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TIME LINE 3:
Transatlantic Ways & 'Pilgrim' Departures:
The Wessagusset Massacre
“And so, by God’s goodness, [Captain Standish] brought away the head of the chiefest of them. And [it] is set on the top of our fort, and instead of an ancient [flag], we have a piece of linen cloth dyed in the same Indian’s blood, which was hung out upon the fort when Massasoit was here. And now the Indians are most of them fled from us….” - Captain Emmanuel Altham of the Little James, 1623, in James, ed., Three Visitors to Early Plimoth (29)
Fur trade --- the core of the early-colonial economy --- damaged the Native Northeast almost every way. At the end of the 1620s, more than one colonist wrote home that “whereas we did expect great store of beaver, here is little or none to be had” (Walter Toone in Winthrop Papers 3: 17). In a double irony, as hunters and trappers all but wiped out the most profitable species, Europe’s own economic disasters ruled. In the blink of an eye, Native New Englanders had to trade more for the same goods worth one pelt yesterday. Whatever Europe’s “bad economic times,” to them it was America’s place to make up the difference.
New kinds of competition undermined Native society. The families and tribes of hunters and trappers relied on them for much more than beaver and foreign goods. “We are almost Beaver’s brothers,” one man remarked. The new economics stressed and threatened old relationships, ceremonialism and tribal duties, creating burdens and problems in half-invisible ways. (See Cronon, Changes in the Land.)
New England villages had always been sited “with an eye to security.” Most had been “open-sided” habitations that relied on nearby swamps and other land-features to create restricted “corridors of access”: for example, Wapanucket on the north shore of Assawompsett Pond (see Robbins 4-6). As experts from Bragdon (51) to Salwen (167), Bradley and Simmons (“Shamanism”) have shown, however, the colonial-period emergence of the “fortified” village was in part a sign of changing Native relations. Fabrics and clothes, “bright objects,” strong tools and “exotic goods” had practical and symbolic, status value. Over time, some of New England’s “royal” blood-lines and competing Sachems began to offend against older egalitarian norms, by which wealth was redistributed, and took steps to protect hoards of wealth for their own purposes. Resentments and rivalries intensified, to Europe’s benefit.
Examples of this appear in the episodes to come. A crucial one was the new level of rivalry among three Native groups --- the Pokanoket Wampanoags under Massasoit, the Nemasket Wampanoags under Sachem Corbitant, and Narragansetts under Canonicus. All maneuvered for (or, against each other’s) alliance with the “Pilgrims” of Plimoth Plantation, little realizing how this disadvantaged them all.
European guns and firearms were another sign of these forces.
To most it seemed madness to trade guns for a short-term profit into the hands of peoples “fated,” sooner or later, to be conquered. In fact, hands-on research today shows that A) the standard European “matchlock” (set off with the lit end of a coiled fuse or “match”) was unreliable in adverse conditions, as likely to explode as to kill at a distance; and B) a brave could put two spears and several arrows in a musketeer before his second shot --- or, in any realistic fight, simply charge and grab “the very muzzles of our pieces,” as Lt. Lion Gardener and others learned in the 1630s Pequot War (Winthrop Papers 3: 381-2; see also Mystic Fiasco, this website).
Peoples who began “very fearful of our pieces” (Massasoit’s brother for example, Mourt 58/Spring 1621) were trying to acquire guns a year later: the Massachusetts’ Pecksuot offers “much corn” for them (in Pratt 99). But, where New England braves secured them, they gained no practical fighting-advantage beyond fear.
Guns, with their thunder, flash and smoke, were only the cutting edge of shows of force. In Native terms, guns were a frightening new tool that matched new levels of intensity in political games of brinksmanship. They named their price of guns for their own reasons, seeing the Europeans’ fear of them, and looking for the same power to terrify --- both colonial intruders, and rivals unfamiliar with guns’ real powers and limitations. Guns in Native hands signified powerful allies. They terrified Englishmen even more across the records of these years.
King James’ 1618 proclamation against “irregular” gun-trade: though renewed by Charles in 1630, it remained a proclamation and not statutory law.
Under pressure for profit, Transatlantic fair means were devolving into a “trade anything for furs” economy that brought new disorders into the land.
Plymouth Harbor, England, seat of Governor Sir Ferdinando Gorges
“The advancement of the King’s dominions, with the advancement of religion in those desert parts, are matters of highest consequence, and far exceeding a simple and disorderly course of fishing…for that so goodly a coast could not be long left unpeopled [sic] by the French, Spanish or Dutch….
