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Tribute to the Character of the Great Sachem

 Native American Nations | Massasoit of the Wampanoags                    

Perhaps the best tribute to the character of the Great Sachem extant is contained in the lamentation of Hobamock as poured into the ears of Winslow and Hamden when on their way to visit him in his sickness in 1623. He told them they would never see his like again among the Indians, continuing, "He is 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 in such measure as he would not scorn the advice of mean men; and that he governed his men better with few strokes than others did with many, truly loving where he loved; yea, he feared we had not a faithful friend left among the Indians; showing how he had oft times restrained their malice etc. continuing a long speech, with such signs of lamentation and unfeigned sorrow as would have made the hardest heart relent."

     Such was the tribute of one of his counselors and men of valor, who had lived with him and under his rule, who had sat with him in council and followed him on the warpath.

     Carver, Bradford, Winslow, Brewster, Standish, in fact all the men who played a leading part in the opening scene of the drama enacted upon the bleak New England coast, passed from the stage of human action, leaving the old chief still directing the affairs of his federation; but finally, he too laid down the sceptre and was gathered to his fathers in whose faith he died, having refused to accept the white man's religion, though undoubtedly hearing it preached from time to time. Whether his own inherent honesty revolted at the practices of the men who professed a higher religion, we do not know; and whether, in his declining years he read in the encroachments of the men he had befriended, the approaching doom of his own people is wholly a matter of conjecture. The exact date of his departure from earth to the land of Ponemah is not recorded, nor does any one know where his remains were buried. Drake says he was alive as late as September, 1661, but a deed given by Wamsutta dated April 8, 1661, conveying what is now the town of Attleboro, begins "Know All Men by These Presents that I, Wamsutta, alias Alexander, Chief Sachem of Pokanoket." This leaves some doubt concerning the accuracy of Drake's conclusion, although, like Passaconaway, Massasoit may have surrendered the tomahawk of authority to his eldest son before his death.

     Gone were the white men who knew him in his prime, when he governed his people "better with few strokes than others with many," when he "restrained their malice," and stood the uncompromising friend of the English, refusing to listen to the appeals of his sub-chiefs to speak the word which would have kindled a holocaust for the settlers. Gone were the friends of his early days, who valued his friendship and loved him for his native honesty and sincerity. In their place had arisen another generation, interested in him and his people only as the possessors of land they coveted; and so far as we know not a white man dropped a tear over the cold form of the hero who had so often stood between them and destruction.

     Of him General Fessenden well says, "This Chief has never had full justice done to his character": and I have not attempted anything like a complete biography. Of his early life nothing is known except the glimpses revealed by the lamentation of Hobamock and the boasting of Annawon; and even subsequent to that time, there are so many voids, so much that is left to be inferred from the writings of contemporary historians that the task .is well nigh impossible. My only purpose has been to call attention to the qualities he possessed in such a way that "full justice may be done to his character." So little is really known of his early life that historians have not been able even to tell us his name, that is, the name bestowed upon him at birth. Massasoit and Ousamequin are the two names handed down to us by the early writers; and each of these has a multitude of variations. "Massasoyt" is the way Bradford has it in his first mention of him, and undoubtedly fairly represents the sound as he heard it from Samoset; and Prince says, "the ancient people from their fathers in Plymouth pronounce it Mas-sa-so-it."

     Bicknell tells us that his true or tribal name was Ousamequin, made up of ousa, yellow, and mequin, feather, and that Massasoit means Great Sachem. ( Others, Peirce among them, think that he changed his name from Massasoit to Ousamequin in 1632, when he was at war with the Narragansetts; while - ill others believe he adopted the latter name on the death of his brother Quadequina. He does not appear to have been known to the Pilgrims by this name until long after his first appearance among t them but this really signifies nothing, as it may well be that they were in ignorance of his true name for a long time, calling him by that which they heard from the lips of Samoset; and that worthy may have used his title and not his name in speaking of him. So there is no real conflict between Prince and Bicknell, and color is lent to the claim of the latter by the well known practice among the Indians of naming their children for some tangible object either animate or inanimate, hence Yellow Feather.

     Whatever his mother may have called him, to whatever name he may have responded when pronounced by a fond father or by brothers and sisters, Massasoit he is to history, and Great Sachem he was in name and in fact; and as Massasoit his memory should be kept green, and his services to the colonists, as recorded by them, perpetuated for the generations yet to come; generations who will draw inspiration and new courage and zeal in the cause of freedom and humanity from the story of perils encountered, and hardships endured and overcome by the fathers, with the assistance of the friendly natives under Massasoit, in establishing upon these shores a haven of civil and religious liberty, "an asylum for the oppressed of all nations."

     It is to Massasoit that we pay our tribute of respect and admiration for the manly virtues, the heroic qualities, that have endeared him to every true American who has taken the pains to analyze properly the records and acquaint himself with the facts that go to make up the beginning of American history.

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Massasoit of the Wampanoags

Massasoit of the Wampanoags

 

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