Massachusett are a Native American people who historically lived
in areas surrounding
Massachusetts Bay, as well as northeast and
Massachusetts in what is now the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts, including present-day Greater Boston. Tribal members
Massachusett language, which is part of the Algonquian
language family. The present-day U.S state of
Massachusetts is named
after the tribe.
Massachusett means “people of the great hills”, referring
to the Blue Hills south of Boston Harbor.
As one of the first groups of indigenous American peoples to encounter
English colonists, the
Massachusett experienced a rapid decline in
population in the 17th and 18th centuries due to new infectious
diseases. Descendants of the
Massachusett continue to inhabit the
Greater Boston area, but they are not a federally recognized tribe.
3.1 Contacts with Europeans (ca. 1570–1621) and English Colonial
3.1.1 Contacts with Europeans and the arrival of English settlers
3.1.2 Praying towns and praying Indians (1651–1675)
King Philip's War
King Philip's War (1675–1676) and aftermath
3.1.4 Return to Reservations and Late Colonial Period (ca.
3.2 American Independence (1776) to present
3.2.1 Post-independence and nineteenth century
126.96.36.199 End of the reservations
188.8.131.52 Censuses and Indian Enfranchisement
3.3 Post-Enfranchisement, twentieth century and present
4 Contemporary tribes
4.2 Natick Massachusett-Nipmuc
4.3 Mattakeesett Massachusett
5 See also
7 External links
View of Little Blue Hill from atop Great Blue Hill. The original name
Massachusett, 'Big Hill Place,' was adopted by the local Native
American people for themselves and their language and later adopted by
the English settlers for the colony, and later U.S. State, of
The name of the people, language and region—adopted as the name of
the colony and later U.S. state with the addition of a terminal
's'—takes its name from the original name of the Great Blue Hill, a
sacred area to the
Massachusett people situated on the borders of
Canton and Milton,
Massachusetts that overlooks Boston and its harbor.
The spellings 'Massachuset' or 'Massachusett' for the people and
language and 'Massachusetts' for the region were more or less standard
by the eighteenth century, although early English sources are full of
alternate spellings such as 'Masichewsetta,' 'Masstachusit,'
'Masathulets,' 'Masatusets,' 'Massachussett,' etc.
Wôpanâak modern spelling
'great' or 'big'
Through complicated rules of vowel shifts, elision of /w/ before
vowels and assimilation of vowels, these radicals combine yield
Massachusett (Mâsach8sut) /maːsatʃuːsət/.
Massachusett were also known as the 'Moswetuset,' which derives
from the same roots as 'Massachusett' but the first element is found
only in a few compounds with the meaning of 'to pierce' and refers to
an 'arrow-shaped hill' and refers to
Moswetuset Hummock in what is now
Quincy, Massachusetts, said to be ceremonial meeting ground between
sachems. French sources of the early seventeenth century refer to
the coastal peoples of New England as the Almouchiquois or
Armouchiquois, probably from an unknown Native people of what is now
Canada and likely indicating 'dog people.' Although the term extended
to the coastal groups of Eastern
Abenaki tribes, it specifically
referred to the coastal peoples of southern New England such as the
Massachusett. In the late colonial period, the French generically
referred to the peoples of central and southern New England as Loup,
or 'Wolf people.'
With the consolidation of the
Massachusett to the two Praying towns
established for them, it became increasingly more common to refer to
the individual tribes, but 'Massachusett' remained the term when
referring to the two groups collectively. Due to the influence of
Eliot's 'Praying towns' and the conversion of most of the Massachusett
to Christianity, either by Eliot or Indians that trained as
missionaries, most of the Indians began to stress a general identity,
referring to themselves as Indian, 'Indian,' or 'Praying Indian' to
refer to the shared experience of many tribes of conversion and
confinement to specific lands, precursors to the Indian Reservations
established by the
United States during its westward expansion and
subjugation of its Native American peoples.
A depiction from 1919 of Eliot preaching to the Indians. Eliot played
a primary role in developing the written language and introducing the
Christianity and literacy, preserving the language but
destroying aspects of traditional culture.
Massachusett language is a member of the Algic language family in
its extensive Algonquian division which includes all the Algic
languages except two very distantly related languages of northern
California. Within Algonquian,
Massachusett is in the Southern New
England Algonquian (SNEA) sub-branch of the
Eastern Algonquian branch
of Algonquian languages. The SNEA languages are so closely related,
they can be considered dialects of one another and differ mainly in
treatment of Proto-Algonquian retroflexes of *θ which yielded /n/ in
Massachusett, /l/ in Nipmuc, /j/ in Narragansett and /r/ in Quiripi,
Massachusett classified as an SNEA n-dialect in this scheme.
The closest relatives of the
Massachusett language are the other SNEA
languages, and more distantly with other Algonquian languages.
