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mate connection with this portion of his domain
than with other parts; and while the tribes in other
locaUties had their sub-sachems or sagamores, who
acknowledged some sort of allegiance to the Great
Chief, there is nothing from which we would be
justified in inferring that the Pokanokets were under
the direction or control of any of these secondary
chiefs; and it may well be that the Great Sachem
of the Wampanoags either in Massasoit's early days,
or in the time of some of his predecessors, was
simply the sachem of the Pokanokets, with hunting
grounds limited to the territory already defined;
and that at some time a federation of related,
neighboring and conquered tribes was formed under
the name Wampanoag, and that he retained the
government of his original tribe, and governed the
other tribes through their sachems. It would be
extremely interesting reading for us of later genera-
tions if some savant of the early colonial period
could have sufficiently secured the confidence of the
contemporary mystery men of the aborigines to
have learned from them the secrets which their
predecessors ''talked into the sacred wampum rec-
ords" and thus handed down from father to son.
From such sources much of historic value might
have been learned for transmission to posterity,
much more than the world knows of Indian legend
and tradition. But the men who came here came
not as seekers after knowledge concerning the char-
acter of the country, its geological formations, its


plants, its animals, or its primitive human deni-
zens, and most of the information that has been
gleaned along the latter lines, has come from the
legends and traditions passed along by the natives
to the whites at later dates after the tribes into
whose past we endeavor to penetrate through the
dark clouds of obscurity and doubt had been almost
or quite exterminated. So while the plants and
flowers, the rocks and the wild animals have re-
mained to tell their own story, unfortunately, we
are left in darkness concerning many of the things
we fain v/ould know about the primitive race that
has been swept away by the invaders. We are left
largely to conjecture; and can only draw what
seem to us to be reasonable inferences from known
facts. In the Pokanoket country, there were three
principal villages all of which are sometimes men-
tioned as Massasoit's dwelling places, and in and
about which he undoubtedly spent more of his time
than in other parts of his domain, although he un-
questionably resorted to the other portions for
hunting and fishing and for conferences with his sub-
sachems. These three villages were Sowams, prob-
ably where Warren now stands, although some place
it farther west, and their contention seems to be
supported by an ancient map; but Gen. Guy Fes-
senden and Virginia Baker have made out such a
strong case for the Warren site that I do not pro-
pose to enter into anj^ further discussion of the
question; Montaup, corrupted by the English into
Mount Hope in Bristol, Rhode Island; and Kicke-
muit on the river of the same name, and within the


limits of the present town of Swansea, Massachu-

Let us now return to a further consideration of
the numerical strength of the Wampanoags in the
early part of the seventeenth century; and, having
referred briefly to what we may properly consider
the minimum estimate, we will pass to the other
extreme, and then by examining all the known facts,
see what appears to be the reasonable conclusion to
be drawn from those facts, not for the purpose of
ascertaining an accurate estimate, which could be
of no particular benefit, but for the purpose of
properly appraising the value of the friendship of
Massasoit to the early settlers; for it must be ap-
parent that that value would be determined in part
by his strength and standing among the various
tribes. We may well begin this line of inquiry by
taking the testimony of Captain Thomas Dermer,
master of a vessel sailing here for trade and explo-
ration. Captain Dermer was on the New England
coast in 1619, probably not for the first time. It
was with him that Squanto returned to his native
land after spending some years in England. In
1619, with Squanto as interpreter, he traveled in-
land to Nemasket, now Middleboro, Massachusetts,
where he held an interview with two ''Kings of
Pokanoket" of which we shall see more hereafter.
In a letter to a friend dated June 20, 1620, Dermer
wrote that ''Squanto was carried away from a place
that on Captain John Smith's map is called Pli-
moth," and that "the Pocanawits" (Pokanokets)
"which live to the west of Plimoth bear an in-


