. She witnessed the English invasion of her lands from the east. She had nurtured alliances with the Pennacook, Nipmuc, and Narragansett. She watched her territory shrink down to just a few dozen acres near the place of her birth.
She endured not one, but two devastating plagues that claimed the lives of thousands of her people, including two of her own children and at least one grandchild, and left her only surviving son disfigured. She had led her people through unfathomable adversity with a courage and determination that we can only imagine today. And she had done it all as a sovereign leader a full 200 years before the founding of the Women's Rights Movement in America.
No one knows exactly when the Squaw Sachem passed away. Some 19th century sources erroneously reported her death as occurring in 1669, with some preposterous story about her being deaf, blind, and drowning in a brook. It is far more likely the Squaw Sachem died in 1650, for that is the year when court battles began over her homeland near Wenotomies. Her place of burial also remains unknown, but you can be sure that, wherever it was, one could also find a stunning view of her beloved Mystic Lakes and the rolling hills of her childhood.
With Squaw Sachem's passing, leadership of former tributaries in Nipmuc country fell to her daughter Yawate and her husband Awassamug. All the rest was now the undisputed territory of Wenepoykin. Any and all of the former domains of his brothers and mother were now his by inheritance. Unfortunately for Wenepoykin, the English didn't take the, "no-nose sachem," very seriously at all. They continued to encroach on his lands, and they continued to make land deals with Indians who had no claims to his properties.
With the Squaw Sachem out of the way, the English now felt they had almost complete jurisdiction over the Indians in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. So they looked to control them. They enacted laws that applied only to Indians, including laws against, "pauwauing," which to the English was the practice of any form of Indian spirituality whatsoever. They also continued using fines as punishments to keep the Indians in a state of perpetual poverty. Additionally, the fines were a means of providing slave labor to the growing settlements. When an Indian was unable to pay his fines, he was placed into servitude -- often indefinitely.
The missionary Eliot was now free and able to set up villages for the purpose of converting Indians to Christianity. These villages were also used to persuade Indians into practicing European customs and wearing European clothing. Schools were built where Indian children were taught to speak, think, and live like the English. The Indians were free to do only one thing -- choose the locations of their villages. For most of the Squaw Sachem's remaining people, their choice was the most sacred land to Yawate, her husband Awassamug, and their mostly Nipmuc followers -- at present-day Natick, MA.
Evidence found by modern archaeologists showed that Eliot's, "praying Indian villages," were hardly a success. Artifacts recovered from excavations of the, "Christian," burials suggested that the Indians continued practicing some form of their spirituality, likely without the knowledge of the English. Even conversion testimonials given by Indians handed down to us through the centuries proved that many of them converted to Christianity only because they, "loved their land," but, "believeth not."
At the time of the Squaw Sachem's death in 1650, Jotham Gibbons was living in Bermuda and in dire financial trouble. His father, the Squaw Sachem's good friend Edward Gibbons, was also in a bad financial state. Jotham was now the rightful owner of the land near Wenotomies. The Squaw Sachem had bequeathed that land to him. But since he was in Bermuda, and because the Gibbons family was in such a terrible state of affairs, his father claimed the land for him. Edward Gibbons immediately turned around and mortgaged the property to a man named Captain Samuel Scarlett, acquiring some much-needed funds.
Within 4 years, Edward Gibbons would pass away. Four years after that, his wife would also pass. That same year, in 1758, Jotham would die in Bermuda. So the land of the Mystic Lakes, where the Squaw Sachem chose to live out the last years of her life, was now owned by Captain Samuel Scarlett. Almost immediately, Scarlett leased the land to a man named Thomas Gleison.
In the meantime, Wenepoykin grew increasingly frustrated in his attempts to stop the English encroachment on his domains. He began trying to use the English courts to regain those lands that were rightfully his, with no success. By now he was quite poor, despite being a sachem. He was forced to put up some of his undisputed property -- part of Nahant -- as collateral to pay for the appeals of his cases to the General Court.
