Tribal Territories Southern New England

New England Indians

Weston’s Colony

Mr. Thomas Weston
Mr. Thomas Weston

During the ensuing year, 1622, two ships were sent over from England by a Mr. Thomas Weston, with a considerable number of colonists; in one of them came “sixty lusty men.” A new settlement was formed by them at Wesagusquaset, on Massachusetts Bay, known as Weston’s colony.

The dishonesty and wastefulness of these new comers produced very injurious effects upon the welfare of the colony at large. The hostility of the Indians was excited by their depredations, and, if we may believe the old narrations, they were even base enough to circulate among the natives false reports of an intention on the part of the Plymouth authorities to attack them, and forcibly seize their corn and provisions, the time being one of great scarcity.

“Weston’s men were in possession of a small vessel, in which they proposed to their Plymouth neighbors to undertake an expedition round Cape Cod, for the purpose of trading for supplies from the natives. After two unsuccessful attempts, having been delayed by rough weather, they succeeded in reaching Nauset and Mattachiest, where they obtained a quantity of corn and beans. It was on this voyage that they lost their guide and interpreter Squanto. He had been a highly useful and faithful coadjutor to the colonists; his only faults being a natural inclination to presume upon his importance in his intercourse with his countrymen. This led him to exalt himself in their eyes by tales of his great influence over the English, and exaggerated reports of their powers and skill. He affirmed that they had the plague buried in the ground, which they could, at pleasure, let loose for the destruction of the Indians. On one occasion he was believed, for some purpose of his own, to have raised a false alarm of an attack by the Narragansetts, accompanied by Massasoit. This sachem became at last so exasperated against Squanto, that, on divers occasions, he sought to put him to death, and the colonists had no small difficulty in preserving their interpreter.

Great rivalry and jealousy existed between Squanto and Hobamak, another friendly Indian, who served the settlers in a similar capacity.

In the year 1623, the people at Weston’s plantation, principally, as appears, from their own folly and improvidence, were reduced to a state of extreme misery and destitution. They became scattered in small parties, obtaining a precarious subsistence by gathering shellfish, and by working for or pilfering from the natives. On one occasion they actually hanged a man for stealing, in order to pacify the Indians; and although it appears probable that he whom they executed was, in reality, guilty, yet they have been accused of sparing the principal offender, as an able-bodied and serviceable member of the community, and hanging, in his stead, an old and decrepit weaver. See “Hudibras” upon this point.

Caunbitant’s Conspiracy

Miles Standish March
An 1873 lithograph depicting the expedition against Nemasket led by Standish and guided by Hobbamock

An extensive conspiracy was formed among various tribes of the Massachusetts Indians, and others, extending, as some supposed, even to the inhabitants of the of Capewack, or Martha’s Vineyard, for the purpose of destroying Weston’s colony, and perhaps that at Plymouth also. Caunbitant, or Corbitant, one of Massasoit’s most distinguished subordinate chiefs, was a prime mover in this plot. He had always entertained hostile feelings towards the English, and regarded their increase and prosperity as of fatal tendency to the welfare of his own people. The design was made known to some of the chief men of Plymouth, by Massasoit, (whom the leaders of the conspiracy had endeavored to draw into their plans,) in gratitude for their having restored him from a dangerous fit of sickness. Having been, as he supposed, at the point of death, he sent for assistance to the colony, and Mr. Edward Winslow and John Hamden, (supposed by some writers to have been the same afterwards so celebrated in English history for his resistance to royal encroachments) with Hobamak as interpreter, were dispatched to his assistance.

In order to check the purposed uprising, Captain Miles Standish, with only eight men, proceeded to Wesagusquaset, and attacking the Indians, in conjunction with Weston’s men, overpowered them, killing six of their number; among the rest, the noted and dangerous “Wittuwamat”. This chief had displayed great boldness and spirit. On the arrival of Standish, he, with others of his company, declared that he was in no wise ignorant of the English man’s intentions. “Tell Standish,” said he, “we know he is come to kill us, but let him begin when he dare.” Not long after, many would come to the fort, and whet their knives before him, with many braving speeches. One amongst the rest was by Wittuwamat’s bragging he had a knife that on the handle had a woman’s face, but at home I have one that hath killed both French and English, and that hath a man’s face upon it, and by and by these two must marry; but this here by and by shall see, and by and by eat but not speak.” Of the manner of this Indian’s death, and that of Peksuot, one of his principal companions, killed by Standish himself in a desperate hand to hand struggle, Winslow says: “But it is incredible how many wounds these two panieses received before they died, not making any fearful noise, but catching at their weapons and striving to the last.” Wittuwamat had often expressed great contempt of the English for their want of fortitude, declaring that “they died crying, making sour faces, more like children than men.” A brother of this chief, only eighteen years of age, they hanged.

The Weston plantation was, however, broken up, the survivors, much reduced in numbers by sickness and want, setting sail in their vessel for the eastward, to join the fishing squadron on the coast: as the old historian has it, “here see the effects of pride and vain-glory.” Thomas Weston himself, after a singular series of misfortunes, only arrived at Plymouth to learn the disastrous fate of his colony.

