The Narragansett at Cocumscussoc.

The Narragansett at Cocumscussoc

by Robert A. Geake


On the shore of a small cove, just north of Wickford, Rhode Island, rests Smith’s Castle, the great house that sits on the site of the first trading post on Narragansett Bay. The current house was built by Richard Smith Jr. in 1678, after the previous trading post was burned to the ground by the Narragansett in 1676.

Nearly forty years earlier, the Narragansett had granted land for the trading post at Coscumcussoc to Roger Williams, and then Jacob Wilcox. The builder of the present house, Richard Smith Jr. would claim that his father had been the first to trade with the Narragansett a few miles north of their summer encampment, but Smith was in fact a citizen of Taunton during the time when Roger Williams began writing letters from Cocumcussoc[i].

Williams had long established relations with the Narragansett in friendship and trade, and his famous quote that the lands of the colony were purchased “with love” was illustrated in his telling story of the wariness with which the Narragansett viewed English encroachment: Williams would write of the sachem Canonicus that

“he was not I say to be stirred with money to sell his Lands to let in foreigners. Tis true he recd presents and gratuities many of me, but it was not Thousand not Ten Thousands of money could have bought of him an English Entrance into the Bay”

Richard Smith would eventually become partners with Wilcox and then buy out his interest in the trade. According to the extensive research conducted by Howard M. Chapin, “It seems probable that the Williams trading house and the Smith tradinghouse were on adjoining tracts of land northeast of Cocumcussoc Brook and northeast of Wickford Harbor[ii]”.

Roger Williams would sell his house and land to Richard Smith in 1651, before his planned departure to England. Moreover, Chapin believed that Smith had good reason aside from the adjoining tracts of land to makethe purchase:

“the known facts…point to the probability that Williams had the better house in 1651 for he had resided in it from 1645, while during these six years from 1645-1651 Smith had been a resident at New Amsterdam and some time at Portsmouth and had apparently only used his trading house or shack for the occasional short visits, which his trading with the Indians made necessary[iii]”.

During this period of white settlement and trade, the Narragansett were undergoing a change in leadership. The outspoken Miantonomo had been captured and killed with Connecticut’s approval in 1643 and the great sachem Canonicus had died just four years later.

“…more than 30,000 gathered about Wickford and the contiguous country…after the decease of the old Sachem Canonicus[iv]” Hubbard would write.

His son Mixanno,would assume the role of dual Sachem with his cousin Pessacus, and the tribe enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity. On his death in 1658, Mixanno’s son’s assumed leadership roles, but his widow Quaiapen, also gathered some followers around her, and established a village nearby the trading post. This became known as the “Queen’s Fort”, and as Quaiapen outlived her husband and three children, she became known as the “Old Queen” of the Narragansett.

During those early years of trade at Cocumscussoc, Williams’ would write of the Narragansett that

“Amongst themselves they trade theire Corne, Skins, Coates, Venison, Fish & c. and sometimes come ten or twenty in a company to trade amongst the English[v]”.

William Wood, in his “New England’s Prospect” described the tribe as among the more industrious native Americans he had encountered:

“They employed most of their time in catching of beavers, otters, and musquashes (muskrat) which they traded for English commodities”.

According to Wood, what the Narragansett did not trade for themselves, was sold

“for a double profit” to “more remote indians who are ignorant at what cheape rates they obtaine them[vi]”.

Despite the immediate profit from hunting for the Dutch and English trade, Williams would note that there were some Narragansett who maintained traditional crafts:

“They have some who follow onely making of bowes, some arrowes, some dishes, and (the women make all of their earthen vessels) …most on the sea-side make money, and store up shells in summer against winter whereof to make money[vii]

Indeed, the Narragansett for a time were the “mint-masters “ of the eastern north Atlantic coast, supplying wampum for trade with Dutch and English traders who took the currency with them at great advantage; for the value increased the further one traveled from the Narragansett country. The Dutch convinced the Indians on Long Island Sound to attempt to duplicate the wampum, but another European traveler John Josseylyn, would pen the prejudicial sentiments of the time that the Narragansett manufactured their wampum “out of certain shells so cunning thatneither Jew nor Devil can counterfeit them[viii]”.

By the end of the 17th century however, the money was being counterfeited at a rate that caused the value to drop dramatically, even while continuing to play an important role in the fur trade.

Douglas Leach would write that just a decade or so into the new century, “the manufacture of wampum for the fur trade had become a specialized business practiced by certain recognized craftsmen in the colonial towns, especially Albany, where busy-fingered Dutchman drilled the beads with a well-tempered needle dipt in wax and tarrow[ix]

The loss of their status as mint-makers as well as the drop in demand for furs, when the market became glutted in the 1650’s, threatened Narragansett trading at Cocumscussoc. They could no longer afford to buy the English goods they had become accustomed to finding at Smith’s Castle, but were trading more with the Dutch on their Island in Narragansett Bay.