But, once again, the English didn't take the, "no-nose sachem," very seriously. In 1659, the General Court summarily denied his appeals. They further told Wenepoykin that the court would no longer hear his claims. The land at Nahant that served as collateral was seized to pay Wenepoykin's court costs, and then became part of the settlement of Lynn.
Wenepoykin would, quite understandably, harbor considerable resentment towards the English. One day, those feelings would end up being his complete undoing.
Last edited by ForestJim (Jan-28-2007 02:38:am)
Chapter Ten - Of God And War
The Indians of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were mostly responsible for the creation of their own praying villages. They chose the locations. They performed the labor necessary to fence their fields and erect buildings. They created the roads and bridges. Although some money was procured from England for John Eliot's endeavors, none of it would have been possible without the full cooperation and participation of the Indians themselves.
It was likely their desperate state that precipitated such widespread cooperation. They no longer had many of the lifeways that their ancestors had relied on for survival. The loss of a direct connection with the ocean was enough all by itself to deprive them of the food they needed for survival. Therefore, they were compelled to form a dependence on the English.
That dependence allowed the English to dictate many more of the Indians' affairs. The English pushed the Indians into settling in one place and relying on livestock and subsistence farming. The English persuaded the Indians to give up hunting. They discouraged the Indians from trapping. When tensions between the English and the Wampanoag began to rise, they confiscated the Indians' guns. Nearly every facet of their lives was dictated by the English.
Massasoit of the Wampanoag resisted all attempts by the missionaries to convert his people. The Narragansett also dismissed Christianity and wanted no part of it. Wenepoykin, too, rebuked Puritan efforts to turn him away from his spirituality. But it was not quite the same for Wenepoykin's kinsmen who had little choice but to placate the Puritans, move into the praying villages, and humor the English in their attempts to teach them how to be pious Europeans. The effect of that was to slowly push the traditions, customs, and even the language of the Massachuset underground, and eventually out of existence altogether.
The praying villages divided Wenepoykin's people. Some were sent to Wamesit along the Merrimack River in present-day Chelmsford. Most others, including his sister Yawate, were sent to Natick. Wenepoykin himself settled in neither place, continuing his role as sachem, traveling throughout his territory, trying to regain land unlawfully taken by the English, and visiting neighboring tribes in New Hampshire, Maine, and Rhode Island.
The praying indian villages also had the effect of fractionalizing the Indians in and around the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The villages created a duality that only grew worse with time. It placed the Christianized Indians in a tenuous position with both English and Indians alike. The English couldn't fully trust the the praying Indians because they were, after all, Indians. Other Indians who resisted religious conversion looked upon the praying Indians as almost traitors to their own people, and also couldn't trust them because of their close relationships with the English. They weren't accepted by either society, but at the same time they were being pulled in both directions by both cultures.
Never was that duality more vividly evident than in the tragic story of John Sassamon. Sassamon was believed to have been a member of the Wampanoag Nation until his parents died of the smallpox in the 1630's. As was popular at the time, he was taken in by an English household where he worked as a servant in exchange for an English education. In 1754, Sassamon attended Harvard College years before an Indian college was established there. Needless to say, Sassamon could speak both Massachuset and English with a fluency like no other. That made him a perfect schoolmaster for the praying village at Natick. Eventually, though, Sassamon would become dissatisfied with his dual role and he would re-enter Indian life.
About the year 1660, the great Massasoit of the Wampanoag would pass away at around the age of 80-years-old. His oldest son, Wamsutta, would take over his leadership. But within two years, Wamsutta would become ill and die. Many believed he was poisoned by the English, including his successor -- his brother Metacom, known by the English as King Philip.
John Sassamon served as Metacom's translator and became very influential in Wampanoag affairs. The English hoped Sassamon would offer an opportunity to persuade Metacom and his people to convert to Christianity. But like his father before him, Metacom rebuked the Puritans' efforts.
Not only did Metacom blame the English for his brother's death, but he resented the constant English intrusions into Wampanoag affairs. With most of the Massachuset now under English control, and with Massasoit out of the way, the Puritans looked to exert their authority over the Wampanoag. But Metacom would have none of that.
