Part II: Boundaries Upon The Land and People


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Part II Boundaries Upon The Land and People.

Early on in James Truslow Adam’s authoritative history The Founding of New England, we find as succinct a summary as may be possible in describing the years when the complex but often negotiable coexistence between Native and New Americans Southern New England  began to sour.

“By 1675…The settled area which by that year extended westward from the sea one third of the way across Massachusetts, was continued from Cape Cod along the Sound and up the Connecticut River, and the Western Massachusetts towns were scattered up the valley of the latter as far as Northfield. It was now the Indian who found himself, not simply far outnumbered, but entirely surrounded, by his white neighbors.”[1]

This was the perilous condition in which the Southern New England tribes found themselves  after the devastation of the Pequot and Wampanoag wars. Adams writes that “ The land-hunger of the whites…was insatiable. Almost any trouble with the natives became a sufficient excuse for an extorted cession of territory, either immediate, or deferred.” [2]

In some areas of New England, such as Newport, Rhode Island, the town authorities issued a writ against the harassment of the remaining Native Americans. What were the circumstances that had occurred from the early days of collusion and co-existence to those years of war and devastation? Was it simply the “steady stream of emigration” that flooded Native lands, the wealthy land speculators who opened the floodgates?

Roger Williams famously complained that land had become “ one of the gods of New England”, and the influx of whites leading up to King Philip’s War had certainly swelled the populated areas. But there is more to the story of those years that saw the unraveling of the complex relations between Native Americans and European settlers in the region.

Perhaps a brief examination of the Native American tradition of “ownership” or “territory” as the Europeans called it, might be a fitting place to begin. Native boundaries of their “territory” were those natural in the landscape: the rivers, hills, meadows, and rolling hills that marked the New England countryside. A concise description of this centuries old practice can be found in the colonial diary of Vermont born Daniel Harmon, who recorded that

“Each tribe has its particular tract of country; and this is divided again, among the several families which compose each tribe. Rivers, lakes, and mountains serve them as boundaries; and the limits of the territory which belongs to each family are as well known to the tribe as the lines which separate farms are, by the farmers in the civilized world”

But these borders as they were, remained open through the practice of trade as we have seen, and other agreements between neighboring tribes for use of fishing, hunting, use of ancient paths that connected boundaries, were part of the Native American perception of their land and its uses.

Sidney S. Rider, reports in The Lands of Rhode Island as known by Canonicus and Miantonomo that

“ while having no written laws, the Narragansetts were scrupulous in what we would call their lawful duties to each other. They strictly observed the land boundary lines, even in their hunting of animals…if killed in the water the skin was given as a tribute to the sachem of the tribe upon whose lands the deer was killed. But if the animal was killed on the land, the fore-quarters were taken to the ruling sachem”.

These beliefs were often the cause of unease, and then mistrust in the aftermath of selling a parcel of land to white settlers. Early conflicts in court, or confrontations on the land, reflected Native American interpretation of such agreements. Sometimes brought to court for trespass, surely an unfamiliar term to Native Americans; the idea that they had sold their rights to fish a long visited stream, or hunt in a place where the deer were known to gather during the spring rut was inconceivable to many.

As William Cronon writes in Changes in the Land,

“When lands were traded or sold…what were exchanged were usufruct rights, acknowledgements by one group that another might use an area for planting or hunting or gathering. Such rights were limited to the period of use, and they did  not include many of the privelages Europeans commonly associated with ownership…”[3]

In most cases, the response of the colonial governments was to attempt an enforcement of English law upon the Native Americans, but this was not always so.

Land deeded by Miantonomo to Samuel Gorton and his followers continued to have Narragansett and other neighboring tribes traveling through its boundaries as late as the period of the Revolutionary War.

Such was not the case at Aquidneck, as we have seen. Not only did the settlers want the remaining Narragansett off the island, but by 1641, the town governance had ordered that “no man shall goe two miles from the Towne unarmed eyther with Gunn or Sword and that none shall Come to any Publick Meeting without his weapon.”