Roger Williams complained as early as 1656 that “the Indians have been filled with artillery and ammunition from the Dutch…and from the English by stealth”.

Among those English accused of selling ammunition to the Narragansett was Richard Smith Jr. who protested his innocence in a letter to Governor John Winthrop of Connecticut:

“I am informed att second hand …that it was reported at Hartford that I had sowld the Indgens a barall of powdere. It was a great untrueth, for I deneyed all Indians selling them aney att all, anf the more for that I sawe them greedy for it, & that long before the ware begune with Philip[x]

While these economic and political changes brought an end to large scale trading with the Native Americans who visited Cocumscussoc, the trading post continued to be a place of meeting, negotiation, and protest during and after King Philip’s War.

As tensions with Philip had increased, Governor William Coddington sent deputy governor John Easton, with John Borden and two magistrates to meet with the Sachem at Tripp’s Ferry, in June of 1675. The four men and an unarmed Philip “sate very friendly together” as Easton attempted to resolve disagreements and

“endeavor that they might not reseve (receive) or do rong”.

The Wampanoag insisted that they had done no wrong, but that “the English ronged them”. Easton proposed that Governor Edward Andros of New York and “an Indian King” of Philip’s choosing arbitrate the dispute between the Wampanoag and Plymouth authorities. The sachem seemed agreeable, but Easton and the rest of the Rhode Island’s government had little leverage beyond their own boundaries to persuade others to convene such a meeting.

By July, several attacks on settlements within Massachusetts had already occurred, and Easton recorded that Massachusetts authorities had confronted the Narragansett concerning their loyalty “the English army with out our Consent or informing us came into our Colony, broft the naroganset indians to artickels of agreement to them Philip being flead about a 150 indians Came into a Plymoth garrison voluntarily”.

Easton alludes to the “treaty” that Massachusetts forced several “obscure and unimportant” Narragansett to sign “as attorneys” for Canonicus, Canonchet, and Quaiapen. They included the Warwick sachem Ponham, and Ninigret as well in the agreement. Waite Winthrop and a Connecticut force had already marched into the Niantic sachem’s territory and demanded neutrality in the war against Philip, taking three hostages, including Moosup, a son of Miantonomo.

After the attack on Dartmouth, Massachusetts convinced many native Americans to surrender themselves for protection to white authorities. Despite not having anything to do with the ongoing attacks, as many as 160 native Americans from Southern New England voluntarily surrendered. They were gathered at Plymouth and summarily sold as slaves, “all…(but about six of them) to be Caried out of the Cuntry[xi]”.

Within a few months, all attempts at negotiation had fallen away, and the Quaker government’s efforts to keep the colony out of the conflict were gone as well. To complicate matters, Weetamoe, the widow of Alexander, Philips brother had fled tothe Narragansett after a battle with the English at Nipsachuk, in North Smithfield, with “att lest 100 men women and children” according to Richard Smith, and wrote to John Winthrop Jr. on the Narragansett’s bequest, that “She is kind to Sucquach & he deseyers all favor for her that can be…[xii]

Boston authorities bristled at what they perceived as a breach of promise. John Easton wrote that

“one part of the narogansets agreement to bostun was to kill or deliver as mani as they Could pf philips peopell, therefore bostun men demanded the fore said queen and others that thay had so reserved for which the indians…made mani excuses as that the queen was none of them and some others wear (were) but (sojourners)with philip…”

At the same time, the Narragansett had dropped by Smith’s Castle with “seven heads of the enemy” in a grim display of fealty to the English. Smith would write to Winthrop in September that “I beleve yt Conanicos of him selve & sume others inclynes to pease rather than warr, butt have many unruly men which cares not what becom(e)s of them[xiii]”. In a postscript of the same letter, he reminded the United Colonies that “The Narragansett sachems deseyers theyer hostages may returen, they having they say approved themselves loyall by bringing in of heads”.