“[The] mischief already sustained by those disorderly persons are inhumane and intolerable. For first, in their manners and behavior they are worse than the very savages, impudently and openly lying with their women, teaching their men to drink drunk, to swear and blaspheme the name of God, and in their drunken humor to fall together by the ears [argue, fight], thereby giving them occasion to seek revenge. Besides, they cozen and abuse the savages in trading and trafficking, selling them salt covered with butter instead of so much butter, and the like….
“[And] they sell unto the savages muskets, fowling pieces, powder, shot, swords, arrowheads, and other arms, wherewith the savages slew many of those fishermen, and are grown so able and so apt [that] they become dangerous to the planters….”
Gorges, then a main proponent of English colonies, summed up his American reports from recent years in his Narration (38) just as Plimoth and Weymouth (at Wessagusset) were struggling to raise a permanent presence on those coasts. Hakluyt’s terms (commerce, conversion and conquest) were between the lines. The “reform” of America was crucial to claiming it, profitably.
When trade failed, raid seemed to serve. Gomez’s kidnap of 58 Native New Englanders in 1525 was four grandmothers back --- but the same generation that “welcomed” Plimoth saw at least four kidnappings before Mayflower landed (1605, 1606, 1611, 1614). Epenow, a Sachem of Capawac/Martha’s Vineyard taken in the third, conned his captors, leaped off a 1614 ship, and no doubt spoke to many of what he learned. Six years found Epenow ready either to “return the favor” on one Captain Dermer, or to mortally wound him (Dermer escaped but died early in 1620).
The sorest “profitable incursion” had come from John Smith and the colleague he disavowed, Captain Hunt, who fought outright skirmishes at Patuxet (future Plimoth) and Cohasset, and kidnapped 19 people, including Tisquantum/ Squanto. More of the same was soon to come.
this Late Woodland scene you can see every stage of pottery production (David
None of these pressures came even close to the catastrophic devastation inflicted by Wesauash-aumitch --- “the great plague” that reportedly began near the Saco River (Maine) around 1616, began to rage southward into 1618, and was still destroying entire villages at a time in 1619. By then, its southward ravages subsided after killing thousands of the most numerous Narragansett peoples. Consensus is that its first waves killed “eight or nine out of ten” Native New Englanders, and more of them perished the same way through the rest of the century.
The many and swift interconnections between trails and communities that register in a minor later incident --- when a lost English boy is found in Manomet (Bradford History 1: 124), taken to Nauset on lower Cape Cod (Mourt 69) and reported to Massasoit at Sowams --- must have carried this catastrophe.
Amid all their other challenges, and almost overnight, Native New England was without most of their elders, their adults’ acquired skills in survival, their memories, their guidance and wisdom.
Below, judge for yourself where the patience and the will to listen were. Where were the signs of people still willing to try.
Who were the leading persons?
William Bradford, acting governor by 1621 (in his 30s), had grown up an orphan of ill-health but extreme intelligence, and long been part of communities centered in the Protestant Reformation, his path leading him to religious grounds for conflict with the English (Anglican) Church, King and government. They felt compelled to deny a church that failed to exclude persons deemed irreligious (Harris, Saga of The Pilgrims 10). Bradford’s share of “reform” --- against “Old English” ways, and for “liberty” of soul and of church --- brought him 12 years of exile in Holland. There he met young gentleman Edward Winslow, and Myles Standish who became “chief man at arms.”
This “Separatist” congregation arranged passage to America (forbidden their beloved minister John Robinson) by way of London’s Merchant Adventurers. Future rival Thomas Weston was a go-between. The terms were measures of the “Saints’” desperation. The Adventurers put no stock in all the “Pilgrims” had been through, and forced them to take along almost as many non-religious “Strangers” to plant with them. Their passage itself put them in debt. Supplies were poor, purchased at high interest from their “backers”; and, as soon as they sent the Mayflower back, they were scolded for not having filled the ship with profit.
Bradford, Winslow and Standish were the forefront of Plimoth’s decisions and actions. “Touching our government you are mistaken if you think we admit women and children to have to do in the same, for they are excluded….[N]either do we admit any but such as are above the age of 21 years, and they also but only in some weighty matters, when we think good” (Bradford’s 1623 “Letter”). Whatever the virtues of this arrangement, it increased the odds of serious mistakes by men with no experience of Transatlantic America.
