The Indians at Winnisimmet


When Samuel Maverick built his Palisade House at Winnisimmet, the region was inhabited by Indians, though greatly reduced in numbers by two causes. In 1615 the Tarratines, a powerful tribe easterly of the Penobscot, made war with the Pawtuckets, whose lands extended from the Charles to the Piscataqua, including Winnisimmet, Rumney Marsh, and Pullen Point. This war was disastrous to the Pawtuckets, of whom were the Rumney Marsh Indians. The other cause, the plague of 1616, more fatal than war and less discriminating, ravaged the New England coast.

The chief of the Pawtuckets was Nanepashemet of Lynn until the war with the Tarratines, when for safety he removed to the Mystic, near Medford, where he built a fortified house; but that did not protect him, for he was killed in 1619. He left a widow, three sons, and a daughter. Their English names were Sagamore James of Lynn; and Sagamore George of Salem, who, surviving his mother and brothers, became sachem of his tribe. The daughter was Yawata. After Nanepashemet's death his widow gathered the remnant of the tribe to the Mystic, where she governed it, leaving local rule, to her sons. Before 1635 she married Webcowet,—who became sachem in her right. She died [about 1650].

Sagamore John, as has been said, lived sometime by the Mystic, and later at or near Winnisimmet. The Charlestown records say that when the Spragues came from Salem to Charlestown in the summer of 1628, they "lighted of a place situate and lying on the north side of Charles river, full of Indians, called Aberginians. Their old sachem being dead, his eldest son, by the English called John Sagamore, was their chief, and a man naturally of a gentle and good disposition; . . . About the months of April and May, in the year of our Lord 1629, there was a great design of the Indians, from the Narragansetts, and all round about us to the eastward in all parts, to cut off the English; which John Sagamore, who always loved the English, revealed to the inhabitants of this town."

After a year's acquaintance with the Indians about Boston Bay, Thomas Dudley wrote to the Countess of Lincoln that,

"Upon the river of Mistick is seated sagamore John, and upon the river of Saugus sagamore James, his brother, both so named by the English. The elder brother, John, is a handsome young man, [one line missing] conversant with us, affecting English apparel and houses, and speaking well of our God. His brother James is of a far worse disposition, yet rapaireth often to us. Both these brothers command not above thirty or forty men, for aught I can learn."

December 5, 1633, Governor Winthrop recorded, as has been said, that

"John Sagamore died of the small pox, and almost all this people; (above thirty buried by Mr. Maverick of Winesemett in one day). The towns in the bay took away many of the children; but most of them died soon after.

"James Sagamore of Saugus died also, and most of his folks. John Sagamore desired to be brought among the English, (so he was;) and promised (if he recovered) to live with the English and serve their God. He left one son, which he disposed to Mr. Wilson, the pastor of Boston, to be brought up by him. He gave to the governour a good quantity of wampompeague, and to divers others of the English he gave gifts, and took order for the payment of his own debts and his men's. He died in a persuasion that he should go to the Englishmen's God. Divers of them, in their sickness, confessed that the Englishmen's God was a good God; and that, if they recovered, they would serve him.

"It wrought much with them, that when their own people forsook them, yet the English came daily and ministered to them; and yet few, only two families, took any infection by it. Among others, Mr. Maverick of Winesemett is worthy of a perpetual remembrance. Himself, his wife, and servants, went daily to them, ministered to their necessities, and buried their dead, and took home many of their children. So did other of the neighbours."


I now bring together such incidents as I have found respecting the tribe of Indians to which those of Winnisimmet belonged.

In a Court at Watertown, March 8, 1631. "Vpon a complaynte made by Saggamore John & Petr for haueing 2 wigwams burnt, which, vpon examinaoon, appeared to be occaconed by James Woodward, servt to Sr Rich: Saltonstall, it was therefore ordered, that Sr Richard should satisfie the Indians for the wronge done to them, (which accordingly hee did by giueing them 7 yards of cloath,) & that his said servt should pay vnto him for it, att the end of his tyme, the some of 1s."