In early October, Canonchet met with Massachusetts authorities, accompanied by Richard Smith Jr. and Cornman, one of Ninigret’s elder statesmen. The treaty presented to the unknown Narragansett was presented again and agreed upon. The sachem returned on October 18th, whereby authorities demanded that the Narragansett turn over all enemies to Boston within ten days.[xiv] On the very eve of that deadline, Richard Smith Jr. was reporting to Connecticut’s governor that

”The inhabitanc here are many goone and most removing for feare of dainger. The report common amongst indyans and Einglish is att present of an armey coming up. I request your favor to give me timly notis if aney expadicion be hitherward;otherways ouer li(v)es are in the hands of ouer Enemyes & surprised before we are aware; it I am confident those att present deseyers not a ware …”

Come November, the authorities in Massachusetts were “resolved to reduce thenarogansets to Conbformity, not to be troubled with them ani more and desired some help of botes and otherwise…”

Easton would write that

“…our governor sent them word we wear satisfied naragansets wear treacherous, and had ayded Philop, and as we had assisted to relive ther army before so we should be redy to assist them still”.

The Commissioners of the United Colonies began planning for the invasion of Narragansett country. From the west, Connecticutt troops would march from New London along the Pequot trail to Wickford, and Richard Smith’s trading post, which was chosen as the base for the combined operation. Troops from Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts gathered in Taunton, then Rehoboth, and gathered for departure from Dedham on December 8th. General Josiah Winslow commanded the combined forces of Plymouth and Massachusetts with subordinate officers including Winslow’s special aide Benjamin Church, Major William Bradford, Captain Thomas Prentice, and Captain John Gorham.

Major Treat of Connecticut was chosen as second in command of operations, andhis forces included Major Samuel Appleton, Captains Samuel Moseley, James Oliver, Isaac Johnson, Nathaniel Davenport, and Joseph Gardiner[xv].

Each company contained about seventy-seven men, while a contingent of Calvary, commanded by Prentice, stood at about seventy-five troopers. In all, the United Colonies would send nearly a thousand men to subdue the Narragansett.

While Prentice and his calvary marched out as an advance force, several vessels met the troops in Rehoboth, including a ship commandeered by Richard Smith Jr., who boarded Benjamin Church and Moseley with his entire company for the brief journey to Cocumscussoc. Smith would not be the only Rhode Islander assisting the United Colonies as we shall see, but in fact member of his own family, nephews Richard, Daniel, and James enlisted in the forces sent into Rhode Island.

Thus, the once neutral Colony allowed the gathering of Connecticut and Plymouth troops at Smith’s Castle, the trading post where the native Americans had exchanged goods and wampum for nearly forty years.

Winslow and the remainder of the troops were ferried across the Seekonk River by a makeshift pontoon built of canoes and planks. They marched to Providence, picking up thirty volunteers, and then set out along the Pequot path and continued south to Pawtuxet where they found quarters, and remained for several days. On December 12th, Winslow’s camp intercepted a message bound for Boston, confirming to the commissioners that troops from Connecticut were advancing toWickford.

Believing the Shawomet sachem Ponham to be nearby, the army set out in search of his encampment, said to be on the upper Pawtuxet River, that evening. By daylight however, it was clear that the search was fruitless, and fears about the sachem joining the Narragansett pushed them on to Smith’s Castle where they were reunited with the troops already established there. As Douglas Leach would write in Flintlock and Tomahawk,

“The next few days were spent in vigorous scouting activity in the vicinity of Wickford. Before long the army had a sizeable collection of enemy prisoners, who were subsequently sold to Captain Davenport and transported to Aquidneck Island for safekeeping”.

On Saturday afternoon, Prentice and his scouts discovered stores of grain, and in collecting these supplies “accidentally espied an Indian alone”. He was quickly captured and brought to General Winslow at the garrison. This native American, who was dubbed “Peter” by the English, has most often been portrayed in the popular narratives as a traitor to his people[xvi], but in the letters of Nathaniel Saltonstall, we find that “upon his refusal to answer those Questions demanded, was ordered to be Hanged forthwith; Whereupon the Indian to save his life, told them where the whole Body of Indians were together…[xvii]

This was welcome news to Winslow, but he was still awaiting word that the Connecticut troops had arrived. In the meantime, he took a smaller force with him and raided a nearby village, as well the Queen’s Fort nearby the garrison. They took few prisoners, the camp being largely abandoned, but inflicted some casualties and burned a large number of wigwams[xviii].

On the 15th, the garrison received an emissary from the Narragansett named Stone-wall John. This well known Narragansett was known to Roger Williams as “an ingenious fellow and peasable[xix]” and known further for being a blacksmith, and handy with the repair of firearms and the making of arrowheads.

Stone-Wall John was there to negotiate peace, but his haughty manner with the whites infuriated Winslow, and he sent him back with the message that the Narragansett needed to send their Sachems if they wanted to talk.

Most historians believe that Stone-wall John’s visit was to assess the English capabilities, and as the Connecticut troops had not arrived, he may likely have believed them to be less than the thousand who would march to the Great Swamp.