The town also placed strict hunting limits on its inhabitants, but also stated “that no Indian shall be suffered to kill or destroy at any time or any wher.[4] Within a few short years of the deed, The General Court of Election also issued orders that “no Indian shall fall or peelany trees upon the Islands”, prohibited townspeople from giving, selling, “or in any other waies convey, any Powlder, shott, Gunn, Pistoll. sword, or any other Engine of warr, to the Indians that are or may prove offensive to this State” , and resolved that it’s citizens were not to encourage friendship with the Narragansett, and levied fines against any homeowner having said Indians as visitors, giving them liquor or any other hospitality.

Tensions between the settlers and Narragansett as well as neighboring tribes were also exacerbated by the fundamental differences in use of the land.

The Narragansett were long established as an agricultural people, and as part of the traditional method of renewing the land, used fire both for its nutritive benefits in the fields, and in removing the undergrowth in the woodlands. One astonished European traveler wrote that he could “gallop his horse” through the park-like forest.

Managed fires in the region routinely removed briars and brambles that would choke paths as well as slow the growth of Oak and Maple trees, the Birches and Chestnuts that were native to New England. As Roger Williams observed:

“this burning of the Wood to them they count as a Benefit, both for destroying of vermin, and keeping downe the Weeds and thickets.”

This method of removing undergrowth may also have been an ingenious defensive measure, as any party of Native Americans or Europeans would be immediately exposed on entering their lands.

As William Cronon points out in “Changes In The Land”, these practices had as well, a renewable outcome for other sources of food, clothing, and religious rituals:

“Indian burning promoted the increase of exactly those species whose abundance so impressed English colonists: elk, deer, beaver, hare, porcupine, turkey, quail, ruffed grouse, and so on. When these populations increased, so did the carnivorous eagles, hawks, lynxes, foxes, and wolves…”

The burning of fields before winter, or to drive game from the tall grasses during the autumn hunting were long traditions, as was a natural economizing of the use of their environment by frequently moving between established sites throughout tribal lands.

The Narragansett language reflects this awareness, as do many Indian place names. An acute respect for what the land gave and its fragility, has always been a fundamental characteristic of Native American beliefs.

Agawon, a low lying area east of Providence was known as the place to unload canoes, Antashantuck, or “well forested place” referred to an area of what is now the Johnston/Cranston line, around Randall  (once Antashantuck) pond. Other place names relect their use such as Homogansett which means literally “hunting ground” or Papanomscutt,  (place where we get fish in winter).

Europeans had little understanding of these areas long used by the Narragansett and other tribes. The typical English habit of settling the land and draining it of resources before moving to another tract of land was no different in Rhode Island in its impact of indigenous ways of life.

As historian Michael Leroy Oberg observes

“The settlers used swamps and marshes for grazing cattle and allowed their hogs to root for food on coastal and estuarine mud flats. To natives, the wet-lands were the source of raw material for native basketry, and the mud flats provided habitat for the shellfish that constituted an important element of their diet. As English settlers cleared the uplands, moreover, they eliminated shelter for wild animals and so altered the hunting potential of the region. And, as in Virginia, free-ranging English livestock frequently ravaged native cornfields, damaging a staple of the coastal Algonquian….”[5]

The destruction of fields by English livestock was a long registered complaint from the Wampanoag to Plymouth’s Bradford, as the English broadened out settlements from the original town atop what is now Cole’s Hill.

In 1620. there was little the Wampanoag or other Massachusetts tribes could do about the taking of their lands. An epidemic of hepatitis between 1616 and 1619 had taken what is estimated to be 90 % of the tribe’s people. The early chronicler John White wrote that the wave of illness “swept away most of the Inhabitants all along the Sea Coast, and in some places utterly consumed man, woman, & childe, so that there is no person left to lay claime to the soyle which they possessed.”[6]

Neighboring tribes along the East Coast from Cape Cod to Maine were affected by the latest illness to bebrought by European sailors to New England shores.

In their long and meandering journey to Plymouth, the Pilgrims had scarcely seen a Native American. They had uncovered bushels of corn stored on the Cape, and briefly pursued a group of natives noticed on the beach, but what remained of those tribes nearby were understandably cautious about approaching the English or being noticed.

