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The Pocasset

 Native American Nations | Massasoit of the Wampanoags                   

The Pocassets, as we have already seen, formed one of the most important branches or subdivisions of the Wampanoag federation. Their exact numerical strength is almost as much in doubt as is that of the entire branch of the Algonquin family to which the name "Wampanoag" is applied, although there is reliable authority for the claim frequently advanced that Corbitant, their Sachem in 1620, could muster three hundred warriors, and estimating one warrior to five members of the tribe, this would give them a total of fifteen hundred, which is probably as near as it is possible to estimate the strength of any of the tribes. They lived in the territory immediately east of the Pokanoket country, and their numbers and close proximity to Massasoit's own tribe, together with the personality of their sachem, furnishes a reason for singling them out for particular mention at this time. Corbitant was a man of considerable importance, as indeed any man who could command three hundred warriors would be in the Wampanoag nation, weakened as it was by the raid of the Tarratines and the plague. He was not always in sympathy with some of Massasoit's moves, and his known hostility and independent scheming naturally lead us to inquire whether the strength of the Wampanoags has not been greatly underestimated by some, the reasonable inference being that Corbitant might quite naturally be expected to lead an open revolt if there had been any chance of success, the natives not being held in check by any doctrine of the divine rights of kings, and not looking upon the persons of their Great Chiefs as being endowed with any particular sanctity. Corbitant, while maintaining friendly relations with the whites apparently did it more as the part of political wisdom than through a desire to encourage and aid them. He was undoubtedly the sachem who was with Massasoit in his sickness in 1623, the day before Winslow arrived at Sowams, and sought to arouse Massasoit's hostility to the English saying as Window writes, "if we had been as good friends indeed as we were now in show, we would have visited him in this his sickness, using many arguments to withdraw his affections, and to persuade him to give way to some things against us, which were motioned to him not long before." Winslow does not mention the name of this sachem, but enough is known of Corbitant to lead to the belief that it was he. On the occasion of this visit to Massasoit, Window stopped at "Mattapuyst" with Corbitant, on his way to Sowams; and after his mission was accomplished, and Massasoit sufficiently recovered so that his friends returned to their homes; he went to Corbitant's lodge with him and spent the night there. He speaks of the Chief as a "notable politician, yet full of merry jests and squibs, and never better pleased than when the like are returned upon him." Corbitant was one of the eight sachems who acknowledged themselves subjects of King James in September 1621, his name being written Caunbitant on that document.
     Wamsutta, or Mooanam, Massasoit's oldest son, married Weetamo, supposed to be the daughter of Corbitant; and, undoubtedly in right of his wife, seems to have exercised some authority over the Pocassets after Corbitant's death. In 1659 he joined with other Indians in a grant of a tract of land covering all of what is now Freetown and more than half of Fall River to twenty-six purchasers who were free men and from whom the purchase is known in history as the Freemen's purchase. Weetamo is frequently referred to as the Squaw Sachem of the Pocassets, and we will have occasion to refer to her again, as well as to the part played by the Pocassets in King Philip's war.
     The Wampanoags and the Narragansetts appear to have made more progress towards civilization than most of the other Indian tribes, except possibly the Iroquois League of Northern New York. Massasoit dwelt in a lodge at Sowams of a much more substantial character than the ordinary tepees, and Corbitant undoubtedly had a similar residence at Mettapoisett. There is still shown in the town of Warren the Pokanoket's grist mill, consisting of a natural flat table rock into which grooves have been cut or worn by use, where the women of the tribe ground their corn by rolling round stones over it, these movable stones being operated by rolling them like a wheel about a shaft thrust through a hole drilled in the center. From the meal thus produced they made the Rhode Island Johnny cakes, the counterparts of which still tickle the palates of the descendents of the women who learned the art of making them from the Indian women of almost three centuries ago. The Rhode Island clambake, the mere mention of which is still sufficient to call together a multitude wherever that famous repast is known, had its origin with one or the other of these tribes and was known to both. The Indian method of preparing it is still recognized as the one method that gives it the peculiar flavor that cannot be secured in any other way; that method consisting of heating rocks by building fires upon them, and then removing the embers and placing clams, fish and green corn upon the rocks and covering them with seaweed to hold the heat until the whole is thoroughly cooked. Agriculture they had developed to a greater extent than most tribes, for while their cultivation of the soil was crude, they adopted artificial fertilization, which they taught to the whites as we shall hereafter see; and they raised corn and beans in abundance from which they made succotash, a dish originating with them; and they had made some progress in the potter's art.

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Massasoit of the Wampanoags

Massasoit of the Wampanoags


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