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By R. A. Douglas-Lithgow, M. D., L.L. D.

Nantucket ;


By R. A. Douglas-Lithgow, M. D., L. L. D.






"* * -.


The concensus of modern scientific opinion favors the
belief that the so-called American-Indian race represents
the autochthonous people or aborigines of the great Amer
ican Continent. Referring to the origin of the American
Indians, Professor Pritchard says: "The era of their exis
tence as a distinct and insulated race must probably be
dated as far back as that time which separated into
nations the inhabitants of the Old World, and gave to each
branch of the human family its primitive language and in
dividuality." The origin of the Amerinds of America has
still to be sought amid the sources of the various races of
mankind from primeval times.

The Indian tribes of New England belonged to the great
Algonquian Confederacy the most widely extended of all
the North American Indians their territory stretching
along the Atlantic coast from Labrador to Pamlico sound,
and westward, from Newfoundland to the Rocky

The three principal Massachusetts tribes were the
Massachusetts or Naticks, the Nipmucks, and the Wam-
panoags, the latter under the dominance of Massasoit
when the Pilgrims arrived, and, at that time, the third
greatest nation in New England.

With regard to the primeval discovery of the island of
Nantucket by the Indians the following legend is interest
ing, (as all legends are), and it was related by the abor-


^V* Vie" ;early English settlers, soon after their

arrival^: "".

t .*; *ifc{f(^B^ > t,wi?es; -a -good many moons ago, a bird, extra-
ordinary for its size, used often to visit the south shore of
Cape Cod, and carry from thence in its talons a vast num
ber of small children. Maushope, who w<as an Indian giant,
as fame reports, resided in these parts. Enraged at the
havoc among the children, he, on a certain time, waded
into the sea in pursuit of the bird, till he had crossed the
sound, and reached Nantucket. Before Maushope forded
the sound, the island was unknown to the red men. Mau
shope found the bones of the children in a heap under a
large tree. He, then, wishing to smoke his pipe, ransacked
the island for tobacco; but finding none, he filled his pipe
with poke a weed which the Indians sometimes used as
a substitute.

"Ever since this memorable event, fogs have been fre
quent on the Cape. In allusion to this tradition, when the
aborigines observed a fog rising, they would say, There
comes old Maushope s smoke. " *(Here the legend un
fortunately ends.)

* Col. Mass. Hist. Soc. Vol. V. First Series, pa^e 57.

The island of Nantucket, when first settled by the
whites, was occupied by two tribes whose names have not
been preserved. One occupied the west end of the island,
and was supposed to have come from the mainland by way
of Martha s Vineyard. The other lived at the east end,
and is said to have come direct from the mainland. The
two tribes were independent and were, at a time, hostile
to each other. The tribe which came from Martha s Vine
yard was subject to the Wampanoags.**

** "Hand-Book of American Indians," Vol. II, p. 26.

When the original discovery of the island of Nantucket
was made by foreigners is still a moot point, many writers
alieging that two hardy Norsemen, Bjorne Herjulfson, in
A. D. 986, and Leif Ericsson, in A. D. 1000, during their
respective voyages, had both sighted the New England
coast, and that Leif had visited Nantucket, and bestowed
upon it the name of Nauticon. If this is probable, it is
equally probable that the name Nauticon was merely a
Norse approximation to the original Indian name of the
island, viz: Natocket*. It is now generally believed, how
ever, that neither of these navigators got nearer to the
New England coast than Newfoundland and Nova Scotia,
although there is much to be said on both sides of the

* H. B. Worth: Nantucket Hist. Asso., Vol. 11, Bull. 6, p. 290.

With regard to Vinland", which Leif Ericsson is said
to have visited on his way to Greenland, a circumstantial
account of his voyaging is given in the Norse saga the
Flateyarbok and the Hauksbok. These accounts were
subsequently confirmed by Adam of Bremen, in his His
tory of the Bremen Church, etc., and in the MS3. of num
erous historians, from the eleventh to the fifteenth century;
but the conjecture is not adequately substantiated by
facts to warrant a conclusion, and it seems impossible in
this age to divest the ancient story from the cloud of myth
and mystery which surrounds it.

It seems strange, nevertheless, that the name Nautican
is that applied to Nantucket island by Sir Ferdinand
Gorges (circa 1630), and Nantican in Hough s book, under
the date 1641.