Encounters with Europeans had soon soured despite the Native American’s early willingness to trade. By 1602, vessels from European countries cod-fishing offshore were a common sight, and inspired the English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold to give the area its name of Cape Cod.

It was not long however, before European visitors, intent on establishing trading posts, had worn out their welcome. Indian raids and fires began destroying the posts sent these early would be settlers sailing for home.

But European exploration persisted and brought increasingly violent encounters, with the Englishman Edward Harlow abducting at least half a dozen Native Americans, and Thomas Hunt, a commander in Captain John Smith’s expedition of 1614, kidnapping as many natives as could fill his hold to be sold into slavery in Spain, though not all seem to have reached that destination.

In the spring and summer of 1619, the English explorer Thomas Dermer visited the region accompanied by Tisquantum, one of the natives abducted by Hunt five years earlier. They found the area desolate and largely abandoned. Those scattered settlementsthat still remained partially populated had been ravaged by disease.

Tisquantum led Dermer through native territories in Nemasket and onto Sowams where they found the Pokanoket  Sachem Massasoit. By the Englishman’s account, the meeting was pleasant and satisfactory, the Sachem even handing over a French captive who had been taken from a shipwreck a year earlier.

The following spring however, anther English ship anchored in Narragansett Bay and invited a large group of unarmed Pokanoket aboard, where they were slaughtered in cold blood.

The following summer of 1620, when Dermer reappeared in New England, he was dismayed to find his party come under attack at almost every outpost visited. When he arrived at Martha’s Vineyard, the attack was so fierce that only he and another Englishman survived to flee the assault. Dermer was wounded badly and died a short time after reaching refuge in Virginia.

When the Pilgrims finally began building a few houses on the hill in Plymouth, it was late December and neighboring tribes who may have been along the shore were hunkered down well inland in encampments for the winter. If the journey aboard the Mayflower had not been so long and arduous, the now fabled Bradford might have met Dermer’s fate.

Indeed, Massasoit was well aware of their arrival, but with his people depleted and tensions with the Narragansett occupying his warriors, he determined to wait and see what strength remained of men and weapons in Plymouth with the coming of spring. Tisquantaum, traveling between Patuxet and Sowams, searching for the remnants of his own family, had met with Massasoit and given him some idea of the size of the settlement, but the Sachem seems to have had a measure of mistrust toward the Native American from Maine, and a member of a once rival tribe.

Tisquantum was the first to boldly enter the compound in March, a day after he and a group of Natives spotted the Europeans across the brook which widened at the top of the hill, it’s waters fed by what became known as the Billington Sea, a large, wide lake two miles inland from the bay.[7] His loud proclamation of “welcome Englishmen” astonished the Pilgrim leaders who had expected a confrontation, and of course knew nothing of the Native American’s past. Squanto, as he was to be named by the Pilgrims, proved to be an invaluable friend.

In that spring before Thanksgiving, the Native taught the Pilgrim farmers the use of the herring that ran town brook, to fertilize the planting of corn, the English adapting a plan for acreage of corn in small plots rather than a large field as the Natives preferred, based upon their own idea of property.

Tisquantum negotiated with Massasoit about approaching the new settlement. The Sachem of course, had no idea how bitter the winter had been for those English exiles, and it seems to have been the consensus of his own people that despite Tisquantum’s assurances, the Pilgrims were at first unwelcome.

As noted in Nathaniel Philbrick’s “The Mayflower”, Pokanoket powwows, or medicine men, chanted incantations throughout the winter to conjure up spirits and drive the newcomers away. When this seemed to fail, Tisquantum took the opportunity to play upon the Sachem’s fears. He told Massasoit that the Pilgrims possessed great cannons, and many muskets, as well as having the ability to unleash disease upon their enemies as a weapon of war.

Tisquantum advised the Sachem to befriend the English. Ties with the powerful newcomers, he assured Massasoit, meant that old adversaries like the Narragansett, “would be constrained to bow to him”.

Ever cautious, Massasoit initially sent a neighboring Sachem named Samoset to visit the Pilgrim compound. This Sachem effectively prepared the settlement for a visit from Massasoit.