March 26, 1631. "John Sagamore and James his brother, with divers sannops, came to the governour to desire his letter for recovery of twenty beaver skins, which one Watts in England had forced him of. The governour entertained them kindly, and gave him his letter with directions to Mr. Downing in England, etc."

At a General Court in Boston, May 18, 1631, "Chickataubott and Saggamore John pmised vnto the Court to make satisfaccon for whatsoeuer wronge that any of their men shall doe to any of the Englishe, to their cattell or any othr waies."

July 13, 1631. "Canonicus' son, the great sachem of Naraganset, come to the governour's house with John Sagamore. After they had dined, he gave the governour a skin, and the governour requited him with a fair pewter pot, which he took very thankfully, and stayed all night."

August 8, 1631. "The Tarentines, to the number of one hundred, came in three canoes, and in the night assaulted the wigwam of the sagamore of Agawam, by Merimack, and slew seven men, and wounded John Sagamore, and James, and some others, (whereof some died after,) and rifled a wigwam where Mr. Cradock's men kept to catch sturgeon, took away their nets and biscuit, etc."

September 17, 1631. "Mr. Shurd of Pemaquid, sent home James Sagamore's wife, who had been taken away at the surprise at Agawam, and writ that the Indians demanded [ ] fathom of wampampeague and [ ] skins for her ransom."

April 16, 1632. "The messenger returned, and brought a letter from the governour [of Plymouth], signifying, that the Indians were retired from Sowams to fight with the Pequins, which was probable, because John Sagamore and Chickatabott were gone with all their men, viz., John Sagamore with thirty, and Chickatabott with [ ] to Canonicus, who had sent for them."

At a Court, Boston, September 4, 1632. "Saggamore John, &c pmised against the nexte yeare, & soe euer after, to fence their corne against all kinde of cattell."

November 7. "It is ffurther agreed, that Sr Richard Saltonstall shall giue Saggamore John a hogshead of corne for the hurt his cattell did him in his corne."

Sagamore John seems to have been friendly to the English; and they just to him. Sagamore James died young, in 1633, and therefore was little known by the Winnisimmet people. He lived at Saugus, and married the daughter of Passaconaway, the noted chief at Penacook (Concord, N. H.).

On the death of John and James, the succession passed to their brother, Sagamore George, subject to the supreme authority of his mother, Squaw Sachem, widow of Nanepashemet. His jurisdiction, at first over Lynn and Rumney Marsh, after his mother's death, extended north and east of the Charles to the Piscataqua. His immediate possessions were in Winnisimmet, Rumney Marsh, Saugus, and Lynn; and his immediate subjects, the Rumney Marsh Indians. About 1676 his family removed to the vicinity of Lowell. In the war with the Wampanoags, the same year, he joined King Philip, was taken prisoner, and carried as a slave to Barbadoes, whence he returned. Born in 1616, married to a daughter of Poquanum, who lived in Nahant, he died in 1684, at the house of James Rumney Marsh, the son of his sister Yawata. He left a son and three daughters, the latter of great personal attractions.

Sagamore George made trouble for the landowners in Rumney Marsh and adjacent towns. For more than ten years, sometimes by suit in the inferior courts, and at others by petition to the General Court, he pursued them for lands unjustly withheld, as he claimed. One of his petitions is preserved in the Massachusetts Archives:

"To ye Right Worth ye Gornor the Worth Dept-Govrnor 7 Magistrats of this honord Courte,