John Cabot, the navigator of Italian birth settled in
Bristol, England, in the time of Henry VII., and he
obtained a patent from the King "for the purpose of dis-


covering unknown lands in th,e eastern, western and north
ern seas." His son Sebastian accompanied him, and in
1497-1498, they cruised along the coast of America from
Florida to Labrador. The claim of the English Govern
ment to Nantucket, Martha s Vineyard and the Elizabeth
Islands was based upon these voyages of the Cabots.

Nantucket, however, looms out of mythland and into
genuine history, when, in June or July, 1602, Bartholomew
Gosnold, an English mariner, landed upon its shore at
Sankaty Head, when he, and some thirty sailors, were en
route for Virginia, seeking a new plantation.

In May, 1605.. Captain Weymouth is said to have "be
come entangled among the Nantucket Shoals" *, and in
1620 Captain Dermer certainly visited the island.

* Drake s Nooks and Corners of New England, p. 324.

In approaching the consideration of the Nantucket In
dians, the following beautiful legend * cannot be passed
over in silence, as it reveals the fact that self-sacrifice
and the tender passion are not limited in their influence
to any race or color, but are the hallowed heritage of man
kind. Such a record deserves a foremost place in any
associated local history. The incident referred to is sup
posed to have occurred about 1630, or, as Dr. Ewer sug
gested, about thirty years before the arrival of the white

* A worthy poetic setting of this legend was published by
"The Inquirer and Mirror" nearly forty years ago, from the per,
of Miss Charlotte P. Baxter. It was republished in the "In
quirer" of January 21st, 1911, and the poetic quotations in this
preface have been taken from it.

Wauwinet was the sage and beloved Sachem of the
Northeastern section of the Island. He had one daughter,

"The loveliest and the gentlest,"

and they were devoted to each other.

"Well she knew the art of healing;

Skilled was she in all the uses

Of the herbs that grew around them.

And whenever from the waters

Spoke the voice of the Great Spirit,

She could tell unto her people

What the words were, and the meaning."

Fever had broken out among the natives of the south
western section of the island, which was under the dom
inance of the Chief Autopscot, and he feared that his peo
ple would be swept away by the rapid spread of the
pestilence. In his extremity he thought of the fair and
graceful Wonoma, Wauwinet s daughter, and knowing she
possessed the knowledge of a great medicine-man, he des
patched one of his maidens, named Wosoka, to speed to

"Praying her to come and save them,
From the cruel, blasting Fever."

Wonoma, always delighting to do good, accompanied the
little maid back to her stricken people, and, in a little
time, the plague was stayed, and she healed and comforted
those who would have died but for her skilful and kindiy
help. By her skill, her winsomeness and her sympathy
she won the hearts of all the natives, and, when the time
of her departure oame, they begged her to remain with
them, so that they might show their gratitude.
"For the boon of Life She gave them."

Then the brave Autopscot pleaded, not only for his peo
ple, but for himself, that she should not go from them, and
he ended by eloquently and fervently declaring his love
for her; and Wonoma, deeply touched, smilingly replied:

"That because She loved his people
But more truly loved their leader,
She would come again among them,
Come again to go not from them."

Later, the friendly and fraternal feeling which had long


existed between the tribes of Wauwinet and Autopscot
gradually changed to feelings of anger and hatred in con
sequence of some petty differences as to the dividing line
between their respective territories. A feud was gener
ated and bloodshed was threatened between the contending
parties. Wauwinet and his braves, in solemn council, had
agreed upon a subtle plan for overcoming their enemies;
but W onoma had overheard the deliberations of the war-
council, and resolved to save her lover at all hazards.
When her people were asleep she stole out of her wigwam,
and, securing a canoe, rowed through the darkness, with
a prayer in her heart to the Father of all mercies that she
might be enabled to save him who was now dearer to her
than even her own people. Over sea and land she hur
ried on, her feet bleeding and weary, and when she arrived
at her destination, she was completely exhausted. When
she had found him whom her heart desired, she told him
what she had heard, and leaving her in charge of some of
the maidens to rest, Autopscot called his people together,
and bade them to be prepared to receive the enemy on the

When, next day, Wauwinet and his braves proceeded to
attack the enemy unawares, and found them armed and
ready to receive them, instead of unprepared as he had
expected, he simply turned around, and, with his warriors
retraced his footsteps to his own possessions.