The survivors left at Plimoth in Spring 1621 (about 50 men, women and children) had no chance of success without commerce. But their experience and their central beliefs were unsuited to the tasks in American terms. They had a few books by the likes of John Smith that warned of “treacherous savages.” They had an interest in Hakluyt’s second idea for “reform,” meaning the conversion of Native Americans to Christianity, but Winslow soon warned people off from “seeing their foolish imaginations made void” (Good News 85). If conquest was impossible, there was Myles Standish and his group of green trainees.
“There is something appalling in the consciousness [or, fantasy] of utter isolation. The settlers at Plimoth were but men and women, and their children were with them,” wrote later historian C.F. Adams Jr. And, given that Plimoth had almost no idea of how America worked, “it was impossible that they should not exaggerate rather than diminish the danger” (Three Episodes 146).
Karen Ordahl Kupperman’s 1977 “English Perceptions of Treachery” added:
“When English writers observed that the Indians were treacherous by nature, they were really saying, ‘We are extremely vulnerable, because we have put ourselves into a situation over which we do not have sufficient control.’ Such statements were, in this sense, statements about the English, not the Indians….In fact, there were many clear statements that the Indians held the colonies’ continued existence in their hands….This general feeling of insecurity reflected the objective situation” (270).
It remains to be seen how a new mixture of English policies took over --- in a “reform” constructed to change Northeastern America.
Finally, before Time Line 3, is a gathering of leaders, spokesmen and voices heard less often from the first colonial days to come.
Squa Rock (or Weeping Rock): one of two on the shore of Squantum, Massachusetts Bay
“One thing was very grievous unto as at this place [Sachem Iyanough’s village at Cummaquid/Barnstable]. There was an old woman, whom we judged to be no less than a hundred years old, who came to see us because she never saw English. Yet [she] could not behold us without breaking forth into great passion, weeping and crying excessively….[They] told us she had three sons, who, when [Captain] Hunt was in these parts, went aboard his ship to trade with him, and he carried them captives into Spain (for Squanto at that time was carried away also); by which means she was deprived of the comfort of her children in her old age. We told them…that all the English that heard of it condemned him for the same….” (Mourt’s Relation 70)
MASSASOIT: “The Narragansett Sachems…declared that [the Wampanoag Sachem Massasoit, a.k.a. Ousamequin/Yellow Feather] was their subject, and had solemnly himself, in person, with ten men, subjected himself and his lands unto them at the Narragansett; only now [c. 1620] he seemed to revolt from his loyalties under the shelter of the English at Plimoth. [And he furthermore], without any stick, acknowledged it to be true that he had so subjected himself. But, withal, he affirmed that he was not subdued by war, which he and his father had maintained against the Narragansetts. ‘God,’ he said, ‘subdued me by a plague, which swept away my people, and forced me to yield.’” (Roger Williams, Dec. 13, 1661, in Bartlett ed., Vol. 7: 316)
TISQUANTUM/SQUANTO and HOBBAMOCK: Both Wampanoags (Bradford 1: 225), crucial guides and go-betweens for Plimoth and Massasoit. Tisquantum was a pniese --- recognized as a Sachem and Powah, gifted in politics and shamanistic powers --- and, he’d returned from a 1616 kidnapping to find his village Patuxet wiped out by plague. Salisbury’s and other studies of Tisquantum have seen grounds for ambition. He first-greeted Plimoth (with Samoset, a northern Monhegan), but Hobbamock long-outlived him. Of Massasoit, Hobbamock said (News 31):
“Neen womasu Sagimus, Neen womasu Sagimus --- My loving Sachem, my loving Sachem. Many have I known, but never any like thee. Whilst I lived, I should never see his like among the Indians. He was no liar, he was not bloody and cruel like other Indians. In anger and passion he was soon reclaimed, easy to be reconciled toward such as had offended him; ruled by reason,s in such measure as he would not scorn the advice of mean men…he governed his men better with few strokes than others did with many. Truly loving where he loved.”
CORBITANT: Edward Winslow, Plimoth’s most active early diplomat, conversed with this Sachem of the Nemasket Wampanoags --- a man sometimes suspected of being “too conversant” with Narragansetts --- “at his house, [Corbitant] being a notable politician, yet full of merry jests and squibs, and never better pleased than when the like are returned again upon him” (Good News 36-37).