"The humble Petticon of George Indian, humbly Requesting Whereas yor Peticonr hath often besought this honord Courte to consider his Condicon, & weighing such Grounds & euedenc as he hath produced to declare & manifest his interest & Just Tytle to the Lands of his late brother deceassed, on mistick side, & conceiueing the honord courte to be soficiently informed & possessed with the truth & equitie of his Cause in & Compassion towards yor poore Indian & Petitioner, you will bee pleased to vouchsafe him somme smalle parte parcell or proportion of his inheritanc Land for himselfe & Company to plant in, which he only is bould to put you in Remembranc of as hertofore not doubting of his grante from yr Greate fauor toward him, whoe is willing to be now & euer
An humble servt to this honuered Courte & Country
George Indian.
in Answer to this petition the Depts. thinke that the petitioner be referd to bring his action in some inferior Court Accordinge to law (aganist any yt wthold it vnjustly from him) wth Refenc to ye Consent of ye honord magists.
herevnto
William Torrey, Cleric
The Magsts Consent heereto.
Edw. Rawson, Secrety"

Appended to this is the following deposition:

"Quachamaquine saith: when George Indians brother was sick of the pox before his death he spake to him & Egawam with him & said when I die I giue all my wompam & Coates & other things to my mother & all my ground to my owne brother meaning the Ground about powder horne hill, vnles his own sonne did liue but if his sonne dyed then none to haue the Ground but his brother George Indian, and Egawam saith the same; & they both say that seauen dayes after this John Sagamore George's Brother dyed 21 [3/mo] 1651

These annoyances drove the Rumney Marsh people to the General Court. Sagamore George brought actions in which he was defeated, and pestered the General Court by petition until, out of patience, it declared, May 19, 1669, "that his clajme menconed in his petition concernes not the Generall Court to determine, but leaue him to the proprietrs of the land to give him as they & he shall agree." I have given on another page all that is known of his later life.

There is abundant evidence that the colonists as a whole, acting from their own impulses, as well as upon explicit and repeated instructions from the Company in England, treated the Indians fairly well. They purchased their lands at prices deemed equitable by both parties; they gave them equal protection with the whites before the law; and they honestly endeavored to bring them under the influences of civilization and Christianity, but with little success. Regular industry was distasteful to the savage, and the restraints of his new mode of life galling. He soon found that even a partial occupation of the lands which he had sold to the white settlers interfered with his hunting and fishing, and he regarded exclusion from any part of the soil, over which he roamed at will, as unjust. The General Court made many enactments between 1630 and 1640 to secure his rights as well as the safety of the colonists. Samples are these: [No one could employ or, if it was in his power to prevent, permit an Indian to] use a gun on any occasion or pretext under penalty of fine and imprisonment unless, as was provided after some years, with leave of the General Court. No one could sell him silver or gold, or powder or shot; or, without leave, "intertaine any Indian for a servt." If an Indian wished to trade peltries or other commodities, he could not go from house to house, but must repair to the "trucking howse." No white man could "sell, or (being in a course of tradeing,) giue any stronge water to any Indean"; or buy his land without leave of the Court, or repair his gun. Towns had power to "keepe away all strange Indians, & to restraine Indians by them from pphaning the Lords day." Care was taken to prevent, and to give satisfaction for, trespasses against them. In all places the English were to "keepe their cattle from destroying the Indians corne in any ground where they have right to plant; & if any corne bee destroyed for want of fencing or hearding, the towne shalbee liable to make satisfaction, . . . & the Indians are to bee incuraged to help towards the fensing in of their corne feilds."

In 1685 the Indians about Boston were few and were neither useful nor respectable. Efforts for their improvement had disappointed their friends; and ten years before, on October 13, 1675, the General Court, doubtful as to their conduct in the apprehended war with King Philip, ordered "that all the Naticke Indians be forthwith sent for, & disposed of to Deare Island, as the place appointed for their present aboade." Neither they nor their successors took kindly to English ways. It was necessary to place them under guardianship, and deny them the rights of citizens; and to-day the only representatives of the once powerful tribes which inhabited these shores are an inconsiderable number of mixed breeds lately, if not now, the wards of the Commonwealth. Unlike the Latin Catholic races, Teutonic Protestants were unable to incorporate the native tribes into their political and social systems. Extermination, if not the law, was the fact. In 1685 the colonists in their distress turned to the remnant of the miserable race to save them from impending disaster.

Mellen Chamberlain, A Documentary History of Chelsea, 1908