We don't know exactly why, but John Sassamon would eventually re-enter Puritan life. He would become a minister at Plymouth Colony. But he would also maintain his Indian ties as well. He was back in that kind of dual role. His loyalties were constantly divided.
For Metacom, the last straw came when the English made repeated attempts to confiscate Wampanoag arms. The Puritans placed tremendous pressure on Metacom, making him fearful that the English might poison him like his brother, or arrest him and put him in jail -- or even send him off to slavery or have him executed. It was a time of great turmoil. Eventually, Metacom felt there was nothing left to do but fight. He and his Wampanoag sachems got together and began plotting attacks on English settlements.
Word got to John Sassamon about the impending attacks by Metacom. We can only imagine the inner turmoil he must've felt from the burden of such information. He was a supremely intelligent man. He knew the bloodshed an all-out war would create. He knew that while the Indians didn't possess the weapons that the English had, their numbers were greater. He also knew that the English would be well-supplied from England, and any kind of war would kill many people on both sides of the conflict.
Likely with great reluctance and trepidation, John Sassamon warned officials at Plymouth Colony of Metacom's plans. It seems apparent to us today that he did it not to show allegiance to the English, or to turn his back on the Indians -- but he did it for no other purpose than to spare everyone from the tremendous bloodshed that was about to take place.
Sassamon received absolutely no gratitude for his act whatsoever. The English scoffed at his warning. But the reaction of the Indians would be much worse. Within a few weeks, John Sassamon's body was found floating beneath the freshly-formed ice of Assowamsett Pond near present-day Middleborough.
When three Wampanoag men were tried, convicted, and executed for Sassamon's murder, the fate of southern New England had been sealed. The region was now on the brink of all-out war.
Chapter Eleven - The End of the Massachuset Federation
King Philip's War was a devastating conflict. It is estimated that one in every ten combatants was killed in action. Nearly 30 colonial towns were leveled. Countless Indian villages were completely destroyed. It became clear rather quickly that both sides were fighting for total victory -- the complete eradication of the other from the region.
Throughout most of the war the Indians were clearly winning the conflict. They had succeeded in driving the enemy from the so-called frontier territories and pinned them with their backs to the sea. Brazen attacks in the heart of colonial territory such as the Plymouth Colony proved that the Indians had the capability of striking anywhere at any time.
The pinning of the English against the sea also created the turning point in the war. The Indians were quickly running out of supplies. Promised weapons and ammunition from the French never materialized. The English, on the other hand, had supplies of everything they needed, including men, arriving by ship on a regular basis.
The praying villages were very much caught in the middle of the conflict. Those praying villages in outlying areas were quickly abandoned. Some were raided by Indian forces. Indian warriors pressured the Christianized Indians to join them in the fight. If they refused, they risked becoming captives. If they tried to turn themselves in to the English, they risked being mistaken for hostile Indians and executed.
Neither side trusted the praying Indians. Indian forces viewed them as traitors to their own people. English forces saw them as the enemy. As such, the English treated them as the enemy. The Squaw Sachem's descendants at Natick, including her daughter Yawate and many of her kinsmen, were rounded up in the middle of the night and marched to the shore. There they were loaded onto boats and brought to Deer Island in Boston Harbor. It was the first internment camp in American history.
The conditions on Deer Island were deplorable. They didn't have enough clothing, furs, or materials to make adequate wetus to shield them from the harsh ocean environment. They didn't have enough food and were forced to scavenge along the shore for whatever they could find to eat. The small island had no trees and very little vegetation. The sandy soil was incompatible with cultivation. It was so horrific that nearly half of everyone interned on the island would die from exposure, starvation, or disease.
The English made an offer to a couple of the Squaw Sachem's kinsmen; They could be spared from the hell they were enduring on the island if they agreed to become spies and scouts for the English. Not only did they want to save themselves, but they likely agreed to become spies believing that the English would do all they could to help their families survive on the island. They were also promised payment of 5 pounds each -- money that could help buy food and clothing for their suffering families.