veterate malice to the English, and are of more
strength than all the savages from thence to the
Penobscote." Dermer must have secured this
knowledge from some of the natives, and it may
not be amiss to inquire into the possible sources of
his information and the time. To begin with the
latter, I call particular attention to the date of the
letter and to Dermer 's voyage in 1619 and his prob-
able earlier trips to the New World. He had un-
doubtedly come in contact with the various tribes
along the coast from whom he may have learned
about the Pokanokets; and he brought Squanto
with him in 1619 or on an earlier expedition.
Squanto spoke English and was a member of one
of the small tribes of the Wampanoag federation, so
it is extremely probable that Dermer's information
came from him. Squanto was carried away in 1614
before the pestilence had decimated the tribes of
eastern Massachusetts, and if the information was
secured from this source, it may have referred to con-
ditions as Squanto knew them before he left these
parts. This is especially likely to have been the
case if Squanto first came over with Dermer in
1619 and had no knowledge of the ravages of the
plague. On the other hand, if Dermer remained
long in this vicinity at the time of his visit to Ne-
masket, he must have learned of these ravages, and
the combined strength of all the tribes of the Wam-
panoags may then have been as great as he says in
his letter of June 20, 1620. There is one important
fact that lends color to this theory, and that is
that the voyage inland to Nemasket was from


Plymouth, the Patuxet of Squanto, and he, finding
his own tribe wiped out, would undoubtedly have
ascertained the cause on arriving at Nemasket, even
if he had met no one to give him the information

However that may have been, we cannot doubt
the testimony of Bradford who writes that on
March 16, 1621, Samoset, after welcoming the Eng-
lish to Patuxet, and being entertained by them over
night, told them of a Great Sachem, ''Massasoyt,"
who had sixty warriors under him, and left them
saying he would bring him to them. On March 22,
the Great Chief appeared with the exact number
mentioned by Samoset.

In the June following, when Winslow and Hop-
kins visited him at Sowams for the purpose of re-
newing and strengthening the ties of friendship
between him and the colonists and to secure corn
for planting, Massasoit, speaking to an assembly of
his own people, said, "Am not I Massasoit com-
mander of the country round you? Is not such a
town mine, and such a town, and will you not bring
your skins to the English?" In this way naming
more than thirty villages, according to Winslow.

We have already seen that on December 8, 1620,
the Nausets attacked the crew of the Mayflower's
shallop, and, while the numbers of the attacking
party are not mentioned, there can be no doubt,
from Bradford's description, that they were in suffi- ]
cient force to make a considerable demonstration
and cause great alarm and uneasiness, and Samoset
is said to have told the English that Aspinet had one


hundred warriors. In addition to the inhabitants of
the Pokanoket country and the Nausets, both of
which we have briefly discussed, there is abundant
evidence that there were tribes of no mean propor-
tions at Capawack (Martha's Vineyard), Manomet
and Monamoyick, Sawkattucket, Nobsquosset and
Matakes, besides that on Nantucket Island, in the
eastern part of Massasoit's domain; at Assawam-
sett, and Nemasket, at Sakonnet at the mouth of the
river of the same name, and at Pocasset, or perhaps
it would be more accurate to say in the Sakonnet
territory and the Pocasset territory, for the former
extended over the southern part of Tiverton and all
of Little Compton, Rhode Island, and the latter,
lying immediately east of the Pokanoket territory,
extended from Coles River in Swansea eastward at
least four miles beyond the Taunton River, and
from the narrows in the Sakonnet River, where the
Tiverton Stone Bridge now stands, northward to
the northern boundary of Freetown, including part
of Tiverton, Rhode Island, all of Fall River, most
of Freetown, and parts of Berkley, Dighton, Somer-
set and Swansea, Massachusetts. The Chief of this
tribe was Corbitant, of whom we shall see more
later, who resided at ''Mettapuyst" (Mettapoissett)
now Gardner's Neck in Swansea. All of these were
probably included in Massasoit's enumeration of
"more than thirty villages," and particular atten-
tion is called to them at this time, because there is
reason for beUeving that they were fairly powerful
tribes, and all within the Wampanoag federation. I
have not directed particular attention to the Massa-