On the following evening, as Wauwinet stood in deep
thought at the door of his wigwam, an oncoming footstep
aroused him, and, bending courteously, Autopscot stood
before him, and thus addressed the father of his love:

Oh, my father! Oh, most noble!
Dark have been the days about us,
And still darker have the nights been;
In our hearts the darkest hatred;
Hear me speak, Oh mighty father!
For the love I bear Wonoma,
For the sake of both our people,
May there not be peace between us?


Wauwinet s brow was clouded with anger as Autopscot
spoke, but gradually the frown relaxed, and when the
brave young chief had finished, the elder was silent for a
time, and thus replied in tones of friendly feeling:

***** (Oh, my son, Autopecot,

Great has been the lesson taught me,

That I, myself, am not almighty,

That there is a power beyond me,

Unto which I have to yield me.

Great the love I bear Wonoma,

And if she so truly loves you,

There should only be between us

Words and thoughts that are most friendly."

When Wauwinet had thus spoken, the two chiefs grasped
each other by the hand in mutual affection, and, before
they parted, they amicably arranged between them the
land which had caused their dispute, and while pledging
themselves to enduring peace, Wauwinet gladly sanctioned
the union of Wonoma and Autopscot. From that day to
this Peace has reigned over and blest the island of Nan-


The Settlement and the Natives

The story of the transfer of the Island of Nantucket
from the English Government to Thomas Mayhew, and
from him and the Indians to the white settlers, has so
often been told that a mere summary is all that is re
quired here, in order to preserve the continuity of the

Nantucket was included in the Royal grant to Plymouth
Company in 1621, and Lord Stirling and Sir Ferdinand
Gorges were the Commissioners deputed to promote the
colonization of the territory, including the islands south of
Cape Cod.

Lord Stirling appointed James Forrett >as his agent in
New York for the sale or other disposal of the Colony, and
Forrett sold the island of Nantucket, in 1641, (when it was
under the jurisdiction of the Province of New York), to
Thomas Mayhew, an Englishman, who emigrated to New
England in 1631, and who first settled at Watertown. May-
hew not only purchased Nantucket, and the adjacent
islands, but became a part proprietor of Martha s Vine
yard and Governor of that island. He is said to have been
a good colonizer always a friend to the Indians and was
the means of preventing them from engaging in Philip s
war. He founded Edgartown in 1647, and from him were
descended numerous missionaries to the Indians, amongst
whom they had much influence, and spoke the Indian lang
uage fluently.


The islands remained in the possession of the Mayhews
(father and son), until 1659, when they were transferred
to ten purchasers, including Mayhew himself, (as he re
served to himself and his heirs one-twentieth part of the
property for his own use.)

Prom a reliable genealogy of the Coffin family * it ap
pears that in the spring of 1659 "Tristram Coffin proceeded
upon a voyage of inquiry and observation first to Martha s
Vineyard where he secured Peter Folger, the grandfather
of Benjamin Franklin, as an interpreter of the Indian lan
guage; and thence to Nantucket, his object being to ascer
tain the temper and disposition of the Indians, and the
capabilities of the island, so that he might report to the
citizens of Salisbury what inducements for emigration
thither were offered."

* Vide Godfrey s Island of Nantucket, p. 169.

He was evidently impressed favorably by what he saw
and heard, for, when he returned to Salisbury, Mass., >i
company was formed, and the purchase of the island deter
mined. In the autumn of 1659 Thomas Macy, Edward
Starbuck, James Coffin, Isaac Coleman and some of their
wives and children sailed in an open boat for Nantucket,
where they arrived safely, and spent the winter of 1659-60
on the island.

In July, 1660, Starbuck returned to Salisbury and Ames-
bury, and induced a number of families to accompany him
back to Nantucket, and as time went on the little colony
received numerous additions. *

* Most, if not all, of the English settlers came from Salis
bury, Mass, and its neighborhood.

Bach of the original colonists was permitted to name an
associate, so that the island was primarily divided into
twenty shares, and as these were anxious to add to their


number, and to induce artisans and mechanics to come
among them, the number of shares was ultimately
increased to twenty-seven, these including the entire
island, with the exception of the "common" land, and that
reserved by Mr. Mayhew for his own use. * *

** For copies of Mr. Mayhew s deeds Vide Macy s History of

During the next hundred years say from 1664 to 1774
the records contain the many transfers of lots of land
deeded by the Indians to the English, until, indeed, the
entire island became the property of the white settlers.

