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Identity of Sachems

 Native American Nations | Massasoit of the Wampanoags                    

The confusion in names resulting from changes in spelling from sound leaves us in doubt as to the identity of some of the men of that period. The names, being written down by some Englishman as the sounds struck his ear, were spelled in almost as many ways as there were men who had occasion to write them. Consequently, where differences of opinion arise concerning the identity of particular individuals, we are obliged to decide for ourselves which appears the most reasonable.

     My only reason for going into this question in detail and attempting to establish the identity of these sachems is to call attention to the far reaching effects of the treaty of March 22, 1621, for there can be no question that the event of September 13 was the direct outgrowth of that treaty, as, indeed, were all the events to which I have just called attention.

     There were other matters arising at a later time in which the action of the natives was unquestionably influenced by the alliance between the Wampanoags and the English; but I will content myself with calling attention briefly to one of them at this time, one that will be more fully discussed in another chapter, but is of so much consequence in connection with the subject now under consideration, that this array of the direct benefits resulting to the colonists from their treaty with Massasoit would not be complete without some reference to it; and that is the challenge sent by Canonicus to Plymouth in November, 1621, in the form of a bundle of arrows wrapped in a rattlesnake's skin. We are accustomed to think of Governor Bradford's defiant reply, accompanied by the same skin filled with powder and musket balls, as the only deterrent to Canonicus' ambitious project of attacking the colony. But it should be borne in mind that the Narragansett could reach Plymouth only by sailing around Cape Cod, which was impracticable, or by crossing Wampanoag territory. This would be an act of open hostility to the latter unless assented to, so it may have been, not the powder and balls alone, but the knowledge that he would have to contest his way with Massasoit's warriors, as well, that held the wily Canonicus in check. The Narragansett at that time could muster at least three thousand warriors, and if the Wampanoago had been hostile to the English or even passive, it does not require any particularly prophetic vision or power of divination to read the result to the colonists.

     And so the first year passed without even the suspicion of any lack of good faith on the part of either the natives or the colonists; for no one ever thought of blaming Massasoit for the acts of Corbitant, or of the Manomet and Nauset. Corbitant's Pocasset were almost or quite as strong numerically as the Pokanoket alone, and their territory adjoined; and the Manomet and Nauset, were way down on Cape Cod. When one stops to consider the way in which the tribes of the federation were scattered, and the natives' natural love of freedom from interference, it is easy to see that the Great Sachem who could hold them together at all in times of peace must be both diplomat and warrior.

     But in the spring of 1622 Squanto, who evidently was nourishing ambitions of his own, became jealous of Hobamock, and caused rumors to be circulated which cast some doubt upon the sincerity of Massasoit's friendship; and Bradford tells us that "much anxiety existed which was increased by the conduct of Massasoit, who seemed to frown on us, and neither came nor sent to us as formerly." The valuation which they placed upon his friendship at that time, can easily be seen from this passage from Bradford himself. Massasoit had good reason to frown on them, and to refrain from coming or sending to them as formerly. This was after Squanto's treachery to his Great Sachem had been discovered, of which a more particular account will be found in the chapter dealing with him, and Massasoit had himself gone to Plymouth to request his delivery to him in pursuance of the treaty and had sent messengers for the same purpose, all to no avail. This might well cause him to wonder if the English looked upon the treaty as creating obligations and imposing duties upon only one of the signatories; and he may have felt himself released from a strict observance of its terms. From a remark made by him after Winslow had administered to him and relieved him of his distress in March, 1623, it is apparent that the Great Chief's distrust of the English, arising from Bradford's refusal to give Squanto up to him, was not entirely removed until that time.

     That there was ground for the colonists' anxiety is apparent from the disclosure made by Massasoit after his relief by Window; and that there was justification for the acts of the natives we will show in a subsequent paragraph; but, after Window's visit to Sowams, there does not appear to have been any suspicion on the part of the settlers that Massasoit was a party to their projects, although he knew of them.

     Sometime in March, 1623, word of Massasoit's illness reached Plymouth, and, at Governor Bradford's behest, Edward Window again set out for Sowams, accompanied by Hobamock and a "gentleman from London, named John Hamden," perhaps the John Hampden who afterwards distinguished himself as a leader of the Parliamentary forces in the struggle between the Commons and Charles II. Bradford desired them to make this trip to express to Massasoit his friendship, and to obtain a conference with Dutch traders who were reported to have been driven ashore in Narragansett Bay.

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Massasoit of the Wampanoags

Massasoit of the Wampanoags


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