“Amongst other things, [Corbitant] asked me…How we dared, being but two [travelers], to come so far into the Country? I answered, Where was true love there was no fear, and my heart was so upright towards them that for mine own part I was fearless to come amongst them.
But, said [Corbitant], if your love be such, and it bring forth such fruits, how cometh it to pass that when we come to Patuxet [Plimoth], you stand upon your guard, with the mouths of your pieces presented towards us? Whereunto I answered, it was the most honorable and respectful entertainment we could give them, it being an order amongst us to receive our best respected friends…
But shaking his head, [Corbitant] answered that he liked not such salutations.”
TOKAMAHAMON: Though little is known of him, in Mourt’s Relation (68, 73) he seems associated with Nemasket and Sachem Corbitant --- and, so in turn, with the Narragansetts and Canonicus below. Tokamahamon accompanies an early and crucial Narragansett messenger to Plimoth (News lviii, 6).
CANONICUS: Sachem of 30,000 Narragansetts; grandson of the “very powerful” Tashtussuck (Hutchinson 1: 458), the eldest of four sons, father of several tribal leaders (Ford ed. Bradford History 2: 364), and uncle of the Narragansetts’ important 1630s-1640s Sachem, Miantonomo. In Wood’s words (80): “These be populous, yet I never heard they were desirous to take in hand any martial enterprise or expose themselves to the uncertain events of war --- whereof the Pequots call them women-like men.”
One more leading Sachem in these events --- and two men of his tribe --- had crucial roles and things to say. What Native New England ways in common turned them into men? DeRasieres (in Morton Memorial 499) reports what he learned of how a man came to be “eager and free in speech, fierce in countenance,” and to temper this with “courage and wisdom”:
"They practice their youth in labor…the young girls in sowing maize, the young men in hunting. They teach them to endure privation in the field in a singular manner, to wit: when there is a youth who begins to approach manhood, he is taken by his father, uncle, or nearest friend, and is conducted blindfolded into a wilderness…and is left there by night…with a bow and arrows, and a hatchet and a knife. He must support himself there a whole winter, with what the scanty earth furnishes at this season, and by hunting. Towards the spring they come again, and fetch him out of it, take him home and feed him up again until May. He must go out again every morning with the person who is ordered to take him in hand…to seek wild herbs and roots….[After further trials] he comes home, and is brought by the men and women all singing, and dancing, before the Sachem. And if he has been able to stand it all out well, and if he is fat and sleek, a wife is given to him.”
CHIKATAWBAK: Sachem of the Neponset Massachusetts, whose territories stretched along the bay of their name, beyond it north and south including Wessagusset/Weymouth, and inland up its rivers. His forebears as Sachem included Nanepashemet (died 1616), “the Squa Sachem or Massachusetts queen” of Mourt’s Relation (78), and his mother whose name attached to the land, Passonagessit. Chikatawbak’s usual “seat” was Moswetusett Hummock near Squantum, Mass. Bay: his names included House Afire, Obdakiest, Abdercest and Abordikees (in Morton, Winthrop, Winslow and Pratt). Though he died in a new wave of “plague” in 1633, Chikatawbak filled his generation’s records with eloquent speech and front-line action.
Today on the high ground of Squantum a little-known monument hails the passage-through of a Plimoth boat in September 1621. It correlates with a journey in Relation. “Ten men” sailed to “see the country, make peace with them, and secure their truck” --- but a skirmish broke out there around the hill with Chikatawbak’s braves.
Why these hostilities? “Mourt” describes no fight, only that “we were informed” of “many threats” beforehand. For decades to come, Englishmen were completely dependent on Native New England sources, most of them in rivalries themselves.
Thomas Morton, who arrived in 1624 and knew Chikatawbak well, may point to the explanation in one of his stories about the Sachem (Canaan Book III, 106):
“The planters of Plimoth, at their last being in those parts having defaced the monument of the dead at Passonagessit, by taking away two great bearskins sowed together at full length and propped up over the grave of Chikatawbak’s mother --- The Sachem of those territories, being enraged at the same, stirred up his men in his behalf to take revenge; and having gathered his men together, he began to make an oration in this manner:
‘When last the glorious light of all the sky was underneath this globe, and birds grew silent, I began to settle (as my custom is) to take repose. Before mine eyes were fast closed, methought I saw a vision, at which my spirit was much troubled and trembling at that doleful sight. A spirit cried aloud, Behold, my son, whom I have cherished. See the paps that gave thee suck, the hands that lapped thee warm, and fed thee oft. Canst thou forget to take revenge of those wild people, that hath my monument defaced in a most despiteful manner, disdaining our ancient antiquities and honorable customs? See now, the Sachem’s grave lies like unto the common people’s, of ignoble race defaced. Thy mother doth complain, implores thy aid against this thievish people, newcome hither. If this be suffered, I shall not rest in quiet within my everlasting habitation.