The language was shared between several peoples. This included the
Massachusett, whose traditional territory includes what is now Boston
and immediate environs and the South Shore, hugging
extending west to the fall line; the Pawtucket of southernmost Maine,
coastal New Hampshire, the North Shore and the lower Merrimack River
watershed; the Wampanoag, covering all of south-eastern Massachusetts,
especially Cape Cod and the Islands and north-eastern south-eastern
Rhode Island; the Nauset, possibly a Wampanoag group, of Cape Cod from
points east of the Bass River and the Coweset of northern Rhode
Island. Narragansett is sometimes considered a dialect, but as it was
a y-dialect, it is generally treated distinctly by linguists.
The index and first page of Genesis from Eliot's translation of the
Bible into the Natick speech of
Massachusett in 1663, the Mamusse
Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God.
The language was most notably used by John Eliot in the first Bible
printed in the Americas. Eliot had learned the language through a
series of Indian interpreters and translators, mostly at Natick, and
devised an orthography based on English conventions of the time. Eliot
would later teach Indians to read and write using hand-written
catechisms that were copied. Funding was granted for the Indian
mission, allowing Eliot to publish several translations, ultimately
leading up to the Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God, which
literally translates as 'The Whole Holy His-Bible God,' which was
completed in 1663. Beginning in 1651 and lasting until 1747, almost
thirty translations and other teaching aids were produced in the
Massachusett language and distributed to the Indians of the
Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth Colonies. A school was established in
Natick, where Indian men were trained in reading and writing and
Christian theology and would later serve as clerks, ministers,
deacons, administrators, interpreters and constables of the newly
created 'Praying towns' established by Eliot. As the Indians became
literate, they taught others to read and write, thus spreading its
use. Just before the outbreak of Metacomet's Rebellion, one-third of
Indians were literate in only twenty years after Eliot taught the
first Indians. The specific use of the speech of Natick led to
dialect leveling, and by the beginning of the eighteenth century, most
of the Massachusett-speaking peoples, as well as some communities of
Nipmuc and Pennacook, began to speak the
Massachusett dialect of
Natick, with many of the learned men in their communities students of
Natick or from Natick itself. The names of the
are named in colonial sources, such as William Ahaton and Aaron
Pomham, who served as preachers in Ponkapoag; John Neesnummin of
Natick, who helped both Eliot and the Mayhew family in translating
works for the Indian audience; John Simons of Titicut and James Speen,
a Natick Indian who later became preacher to the
Nipmuc Indians of
Pakachoag (now Auburn, Massachusetts).
The use of the language began to fade in the
in the 1750s, with the last speaker likely dying sometime after 1798.
The Wampanoag dialect continued to be spoken as the primary language
of the Wampanoag until the 1770s, but the last speakers died sometime
in the late nineteenth century on Martha's Vineyard, but rememberers
of the language persisted into the 1920s. Under the leadership of
Jessie Little Doe Baird, who started the Wôpanâak Language
Reclamation Project, the Wampanoag dialect is now spoken as a second
language in the Herring Pond, Assonet, Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag
tribes that participate, producing the first speakers of the language
in over a century and using a simplified, consistent orthography.
Massachusett tribes do not participate, and have no
speakers, but continue to use the colonial orthography and colonial
translations as sacred texts.
Contacts with Europeans (ca. 1570–1621) and English Colonial Period
Contacts with Europeans and the arrival of English settlers
Depiction of the Almouchicois Indians—the French term for the
Massachusett-speaking peoples of southern New England by the explorer
Samuel de Champlain. Champlain visited villages on islands in Boston
Harbor and anchored offshore
Shawmut during his exploration in 1605.
Various European nations sailed past the shores of New England
beginning in the middle of the sixteenth century. The Native Americans
would occasionally make encounters with the ships sailing just off the
coast, English fishermen drying their catch on shore before returning
home and blackbirding ships with crews that would abduct passengers
for slavery or indentured servitude. Both
able to greet the Pilgrims in English,
Squanto via abduction and
forced impressment as a translator and crewman on voyages to North
Samoset from contacts with English fishermen on his home
island off Maine.
Samuel de Champlain
Samuel de Champlain in 1605, who had sailed
south from what is now
Canada with an Algonquin
guide and his Almouchicois wife as an interpreter, as she was said to
speak their language. Champlain spent a night just offshore Shawmut,
trading with the men that visited the ship, and may have even went
Boston Harbor island to meet the people there. John Smith
extensively mapped the coast and noted its suitability for English
colonization and, like Champlain before him, explored the islands of
Boston Harbor, cast anchor around
Shawmut to conduct trade with
approaching Indians and even landed ashore and met with the
Massachusett leaders of Wessagusett and Quonnahasset.
Engravings depicting an English Puritan man and woman. Through
immigration and increase, the English settlers outnumbered the Indians
by the 1630s, a decade after the founding of the first settlements in
These early contacts came with a great cost, especially the
introduction of pathogens to which the Native Americans lacked
immunity, leading to devastating virgin soil epidemics. Circa 1617, an
outbreak of leptospirosis, probably introduced by rats from European
ships that contaminated the local water supply, struck the densely
populated coastal areas—such as the homeland of the
Massachusett—with mortality rates as high as 90%.