So these two men, Quanapaug and Quanapohit, made major contributions to the war effort for the English. They were nephews of the Squaw Sachem and cousins of Yawate and Wenepoykin. Their help was apparently so instrumental that a body of water in Arlington -- at the heart of the Squaw Sachem's beloved Wenotomies -- was named for them, and continues to carry that name to this day. It's called Spy Pond.
Wenepoykin was now at his breaking point. After decades of seeing his land stolen by the English, after numerous losses in court battles to regain what was rightfully his, after seeing the division and distribution of his people to praying villages, Wenepoykin was on his last straw. That straw came when his sister and his kinsmen were interned on Deer Island. Wenepoykin had enough. He organized warriors to the north and joined Metacom in the fight against the English.
Eventually, Wenepoykin would be captured by the enemy. Rather than execute him as they would hundreds of other Indian men, they sold him off to Barbados to become a slave in the sugar plantations -- a fate even worse than death. Slaves in Barbados endured unspeakable tortures. The horrors of slavery in the Caribbean cannot be understated.
The English continued with their policy of total eradication. They burnt every Indian village in the region. When Wampanoag refugees -- mostly women, children, and elders -- sought asylum with the Narragansett in Rhode Island, the English demanded they be turned over to authorities. When the Narragansett refused, they became next on the Englishmen's hit list.
The English attacked the defensive palisade where the Wampanoag refugees were hiding. Employing the tactics they had learned against the Pequot decades earlier, the English set fire to the palisade. Hundreds of Wampanoag and Narragansett women, children, and elders were burned alive. Any men who escaped were executed. Women and children who escaped were sold as slaves to English households all over the colonies. The event is known in history as the Great Swamp Fight -- but it would be more aptly named a slaughter rather than a fight.
The English pursuit of the Narragansett didn't end there. The English sought the genocidal elimination of the Narragansett Nation. They burned every known Narragansett village, they executed every Narragansett man of fighting age, and they enslaved everyone else. For a short period in history, the Narragansetts ceased to be as a people. But with the help of their Eastern Niantic cousins, they would eventually make a comeback.
The aftermath of the war saw the execution of hundreds of Indian men, and the enslavement of hundreds of Indian women and children. The stone walls that criss-cross New England's woods today serve as memorials to Indian slaves who built them with their hard labor, sweat, and blood well into the 18th century. They serve as stark reminders of the size and scale of Indian enslavement in New England. So many Americans look upon them as quaint remembrances of our country's humble beginnings. Indians look upon them as sorrowful reminders of the horrors and sacrifices their ancestors endured.
Somehow, despite all that had been done to them, Indians continued to live in and around the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In spite of the best attempts by the English to eradicate the Indians from the land, they continued to hand down oral histories and traditions, and lived the lives of their ancestors to the best of their abilities. They would never again live as a cohesive nation, but instead led an almost nomadic existence on the fringes of Euro-American society. They'd be reduced to poverty, and ravaged by alcoholism -- but they would continue.
In 1684, when the Crown in England revoked the Massachusetts Bay Colony's charter, the towns in the colony began to panic. They feared their land grants would become worthless. They scrambled to acquire deeds from any and all Indians who represented the original grantors. When the town of Marblehead realized that their grantor was Wenepoykin who was enslaved in Barbados, they secured his return to Massachusetts.
Wenepoykin somehow survived slavery in Barbados for 8 long years. It is a testament to his courage and character. He returned to his homeland where he was cared for by Yawate's clan at Natick. But sadly, Wenepoykin was a broken man -- now 68-years-old. It was miraculous that he survived 8 years of slavery in his 60's, and then somehow lived through the voyage back to New England. But he did. Sadly, Wenepoykin lived just long enough to pass away in his beloved homeland, in 1684, with his sister Yawate by his side. He would never sign the deed to Marblehead.