‘This said, the spirit vanished, and I all in a sweat, not able scarce to speak, began to get some strength, and to recollect my spirits that were fled. All which I thought to let you understand, to have your counsel, and your aid likewise.’
“This being spoken, straightway arose the grand captain, and cried aloud Come, Let us to arms, It doth concern us all, Let us bid them to battle. So to arms they went, and laid weight for the Plimoth boat; and forcing them to forsake their landing-place.”
WITUWAMAT and PECKSUOT: Both Massachusett braves were regarded as pneise (having political and shamans’ powers): Wituwamat, “they boasted no gun could kill,” and Pecksuot was “a subtle man” (Pratt 102), “of notable spirit” (Good News 46). One role was to “provoke the people to bestow much corn on [their] Sachem” and to “give thanks to the people on his behalf” (News 62). Another was to deal as necessary with threats, offenses and intruders, beginning with “emphaticall speech” (Bragdon).
Pneise were “commonly men of the greatest stature and strength,” yet “more discreet, courteous and humane…scorning theft, lying, and the like base dealings” (61). “Many times,” writes Winslow, they “came to the plantation” at Plimoth “where they would whet and sharpen the points of their knives in [Captain Standish’s] face, and use many other insulting gestures and speeches.”
“Amongst the rest, Wituwamat bragged of the excellency of his knife: on the end of the handle was pictured a woman’s face. ‘But,’ said he, ‘I have another at home wherewith I have killed both French and English, and that hath a man’s face on it; and by and by, these two must marry.’ Further, he said…’Hinnaim namen, hinnaim michen, matta cuts,’ or ‘By and by, it should see, and by and by, it should eat; but not speak’” (News 46).
Pecksuot’s shares of brinksmanship included two fights with Europeans: in 1614, against survivors of a Cape Cod shipwreck, who told him “a people, like French men, [will] come and drive you all away”; and around 1618, at the height of “plague,” when he and others --- perhaps not forgetting the “prophecy” --- attacked “Monseiur Finch’s” ship in Massachusetts Bay, killed its crew, and made of it “a very great fire” (Pratt 94, 95). On these grounds, both may have tangled with Captains Smith and Hunt (1614): they were peers of Tisquantum and Hobbamock.
Two maps of Wessagusset/Weymouth: detail from “The Waters-Winthrop” map of Massachusetts Bay, and from journal of local archaeologist G. Stinson Lord
“These Indians are of affable, courteous, and well-disposed natures, ready to communicate the best of their wealth to the mutual good of one another….And as they are love-linked thus in common courtesy, so are they no way sooner disjointed than by ingratitude, accounting an ungrateful person as a double robber of a man.…Such is their love to one another that they cannot endure to see their countrymen wronged, but will stand stiffly in their defense, plead strongly in their behalf, and justify one another’s integrities in any warrantable action.
“If it were possible to recount the courtesies they have showed the English since their first arrival in those parts, it would not only steady belief that they are a loving people, but also win the love of those that never saw them, and wipe off that needless fear that is too deeply rooted in the conceits of many, who think them envious…
“Yet they are very wary with whom they strike hands in friendship. Nothing is more hateful to them than a churlish disposition, so likewise is dissimulation: he that speaks seldom and opportunely, being as good as his word, is the only man they love…
“Laughter in them is not common, seldom exceeding a smile…Of all things, they love not to be laughed at upon any occasion. If a man be in trade with them and the bargain be almost struck, if they perceive you laugh they will scarce proceed, supposing you laugh because you have cheated them….The crocodile’s tears may sooner deceive them than the hyena’s smiles.” William Wood, New England’s Prospect (1634: 88, 91)
“Their Sachem [Chikatawbak] came suddenly upon us [at Wessagusset/ Weymouth, late 1622: Pratt 97] with a great number of armed men; but, their spies seeing us in a readiness, he and some of his chief men turned, into one of their houses, a quarter of an hour. Then we met them outside the pale of our plantation, and brought them in. Then I said to a young man that could best speak their language, ‘Ask Pecksuot why they come thus armed.’ He answered, ‘Our Sachem is angry with you.’