The high mortality rates in the densely populated coastal regions
shifted power in the region, exacerbated by competing European powers
and their respective sphere of influence. The
Massachusett are widely
believed to have been a dominant tribe in the region, with a large
population, fairly fertile soils for the region and abundance of
seacoast resources, the
Massachusett were likely the head of a tribal
confederacy that exacted tribute from neighboring peoples including
the Pawtucket, Wampanoag,
Nipmuc and most tribes of the Pioneer
Valley. As the interior tribes escaped some of the first few
rounds of epidemics, the
Massachusett were no longer able to fend off
attacks by traditional enemies such as the Tarratines (either Abenaki
or Mi'kmaq) or the Mohawk, with the Tarratines armed by the French and
the Mohawk armed by the Dutch as European powers competed for access
to the fur trade. The
Massachusett were also unable to defend
themselves against the English in the short-lived Wessagusset Colony
in a skirmish in 1624, which led to the death of the local sachem
Pecksuot and several others.
By the 1630s, the English settlers became an overwhelming majority,
not just in the portions of the
Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth
colonies under their nominal control but in New England in general.
This was in part due to several epidemics, particularly the 1633
smallpox outbreak that not only afflicted the coastal peoples, but was
a widespread pestilence that struck deep into the interior. Many of
the English settlers took it as a sign of divine providence that the
English were chosen to settle and Christianize the land, as the
epidemics of the 1630s effectively cleared the land of their
presence. As the Native population fell, the English population
grew. This was in part due to natural increase as well as the influx
of roughly 20,000 English colonists between 1620-1640, with the great
majority arriving in the latter period after the major epidemics of
the 1630s. The Indians quickly became a small minority in their own
homeland, and increasingly came under influence and control of the
English, resulting in an uneasy truce. In the
Colony, the Native peoples were called to the General Court to sign
the 1644 Act of Submission, which forced the laws of the English and
officially gave permission to begin the Christian mission to the
Indians in return for protection and assistance. With time, however,
the Act of Submission was amended, with more repressive measures on
the Indians as time progressed.
Praying towns and praying Indians (1651–1675)
The Eliot Church in south Natick. The church was built in 1828 on the
site of the original
Praying town of Natick's Indian church and
The founding charter of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony called upon the
English settlers to establish
Christianity among the Native peoples
present. John Eliot was the most notable, and was known as the
'Apostle to the Indians.' Eliot answered the call, learning the local
language through a series of interpreters, particularly his servant
Cockenoe, likely a
Montaukett who spoke it as a second language, and
John Sassamon, raised in indentured servitude in a White household,
who agreed to assist Eliot. With the help of interpreters, Eliot
attempted to reach Sachem Cutshemakin's people at Neponset in 1646,
but was rebuffed. Eliot was better trained and linguistically adept
later that year, and converted Sachem Waban's people at Nonantum.
Eliot petitioned the Great and General Court of the
Colony to grant land to the Indians for the establishment of a
Christian township of Indians, which occurred in 1651. Construction of
the church and meetinghouse began right away, and the settlement was
later joined by numerous
Nipmuc people that lived just to the west of
the region. Cutshemakin later submitted to Eliot and had his tribe
converted, and the second Praying town,
Ponkapoag (modern Canton,
Massachusetts) was established in 1654 for the Neponset tribe.
Eventually, twelve more of these 'Indian plantations' were
established, mostly in Nipmuc,
Pennacook or Pawtucket areas. The
inhabitants came to be known as 'Praying Indians' and the settlements
as 'Praying towns.'
The success of the Praying towns was in large part due to the
traumatic experiences of European arrival. Devastating epidemics that
nearly wiped the people out could not be cured with traditional
healing practices and spiritual rituals nor were the spirits of the
land powerful enough to keep out the European invaders. The promise of
guaranteed land recognized by the invaders as untouchable to the
onslaught of English colonists was also very promising. The Native
Americans viewed English land sales as lease agreements, as rights to
land were granted by permission of the local sachem to use until it
was no longer needed. Indian land was sometimes just stolen by
encroachment, squatting or allowing hungry cattle loose on their
planting fields and ruining it. Laws were passed allowing all
"unimproved" land to be open to English settlement, opening hunting
areas, coastal shellfish collection sites to eventual settlement. With
the Praying towns granted official title to their land, the converts
were able to continue some aspects of their cultural practices and
subsistence patterns and removed some of the major threats to their
Historical marker standing on the northern boundary of what was once
Praying town of Ponkapoag, now contained in the town of Canton,
The Praying Indians were forced to submit to the colonial authority,
accept its laws and institutions, adopt certain English customs,
conform to Puritan
Christianity and were strongly pressured to keep
away from Indians that refused to convert and kept more traditional
lifestyles, but otherwise were semi-autonomous. The Indians were able
to preserve their language, which was the language of the church
thanks to Eliot's training of Indian missionaries and translation of
the Bible, and drumming called the faithful to the pulpits instead of
the church bell. The Praying Indians were disadvantaged because the
validity of their conversions were questioned by the English, and
general prejudice against Indians in general. The Praying Indians
were despised by traditionalists, who did not receive favors or
protections from the English and disavowed them for abandoning Native
ways. Adoption of English husbandry and agriculture and dependence on
English goods as trade items made the Indians dependent on the English
economy, but as they were restricted to remaining in the Praying towns
and trade with Indians was a colonial monopoly, the Praying Indians at
best eked out existence as subsistence farmers on the outskirts of
English colonies, indebted to the unfair credit and inflationary
schemes of English neighbors. The paternalistic civilizing and
evangelizing mission behind the development of the Praying towns was
adopted in the neighboring Plymouth Colony, and has many parallels
Indian reservation as they exist today.