chusetts, because there may be some question of
their relation to the Wampanoags, whether they
were of them or only allied with them, the weight of
the evidence pointing rather to the latter idea than
to the former; and I have disregarded entirelj^
Colonel Caverly's statement concerning Passacon-
away as previously adverted to; nor have I made
any reference to the tribes of the Nipmucks who
were subject to the Great Chief of the Wampanoags.
A careful consideration of what has been said is
sufficient to lead to the conclusion that the three
hundred mentioned by some writers as all that re-
mained of the thirty thousand Wampanoags that
escaped the plague must have referred to the war-
riors of Pokanoket alone, or the inhabitants of
Massasoit's village of Sowams. It is hardly possible
to have mustered the sixty warriors who accom-
panied him to Plymouth from a total tribal mem-
bership scattered from the Cape and Islands to the
Providence River, as must have been done if the
entire population was only three hundred; and it
is not probable that Massasoit would leave his
women and children totally unguarded in the pres-
ence of the none too friendly Narragansetts across
the river, who according to some historians had in
comparatively recent years taken advantage of his
reduced power to wage war upon him, and had
wrested from him his beautiful island of Aquidnick.
The distance from Sowams to Plymouth by the old
Indian trail is said by early writers to have been
forty miles, and the three days, at least, required
for the journey out and back, and for the conference,


would be a long time to leave his village unguarded
if the Narragansetts had happened to make a raid
at that time. What probably happened was this.
Starting out on an expedition the outcome of which
was problematical, Massasoit most likely took, the
''panieses," or men of valor, of the three villages
already mentioned. These would undoubtedly be
the most vigorous and active of the men who
formed the war council, and, at the same time, were
the warriors who followed him and were under his
immediate command when on the war path, the
warriors of the other tribes of the federation being
under the immediate command of their sachems.
If this theory is correct, it lends color to the infer-
ence that the three hundred comprised simply the
population of Sowams, or the warriors of Pokanoket;
and it may well be that the writers who have placed
this estimate on the numerical strength of the Wam-
panoags, taking into account the well known fact
that every place of considerable importance had its
sub-sachem or sagamore, may have looked upon the
people of Sowams, or possibly of Sowams and the
territory immediately surrounding it, as all there
was of the true Wampanoags; but I am inclined to
believe that this name is simply the appelation of a
confederacy of which the Pokanokets was the domi-
nant tribe, and which was held together in part by
the strength of that tribe, and in part by the neces-
sity of combining to prevent the inroads of invading
enemies. There undoubtedly also existed some
closer bond of relationship, closer family ties per-
haps, among most of the federated tribes than


between them and other branches of the great
Algonquin family, or in other words a true Wam-
panoag Nation with subject tribes. There is no evi-
dence of a single tribe of this name, unless it was
another name for the Pokanokets. There is another
possibility that should not be overlooked in this
connection, and that is that Massasoit may have
started out with less than the sixty with whom he
arrived at Plymouth and augmented his force on
the way, although it is almost certain that he did
not draw from the Pocassets, because there is very
good reason for supposing that Corbitant, their sa-
chem, was not in sympathy with Massasoit's design
to cultivate the friendship of the English, and it is
equally certain that Corbitant was a chief of such
importance that his presence would have been
noted, had he been of the party. This suggestion is
advanced as a remote possibility, but that it is
hardly more than that is evidenced by the fact that
Samoset spoke of Massasoit as having sixty warriors
under him and that was the number that appeared
with him.

The Pocassets, as we have already seen, formed
one of the most important branches or subdivisions
of the Wampanoag federation. Their exact nu-
merical strength is almost as much in doubt as is
that of the entire branch of the Algonquin family to
which the name ^'Wampanoag" is applied, although
there is reliable authority for the claim frequently
advanced that Corbitant, their Sachem in 1620,
could muster three hundred warriors, and estimat-
ing one warrior to five members of the tribe, this