As if in answer to the remonstrance of the English Commander, warriors who had accompanied Stone-Wall John to the outskirts of Smith’s Castle, raided a house nearby where two English soldiers had sheltered. Another skirmish killed three other English soldiers.

Likely that night, the Narragansett raided the Jireh Bull house and garrison some nine miles south of Smith’s Castle. Bull and his family had long evacuated the house, but it was inhabited by several Quakers who had chosen to stay, the house being a familiar gathering place, and used as a Meeting House for the nearby Friends.

Quaker and civic leader Thomas R. Hazard would record that the neighbors living in the immediate vicinity of the Narragansett encampment, had “kept faith and lived…in peace and harmony up to the very night of the battle[xx]”.

His descendent, author and poet Caroline Hazard would write in “The Narragansett Friends Meeting in the XVIII Century”, that the house where the Narragansett Meeting had been established in 1672 had “a tragic fate, where “many of its inmates, including women and children were killed”.

The property of Jireh Bull included a stone garrison, and was to be the rendevouz point for the troops to plan a combined march on the Narragansett. Knowing this, it is all the more puzzling as to why civilians were there at all. Nonetheless, “A body of the enemy did treacherously get into the house of Jereh Bull (where there was agarrison ) and slew about fourteen persons”.

William Hubbard would write that the attack had killed “Ten Englishmen and five women and children, but two escaping inall”, and added that “A want of Watchfulness was probably the Cause of this sad Butchery. The House was of Stone, and might easily have been defended; but the People probably thought the Presence of the Army warranted Security[xxi]

The mystery of those killed in the attack remains to this day. Cotton Mather had lamented when he wrote his “History of the Indian Warrs in New England”, that he had “sought in vain for the names of the slain”. It is likely that those Friends who perished in the attack believed their previous overtures to the Wampanoag would provide protection when the war erupted on Narragansett Bay.

Instead, as research by Colin Porter has shown, the claims of John Easton that the Narragansett responded to the attacks upon their people by colonial forces coming into Rhode Island were given credibility in at least two instances.

In April 1676, a messenger from the Sachem Wamosit told Connecticut officials that they had participated in the attack in retribution for the

“capture and execution of sixty Narragansetts prior to the raid[xxii].”

Furthermore, in testimony given at Newport in August 1676, a Narragansett man named Quanaehewacout stated that “he was informed that all the Sachims was at the takeing and burning of Ireh Bull’s garrison[xxiii]”.

If true, the attack on the Jireh Bull house would seem to have been an outright declaration of war. The Narragansett clearly believed that Rhode Island had authorized the troops to find them, and were thus, likely targeting those aligned with the seat of the colony’s government.

Word of the attack came to Winslow on the 16th, with the return of Prentice and his Calvary, who had been sent to Pettaquamscutt in hopes of finding Treat, and the Connecticut troops. The news scuttled the plan for a rendevouz, but by days end, a messenger had arrived with word that the forces had arrived on the grim site of the burned garrison, and awaited them there. With Treat, and five regiments of soldiers, were an estimated 150 Mohegan and Pequot warriors under the sachem Oneco, ready to assist the English in battle against their old adversaries.

Winslow readied the troops at Smith’s Castle, and leaving about seventy men behind to guard the garrison, set out for Pettaquamscutt on the 18th. The combined forces encamped that night in a pack of freshly fallen snow and awoke the next morning with stiffened limbs to renew the march. Led by Peter, the United Colonies forces trudged through deep snow all morning and into the afternoon. As Douglas Leach depicted the scene in Flintlock and Tomahawk,

     “Every weary mile took them farther from civilization and nearer to danger. Their route lay over Tower Hill and across the Chippuxet River, probably somewhere between Larkin Pond and Thirty Acre Pond. Beyond Chipuxett lay miles of woodland and swamp virtually unknown to white men…[xxiv]

At the edge of the swampland a small skirmish ensued, the attackers quickly vanishing deep into the Great Swamp. The march again resumed until the troops noticed a few acres of upland ahead with the outline of a large fortified village constructed on this island in the midst of the swamp. The walls were erected from “tall stakes set upright in the ground, and around its perimeter was piled a thick mass of tree limbs and brush several yards thick”. Small blockhouses, purportedly designed by Stone-Wall John[xxv], were set around various points of the enclosed encampment.

Mosley’s regiment in the vanguard were the first to enter the camp, scrambling over a fallen tree that shielded the only entrance to the fort, while gunfire rained down on them from the blockhouses. Chaplain Joseph Dudley would write that the Narragansett

“…entertained us with a fierce fight, and many thousand shot, for about an hour, when our men valiantly scaled the fort, beat them thence, and from the blockhouses. In which action we lost Capt. Johnson, Capt. Danforth, and Capt. Gardiner, and their lieutenants disabled, and many other officers, insomuch that, by a fresh assault and recruit powder from their store, the Indians fell on again, recarried, and beat us outof the fort”.