In addition to the official Praying towns of the
Colony, the Plymouth Colony (which was later merged into the Province
Massachusetts in 1692) established similar Praying towns for the
Massachusett in their boundary, including Titicut (now Bridgewater,
Massachusetts) and Mattakeesett (now Pembroke, Massachusetts). Several
other establishments of
Massachusett Praying Indians, although never
official Praying towns, were Cowate, just outside of Natick;
Magaehnak, near Sudbury, probably about Concord,
Pequimmit, close to
Ponkapoag in what is now Stoughton,
King Philip's War
King Philip's War (1675–1676) and aftermath
Threats to local culture, loss of land, forced acceptance of English
rule and culture and abuses of the English led many Praying Indians to
take arms against the English, though the vast majority remained
neutral and many served to protect the settlers.
The coexistence between the English settlers and the original
population of Native Americans quickly turned into tension as the
English flexed their political, military and cultural muscle over the
local inhabitants. The Indians were weary of the increase in the
population and military strength of the English. The
other peoples had the might of the English demonstrated in their
devastating reduction of the Pequot in the
Pequot War of
Saint David's Island, Bermuda. After King Philip's War, many of the
Indians of New England were sold into slavery here, destined for the
sugar plantations of the Caribbean. The St. David's Islanders were
erroneously and disparagingly called 'Mohawk' as the islanders
differed in appearance from other
Afro-Bermudians due to their
relatively high percentage of Native American blood.
The colonies began to enact stricter rules against the Indians.
Traditional religious practices were outlawed, and fines were imposed
upon those caught being shamans or consulting them. All Indians,
Christian or not, were forced to observe the Sabbath by refraining
from activity. Other laws dictated which towns and which times of
day the Indians were to avoid, kept the Indians dependent on the
English for their goods since direct trade with the Indians was made a
colonial monopoly. Sale of weapons, ships, alcohol and other
valuables, intermarriage with the English and living too close to
English settlements all became banned. These regulations angered
the Indians as it forced assimilation, submission and starved them as
they were forced into the English monetary society without
protections. Land was the commodity, as it was needed by the English
for their ever-growing populations. The Europeans, who viewed the
death of the Indians as God's plan to prepare the New World for them,
led them to hold any regard or want of the Indians, despite the
success of the colonies dependent on Indian aid. The question of all
unimproved lands open to settlement, infuriated the Native
Deer Island, attached to the mainland after the gulch that separated
it silted over, is now occupied by a sewage and wastewater treatment
plant. The expansion of the facility angered many Native American
Massachusetts whose ancestors' bones were disturbed during
the plant's expansion in the 1990s.
Metacomet, whose brother was likely killed by the English, had his
Massachusett interpreter to the English, John Sassamon, murdered,
which led to the Plymouth Colony hanging several of his men, sparking
King Philip's War. Metacomet or Philip, called a meeting of the
regional tribal alliances and rose against English rule. Although many
of the Praying Indians ran to support Metacomet, most remained
neutral, and a good number even served as scouts, guides and
interpreters for the English. The Praying Indians were attacked on
both sides, by the Indians who believed they sold out the Indian
rights to the land, and the English. As the war escalated, the Praying
Indians were rounded up at gunpoint and forcibly interned on islands
in Boston Harbor, most notably Deer Island, where they were provided
little food, shelter or clothing and most perished of starvation,
exposure and illness. Even the Mattakeesett, who, unlike most of the
Plymouth Colony Indians that survived the fighting, suffered a similar
Clark's Island in 1675 for fear they might join Metacomet and
his Wampanoag and pan-Indian alliance. Although the Indians that
fought alongside Metacomet were successful in early campaigns, heavy
losses of men and the scorched earth practices of the English forced
the Indians into submission.
Many of the Indians, whether or not they participated, were executed,
expelled or sold into slavery in the West Indies. For a decade or more
after, the Indians suffered localized massacres, retaliatory attacks
or were forced off their land. After peace was restored, the Indians
tried to return to their lands, only to find most of their homes
destroyed or occupied by English settlers. Of the Praying towns Eliot
established, Natick and Ponkapoag, and two others, were re-opened
while the rest were revoked by the colonial government and the Indians
barred from returning. Many of the Indians chose to flee to safety to
the north or west, assimilating into the tribes that would accept
them. For the Indians that remained, this was the last effort at
resistance to English rule because they were now numerically
disadvantaged and the post-war population was probably only half of
what it was.
Return to Reservations and Late Colonial Period (ca.