On March 22, 1621, Samoset, with Tisquantum in tow, arrived in Plymouth with the news that Massasoit and his brother would soon be nearby.

The Pokanoket entourage of sixty warriors stood on Watson’s Hill, faces painted with black or red ochre, “some yellow, and some white, some with crosses and other antic works.” The warriors heads glistened in the cold with bear grease.

It must have been an intimidating sight for the Pilgrim leaders who numbered now about twenty men, including Edward Winslow whose wife lay dying as he placed himself in the natives hands while Massasoit and twenty unarmed Pokanoket went to meet with Governor Carver.

Both Massasoit and his brother Quadequina were given receptions as fit for dignitaries as the Plymouth settlement could muster. An agreement was reached between the Pokanoket and the Pilgrims which Bradford recorded as follows:

1.That neither he nor any of his should injure or do hurt to any of our people.

2. And if any of his did hurt to any of ours, he should send the offender, that we might punish him.

3. That if any of our tools were taken away when our people were at work, he should cause them to be restored, and if ours did any harm to any of his, we would do the like to him.

4. If any did unjustly war against him, we would aid him, if any did war against us, he should aid us.

5. He should send to his neighbor confederates, to certify them of this, that they might not wrong us, but might likewise be comprised in the conditions of peace.

6. That when their men came to us, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them, as we should do our pieces when we came to them.

No doubt, the Pilgrim leaders were relieved to have crafted a covenant with the Pokanoket Sachem, but the sudden illness and death of Governor Carver but a few short weeks after the agreement, caused unease and dissension within the Plantation. Without their late leader’s guiding hand, mistrust and rebellion threatened the future of Plymouth.

Although weakened by illness, William Bradford assumed the role of Governor with Israel Allerton, Edward Winslow, William Brewster, and the militaristic Miles Standish serving as the authorities who would guide the settlement to peace and prosperity.

In July, Bradford sent Winslow and Stephen Hopkins to confer with Massasoit. Since the Sachem’s visit in March, the Plantation had seen an array of Native American visitors, especially from nearby Nemasket. While the visitors were welcomed, in Winslow’s words, “his people came very often, and many together, …bringing for the most part, their wives and children with them, …yet…not knowing how our corn might prosper we could no longer give them entertainment as we had done, and as we still desired to do.”[8]

The Plymouth leaders devised a means by way of a copper coin fastened on a chain that would be worn by visitors the Sachem had sent to the plantation. All other visitors would then be turned peaceably away. The party set out with Tisquantum to find “the great King”and deliver the chain along with a “horseman’s coat of red cotton, and laced with a small lace, for a present; that both they and their message might be more acceptable amongst them”.

Traveling to Nemasket, and then along the Titcut (Taunton) River for several days, Winslow observed the cleared fields and pondered the “thousands of men …which  died in a great plague not long since: and pity it was, and is, to see so many goodly fields, and so well seated, without men to dress and manure the same.”

Arriving in Packanokick, the party found that Massasoit was not home, but waited until word came of his arrival. The Sachem welcomed the visitors and brought them to his house, where

“having delivered our foresaid Message, and presents; and having put the coat on his back and the chain about his neck; he was not a little proud to behold himself, and his men to see their King, so bravely attired.”

Massasoit told Winslow and Hopkins that

“he would gladly continue that peace and friendship which was between him and us; and for his men, they should no more pester us as they had done…This being done, his men gathered near to him: to whom he turned himself, and made a great speech; they sometimes interposing, and as it were confirming and applauding him in that he said. The meaning whereof was, as far as we could learn, thus: Was not he MASSASOYT, Commander of the country about them? Was not such a town his, and the people of it? And should they not bring their skins to us? To which they answered, These were his, and would be at peace with us, and bring their skins to us. After this manner, he named at least thirty places; and their answer was as aforesaid, to every one: so that, as it was delightful, it was tedious unto us.”