Davenport, who had ambitiously purchased the captive native Americans for slaves just days before, was among the first to fall. Saltonstall in his “Present State of New England” wrote that “Before our men came up to take Possession of the Fort, the Indians had shot three Bullets through Capt. Davenport, whereupon he bled extremely, and immediately called for his Lieutenant, Mr. Edward Ting , and committed the Charge of the Company to him… “ Salstonstall speculated that the Narragansett may have believed Davenport “was the General, because he had a very good Buff Suit on at that Time”, and so targeted him among the first soldiers to be fired upon.

Dudley would record that

“…by the great resolution of the General and Major[xxvi], we reinforced, and very hardly entered the fort again, and fired the wigwams, with many living and dead persons in them, great piles of meat and heaps of corn; the ground not permitting burial of their store, were consumed; the number of their dead, we generally suppose the enemy lost at least two hundred men.”

In the narratives that followed the battle, estimates of the loss to the Narragansett would vary widely, but the most telling, as to how deeply the loss affected the tribe may be seen in the testimony of Potock, once a chief counselor to the Old Queen, who in August of 1676 faced a firing squad on Boston Common. When prodded to “speak the truth, and say how many Indians were killed at the fort fight last winter”, he told authorities

“…that the English did that day kill seven hundred fighting men…and that as to old men, women, and children they had lost, no body could tell how many…[xxvii]

In the aftermath of the battle, as dusk fell, the English dressed their wounded and regrouped for the return to Smith’s Castle, leaving stores of food behind, as well as their dead with the slain Narragansett, and the wigwams still burning. According to one account, the troops

“marched above three miles by the light of the fires[xxviii]”.

About twenty of the wounded men, the most severely carried on horseback, died before reaching Smith’s Castle. The main body of troops had arrived around 2:00 a.m., with the General, chaplain, and about forty men having been separated during the march, staggering into Cocumscussoc about seven that morning.

General Winslow gave the order that

“the Wounded and Sick should first of all be cared for, which was done accordingly; and that they might have better Accomodation in the House, the General himself lay in a Barn belonging to the said House”.

Later that day, the English troops buried thirty-four of their dead on the grounds of the garrison. In the coming days more wounded would succumb to their injuries, and by month’s end the total of dead would be near seventy. Most of the seriously wounded were sent to Newport after surgeons had done all they could in the Castle.

Those left behind would face days and nights of cold and hunger waiting for supplies to reach them once the frozen waters of the cove had thawed. Commissioners petitioned Connecticut authorities to send supplies since their ports were still open, but were left waiting well into January for a response. While they waited, the troops would plunder Richard Smith’s property of all its resources.

Smith would later petition the United Colonies for compensation of the cost of

“entertaining the many companies of soldiers…1st Major Savage and companies, with about 6 hundred, and Connecticut forces with him under command of Capt.Winthrop, they had horse shoes and nails to value 3lb, 12sh, besides their entertainment for 8 or 10 days, never pd. one farthing. After which, the entertainment of the whole army, myself and six of my servants being one service, one of which was slain at the swamp fight, had no allowance for our service. Also 26 head of cattle killed and eaten by the soldiers, with 100 goats at least, and at least 30 fat hogs; all the copper, brass, and wooden vessels for the army used and spoiled, stole and lost…great part of my post and rail fences being fetched and burnt for the soldiers, my oxen and cart and utensils being all lost, after the garrison went away; and lastly my housing burnt, being of great value…”

Salstonstall would write of the Narragansett’s fate in the weeks after the fight:

“As for the Indians that survived the Battell, they forsook their New-built Fort, and that Swamp where the fight hapned, and posted themselves in a Swamp twenty miles distant from thence; The Weather being extreme cold, and the Snow so deep, that we would not for some Time march in Pursuit of them; yet still kept Scouts abroad daily to observe their Motions, and there-by hindered them from coming to the Sea-side; killed and took Prisoners divers of them, as they were found straggling; and burnt great Numbers of their Wigwams (or Houses)…[xxix]

There has long been mention of atrocities committed against the Narragansett and Wampanoag prisoners at Smith’s Castle by the English officers. Few are verifiable, though there are some we may take as accurate accounts of events, and others that come from reputable second-hand sources.

John Easton would record a pair of these episodes in his A Relacion of the Indian Warre, writing early in his essay, that

“it is true the indians genaraly ar very barbarus peopell but in this war I have not herd of ther tormenting ani but that the English army Cote (caught) an old Indian and tormented him. He was well knone to have bine a long time a veri decreped and harmless Indian of the queens[xxx]”.