“I said, ‘Tell him if he be angry with us, we are angry with him.’
“Then said [Chikatawbak], ‘Englishmen, when you came into the country, we gave you gifts and you gave us gifts. We bought and sold with you, and we were friends. And now, tell me, if I or any of my men have done you wrong.’
“We answered, ‘First tell us if we have done you any wrong.’
“He answered, ‘Some of you steal our corn, and I have sent you word times without number, and yet our corn is stolen. I come to see what you will do.’
“We answered, ‘It is one man who hath done it….We give him unto you to do with him what you please.’
“He answered, ‘It is not just dealing. If my men wrong my neighbor Sachem, or his men, he sends me word, and I beat or kill my men according to the offense. If his men wrong me or my men, I send him word….All Sachems do justice by their own men. If not, we say They are all agreed [in a scheme together], and then we fight. And now, I say, you all steal my corn.’
“At this time some of them, seeing some of our men upon our fort, began to start, saying, Machit Pesconk --- that is, Naughty [or, evil] guns. Then, looking round about them, they went away in a great rage.
“At this time, we strengthened our watch, until we had no food left.”
TIME LINE 3
The Wessagusset Massacre
1621, SPRING: Massasoit sends English-speaker Tisquantum to Plimoth’s 50 surviving men/women/children). Amidst Native help planting food-crops, they forego “all things in common” for private lands. JUNE: Exploring from Massachusetts Bay to Cape Cod (through Summer, see Mourt), Plimothers meet a Nauset mother demanding return of kidnapped children: Plimoth promises better.
SUMMER: Narragansett Sachem Canonicus and Plimoth exchange gifts and messages of peace (News 7-8); but the Native messenger interjects “scorn” and talk of war. Before Canonicus can correct this, one of “Tisquantum’s family” tells of many Narragansetts at Corbitant’s Nemasket, discussing assault on Plimoth (11). Tisquantum, suspected of seeking his own gain (13), blames Hobbamock (14).
SEPTEMBER: Nemasket’s Corbitant seizes Tisquantum. Unaware he is “only threatened,” Standish marches to rescue, and wounds “several” Nemaskets for “not staying in the house” (Mourt 76; Bradford I: 226). Massasoit convinces 9 tribal sachems to acknowledge King James at Plimoth (227): their “marks” include Massachusett Chikatawbak’s after their summer skirmish, but not Nemasket Corbitant’s.
NOVEMBER: The Fortune brings 35 “lusty young men, many wild enough,” without a “bisket cake” (Bradford I: 231). Within a month, French privateers hijack the wealth-laden ship on its home-voyage. Yet, the first and only “Thanksgiving” celebrates a “summer of no want.” “Common talk” of “neighbor Indians on all sides” hints at Narrangansett “preparation to come against us” (News 6).
Instead, Tokamahamon (Nemasket Wampanoag) brings a Narragansett messenger to Plimoth: they explain misunderstandings to Winslow. Canonicus “would be friends with us” (8). But they also bring --- “for him,” Tisquantum --- a “bundle of new arrows lap’d in a rattlesnake skin” (7). Tisquantum tells Bradford it means “enmity” and “challenge” toward Plimoth itself (8). Why does Winslow not intervene? Canonicus is offering wide southern trade, much-desired (below).
Plimoth returns the “bundle” stuffed with powder/bullets. Canonicus is terrified to touch or keep it. The bundle is “posted…place to place a long time,” then returns (9).
“In the meantime,” NOVEMBER-FEBRUARY (1621), Hobbamock/Tisquantum intrigue for Plimoth’s trust (News 10, 13-18). Plimoth begins a palisade around all houses, taking “the greatest part of our strength from…our corn” (News 9, 18). An inadequate corn-crop sees “many well-whipped” for pilfering (Bradford 275-6).
“The Indians” begin “to cast forth many insulting speeches….Now also Massasoit seems to frown on us,” withholding contact and trade. “These things occasioned further thoughts of fortification” (News 18).
1621, SPRING: Standish continues “Muster or Training” of all males, with “discharge of muskets” in practice and display (News 9). A ship reports attacks in Virginia, over 400 English dead. Into this “summer they built a fort” (Bradford 275).
MAY: Plimoth sends Hobbamock’s wife to discern affairs. She finds “all quiet” (News 12). Massasoit, “enraged” at Tisquantum and suspicions, demands his life at Plimoth. Just then, merchant Thomas Weston’s Sparrow arrives (7 Weymouth advance-colonists incl. Pratt: no supplies). Massasoit and men depart, “mad with rage…at delay” (15).