The Pilgrims were to find out however, that there were indeed limits to Massasoit’s authority. Not long after they had returned to Plymouth, that authority was put to the test when sixteen year old John Billington went exploring in the woods and became lost. In Bradford’s words the boy

“wandered up and down for some five days, living on berries and what he could find. At length he light on an Indian plantation twenty miles south of this place called Manomet; they conveyed him further off, to Nauset among those people that had before set upon the English when they were coasting whilst the ship lay at the Cape…”[9]

As Billington had come upon into an encampment that was overseen by the Pakonoket, the Sachem Canacum seems to have used the opportunity to show his disapproval of Massasoit’s  recent alliance with the English. The Nausets had been little effected by the plagues, and their strength had increased in the years that followed

Their Sachem Aspinet now commanded a considerable body of warriors.

The Pilgrims appealed to Massasoit for help, and while he held no provenance over the Nauset, he was able to convey where the boy was located to Plymouth authorities.

Once again, Edward Winslow was dispatched with a party of men to negotiate with the natives for the boy’s return. Winslow’s account, carefully written to be a justification of the Colonists endeavors, shows the reader that the leaders at the outset undertook to engage neighboring tribes and recompense for the earlier wrongs they’d received at English hands,  that the Plymouth inhabitants “were attempting to lead virtuous lives to accomplish God’s will”.[10]

Along with several men in the party were Tisquantum and his friend Tokamahamon who would serve as interpreters in negotiations. They set off from Plymouth harbor in fair weather, but as Winslow writes

“ere we had been long at sea, there arose a storm of wind and rain, with much lightening and thunder, insomuch that a spout arose not far from us. But, GOD be praised! it dured not long: and we put in, that night, for harbour, at a place, called Cummaquid[11]; where we had some hope to find the boy.”

The party spent the night in the boat at low tide, and in the morning spotted several natives collecting lobsters. Tisquantum waded out to a point where a channel separated the men and called out to them. In the exchange that followed, the Pilgrims ascertained that while Billington was not there, he was well and in the hands of the Nausets farther up the Cape. The party was invited to come ashore, which, given this good news, they agreed to do so.

Winslow and the others were brought to meet the young Sachem Iyanough, – “gentle, courteous, and fair conditioned : indeed not like a savage,  save for his attire”, was the Englishman’s impression.

While in Iyanough’s company, they were visited by “an old woman, whom we judged to be no less than a hundred years old”, who broke down weeping upon seeing the Englishmen.  In translation through Tisquantum, it was learned that the woman’s three sons were among those taken captive by Hunt seven years before, and she despaired of ever seeing them again.

The men from Plymouth had but a few trivial items to give in recompense, but Winslow sought with words to differentiate between those English these Native Americans had encountered before, and the devout people of his plantation.

“We told them, We were sorry that any Englishman should give them that offence; that HUNT was a bad man, and that all the English that heard of it condemned him for the same : but for us, we would not offer them any such injury; though it would gain us all the skins in the country.”[12]

After sharing a meal, the party set out for Nauset, guided by Iyanough and two of his men. They put in at the harbor[13] near sunset, and the Sachem of Cummaquid strode ashore with his men, followed by Tisquantum to convey greetings to Aspinet that they had come for young Billington. It was not long before the nearby natives “came very thick amongst us and were earnest with us to bring in our boat; but we neither well could: nor desired to do it, because we had less cause to trust them…”

Winslow had recognizednseveral natives as the men who had briefly assaulted them the year before while searching for a suitable site for the plantation.

At length, the Pilgrims allowed two men to enter the boat, a native from Mamoik[14], and the other who claimed the corn that the Pilgrims had found and taken some months before. Winslow again was diplomatic and offered that the native “come to Patuxet[15] for satisfaction, or else we would bring them so much corn again.” This seemed to appease the natives and they traded a few skins with the party.

Indeed, these overtures to Iyanough’s people and to the natives at Nauset seem to have ensured young Billington’s quick release, for

“ After sunset, Aspinet came, with a great train, and brought the boy with him, one bearing him through the water. He had not less than a hundred with him: the half whereof came to the shallop side unarmed with him; the other stood aloof with their bows and arrows. There he delivered us the boy, behung with beads; and made peace with us: we bestowing a knife upon him; and likewise on another that first entertained the boy, and brought him thither.”