would give them a total of fifteen hundred, which is
probably as near as it is possible to estimate the
strength of any of the tribes. They lived in the ter-
ritory immediately east of the Pokanoket country,
and their numbers and close proximity to Massa-
soit's own tribe, together with the personality of
their sachem, furnishes a reason for singling them
out for particular mention at this time. Corbitant
was a man of considerable importance, as indeed
any man who could command three hundred war-
riors would be in the Wampanoag nation, weakened
as it was by the raid of the Tarratines and the
plague. He was not always in sympathy with some
of Massasoit's moves, and his known hostiUty and
independent scheming naturally lead us to inquire
whether the strength of the Wampanoags has not
been greatly underestimated by some, the reason-
able inference being that Corbitant might quite
naturally be expected to lead an open revolt if there
had been any chance of success, the natives not
being held in check by any doctrine of the divine
rights of kings, and not looking upon the persons
of their Great Chiefs as being endowed with any
particular sanctity. Corbitant, while maintaining
friendly relations with the whites apparently did it
more as the part of political wisdom than through a
desire to encourage and aid them. He was un-
doubtedly the sachem who was with Massasoit in
his sickness in 1623, the day before Winslow arrived
at Sowams, and sought to arouse Massasoit's hos-
tilit}^ to the English saying as Winslow writes, ''if
we had been as good friends indeed as we were now


in show, we would have visited him in this his
sickness, using many arguments to withdraw his
affections, and to persuade him to give way to some
things against us, which were motioned to him not
long before." Winslow does not mention the name
of this sachem, but enough is known of Corbitant
to lead to the belief that it was he. On the occa-
sion of this visit to Massasoit, Winslow stopped at
''Mattapuyst" with Corbitant on his way to So-
wams; and after his mission was accomplished, and
Massasoit sufficiently recovered so that his friends
returned to their homes, he went to Corbitant's
lodge with him and spent the night there. He
speaks of the Chief as a "notable politician, yet full
of merry jests and squibs, and never better pleased
than when the like are returned upon him." Cor-
bitant was one of the eight sachems who ac-
knowledged themselves subjects of King James
in September 1621, his name being written Caun-
bitant on that document.

Wamsutta, or Mooanam, Massasoit's oldest son,
married Weetamo, supposed to be the daughter of
Corbitant; and, undoubtedly in right of his wife,
seems to have exercised some authority over the
Pocassets after Corbitant's death. In 1659 he
joined with other Indians in a grant of a tract of
land covering all of what is now Freetown and
more than half of Fall River to twenty-six pur-
chasers who were free men and from whom the
purchase is known in history as the Freemen's pur-
chase. Weetamo is frequently referred to as the
Squaw Sachem of the Pocassets, and we will have


occasion to refer to her again, as well as to the part
played by the Pocassets in King Philip's war.

The Wampanoags and the Narragansetts appear
to have made more progress towards civilization
than most of the other Indian tribes, except possibly
the Iroquois League of Northern New York. Mas-
sasoit dwelt in a lodge at Sowams of a much more
substantial character than the ordinary tepees, and
Corbitant undoubtedly had a similar residence at
Mettapoisett. There is still shown in the town of
Warren the Pokanoket's grist mill, consisting of a
natural flat table rock into which grooves have been
cut or worn by use, where the women of the tribe
ground their corn by rolling round stones over it,
these movable stones being operated by rolling them
like a wheel about a shaft thrust through a hole
drilled in the center. From the meal thus pro-
duced they made the Rhode Island Johnny cakes,
the counterparts of which still tickle the palates of
the descendents of the women who learned the art
of making them from the Indian women of almost
three centuries ago. The Rhode Island clambake,
the mere mention of which is still sufficient to call
together a multitude wherever that famous repast
is known, had its origin with one or the other of
these tribes and was known to both. The Indian
method of preparing it is still recognized as the one
method that gives it the peculiar flavor that cannot
be secured in any other way; that method consist-
ing of heating rocks by building fires upon them,
and then removing the embers and placing clams,
fish and green corn upon the rocks and covering


them with seaweed to hold the heat until the whole
is thoroughly cooked. Agriculture they had de-
veloped to a greater extent than most tribes, for
while their cultivation of the soil was crude, they
adopted artificial fertilization, which they taught to
the whites as we shall hereafter see; and they raised
corn and beans in abundance from which they made
succotash, a dish originating with them; and they
had made some progress in the potter's art. The
Pokanokets constructed on the banks of the Kicke-
muit River a bath to which they resorted for the
cure of the ills that assailed them, and there is reason
for believing that both they and the Narragansetts
had others of a like character in other places. This
bath consisted of a structure built of non-com-
bustible materials or cut in the clay banks, and was
heated in the same manner as that employed in
preparing the clambake for cooking as already out-
lined. In this building they then sat and smoked
while the perspiration rolled down their dusky
bodies, concluding with a plunge in the river.