JULY: Charity and Swan bring 50-60 more men (News 18), who settle at Wessagusset/ Weymouth under Richard Greene (Weston’s brother in law). They raise no stores of fish or corn, but “build castles in the air, and make forts, neglecting the plentiful time” (Levett Ch. 5). Soon, Native peoples report food-thefts and “abuse,” but Plimothers know of “no means to redress those abuses, save reproof” (News 18).
AUGUST: Ships Discovery (under a “Captain Jones”) and Sparrow share supplies
AUTUMN: Poor harvest at Plimoth, none at Weymouth. Greene dies, disorder increases.
OCTOBER: Charity sails for England: the Swan remains as “help.”
Starvation increasing. Weather and fever delay Standish’s voyages for food and trade beyond inner Cape Cod. Tisquantum and Bradford cannot sail through its outer shoals (History 282). At Manamoyack Bay, hospitality and trade for corn --- but not at the dwellings of careful or “suspicious” groups (News 22). Tisquantum spreads goodwill, then suddenly dies of a nose-bleed. “This crossed our southward trading.”
Bradford sails to Massachusetts Bay, where “promised” corn and trade are foiled by “plague” in villages, and by “complaints” against “that other plantation.” “Indeed, the trade both for furs and corn was overthrown in that place” (News 22). Why Plimoth cannot trade for food with ally Massasoit’s Wampanoags is never explained.
1622, WINTER: Near season’s close, “Captain Jones” robs and tries to kidnap Nauset Natives, but they escape the run-aground ship and make “great exclamation” --- for some reason, not to “treaty” ally Plimoth, but to The Council for New England, by way of agent Leo Peddock on a Mass. Bay island. The Council demands Jones’ punishment, but no records show action by them or any response from Plimoth. (Grant & Munroe, eds., Acts of the Privy Council 30; Bradford 276; News lxvi, 19).
1623, JANUARY: Faced with starvation, Bradford braves more journeys, to Nauset, Mattakiest, Nemasket, and Manomet (News 23-25). Standish, at Nauset to recover a damaged boat, makes threats to force return of some beads. The Sachem kneels and kisses Standish’s hand, and “our men could scarce forbear to break out in open laughter.”
FEBRUARY: Women of Nemasket help carry trade-corn to Plimoth, but “a great sickness” ends the effort. At Mattakiest, Natives “pretend their wonted love, and spare them a good quantity of corn” (News 27): Standish makes more threats over missing beads. Then, at Manomet, Standish sees Wituwamat, who makes an “audacious” speech mocking Englishmen. “Their best linguist” cannot “gather anything” from it, but “afterward” believes it concerned “the overthrow of both plantations” (29). There too, a Native of Pamet offers gifts, “intending to kill” Standish. Nothing happens.
Standish returns to find Weymouth men (now under John Sanders) gathering “ground nuts.” They report no fear of Native people but “suffer them to lodge with them” (News 45). A few men “abase themselves” working for food (three offer to build a boat for Chikatawbak), and one lives/has a child with a Massachusett woman. But stealing and offenses continue, even after Weymouthers hang a man (Bradford 290-1).
MARCH: Winslow seeks to “settle their affections,” but is called to “dying” Massasoit, who recovers (News 30-36). Then, prompted by Massasoit, Hobbamock tells of conspiracy among the same villages who marked the 1621 treaty. Massasoit urges Plimoth to “take away the [Massachusett] principals, and…the plot would cease” (36).
When Massachusetts can trade no more food, Weymouth plans to take corn by force. Plimoth dissuades them (News 39; Bradford 286), but Massachusett men find out. Pratt assaults a Native woman, sees a plot in her curses (96-97). Native people move closer to swamps for safety. Pecksuot offers to guide Pratt to Plimoth, with son Nahamit as a hostage. Pratt refuses, flees with his “intelligence.” Belief is that only “snow yet on the ground” delays (somehow) the massacre of both plantations (Pratt 99).
MARCH 23: Plimoth resolves on action “returning their malicious and cruel purposes upon their own heads” (Bradford 294).