The Nauset also informed the party that the Narragansett had recently killed several Pakonoket in a skirmish, and taken Massasoit hostage. This greatly alarmed the men from Plymouth who had themselves; long feared an attack from the Narragansett, and they “set forth with resolution to make the best haste home we could.” But the wind and the waves were against them, and after roughly fifty miles , they were forced to put the shallop ashore. The Cummaquid Sachem and his people had followed their slow progress, and assisted them again with water and provisions as

“ the women joined hand in hand, singing and dancing before the shallop; the men also shewing all the kindness they could. IYANOUGH himself taking a bracelet from around his neck, and hanging it upon one of us.”

It was another day before the sea calmed and they could make it home.

Once in Plymouth, they learned from the Pakonoket that their Sachem had indeed been captured and taken off his land, and that the tribe suspected one rogue Sachem named Corbitant[16] to be the culprit in league with the Narragansett. The sachem was said to have been “storming at the Peace between Nauset, Cummaquid, and us; and at TISQUANTUM, the worker of it…”

Despite these dire warnings, Tisquantum took another Indian named Hobbamock[17] with him and ventured toward Namaschet  “to see if they could hear of their King”. They were not long in the village when their presence was made known to Corbitant  who quickly dispatched a guard to the house and took Tisquantum prisoner. Hobbamock managed to escape, but by the time of his arrival in Plymouth, was certain that the Pilgrim’s emissary had been slain.

Bradford and the other Pilgrim leaders felt they had little choice but to uphold the compact they had made with Massasoit. In mid-August they assembled an armed party of ten men who set out in the rain toward Nemashet. when they were roughly four miles from the town, they diverted to spend the night without notice.

“There we consulted what to do: and thinking best to beset the house at midnight, each was appointed his task by the Captain…”

That Captain was Miles Standish, whose actions that night long ago have been the source of  debate and much introspection within the histories that have been written in the past few centuries. Bradford, writing years after the event scarcely issues a summarization of the events:

“The Captain, giving charge to let none pass out, entered the house to search for him. But he was gone away that day, so they missed him, but understood that Squanto was alive, and that he had only threatened to kill him…So they withheld and did no more hurt.”[18]

The Governor mentions the “three sore wounded” who escaped, but Winslow’s account, written remember, with a more diplomatic view in mind, records that

“Those that entered demanded, if (CORBITANT) were not there? But fear had bereft the savages of speech. We charged them not to stir, for if (CORBITANT) were not there, We would not meddle with them. If he were, We came principally for him, to be avenged on him, for the supposed death of TISQUANTUM; and other matters: but howsoever, we would not at all hurt their women and children…”[19]

Winslow also writes of some escaping “from a private door” with wounds, but only other sources reveal that women clung to Hobbomock to show the English he was a friend,  and that the men standing guard outside fired their muskets at those natives who attempted to flee the chaotic scene. [20]

Those who remained in the wigwam had their bows and arrows confiscated and were guarded all night, the emboldened “guards” discharging two pieces at morning when they were set free. Standish learned that Corbitant and his faction of warriors had fled during the night to Mattapoisett.

The armed party marched to Tisquantum’s house to have breakfast, and there, surrounded by

“all whose hearts were upright by us…We manifested again our intendment; assuring them, That although (CORBITANT) had escaped us: yet there was no place should secure him from us, if he continued his threatening us, and provoking others against us;…Moreover, if Massasoit did not return in safety from (Narragansett); or if he should make any insurrection against him; or offer violence to TISQUANTUM, HOBBAMOCK, or any of MASSASOYT’S subjects: we would revenge it upon him, to the overthrow of him and his.”

The Pilgrim leaders then brought the wounded back to Plymouth to be tended by their surgeon.

In the weeks that followed this confrontation, word began to seep into Plymouth that tribes as far north as the Martha’s Vineyard had heard of the show of force by the Pilgrims, and Bradford began to receive overtures for peace. This was as Captain Standish had predicted, but it may in fact have had more to do with the leaders keeping their compact with the Pakonoket rather than a show of intimidation as Standish had executed.

