The Wampanoags were the first Native American tribe to encounter the English colonists from the 17th Century. Initially a relationship of co-operation and trade across their New England homeland, the expansionism of the colonies would soon start to have a negative effect on the indigenous population and this state of affairs would eventually lead to war. Because of this early contact, there is a wealth of history and many notable figures that became important to those early colonial years. Here is just a sample.
Arguably the most famous of them all, Squanto was abducted by Thomas Hunt sometime around 1614 and was transported to Spain to be sold into slavery. Thomas Hunt was a Lieutenant of John Smith. Instead of the usual route, they were bought up by the monks from a local monastery who set about converting Squanto and his fellow Native Americans. He would flit between London and North America a couple of times before returning to his homeland and settling with the Pilgrim Fathers, teaching them maize cultivation.
During his life he was the Grand Sacham (intertribal chief) of all Wampanoags throughout their native area of New England. Shortly after the establishment of the Plymouth colony, he travelled with another man who was already familiar with the colonists, to offer peace. Seeing the benefits of trade with the new arrivals, they co-existed peacefully at least until his death. When he became ill, the colonists nursed him back to health. War broke out soon after his death though (King Philip’s War)
English settlers called him ‘Philip’; he was the second son of Massasoit. He could see the growth in the colonialism of the white settlers and ended the peace that had existed during the life of his father. After his elder brother died, he became Grand Sacham and sought to halt the trade of land for guns. A delicate peace existed until the execution of three Wampanoags, after which Metacomet led the united tribes in war. Ultimately defeated, he was hung, drawn and quartered and his head left on a pike for 25 years
4. Abram Quary
The last man on Nantucket and therefore the last native male Wampanaoag on the island, Quary was born in 1768 and died in 1854 having outlived his spouse and all of his children. He was an impressive 82 years old. He was a little bit of a recluse but sometimes sought human company. He married twice in his life and had one child that died very young. He was a pragmatic sort and supported himself making baskets and clamming which he would sell to the locals.
5. Dorcas Honorable
Quary was the last male on Nantucket but Honorable was the last ever Wampanoag on the island. Born during the American Revolution, she was the granddaughter of a Wampanoag chief who had had a peace with the settlers on the island. Honorable was a Christian who worked managing households and kept out of the public eye so consequently, Quary was initially believed to have been the last Wampanoag on the island. She died in 1855 and was probably the last native speaker of the Massachusetts Language.
Deputy to King Philip (Metacomet), Old Chief Annawan assumed control after the death of the leader, keeping the fragile alliance together and continuing the assault against the colonists. In one brave encounter, he led a group of his men out of a swamp. He changed the nature of the warfare to one of guerrilla tactics ‘ frustrating the colonial forces. He too was eventually captured and killed by the colonists following a fierce battle. A US Navy ship was later named in his honour
One of the colonial periods unspoken figures, it is considered that he was far more responsible for the good relations between the Native Americans and the colonists. He served as a guide and with his good level of English, largely acted as an interpreter. It was said that Massasoit instructed him personally to help the struggling settlers. He was feared by his enemies and loved by his friends. He died of a European disease that he contracted from one of the colonists.
The main link between Massasoit and Metacomit, he was the brother of the former and chief advisor to the latter in the war against the colonists. Though he does not become prominent until King Philip’s War, it appears that he was an advisor to both leaders and a major Captain under Metacomit. He was killed during a battle against the forces led by Benjamin Church. His signature appears on several documents from the period, countersignature to both leaders so his importance cannot be overstated.
9. John Sassamon
This was another figure whose life centred on the father and son of Massasoit and Metacomit. His native name was Wassausmon and he was born around 1600. Like so many others of the era, he became a Christian convert, learnt to speak English and acted as an interpreter and medium between the two peoples. He was later an aide to Metacomet. Assassinated by three Native Americans, it was his death and the subsequent conviction of three individuals that sparked King Philip’s War.
10. Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck
Harvard University was founded in 1636 after its benefactor John Harvard. In 1665 Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck became not just its first Wampanoag graduate, but the very first Native American to graduate from a colonial / American university. A native of Martha’s Vineyard, he studied at the Indian College and learnt Greek, Latin and Religious Studies. He died of tuberculosis less than a year after his graduation. Due to illness sweeping the Native American population of the colonies, it is believed that he was the only graduate from his school.
The Wampanoag culture is not dead ‘ today there are many with the heritage celebrating the vital contribution that their ancestors have made to the colonial period. Though much of this history is dark and tragic, a deeper focus and celebration of this culture will help to forge a new understanding not just of the native populations, but also of history and our future.