A painting of Crispus Attucks, the first casualty of the American
Revolution. Although claimed by many tribes in the region, Attucks was
likely Natick (Massachusett-Nipmuc) through his mother and of African
ancestry through his father. Many of the Massachusett, who had served
in various colonial militias, also served on the side of the American
Patriots during the American Revolution.
The Indians returned to the Praying towns after the war, although
these lands and other areas came simply to be known as 'reserves' or
'reservations' but support for the Indian mission slowed to a trickle,
and many Indians returned to find their lands usurped or faced
hostility from English neighbors. Natick's population temporarily
Nipmuc from the early closures of Okommakamesit which was
ceded in 1685 and Makunkokoag where the Indians were banned from
settling. The influx was short lived. A small trickle of Indians
continued to travel northward to seek their relations among the
Abenaki. Many chose to join the Wampanoag at Mashpee and Aquinnah, as
they were able to retain a large land base, spoke a dialect of the
same language and were close to the whaling ports where men could seek
employment, and a minor sachem named Noohtooksaet was known to have
led a small contingent of
Massachusett to Noepe where they were
adopted into the Aquinnah tribe.
The rights to Indian land, separate schools and religious institutions
and use of language were restricted as English neighbors gained
footholds. Natick retained the
Massachusett language in the church and
as the language of town records until 1721, the same year that the
English—and a monolingual English speaker with no familiarity to the
language or its people—was appointed the minister. Peabody used
his position to persuade the Natick to sell some land to the English
and to accept English congregants. Indians nevertheless held as the
dominant faction of the town and maintained positions in the church
leadership into the 1750s when Natick became an English town, with a
confusing patchwork of Indian common lands, Indian homesteads, land
leased to English tenants and lands in between owned outright by the
English, with the language beginning to dye out in the community at
this time. The reservation lands in Titicut (now Bridgewater,
Massachusetts) were sold in 1743, although a few families maintained
private land. By the 1750s, their population had fallen too few to
support a separate church, but the new parish church built near its
original site featured segregated pews, reserved for Indians and
Blacks, at the back. Any remnants of traditional leadership and
autonomy were ended in 1743, when the provincial government appointed
a guardian to restrict illegal sales of lands and serve as mediators
with the courts and government. However, the guardian for Natick was
initially appointed to oversee the sale of timber, which had become a
rare commodity in the mostly deforested New England of the late
eighteenth century, and many took advantage of lack of supervision to
embezzle funds or conduct dubious land sales.
Reduced to wards of the colony, the lack of land fragmented Indian
communities and led to extreme poverty. The land base of Ponkapoag,
for instance, was reduced from 1,000 acres (~404.69 hectares) to only
411 acres (~166.33 hectares) in 1757. With only their land of value,
Indians were often forced to sell land to cover medical expenses,
repairs to their buildings, court fees or debts. A harsh winter and
the eleven orphans of Samuel Mohoo so drained the common funds, the
Ponkapoag sold land in 1769, 1773 and 1776. Without
land to farm or forage, Indians were forced to seek employment and
settle in the de facto segregated sections of cities. Many moved
between temporary employment, seeking housing with relatives or
finding temporary housing near employment, often near any remaining
Indian family or lands. Men were sought for the growing whaling
cities, where any Indian, regardless of tribe, were welcomed as
crewmen, and a smaller number worked fishing and merchant vessels.
When the season was over, men could work as laborers. Women traveled
peddling traditional baskets and herbal medicines, or with children,
worked as domestics in English homes.
Many men from Natick and
Ponkapoag served with distinction as guides,
interpreters, scouts and soldiers in units such as
Gorham's Rangers in
King William's War
King William's War (1689–1699),
Queen Anne's War
Queen Anne's War (1704–1713),
Dummer's War (1722–1724),
King George's War
King George's War (1744–1748), Father Le
Loutre's War (1749–1755) and the French and Indian War
(1754–1760). Many of the
Abenaki on the side of the French were
refugees from southern New England, pitting some Indians against their
kin. Many Native Americans also died in service of the American
American Independence (1776) to present
Post-independence and nineteenth century
Thomas F. Bancroft (1821-1903), a
Ponkapoag Indian of Canton, served
Massachusetts Fifth Cavalry—a Black regiment—in the Civil
War. Bancroft is listed as 'Mulatto,' 'Colored' and 'Indian,'
respectively, in the 1850, 1860 and 1880 U.S. censuses.