Yawate was now nearly 75-years-old. She had lived through the untimely death of her father and relentless attacks by enemies. She witnessed her mother's rise to greatness. She saw thousands upon thousands of her people die from disease, including two of her brothers. She saw her mother sell all of her land to help feed and clothe her people. She witnessed her brother's land being systematically stolen by the English. She lived through wars, attempts at genocide, and even endured horrific internment. She had married a respected Nipmuc sachem and had given birth to children of her own. She even helped to raise her grandchildren.
Yawate had outlived all of her siblings. The death of Wenepoykin had to be particularly difficult for her. She lived for only another two years after Wenepoykin's passing. In 1686, Yawate -- the last of the Squaw Sachem's children -- would pass away. With her would also die the last remnant of the once-great and thriving Massachuset Federation. From this point forward, descendants of Nanepashemet and the Squaw Sachem would be largely known as the Natick Indians.
Last edited by ForestJim (Feb-06-2007 12:22:am)
Epilogue - Into The Present
With the death of John Eliot in 1690, Natick became an undeclared reservation where Indians were confined. Rather than endure the forced poverty and total loss of freedom, many Indians left Natick to join with other nations and bands to the north and west. Within thirty years there would be just a couple of hundred Indians left at Natick. They divided all the land they had left among the remaining 20 or so families.
But poverty was taking its toll. Starvation as well as exposure to New England's harsh winters forced many of them to sell their land to whites. Survival was the only motivating factor. In spite of their difficult living, many Natick Indians held onto their land for as long as they could endure.
During the American Revolution, several Natick Indians served and fought side-by-side with the colonists. Names like Wamsquam, Obscow, Sooduck, Comecho, and Quapish -- men who saw action at places like Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, Fort Ticonderoga, and elsewhere. On Memorial Day in 2006, the Natick Praying Indians helped to dedicate two stone monuments erected by the Town of Natick in remembrance of the sacrifice of these brave men. The stones bear the engraving, "We will remember," and list the names of the fallen soldiers who were buried in unmarked graves more than 225 years ago.
In 1781, the town of Natick was officially incorporated. Most of the land had been sold to whites. A new church was built and a white minister was put in charge. The Indian governing council was replaced by white town selectmen. After more than 130 years under Indian guidance, the Natick Praying Indian village was no more.
Despite 19th and 20th century, "scholars," who repeatedly wrote of the extinction of the Indians from Middlesex and Essex Counties in Massachusetts, descendants of the Massachuset Federation -- and the Natick Indians -- are still there to this very day. For centuries they have lived as, "unseen neighbors," both blending in to Euro-American society, but also remaining apart from it enough to survive as a people.
A look at the lists of marriages, births, and deaths in the year 1850 at Natick show dozens of Indian names. Wonsamug, for example, shows up several times in different forms -- a name that directly descended from Yawate and her husband Onsamug. Names like Womsquon, Waban, and Rumneymarsh, along with dozens of others, are proof of a vibrant Indian community at Natick well into the 19th century. Those are also names that can be traced directly back to Nanepashemet and the Squaw Sachem.
While it is true that the Massachuset language is no longer spoken fluently, and that most of the songs, stories, and customs were lost long ago as a result of severe repression and subjugation, there are still communities of Indians in Middlesex and Essex Counties that share a rich tradition of heritage. There are close family ties and there are clans that have cared for one another for centuries.
As time went by, the families became more and more scattered all across eastern Massachusetts. Many of their genealogies have been lost and destroyed. Vital records that would have served as documented proof of their Natick heritage are largely missing. And although their ancestors were forced to deny their Indian heritage in order to have basic rights such as the right to probate, these Indians have never lost their identities. They are Natick Praying Indians, and at long last they are coming home.
I dedicate this story to them.
Well Jim that was brilliant and I was hanging on for each new chapter. You have done the Natick Praying Indians justice and further opened my eyes to the tragedies that unfolded.
I feel ashamed that I may have had European ancestors that were part of the events although I believe and hope that they were amongst those that were sympathetic to The Indians of Massachusetts and New Amsterdam.
I sincerely hope that the Natick Praying Indians may be able to celebrate their recognition in the future and remain strong and united with each other.
They have indeed survived the holocaust.
Thankyou again Jim your description of the events are a credit to your writing skills.