Before the legal purchase of the island could be ratified,
it was necessary to secure the sanction of the representa
tive Indian chiefs and this was duly obtained as appears
from the following deed, dated May 10th, 1660:


These presents witness, May the tenth, sixteen hundred
and sixty, that we, Wanackmamack and Nickanoose,
head Sachems of Nantucket island, do give, grant, bar
gain, and sell unto Mr. Thomas Mayhew of Marthas Vine
yard, Tristram Coffin, Senior, Thomas Macy, Christopher
Hussey, Richard Swain, Peter Coffin, Stephen Greenleaf,
Thomas Barnard, John Swain and William Pile, all the
Land, Meadow, Marshes, Timber and Wood, and all ap
purtenances thereunto belonging, and being and lying
from the west end of the island of Nantucket, unto the
Pond, called by the Indians, Waqutuquab, and from the
head of that Pond, upon a straight line, unto the Pond
situated by Monomoy Harbor or Creek, now called Wheel
er s Creek, and so from the northeast corner of the said
Pond to the sea, that is to say, all the right that we, the
aforesaid -Sachems have in the said tract of land, pro
vided that none of the Indian Inhabitants, in or about the
woodland, or whatsoever Indians, within the last purchase
of land, from the head of the Pond to Monomoy Harbor,
shall be removed without full satisfaction. And we. the
aforesaid Sachems, do give, grant, bargain and sell, the


one-half of the remainder of the meadows and marshes
upon all other parts of the Island. And also that the
English people shall have what grass they shall need for
to mow, out of the remainder of the meadows and marshes
on the Island, so long as the English remain upon the
Island, and also free liberty for timber and wood upon
any part of the Island within the jurisdiction. And also,
we, the aforesaid Sachems, do full grant free liberty to the
English for the feeding all sorts of cattle on any part
of the Island, after Indian Harvest is ended until planting
time, or until the first day of May, from year to year for
ever, for and in consideration of twelve pounds already
paid, and fourteen pounds to be paid within three months
after the date hereof.

To have and to hold the aforesaid purchase of land, and
other appurtenances, as aforementioned, to them, Mr.
Thomas Macy, Tristram Coffin, Thomas Mayhew, and the
rest aforementioned, and their heirs and assigns forever.

In witness whereof, we the said Sachems, have here
unto set our hands and seals, the day and year above

The sign of Wanackmamack [S]
The sign of Nickanoose [S]

Signed, sealed and delivered, in the presence of us
Peter Folger,
Felix Kuttashamaquat,
Edward Starbuck.

I do witness this deed to be a true deed, according to
the interpretation of Felix the interpreter; also I heard
Wanackmamack, but two weeks ago, say that the sale
made by Nickanoose and he should be good, and that they
would do so, whatever comes of it.

Witness my hand, this 17th day of first month, 1664.


Witness: Mary Starbuck.

The mark of John (I. C.) Coffin.

Wanackmamack and Nickanoose acknowledge the above
written to be their act and deed, in the presence of th e
General Court, this 12th of June, 1667, as attest.

Secretary to the General Court.


It is rather curious that this deed, although duly
witnessed on May 10th, 1660, was not confirmed by Peter
Folger until January first, 1664, and did not receive offic
ial attestation by the Secretary of the General Court until
the 12th of June, 1677.

This deed purchased the island from the original paten
tee and a greater part of it from the Indians, and the Eng
lish are said to have paid 26 for it. Almost a year before
the execution of the above deed, however, what is known
as "The First Indian Deed" was executed by Nickanoose
and Nanahuma on June 20th, 1859. It is as follows:

This doth witness that we Nickanoose of Nan tucket,
Sachem, and Nanahuma of Nantucket, Sachem, have sold
unto Thomas Mayhew of the Vineyard the plain at the
west end of Nantucket that is according to the figure
under written, to him and his heirs and assigns forever.
In consideration whereof we have received by earnest oi
the said Thomas Mayhew the sum of twelve pounds. Also
the said Sachems have sold the said Mayhew of the Vine
yard the use of the meadow and to take wood for the use
of him, the .said Mayhew, his heirs and assigns forever.

In witness hereof, we the Sachems aforesaid have here
unto set our hands this 20th of June, 1659.

The said Acamy lyeth north and by east, and south by
west or near it."

NICKANOOSE, + (his mark.)
NANAHUMA, X (his mark.)
Witness hereunto:

Mr. Harry,
John Coleman,
Thomas Macy,
Tristram Coffin.

I shall refer more particularly to this deed presently.