On September 13, 1621 nine neighboring Sachems traveled to Plymouth to sign allegiance to King James. I have searched for the document or some copy to ascertain the visiting Sachem’s marks in vain, but the text of the “treaty” was copied and is as follows:

“Know all men by these Presents, That we whose Names are under-written do acknowledge our selves to be the Loyal Subjects of King James, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith &c. “

Those “under-signed” included Ohquamehud of the Wampanoag, Quadaquina, the brother of Massasoit, and Canacum, the Sachem from Manomet, whom the Pilgrims had dealings with already, but also representatives from the Nauset and Nipmuck tribes. Even Corbitant signed, though he would remain a reluctant ally to the English. Such “treaties” were nothing new to the Native Americans, as we shall examine later, and it was not so extraordinary an event that Bradford or Winslow gave it much space in their accounts.

Still, with the subjugation came “a firmer peace”, and let the parties disperse and work the harvest without worry of property or crops being damaged or disrupted by raids from either Native Americans or Standish’s militia.

Just days after this gathering, Winslow, Tisquantum,  and Standish set out again with a small group to find and negotiate with the Massachusett tribes, having long been told that they posed a threat to the Plantation. But what they found were scattered remanants of villages, and people living in fear of the war like qualities which by then had been attributed to the English, as well as fear of their own enemies as tribes had fallen into sometimes brutal submission to more powerful nations. One such people that dominated Massachusetts tribes at the time were called the Tarentines (Abnaki), who routinely paddled down from the shores of Maine after harvest and raid the corn stores, killing and indiscriminately destroying villages in the process. Samuel Eliot Morison called them

“the Vikings of New England, preferring to take corn from their neighbors rather than grow it.”

Chickataubat, a Massachusets Sachem had attended the gathering, and when Winslowand Tisquantum told the Sachem Obbatinewat of this event, he readily gave his word to join ranks with the other sachems, even taking the party across the Bay to present day Charlestown to seek out a Massachusetts queen who had been an enemy.

The party arrived at night and rode anchor in the Bay until morning when they went ashore, leaving two men behind in the shallop. Standish led them some five or six miles inland where they found newly cleared fields of corn and an abandoned village, close by they found a fort where

“there were poles, some thirty or forty feet long, stuck in the ground as thick as they could be set one against another: and with these, they inclosed a ring some forty or fifty feet over. A trench, breast high, was digged out on either side. One way there was to go into it; with a bridge. “

Inside the fort they found a wigwam where inside lay the body of Nanepashemet, the Sachem who had been killed in 1619, lay buried. None of the remaining tribe had lived there since. Within another mile, they found a handful of women and an elderly man “trembling for fear”, and learned that the Queen they sought was far away. Here, Winslow’s tact and diplomacy swayed the others in the party from taking advantage of the pitiful condition of the Natives, despite Tisquantum’s insistence that “they are a bad people; and have often threatened you”.

Rather than rob the women of everything useful, Winslow promised to establish trade, and soon after, he recorded: “Having well spent the day, we returned to the shallop: almost all the women accompanying us to truck(trade).Who sold their coats from their backs…”

The party learned of the two rivers that entered the Bay, the Pilgrims having seen the entrance to what is now the Charles, but had little time to explore, though Winslow noted that “better harbors for shipping cannot be, than here are…” With the trading done, and relations for future trade established, the men entered the shallop and with “the wind coming fair, and having a light moon; we set out at evening: and through the goodness of GOD, came safely home, before noon the day following…”

In such a spirit was a spontaneous gathering held, ”at which time” Winslow wrote

“amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms(muskets), many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest King Masasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted. And they went out and killed five der which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon the Governor and upon the Captain and others…”  This gathering, whose exact date is not recorded, became known in North American memory as the first Thanksgiving. The flush of that good will was still felt weeks later when Edward Winslow wrote to friends in England:

 

“Wee have found the Indians very faithfull in their Covenant of Peace with us; very living and readie to pleasure us: we often goe to them, and they come to us; some of us have bin fiftie myles by Land in the Country with them; the occasions and Relations . .. Yea it hath pleased God so to possess the Indians with a feare of us, and love unto us, that not onely the greatest King amongst them call Massasoyt, but also all the Princes peoples round about us, have either made sute unto us, or beene glad of any occasion to make peace with us, so that seaven of them at once have sent their messengers to us to that end . . . So that there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was formerly, neither would have bin but for us; and we for our parts walke as peaceably and safely in the wood, as in the hie ways in England, we entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their Venison on us.”