Within days, Standish and 10-11 men trap and kill Pecksuot/Wituwamat at Weymouth, hang “a youth”; and “still seeking to make spoil of them and theirs” (48), kill one more in skirmish with Chikatawbak and braves, chased into swamps by Hobbamock. Weston’s men kill “two more” (News 47). Bradford’s “Letter” reports “we killed seven.” Someone kills a Native woman and baby: 1960s archaeologists find the bones nearby.
Standish, following English governmental custom, pikes Pecksuot’s head over Plimoth’s fort. He also hoists a blood-soaked cloth as an “ensign” or flag (Altham 29).
Days later, a Massachusett woman says Chikatawbak is “sorry” over killing of the 3 Weymouth boat-builders (News 51), possibly 2 more in their houses (Pratt 103). He sues for peace. Winslow (51) summarizes the aftermath:
“Considering those other people who intended to join with the Massachusetts against us, though we never went against any of them --- Yet this sudden and unexpected execution, together with the just judgment of God upon their guilty consciences, hath so terrified and amazed them that [like Chikatawbak and his villagers for some time] they forsook their houses, running to and fro like men distracted, living in swamps and other desert places; and so, brought manifold diseases amongst themselves, whereof very many are dead.
“[For example,] Canacum, the Sachem of Manomet; Aspinet, the Sachem of Nauset; and Iyanough, Sachem of Mattakiest….And certainly it is strange to hear how many of late have [died], and still daily die amongst them. Neither is there any likelihood it will easily cease, because, through fear, they set little or no corn, which is the staff of life, and without which they cannot long preserve health and strength.
“From one of these places a boat was sent with presents to the Governor, hoping thereby to work their peace. But the boat was cast away, and three of the persons drowned, not far from our plantation. Only one escaped, who dared not come to us, but returned; so as none of them dare come amongst us.”
1624, JUNE: “the third plantation in the Bay”: the Unity brings outdoorsman Thomas Morton and 30 servants to Passonagessit (just north of Weymouth) to pursue ongoing Council for New England trade. “The overseers” (Pratt 104), “seeing the ruin of the former plantation, said, We will not pitch our tents here, lest we should do as they have done. Notwithstanding these gentlemen were wise men, they seemed to blame the overseers of the former Companies, not considering that God plants, and pulls up….These called the name of their place Mount Wollaston.”
Find out what became of “fair means” after all, in the same place.
On October 21, 2001, these puddingstone Memorials were dedicated as symbols of hope that the souls of the first inhabitants of Wessagussett, the Massachusetts Indians, and the first settlers of Weymouth, the Weston colonists, have reconciled their differences and found peace.
Whose Voice I hear in the winds
and Whose Breath gives Life to all the world,
I am small and weak. I need Your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty
and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things You have made,
and my ears sharp to hear Your Voice.
Make me wise, so that I may understand
the things You have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons You have hidden in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength,
not to be greater than my brother
but to fight my greatest enemy---Myself.
Make me always ready to come to You
with clean hands and straight eyes;
so that when Life fades as the fading sunset
my spirit may come to You without shame.
(Prayer by Chief One Bear, of The Order for the Preservation of Indian Culture)
These ceremonies were shared at the original colony site by the peoples of Weymouth, Massachusetts in October 2001. Until now an “empty” wood-lot (with a natural spring) among neighborhood houses, this place came alive thanks to Ms. Jodi Purdy Quinlan of Weymouth (at far right in group photo above), The Weymouth Fore River Watershed Association, Weymouth Historical Society, and others who recognize a priceless past. Their enthusiastic and patient diplomacy convinced their city to dedicate half a million dollars to the Native and Colony site’s transformation.
A drum-beat led the street-parade as hundreds came together that morning and down Sea Street for the ceremonies --- a Laying-Down of Arms between “English” and Native representatives. The Mayor, city officials and people whose labors turned this into a beautiful place of learning, stood solemn as sweet-grass smokes of purification gathered their thoughts. People took turns speaking, listened to the facts from all sides, and were not afraid. They sang together, some in tears. A three-man rifle company fired a solemn salute. Children watched as the wholly negative memories, unaddressed in this place, this day began to change. Today they strengthen (sophisticate) our schools.
No invited Plimoth guests turned up, and there where “It’s Always 1627,” visitors find no visible signs of these events.
Click here to learn more abut the 1623 "Weymouth Massacre."
You can visit “the world’s tallest historical monument,” to Captain Myles Standish, where it overlooks the sea near Plimoth in Duxbury, Massachusetts. According to local legend, in March 1923 --- 300 years to the month of the Massacre --- a bolt of lightning blasted its head off.
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