Easton would mention as did other historians that “they solde those Indians they had taken…for slaves”, the deputy governor wrote, “but one old man that was carried of our Iesland upon his suns back. he was so decrepid Could not go and when the army tooke them upone his back Caried him to the garrison, sum would have had him devoured by doges but the tendernes of sum of them prevailed to Cut ofe his head…”

Thomas R. Hazard in his memoir Recollections of Olden Times, repeats a story that Daniel E. Updike related of the day after the Great Swamp when the officers from the Connecticut regiments encamped at Smith’s Castle

“…took a fine-looking young Indian warrior, whom they had captured after the battle, into the orchard, and, out of ‘pure cussedness’ and for sport, placed his head on a tree stump and chopped it off with a wood axe[xxxi]”.

Daniel Berkely Updike in his biography of the Smith’s at Cocumscussoc, passes along the traditional story

“that an Indian having been caught as a spy by the English at Cocumscussuc was drawn and quartered near the house and his head cut off and the soldier’s played at bowls with it. The legend is given in a slightly different form by the late Rev. Daniel Goodwin who told me that the story goes that the Indian was impaled by the English something in the manner of crucifixion[xxxii]”.

This particular story sounds remarkably like the fate of the unfortunate Joshua Tefft. The young man’s family had settled in Pettaquamscutt, and established a farm there. Father and son had a falling out at some point, possibly due to rumors of his marriage to a half Wampanoag woman. When his Father died in 1674, Tefft was left with but a shilling, while his brother-in-law inherited the house and farm[xxxiii].

The English had noticed Tefft among the Narragansett at the Great Swamp Fight, and viewed him singularly as a renegade, also suspected of his marriage to a Wampanoag woman, and believed him to be serving as an advisor in the war. When he was captured with a band of Indians outside of Providence on January 14th, and was questioned in town by Captain Arthur Fenner and Roger Williams, who recorded Tefft’s testimony, and relayed it with his thoughts to Governor John

The young man told Fenner that he had been with the Narragansett less than a month, and was only with them “under duress”. According to his testimony, he toldthe men that a band of Narragansett led by Nananawtenu, more popularly known as Canonchet. The Indians killed five cattle before him and “told him he must die”.


“begd for his Life, and promised he would be servant to the Sachim while he lived. He Saith the Sachim then Caried him along with him having given him his Life as a Slave…”

He admitted being at the Fort, where his master was wounded, and having fled with him and others, “ passed through a plaine and rested by the side of a Spruce Swampe”. Tefft claimed that he stayed with the Sachim who lay wounded for nine days before he died, and that he himself “had no Arms at all”.

Tefft gave Williams and Fenner a great many details about the Great Swamp Fight, some certainly questionable. The young man claimed, for instance that the Mohegan and Narragansett had parleyed “… in the beginning of the Fight so that they promised to shoote high wch they did and kild not one Nahigonsick (Narragansett) man except angst their Wills”.

He told Williams that the Narragansett were about ten miles ” northwest of Mr Smith’s”, and that Ponham had as suspected, joined them from Cowesett, but contributed little powder to their already diminished stores. Tefft claimed that Philip had assured them powder from the French once New England money he had sent reached its destination.

He also claimed that the Narragansett were divided, with the young Sachem Nananawtenu (Canonchet) offering to go again to Smith’s Castle alone and negotiate peace, while Canonicus concurred, saying “tis a folly for me to fight any longer” He reported however, that their

“Chief Captaine…would not yield to the English as long as an Indian would stand with him. He Said he had fought with English and French and Dutch and Mowhauks and feared none of them, and said that if they yielded to the English they should be dead Men or slaves and so worck for the English. He saith that this Quaquackis bears chiefe sway and is a middling thick Set man of very stout fierce Countenance[xxxiv]”.

In fact, the Narragansett had been negotiating for peace in the aftermath of the battle for some weeks. Just four days after the Great Swamp Fight, envoys had been sent to Smith’s Castle, negotiating for two days before talks were broken off by Massachusetts authorities, convinced the parley was simply a ploy to give those surviving Narragansett time to flee further from the troops.

On January 7 another party of Indians arrived to negotiate with Winslow, spent the night, and returned to the Narragansett encampment the next day. When Pessacus sent a messenger on the12th to ask for a one –day delay in signing the treaty, The General ended all negotiations. A winter thaw had arrived, and he was impatient to pursue the enemy.

While Joshua Tefft’s story of being forcibly brought to the Great Swamp may be true, authorities saw him only as a renegade, “a sad wretch who never heard a sermon but once these past fourteen years”. He was taken from Providence and brought to Wickford on January 16, 1676. Two days later, after a brief military trial, he was hung, drawn, and quartered[xxxv].

