NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:

Next section

Chapter I. — History of the Pokanoket Tribe and Bashabary.


WHEN the New England colonies were established, the Pokanoket tribe was in the ascendency. The coast tribes, indeed, if not almost annihilated, had been decimated by a pestilential disease; but there is every reason to believe that the chiefs who sat in the council lodges, surrounding the great and noble waters of Massachusetts Bay, acknowledged fealty to the reigning sachem of Mount Hope. Such was the complexion of political affairs, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, in 1620.

The Pokanokets were descended from an ancient stock, and, it is believed, they established themselves on the peninsula, with the aid of their friends and allies, the Narragansetts and Pequots, after conquering the tribes which then held possession. Evidences of their ancient triumphs have, it is believed, been found, in the rude and simple pictographs of the country — a few heads and cross-bones, or clubs, sculptured on a boulder, or on a cliff, as mementoes of battle. These simple historical memorials were more common among the hills and valleys of the country, when it was first occupied, than they are at the present day. It is to be regretted that a wanton spirit should have led the yeomanry, and their playful children, to mutilate, alter, or destroy, many of the primitive monuments of the Indian nations. The most noted, as also the largest of these
pictographs, yet legible, is on the Massachusetts borders of the Taunton, or Assonet river. Foreign archaeologists have attempted to give this inscription an unmerited historical value, as a Scandinavian monument. Having visited the locality, and made it a study, with the aid of an Indian interpreter, I have no hesitation in

-- 114 --

pronouncing it an
Algonquin pictographic record of an Indian battle. This was also the interpretation given by an intelligent Indian jossakeed, and Indian pictographist, to whom I exhibited a copy of it on the island of Michilimacinack. 103 Agreeably to the Indian creed and practices, he identified it with priestly skill in necromancy, thus attributing the success here pictured, partly to the expertness of the priest in that art. The amazement of the vanquished at the sudden assault of the victors, is symbolically depicted by their being deprived of both hands and arms, or the power of making any resistance. The name of the reigning chief of the tribe, is likewise described by a symbol to have been Mong, or the Loon, and his totem the sun. (
See Plate.)

The Pokanokets, who may be considered to have been allied with the Narragansetts in the victory, represented in the above pictograph, had preserved friendly relations with that powerful coast tribe from the earliest dates. It is evident that they were also allied with the Pennacooks of the Merrimac in the north, and with the Pequots, 104 who, under Sassacus, were so unfortunate as to wage war against Uncas and his Mohicans, protected, as the latter were, by the aegis of the infant Connecticut colony.

The name of Wampanoag, by which the Pokanokets were also designated, appears to denote the fact that they were, from early times, the custodians of the imperial shell, or medal. They were so brave and warlike, that the surrounding tribes regarded them as the most powerful organization on the coast, from the Narragansett to the Massachusetts Bay.

When the Plymouth colony was founded, the Pokanoket tribe was governed by Massasoit, then a venerable man, numbering, probably, seventy years. Though the fire of youth had departed from his eye, yet his step was firm and dignified, and he bore himself with an air that betokened he not only had a vivid remembrance of the achievements of his tribe, but also deemed himself the true monarch of the land. The colonists found the vicinity of their location unoccupied; old cornfields, deserted lodges, and graves hastily covered, denoting the ravages of the pestilence which had depopulated this region. They made it their early endeavor to seek an interview with Massasoit, and establish friendly relations with him, the conference being managed carefully, with a view to effect; musicians and soldiers, armed with muskets, accompanied the English governor, and the negotiations afforded a fair specimen of both Indian and colonistic diplomacy. It was characterized, also, by the introduction to the Indians of that element, which has since proved a source of so much injury to the race. Here the Indians first learned to drink alcoholic liquors. (Plate VI.)

Political power among the Indians of New England was, at this time, wielded principally by two influential bashabaries; namely, by the Pokanoket and by the Pennacook tribal leagues. Both confederations comprised a union of the religious and

-- 115 --

political elements. A simple sagamore appears only to have wielded a local geographical power, while the bashaba also filled the priestly office of chief jossakeed, powwow, or prophet. The Pennacook bashabary was confined almost exclusively to the country north of the Merrimack, extending through New Hampshire into Maine, and gave the early colonists but little trouble. But the Mount Hope government included the territory immediately around the new homes of the colonists. Every foot of land they added to their possessions was by permission of, agreement with, or purchase from, the chiefs and sagamores of this confederacy. Neither the Narragansetts nor the Pequots in the west, nor the Pennacooks in the north, having made grants in the territory of Massachusetts, is conclusive proof that the authority of Massasoit was supreme. One of the first objects of the colonists was to secure peace on their frontiers, by concluding treaties of amity with the Indians. Considering the influence of this central organization, it is not at all as surprising as it has been frequently represented, that, for so long a period, they kept the storm of open Indian warfare from their continually progressing settlements; Massasoit being in allegiance with the three great powers around him, namely, the Narragansetts, the Pequots, and the Pennacooks. These barbarians and their component septs and bands, all originally spoke one language, practised one religion, were conversant with precisely the same arts, and under the influence of identical customs and manners. According to Prince (p. 202), the news of the massacre in Virginia, in March, 1622, perpetrated by Opechanganough, reached Plymouth in May, and made the colonists more fearful of Indian treachery. By great vigilance, and caution in circumventing the little schemes, and diverting the animosities of the petty chiefs, the colonists succeeded in securing some twenty years of undisturbed peace. It was not until about the year 1640, when John Eliot began to preach the gospel to the Indians, and held his religious conference with them under the old oaks at Natic, that the Indian jossakeeds began to be seriously alarmed.

Massasoit died previous to this period. He was an old man when the first colony was founded, and the administration of that powerful bashabary had been conducted by his son, Pometakom, a chief of great subtlety, profound dissimulation, and entertaining a strong secret hostility to the English race, to their manners, and particularly to their (to him) hateful gospel. On account of some fancied resemblance to the Macedonian heroes, the colonists named him Philip, and his brother, Alexander. Philip was observed to keep up a clandestine confidential communication with the Indian priesthood, and, by his energy, he soon obtained the popular title of king. A short time thereafter, he became the most dreaded secret enemy of New England.

-- 116 --

Next section

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:
Powered by PhiloLogic