The system of working the land in common was this year abandoned by the Plymouth colonists, and a portion of land set apart to each man; a change which produced the most favorable results.

In the course of a few years from the formation of the Plymouth colony, the Indians, in spite of a royal proclamation forbidding the traffic, began to supply themselves with firearms and ammunition, the use of which they acquired with singular facility. The trade for these dangerous articles first commenced upon the eastern coast, where they were brought by English, French and Dutch fishing vessels, and was further extended into the interior in 1628, by one Thomas Morton, a notable contender of godliness, and long a thorn in the side of the sober colonists. Besides his capital offense of teaching the Indians the use of firearms, and driving a profitable trade with them in these deadly weapons, he became, as Morton has it, “a lord of misrule,” with a set of disorderly companions who had been brought out in the same ship with him. They spent what they gained by unlawful trade in “vainly quaffing and drinking both wine and strong liquors to great excess setting up a Maypole, drinking and dancing about it, and frisking about it like so many fairies, or furies rather.” This Maypole was cut down by Endicott, and Morton was seized and sent to England, where he wrote an “infamous and scurrilous book (The New Canaan), against many godly and chief men of the country.” In 1633, a year memorable for the first English settlement on the Connecticut, by William Holmes, in spite of the opposition of the Dutch, a “pestilent fever” carried off many, both of the colonists and Indians thereaout.

Morton, in his “New England’s Memorial,” says that “It is to be observed that, the spring before this sickness, there was a numerous company of flies, which were like, for bigness, unto wasps or bumble-bees; they came out of little holes in the ground, and did eat up the green things, and made such a constant yelling noise as made the woods ring of them, and ready to deafen the hearers.” The Indians prophesied sickness from this sign.

No very serious hostilities occurred between the Plymouth colonists and the natives, from the period of which we have been speaking, until the year 1637, memorable for the extirpation of the Pequots. The causes and conduct of this campaign, marked as it was by the most savage ferocity on the part of both Indians and English, will be detailed in a succeeding chapter.

Death Of Massasoit and Alexander

In the year 1639, Massasoit, or, as he is generally styled at this period, Woosamequen, brought his eldest son Mooanam, otherwise called Wamsutta, to the court at Plymouth, and solemnly renewed the former league of peace and amity with the colony.

After the death, of the friendly and powerful sachem, his sons Wamsutta and Metacomet continued their profession of good-will towards the English. About 1656, they presented themselves to the court at Plymouth, and, by their own request, received English names. Wamsutta was denominated Alexander, and Metacomet, Philip, long after a name of terror to the colonies.

In 1662, Alexander, having been suspected of being engaged with the Narragansetts in plans hostile to the English settlers, was taken by surprise, and forcibly carried to Plymouth. This indignity is said so to have chafed his proud spirit that it threw him into a fever, of which he died shortly after. Contradictory reports have been handed down to us concerning the manner of his treatment during this brief captivity, and the circumstances attending his death.

Accession Of Philip

Shortly after this event, Philip, now sachem of Pocanoket, came to the court at Plymouth, with renewed acknowledgments of subjection to the king of England, and promises to fulfill all engagements theretofore entered into by himself, his father, and brother. He covenanted, more over, not to sell any of his lands to strangers without the knowledge and consent of the authorities at Plymouth.

The Eastern Indians

The services of Captain Benjamin Church, in the early Indian campaigns, did not end with the death of Philip and the reduction of the hostile tribes united by that chief in enmity against the colonists. In the war, which after wards broke out with the Indians of New Hampshire and Maine, the old soldier was again called upon to take the field.

Our accounts of the early history of these Eastern tribes are not very voluminous or connected. Some description is given, in Captain John Smith s narrative, of the government and division of the nations and tribes on the coast; and, in subsequent times, tales of noted sagamores and warriors, with detached incidents of adventure, are not wanting in interest.

Their Friendly Disposition

The first English settlers in Maine and New Hampshire had little to complain of in the treatment they received from the aboriginal inhabitants: according to Hubbard, “Ever since the first settling of any English plantation in those parts about Kennebeck, for the space of about fifty years, the Indians always carried it fair, and held good correspondence with the English, until the news came of Philip’s rebellion and rising against the inhabitants of Plymouth colony in the end of June, 1675; after which time it was apprehended by such as had the examination of the Indians about Kennebeck, that there was a general surmise amongst them that they should be required to assist the said Philip, although they would not own that they were at all engaged in the quarrel.”

When Philip’s forces were destroyed or dispersed, many of them took refuge at the East, and the search for and seizure of these served to arouse and keep alive hostile feelings, which might otherwise have slumbered. By the contrivance of Major Waldron, a noted character among the first settlers at Cocheco (afterwards Dover) in New Hampshire, some four hundred Indians, of various tribes, were decoyed into the power of the colonial troops by the pretense of a sham-fight exhibition. They were then examined, and all who were adjudged to have been connected with the war, to the number of over two hundred, were sent to Boston, where eight or ten of them were hanged, and the rest were sold as slaves.

Standish, Weston,

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864.

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