A century more of participation in wars against the French and the
huge tolls of the
American Revolution had enormous impacts on the
population of the
Massachusett and other indigenous peoples of
Massachusetts. Even in the nineteenth century, Indians still had
higher mortality rates than their English—later to be called
English-American—neighbors to the plagues that nearly decimated
their populations at the beginning of European contact. The wars not
only took a heavy toll on the men in the community, but upon their
return, most succumbed to disease and worse, brought it back to their
communities. The particular loss of men in the community led to a very
significant gender imbalance, as the Indian communities were left with
only women of all ages, old men and young children. In a letter sent
Massachusetts General Court some time after the American
Revolution, the Indians of Natick wrote, "... almost all that were
able did go into the Service of the
United States and either died in
the service or soon after their return home. We are their widows,
there being not one male left now that was then of age to go to
war." What men did remain were limited to the same professions of
the previous century, particularly whaling which had grown into a true
industry, but was nevertheless quite dangerous with a good number of
men lost at sea and taken away from their communities for long periods
Intermarriage, which had begun as a trickle after the French and
Indian Wars accelerated after the American Revolution. Indian women
often chose Black slaves as their lovers and husbands. The reasons for
intermarriage particularly between Indian women and Black men were
numerous. Slavery in Massachusetts, which was not abolished until
1781, imported mainly men for work as manual laborers, and thus
suffered a reciprocal gender imbalance. The children of such unions
were not born into slavery, as they inherited the free status of the
mother according to the laws of the time. Indian women also found
themselves employment as domestics in White households, thus finding
them in close contact with Black slaves. Intermarriage with White men
was less frequent, due to banishment from families and
anti-miscegenation laws, but nevertheless, these rates spiked to, with
men often pariahs and those of lesser means.
The Indians thought of the children of these unions as part of the
tribe, as they inherited the status of the mother as per traditional
Algonquian matrilineality, but they had to maintain kinship and social
ties to other Indians and the community, and thus enabled them to
claim ownership to whatever remaining common lands existed, although
non-Indian spouses were effectively prevented from participating in
Indian affairs or claiming ownership to Indian property, although
quite a few lands were still dispossessed as a result of non-Indian
spouses alienating the land. Tensions in the communities also arose,
as the few Indian men were probably threatened by the intrusion of
outsiders in the community. Although Indian features were still
clearly present, the Indians disappear from the record on account of
two fronts. Romantic notions of the 'noble savage' idealized in such
The Last of the Mohicans
The Last of the Mohicans led many to believe that 'real'
Indians were long gone, as cultural and racial comparison led many to
write off the mixed-race 'mongrel Indians' that had acculturated after
two centuries of assimilation had erased their claim to legitimacy,
unlike the newly subjugated indigenous peoples of the expanding
western frontier. The
Black Indians as a result were denied Indian
heritage because only pure-blooded Indians were considered Indian and
any drop of African descent, because of the 'one-drop rule,' led to
classification as Black. By the time of the first Federal Census
in 1790, and in most local censuses conducted in the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts or at the municipal level, Indian disappears as a
category, with most known Indians labelled as 'Black,' 'Negro,'
'African,' 'Colored' or 'Mulatto' depending on the perceptions of
African admixture, based on physical appearance, of the census
End of the reservations
The guardian of
Ponkapoag sold most of the land in 1827; a small plot
was not sold until 1840, but Indians had already been restricted from
its use. To raise funds for the aging population of Natick, the
guardian sold the last land of the tribe in 1828. The end of the
reservations did not necessarily end the presence of Indians in the
area, nor did it dissolve the role of the guardians in administering
funds in the tribe.
The loss of the Indian common lands did not end Indian connection to
traditional areas, but weakened Indian society from communal to
familial. For instance, the Peagan family, one of the few Natick
families to still have a
Massachusett surname, disappear from Natick
records but people with that surname show up in later reports on the
Chaubunagungamaug (Dudley) Nipmuck, probably because marriage between
Indians occurred and due to the close familial connections between
many Dudley Nipmuck families and Natick. In Ponkapoag, Rebecca Davis
had lived in Boston most of her life, but returned every late autumn
to visit friends and family, presumably other
Ponkapoag Indians, and
stocked up on jellies and other foodstuffs well into her
seventies. Roughly a third of the
Ponkapoag were known to reside
in Canton, most having bought out or were allotted lands from the last
of the reservation. The rest of the
Ponkapoag had dispersed, settling
in the colored sections of small cities on the outskirts of Boston or
in the city itself, but like Rebecca Davis, returned to the region
sporadically to pay visits to friends and family.
Censuses and Indian Enfranchisement
Massachusett people were still wards of the state under guardians
who handled what funds were left from previous land sales. The
Massachusetts ordered reports on the condition of the
Indians, mainly for the purposes of keeping track of the expenses and
check up on the guardians, who more or less operated autonomously with
little oversight from the General Court. The first was Denny Report of
1848, which was a very preliminary look. The report only found four
Ponkapoag and made no effort to determine the number of Natick. A year
later, a more detailed report was released, which came to be known as
the Briggs Report of 1849, which records 10
Ponkapoag but again does
not list any Natick. The most detailed, and last, of the reports
conducted by John Milton Earle was started in 1859 and published in
1861, includes even more information, such as surnames, location and
profession. Even Earle, who provides the most detailed information,
lamented '... the temptations to a race naturally inclined to a roving
and unsettled life, are too great to be resisted ... they frequently
remove from place to place, keeping up no correspondence or
communication with those they have left; till at last their place of
residence ceases to be known to their friends, and all trace of them
is lost.' He goes on to state that tracing them was difficult due to
the 'humble social position and obscure station in life, known only to
a few directly about them ... [and are] frequently not recognized as
Indians, by the people among whom they dwell.' Earle was also aware
that his research was not an exhaustive list, as 'This lack of
reliable statistics prevents the making of any comparison of the
present number with what it has been at former periods so as to show
whether the tribe is increasing or diminishing.'