More recently, Carl Woodward in his book concerning Smith’s Castle, “Plantation in Yankee Land” writes of a few “gruesome tales” which he admits are largely unverifiable, that concern the hanging of “a great sachem” from a hook above the fireplace, and the story of a “drunken colonial officer who boastfully drew his sword and turning on an Indian servant, sliced off his head which rolled into the corner of the dining room”[xxxvi].

New England historian Edward Lodi has repeated these tales, and others in his book “Ghosts from King Philip’s War”. In my extensive research, I have yet to find the origin of these legends. The “hanging” of a great Sachem seems likely to have been concocted with the later Smith’s Castle as modified by Daniel Updike, and its seven foot hearth in mind[xxxvii], and the loss of any “great sachem” in such a manner would likely have been documented in one of the many histories written about the war.

The beheading of an Indian servant in the house also seems suspect, given Richard’s Smith Junior’s meticulous accounting of his losses during the colonial troops encampment on his property. Was this an Indian then who belonged to Davenport ? though evidence shows, as we have seen, that reportedly all but one elderly man, was sent to Aquidneck”. For that matter we know nothing about the fate of the Indians on the Island after the Officer’s death. In all probability, they were again, sold into slavery.

What’s more, in the aftermath of the Swamp fight, the Connecticut soldiers stayed, according to Smith’s own account, but eight or ten days, with only two officers left to be in charge of the troops that remainedin Wickford.

Such legends often remain with a site so long as they are repeated, and the same is true of those at Smith’s Castle. You may find a pair of versions of these stories online, along with other tales of ghosts that presumably haunt the Castle. Woodward wrote that with “such horror and bloodshed on it’s threshold”, the house was doomed to be haunted.

By contrast with these tales of Native American ghosts, the only spirit noted within the oral history of the Narragansett at Smith’s Castle, is that of a colonial soldier, as told by the late tribal medicine woman, and ethno-historian Ella Sekatau

on her visit to the stone marker at Cocumscussoc:

“When I visited that place I had the vision of the face of an old man with white hair and a beard looking frightenening and staring at me with ice in his hair[xxxviii]

Whatever the truth about said atrocities, in the aftermath of Tefft’s execution, the Rhode Island General Assembly let it become known to the United Colonies that

“…the Council had become uncomfortable with the irregular punishment of the Indians and others by various Commissioned Officers…”

A later story included in the history of Cocumscussoc and its inhabitants by Daniel Berkely Updike, is the family account of Abigail Updike fending off what seems to have been a protest by a band of Narragansett people. Authorities had taken the sachems in for questioning as Indian uprisings in the north, more commonly known as King Williams War, had escalated by 1692 when Lodowick and Abigail Updike inherited the Castle.

The native Americans appeared one day in a threatening manner. In Updike’s prose:

“The whites had taken the Indian chiefs away with them to the north and their followers threatened the women who were left behind at Smith’s Castle. Mrs Updike addressed the savages and told them that all were in a like plight-their chiefs and hers-and that the danger and distress of whites and Indians was the same[xxxix]”.

Her words apparently pacified the Indians on that occasion but on another, she fired upon a hostile band through “loopholes in the solid shutters…until they were repulsed[xl]”.

It is certainly plausible that followers of the Ninigret family may have harassed the Castle’s inhabitants during these years in a form of protest for these and other events. Their lands were located off Post Road, but more likely, native Americans still plied the cove, and landed at that place as their ancestors had generations ago.

We know that Abigail was, at times doctor of sorts to her family, as well as the slaves the family owned, and some native Americans nearby. She “died at a great age” according to Updike, who mentions an antique mortar, pestle, and weights said to be used in her practice of early medicine[xli].

By 1700, the remaining Narragansett in South County were removed to a reservation in Charlestown, Rhode Island. The small parcel given to the tribe contained the Christianized “Indian Church” and burial ground, as well as the land that contained the Royal Burial Ground, and the sites of Crying Rock, and Coronation Rock. The lands of the Ninigret family had dwindled, and they took to living in an English style house.

There were no fences on the reservation, and the people would have kept the ritual of traveling to sites of memory alive then, just as it is today. No doubt, many Narragansett have visited Cocumscussoc, and tread on the grounds as their ancestors did long ago. They may have stories in their oral history that we have not heard before, or that we have forgotten.

Nearly forty years of co-existence and trading must have yielded a trove of irreplaceable stories, shared, daily experiences between English and Narragansett peoples which were never written on paper, but were likely spoken of for generations among Narragansett families, both native and new to the Bay.