As an example of further deeds the following may be

January 5th, 1660, Nickanoose out of free voluntary love
for Edward Starbuck gave him "Coretue", which was re
assigned by Edward Starbuck, August 30th, 1668.


May 10th, 1660, Wanackmamack and Nicornoose, Head
Sachems of Nantucket, sold unto the first purchasers be
tween west end of island and pond called by the Indians
Waqutuquat (Waquittaquah) then on a straight line to
pond by Monomoy harbour; also half of remainder of mea
dows and marshes on all other parts of the island.

Witnessed by Peter Folger, Edward Starbuck and Felix

June 22d, 1662, Wanackmamack signed a deed conveying
a neck of land in the eastern section of the island known
as Pocomo Neck. This was witnessed by the younger Wan-
winet, son of Nickanoose and by Peter Folger. The pur
chase was made by Tristram Coffin and Thomas Macy.

February 20th, 1661, W anackmamack, Head Sachem,
sold the west half of Nantucket. *

*See note ** page 22.

November 18th, 1671, shows that Tristram Coffin bought
of Wanackmamack and Nicornoose from Monomoy to Wa-
quittaquage pond, Manahumack Neck, and all from Wesco
to the West end of Nantucket.

June 20th. 1682, Deed of Nicornoose, Sachem, to James
Coffin, William Worth and John Swain the grass and
herbage of all his lands from Indian harvest to first of

And thus the land sales go on, until 1774, when tlie
sachems and Indians had virtually sold every spot in their
possession to the English.

As Mr. H. B. Worth aptly points out, "Nickanoose signed
deeds only of territory belonging to some other sachem;
;he fact is true of Wanackmamack. Neither signed a
deed of any portion of the territory under his direct con
trol. The Sachem Attapehat (Autopscot), as far as has
been found never signed any deed."

I can only account for these facts, by assuming that


these Chief Sachems thought it beneath their dignity to
sign deeds conveying their own property, while, at the
same time they permitted no deeds to be signed without
their approval and attestation. This may appear a lame
suggestion, but it is the best I can offer.

The Provincial Governor of New York in 1671, (Lord
Lovelace), thought it desirable to obtain a new deed, from
the Sachems, attesting the legality of the land sales, and
an assurance that the stipulated terms had been duly
complied with, before issuing a new patent. The necessary
proofs were furnished in that year by Wanackm amack
the Chief Sachem.

It may be stated here that Mr. Thomas Mayhew, the
original purchaser of the island, had acquired a good
knowledge of the Indian language in association with the
Indians of the more western island; and that Peter Folger
who also resided at Martha s Vineyard, was, in 1663, en
gaged by Tristram Coffin as interpreter, and to officiate
in Nantucket, as miller, weaver and surveyor.

What has been written thus far will, it is hoped, serve
to illustrate the conditions under which the white settlers
became established on Nantucket, and I now propose to
deal briefly with the Indians whom they found there on
their arrival. It may be noted that the names of many of
the original white settlers are perpetuated in teeming num
bers among the inhabitants of Nantucket until the present

With regard to the number of Indians occupying the
island when the whites arrived the statements vary consid
erably, some writers alleging 3000, others 1500, and some
still less. There is some difficulty in forming a correct
estimate, but it is known as a fact that they only num
bered about 360 before they became victims to the epi
demic which destroyed so many of them.


When Nantucket was purchased by the colonists in 1659,
there were two Chief Sachems Wanackmamack and Nic-
ornoose (acting probably for Wauwinet), and at least two
other Sachems, Autopscot (or Attapehat) and Potconet
besides a few petty Sachems governing all the Indians on
Nantucket and Tuckernuck. It may be assumed that at
this time Wauwinet was old and feeble, and that his eldest
son, known as Nicornoose, acted as his deputy, inasmuch
as among several of the earliest deeds we find Nicornoose
signing as Sachem, and there are no signatures by his
father. Mr. Zaccheus Macy, in his valuable letter to the
Massachusetts Historical Society, dated October 2d, 1792 *
mentions Wauwinet as living when the settlers arrived, but
alludes to him as "the old Sachem."

* Vide Macy s History of Nantucket.

Among the Indian tribes there were generally one or two
Sachems who controlled all the others. These were
known as Chief or Head Sachems, and they exercised
absolute control. Such in Nantucket were Wanackma
mack and Wauwinet or his son and successor, Nicornoose.

According to Zaccheus Macy, Wanackmamack s terri

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