His Excellency, Governor George N. Briggs. Bird, Griswold and Weeks,
the three commissioners tasked with reporting on the Indians in 1849
presented their preliminary findings to Briggs later that year, that
report is now known to historians as the Briggs Report.
None of the reports offer any insight into the small remnant groups of
The Berkshires or the
Pocomtuc and Nipmuc-related
peoples of the Pioneer Valley. The Earle Report was the first report,
however, that provided any information regarding the Natick Indians or
the Pembroke Indians (Matakeesett or in the Earle Report,
'Mamatakeeset'). The Earle Report also mentions another Indian group
known as the Tumpum that also lived in the vicinity. As Pembroke was
more or less on the frontier of two closely related peoples that often
intermarried, it is uncertain if the Tumpum can be considered a
Massachusett group, but descendants of the Tumpum have mostly
intermarried into and have descendants in contemporary Wampanoag
communities. The three reports due more or less point out the
difficulties of Indian life, as they were not considered citizens of
the United States, were alienated from their lands, mostly lived in
poverty due to lack of land and lack of suitable employment due to
prejudice and racism, were not recognized as Indian because of their
racial mixture and still had guardians that managed what little
financial benefits they had, either as annuities paid by the state for
the eldest and sick members of the tribe, or interest accrued from the
tribal fund, funded from the sale of the last of the reservation
lands. The reports also highlight the general marginalization of
Indians, the fracturing of Indian communities and the higher mortality
rate compared to the general population. A good number of the Indians
had already assimilated into the surrounding communities, attending
the same churches, schools and participating in larger society. The
Earle report does list employment, showing most of the Massachusett
with known employment were either laborers, mariners, barbers,
caterers or farmers.
The growth of the Abolitionist movement in the northern United States
was especially prevalent in the then Republican dominated government.
Boston was a hotbed, attracting notable abolitionist leaders to set up
offices and raise funds for their cause, as well as attracting
numerous speakers on a growing political circuit, many of whom were
Massachusetts or stayed for extended periods, such as
William Lloyd Garrison, Maria W. Stewart, Frederick Douglass, William
Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony and Robert Gould Shaw. The Indians
more or less became an embarrassment to the abolitionist cause, as a
small minority of colored people, with varying degrees of African
heritage, were denied citizenship and the right to vote as wards of
the state. Furthermore, many Indians participated in the Civil War,
enlisting in Black regiments. In the wake of the Emancipation
Proclamation of 1863 and more re-assuring signs of a Union victory,
Massachusetts passed the
Massachusetts Enfranchisement Act in 1869.
The Act extended these rights, but also 'detribalized' the Indians,
similar to effects of the
Dawes Act of 1887 at the federal level. This
ended the guardianship of the Indians, and any remaining funds were
disbursed to Indians recorded on the Earle Report or their known
descendants and removed any remaining legal prohibitions against the
sale of Indian lands. The Indians of the Commonwealth were no longer
under its patronage and few steps were taken to care for the Indians,
although a handful of the Natick and
Ponkapoag continued to receive
state benefits because of old age, illness and lack of kin.
Massachusetts 'Indian Censuses'
1848, Denney Report
1849, Briggs Report
1861, Earle Report
Blodget, Pease, Jepherson
Bancroft, Black, Burr, Burrill, Croud, Davis, Elisha, Foster, Hall,
Hunt, Jackson, Lewis, Manuel, Mooney, Myers, Roby, Smith, Stemburg,
Talbot, Thomas, Toney, Williams
Hyatt, Joel, Prince
Post-Enfranchisement, twentieth century and present
In the 105 years between the
Massachusetts Enfranchisement Act of 1869
and the creation of the
Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs by
legislative act in 1974, records on the
Massachusett people are very
few. Local obituaries refer to numerous 'last' of the Indians. Mary
Burr, who passed in 1852 before enfranchisement, has the epithet 'last
of the Punkapog' on her tombstone. Other
Ponkapoag Indians also
received the title, such as Daniel Crowd, who moved to Milton in the
late 1860s, remembered as he was one of the last pure-blooded or
mostly pure-blooded Ponkapoag. In 1875, a reunion of the
descendants of John Eliot proclaimed the death of the 'Last of the
Natick,' most likely referring to Patience Blodgett. In 1900,
another Ponkapoag, Lemuel Burr, is referred to as the last, however,
the article in a Cambridge newspaper at the time referred to his
mother and aunt as the last of the tribe, and interestingly mentions
his son, Lemuel D. Burr but goes on to claim that the deceased Burr
was the last of his race. Perhaps one of the last to receive this
distinct honor was Jeanette Rose Beauty Bancroft Crowd (née Burrell)
who passed in 1928, great-great grandmother of the current sachem of
the Ponkapoag, Gill Solomon.
By the twentieth century, attitudes towards Native Americans changed.