The old histories tell us that this peace crafted largely by Winslow’s diplomacy lasted some 54 years until the outbreak of King Philip’s War. But the truth is that the peace was always tenuous, and often troubled by circumstances beyond Winslow and Massasoit’s control.

When the Plymouth leader looked out from Fort Hill that mid-December morning to see The Fortune carry his enthusiastic missive to England, he could not know that those whom the ill-named vessel had left behind were to provide months of misery,  and certainly the beginning of the end of an idealistic European experiment on New England’s shore.


[1] Adams, James Truslow “The Founding of New England” Vol 1 p.339

[2] Ibid p.340

[3] Cronon, William “Changes in the Land” p. 62

[4] General Court of Election, March 1641

[5] Dominion & Civility: English Imperialism & Native America 1585-1685 pp. 128

[6] White, John Planters Plea 14. quoted in Oberg..p.84

[7] First discovered by Francis Billington, a fourteen year old Boy who’d climbed a tree atop Fort Hill and seen “another great sea” in the distance. See Philbrick’s “The Mayflower” p. 110

[8] Winslow, Edward “Mourt Relations”

[9] Bradford William “Of Plymouth Plantation” 1953 S.E.Morton ed. p 87 Bradford refers to the previously mentioned Dermer party.

[10] Bangs, Jeremy D. “Pilgrim Edward Winslow” p. 34 NEHGS 2004

[11] present day Barnstable Harbor.

[12] Winslow “Ibid”

[13] present day Eastham

[14] now Chatham

[15] the ancient Indian name for the area the English named “New Plymouth”.

[16] I use Bradford’s spelling of the sachem’s name as it is most often used in modern retellings.

[17] Not much is known about this Native American’s origin. Winslow describes him as “a strong and stout man”,  and a Pinsese (a warrior considered in strength and endurance to be  ”of rank” above others, and often used for special missions by the Sachem.) Adams wrote that the “Indian…made his home with them, and remained faithful all his life.” He was apparently well known as a guide in the region and he may have been as Squanto, an early broker for trade with the Europeans. His name however, as Winslow and others were to find; is remarkably similar to a diety described by William S. Simmons as “a principal cause of disease and suffering.” (See Simmons, ”Cauttantowitts House” p. 51) Philbrick states that both Squanto and Hobbomack “were named for the devil” . From Winslow’s accounts we know the diety “appears in sundry forms unto them  :as in the shape of a man, a deer, a fawn, an eagle, &c. but most ordinarily, a snake.”An intriguing question might be whether this individual may have been blamed for the plagues that occurred in the region and thus the diety that shared his name acquired a new transformation. This is all the more striking when we read  John Josselyn’s account from “A Relation of Two Voyages to New England” (1673): “…two Indians and an Indess came running into our house, crying they should all dye, Cheepie was gone over the field gliding in the Air with a long rope hanging from one of his legs: we asked them what he was like, they said all wone Englishman, clothed with hat and coat, shooes and stockings, &c.” p. The name is also associated with the legend of “Devil’s Foot Rock” in South Kingston where “a stern-looking Englishman” appeared to a Narragansett woman and identified himself as “Hobomock” before taking her in flight to nearby Purgatory Chasm and tossing her to the broiling waves below.

 

[18] Bradford, “Of Plymouth Plantation” p. 88

[19] Winslow, “Mourt Relations”

[20] see Philbrick, “The Mayflower” pp. 114-115

About rag57

Local historian writing about Native American and Colonial history in Rhode Island and New England
This entry was posted in Native American history and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Part II: Boundaries Upon The Land and People

  1. Re: Cronan and fire management – Here in NW CT, I’m convinced many “stone walls” around me had their origins as fire breaks long before 1659 and the first local land “deeds.” In Eastern CT and Rhode Island, Larry Harrop and Bob Miner document many similar stone rows, carins, and other stone features at his blog: http://ceremonial-landscapes.com/blog/

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