[i] Narragansett Historical Register Vol. II pp. 28-29

[ii] Chapin, Howard “The Trading Post of Roger Williams” pp. 13-14

[iii] Ibid. p.14

[iv] See Rider, Sydney S. “The Lands of Rhode Island: As They Were Known to Caunonicus and Miantunnomu…” p. 130

[v] Williams, Roger “A Key Into the Language of America” from Complete Writings, Vol. 1 p. 179

[vi] Wood, William “New England’s Prospect…” Pt. 2 Chapter 3

[vii] Williams, “A Key…” p.

[viii] Josseylyn, John “Two Voyages to New England” p.142

[ix] Leach, Douglas “The Northern Colonial Frontier” pp 155-156

[x] Letter from Richard Smith Jr. to John Winthrop Jr. September 12, 1675

[xi] Easton, John “Relacion of the Indyan Warre” (1675) from Narratives of the Indian Wars p. 14

[xii] Letter from Richard Smith Jr. to John Winthrop Jr. August 5, 1675. Smith’s reference to Saquonch is likely a misspelling of Saccohan, the son of Miantonomo. Weetamoe would later marry Quanopen.

[xiii] Letter from Richard Smith Jr. to John Winthrop Jr. September 3, 1675. The Conanicos that Smith refers to was Pessecus, who adapted the name in his role as sachem.

[xiv] Lafantasie, ed. “The Correspondence of Roger Williams” Vol. 2 p. 707

[xv] Leach, Douglas “Flintlock and Tomahawk” p. 124

[xvi] This may well be construed as to the fact that a decade later, Peter Freeman, as he was now named, collected a reward promised for his service, and the Massachusetts General Court ordered that his daughter be found and freed from slavery. (Mass. Colonial Records Vol. V. p .477)

[xvii] Drake, Samuel G. “Old Indian Chronicles” p. 180

[xviii] Leach, Douglas “Flintlock and Tomahawk” p. 126

[xix] See Geake, Robert A. “A History of the Narragansett Tribe: Keepers of the Bay” p. 69

[xx] Hazard, Thomas R. “Recollection of Olden Times” p. 44

[xxi] Hubbard, William “The History of the Indian Wars in New England” Drake, ed. p. 142 n. 224

[xxii] See Porter, Colin “Uncomfortable Consequence: Colonial Collisions at the Jireh Bull house in Narragansett” RIH, 72, 1.

[xxiii] See Hough, Franklin B. ed. “A Narrative of the causes which led to Philip’s Indian War, of 1675, and 1676, By John Easton , of Rhode Island…” p. 181

[xxiv] Leach, Douglas “Flintlock and Tomahawk” p. 128

[xxv] Stone-Wall John receives credit also for the smaller design of the “Queen’s Fort” by most historians.

[xxvi] Dudley refers to Gen. Josiah Winslow and Major Benjamin Church.

[xxvii] Mather, Increase “A History of the War with the Indians in New England” p. 46

[xxviii] Salstonstall, Nathaniel “The Present State of New England” in Narratives of the Indian Wars p. 59

[xxix] Ibid. p. 79

[xxx] It is unclear whether the “old Indian” was once of Weetamoe’s band at Nipsachuk, but more likely found near the Queen’s Fort, and an adviser to Quaiapen, perhaps   even the unfortunate Potock.

[xxxi] Hazard, Thomas R. ”Recollections of Olden Days” p.44

[xxxii] Updike, Daniel Berkeley “Richard Smith First English Settler of the Narragansett Country, Rhode Island” p. 70

[xxxiii] Leach, Douglas “Flintlock and Tomahawk” p. 139

[xxxiv] Lafantasie, Glenn ed. “The Correspondence of Roger Williams” Vol. 2 p. 715

I have been unable to determine the identity of this sachem. Lafantasie does not procvide it, and the name, or any phonetic likeness is not to be found in Chapin’s geneology of the royal Narragansett of this period. The description of this “middling thick set man of a very stout fierce Countenance” most closely resembles that of Canonchet.

[xxxv] Ibid. p. 715

[xxxvi] Woodward, Carl R. “Plantation in Yankeeland” p. 43

[xxxvii] A telling sign of this comes from the words of Christine Kalina in her article on the Ghosts of Smith’s Castle when she writes “some members point to the large iron hook in a beam in the dining room as evidence today”. The house was greatly modified in the 1740’s by Daniel Updike.

[xxxviii] Simmons, William “Spirit of the New England Tribes” p. 149

[xxxix] Updike, Daniel Berekely “Richard Smith…” p. 70

[xl] Ibid. p. 70

[xli] Updike in fact, tells us that the items were in his possession, apparently for some time, before he donated them to the hospital.

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. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s