The end of Manifest Destiny meant the Indians were no longer enemies
of the expanding American frontier, but instead, integral and unique
parts of the local landscape that were being lost. A spike in
anthropological, linguistic and cultural evaluation began. Renowned
Iroquoian and Algonquian culture expert
Frank Speck made several trips
to New England in the 1920s, collecting information on language,
history, folklore and meeting with Indians, even paying respects to
Mary Chapelle (née Crowd), who steadfastly proclaimed Indian identity
and preserved some of the last traditional knowledge of the tribe.
Speck, as well as anthropologist/linguist Gladys Tantaquidgeon, were
even able to compile small word lists in the Massachusett
language—albeit its Wampanoag dialect—by rememberers in the
Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes, respectively. Some Indians
began publicly confessing Indian identity with the adoption of Plains
Indian clothing and powwows, as these were the most well-known symbols
of Indian culture, and began participating in pan-Indian cultural
meetings and associations, aiming to pool their knowledge and
re-establish ties with other Indians.
Massachusett people quietly lived their lives. Alfred Crowd III
Ponkapoag tribe served in World War II as did Paul Hasgell of
Natick, who descends from the Thomas family that served in the Civil
War, the latter having tried to get the army to list him as 'Indian'
to avoid the Jim Crow policies still rampant in the U.S. Army at the
time. Most participated in wider society, maintaining Indian heritage
down the family lines. Things began to change with the
creation of the
Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs. By the
1980s, most of the descendants of Indians listed on the Earle Report
regrouped, seeking out and re-establishing relationships with distant
relatives and creating tribal governments and received state
recognition. Although not entitled to the state-to-state relationships
of federally recognized tribes, the
Massachusett are able to market
their products as Native American made and receive a limited number of
benefits from the state, such as tuition waivers for Native American
Descendants of the Neponset tribe, who later became the Praying
Indians of Ponkapoag, have state recognition as the
Ponkapoag under the current leadership of Sachem Gil Nanepashmequin
('Feather on the moon') Solomon. The members of the tribe continue
to live in the
Massachusett homelands along the Neponset River
watershed and Boston and environs just to the south of the city.
In the 2010 US census, 85 individuals claimed
Membership in the tribe is restricted to the descendants of the 117
individuals of the Bancroft, Burr, Philbrick, Croud, Robbins, Davis,
Black, Elisha, Hunt, Mooney, Moore, Myers, Roby, Smith, Stemberg,
Hall, Jackson, Lewis, Manuel, Talbot, Thomas, Toney, Williams and
Foster families recorded in the 1861 Earle Report as having connection
with the former reservation.
Contemporary Natick celebrate the first wedding of Natick Praying
Indians celebrated inside the South Natick Church, on the grounds of
the original Indian Church, in over 340 years.
Descendants of the Praying Indians of Natick have regrouped as the
Praying Indians of Natick, although the tribe has sometimes
confusingly used the name Praying Indians of Natick and Ponkapoag,
despite its membership not including descendants of the Praying
Indians of Ponkapoag. The inclusion might be a reference to the
location of many of the tribe's current members in Stoughton,
Massachusetts, where much of the land was originally part of Ponkapoag
territory. Other members lie scattered in the
Greater Boston area,
particularly to the south and southwest of the city.
According to the current Sunksquaw ('female sachem') Rosita Caring
Hands Naticksqw Andrews, in 2011 there were a little more than 50
members. Membership in the tribe is restricted to direct
descendants from the twelve individuals of the Blodget, Jepherson,
Pease and Pegan families listed in the 1861 Earle Report as having
connection with the former reservation at Natick. Many
trace their ancestry back to Natick ancestors, and many Natick have
Nipmuc ancestry. As a result of these close
links, the tribe has state recognition, albeit via the their links as
honorary members of
Nipmuc Nation is the
representative body for descendants of the
Praying town of
Hassanamessit, also known as the Grafton Indians or Hassanamisco
Nipmuc, but includes in its membership many descendants of the Praying
Indians of Chaubunagungamaug.
Indian Head River
Indian Head River in Pembroke, Massachusetts. The Mattakeesett
tribe, as well as their Wampanoag neighbors, depended on runs of
herring, alewife and salmon up rivers such as these for sustenance.
The Mattakeesett, also known as the Mamattakeesett or Mattakeeset, are
descendants of the
Massachusett Indians that resisted conversion
attempts, instead settling on the southern edge of Massachusett
territory, just north of the Wampanoag, in what is now Pembroke,
Massachusetts. In 2014, descendants regrouped as the Cothutkut
Massachusett Tribe. Because of proximity to the Wampanoag,
many of the Mattakeesett likely joined the Wampanoag as Native lands
diminished. By the late nineteenth century, most of the tribe had
either integrated into the surrounding community or had merged into
neighboring Wampanoag peoples, and twenty-five individuals in the
Hyatt, William and Prince families are recorded as Mamattakeesett or
Pembroke Indians in the Earle Report of 1861.
The tribe, which does not yet enjoy state recognition, is led by
Sachem Larry Wômpimeequin Fisher, is actively working to gain
recognition in the Commonwealth and is currently working on several
projects to establish a tribal relationship with the state.
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Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia
Encyclopedia of North American Indians: Massachusett
"Massachuset", The Meno