Such was the federation that occupied the land
surrounding the place at which that little band of
devoted pilgrims first set foot on the New World.
They had fled from England to Holland that they
might escape the rigorous discipline of the estab-
lished church, and exercise their own free will in the
matter of religious worship; but Holland was not
their destination; it was simply the place of a tem-
porary sojourn, until the hand of destiny led them
across the dark waters in search of a broader field
of endeavor. We are sometimes impressed with a


belief that they were the instruments of fate sent
hither to estabUsh in the newly discovered western
hemisphere a new order, out of which, eventually,
there was destined to arise a greater freedom, a
broader humanity, than the world had before known.
It is no wonder that they, in their zeal, speak of
their escapes from the extraordinary perils that be-
set them both on the water in their frail bark, and
subsequently on the land, as due to the special dis-
pensation of Divine Providence. Their safe pass-
age of the stormy sea in late autumn; their landing
at a place the entire population of which had been
wiped out, thus reducing to a minimum the prob-
ability of molestation by natives who had no reason
to love the English, no reason to look upon them in
any light but that of marauders who might without
provocation and without warning attack them with
their terrible weapons of fire and thunder, or carry
them away into slavery as had been done before;
and the kindly greeting they received after their
first unpleasant encounter with the natives, all con-
spire to impel us of this more skeptical age to in-
dulge them in attributing this first successful issue
of their venture to the intervention of the hand that
guided the tribes of Israel through their many trib-
ulations, until, purified by the fire of adversity,
they arose triumphant and bore the ark of the
covenant into the Promised Land. If there was one
thing more than another, or more than all others,
that showed the protecting hand of Providence, it
was the disposition of the Great Sachem of the
Wampanoags and his people to extend to the


strangers the right hand of friendship, and to dwell
side by side with them in amity for half a century;
for until the outbreak of King Philip's war, there
was no serious trouble between the whites and the
Wampanoags. Minor outbreaks and personal acts
of violence there were, but, in general, they lived
side by side in peace and security, and while there
were discords, suspicions and wars with others, the
Wampanoags, under the guiding hand of their
Great Sachem Massasoit, remained faithful to their
treaty obligations.

Born 1580 — Died 1661

IT is as a man of peace that we know Massasoit,
Great Sachem of the Wampanoags. There is
nothing in his career as far as it is revealed by the
white man's history, to appeal to the fiery ardor and
enthusiasm of youth like the exploits of his son
Pometacom or Metacomet, the King Philip of his-
tory, or Red Jacket, Joseph Brant, Pontiac, Tecum-
seh or scores of others whose deeds of valor have
fired the imagination and thrilled the hearts of our
young men for generations; but to the man in
middle life, whose blood has been cooled to some
extent by the snows of many winters, to the student
of human character, there is something about the
calm and dignified demeanor of that great chief that
brings a feeling of regret that the colonists should
have looked upon the continued existence of his race
as an insurmountable barrier to the fruition of their
ambitious designs, and should have considered it
necessary to exterminate a race which by its own
unaided efforts, through ages of slow development
with no contact with the enlightenment of the old
world attained through eons of labored progress,
with no guiding hand to assist it in its groping



towards the light, had made sufficient advancement
along the paths of civilization to produce such a

I am aware that the vast majority of the super-
ficial readers of early American history have con-
cluded that the Indian tribes of Massachusetts,
Rhode Island and Connecticut were wiped out in a
cruel and unprovoked war begun by King Philip in
open violation of the treaty his father had made
with Governor Carver of the Plymouth Colony;
but the man who holds this view cannot have
looked into the violations of that treaty by the

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Online LibraryAlvin Gardner WeeksMassasoit of the Wampanoags; (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 18)