Pole Hill: A Ceremonial Landscape

Mary Ellen Lepionka,  July 10, 2017

Underground Landscape. 1989.                                                     Albert Alcalay (1917-2008)

Pole Hill in Riverview, some say Poles Hill, was the place where shamans went to read the sky for the people living at Wanaskwiwam in Riverview, Gloucester. Algonquians sited their villages near landscapes that could serve as astronomical observatories—hilltops shaped like shallow bowls with false horizons where watchers at the center could see the slow dance between earth and sky—hilltops with boulders to align, marking sightlines to celestial objects and events on those horizons—the rise and fall of the Pleiades; the cycles of the sun and moon; the warriors hunting and wounding the great bear; the bear’s hibernation and recovery; and special times—first planting of seeds, initiation of the youth, green corn harvest, ascension of the spirits of the dead on the trail of bright stars to the sky world under Draco’s fearsome protection.

According to geologists, Native skywatchers used fire and percussion to shape glacial erratics on Pole Hill and reduced their bases to a layer of gravel on which the positions of the heavy stones could be adjusted to match observations. Alignments show that the sky was different then, because of Earth’s wobbly progress, charted by astronomers. The North Star was not Polaris but a bright star in Draco called Thuban. That was between 2,500 and 4,000 years ago. As a consequence, today’s summer and winter solstice sunrises and sunsets are slightly askew (about 10 degrees west) of their ancient sightlines.

Pole Hill was a glacial heath then, treeless. It was a ceremonial landscape as well as an astronomical observatory. Some modified boulders can still be seen as effigy stones if you know what to look for: representations of the snake, a powerful underworld spirit; spirit animals—turtle, mountain lion, whale; abstract symbols—triangle of healing, numerical tally, standing stones, stone circles, wedged-open portals to the spirit world. And Manitou perhaps—a large leaning spall of granite shaped with the stylized head and shoulders of the Great Spirit. According to archaeologists, other Native sites in New England feature stones like these.

Awesome discoveries, but we cannot pretend to share the Algonquians’ spiritual experience. Their world and daily life were suffused with dangerous spirits and the need to predict, propitiate, mitigate, attract, distract, appease, repel, or exclude them. The Native culture of respect for all things was based on fear—fear that a particular person or tree or animal was not that person or tree or animal at all, but really a demon, or a witch, an enemy in disguise, a wandering ancestor, a shape changer, spirit guide, omen, warning, messenger from the spirit world, avatar of the culture hero Glooscap, or a random manifestation escaped from somebody’s dream. So romanticists are quite mistaken. I muster mostly scorn for new age spiritualists and cultists who misappropriate Native American religious symbols and practices.

But we can share the awesomeness. Wanaskwiwam villagers came to their sacred place at the north entrance on Riverview Road and from the harbor at the south entrance on Sunset Hill Road, the trail bisecting the hill. According to ethnographers, just inside the entrances in small rock-ringed depressions, the people stopped for ritual purification with water and smoke. The signs are still there. In 2011, I walked into the trail from the north on a hunch. I had identified Riverview as the possible site of an Algonquian village, since proven, and knew that such a village would have needed a hill for the skywatchers to do their work. From the trail I climbed an escarpment that seemed to offer access—perilously, an old lady with camera and cane, losing a sneaker—and came out on a ribbon of bedrock. It led directly to a large standalone granite boulder that clearly had been shaped by human hand. I dubbed it “the gnomon” on sight. I knew I was at the center of a solar array.

Sunset Hill Gnomon C

Sunset Hill Gnomon C

Over the next five years, I and several experts studied the site. I recruited Mark Carlotto to locate the other stones in the solstice and equinox arrays, and he calculated the angles, azimuths, astronomical ages, and probabilities involved. We have given talks and published papers in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and the journal of the New England Antiquities Research Association but have not yet been able to get the state to recognize Pole Hill as an archaeological site. State policy is to deny Native agency in all above-ground stone features, ignoring empirical evidence to the contrary, including even pre-Contact radiocarbon dates in many cases.

Winter Solstice Sunset 2015

Winter Solstice Sunset  2015

Experts in archaeology, archaeoastronomy, and igneous geology from universities near and far have surveyed the site. Allen Stanish and Martin DelVecchio photographed the hill using fixed wing and helicopter drones. Nick Holland, Matt Natti, Sandy Barry, and others of the Cape Ann Trail Stewards cleared the sightlines of trees and brush, marked the trails, and erected signs. They continue to try to maintain the site, which is under constant attack by the ignorant and miscreant—those with beer bottles and graffiti paint, those who destroy signs and commit arson.

My body won’t get me to the gnomon now, but people who know go, along with the neighbors who saved Pole Hill from development in the first place and the huckleberry pickers. Some meet there for the solstices. Members of the Nipmuc Nation from Hassanamesit in Grafton and classes from Glen Urquhart School in Beverly have visited. I hope the work of documenting, authenticating, and interpreting Pole Hill will continue. The history of Native settlements and ceremonial landscapes on Cape Ann is a part of our history as well—something to take pride in now, 400 years after John Endicott divided Riverview into house and thatch lots for the founding families of Gloster Plantation. I believe enough time has passed for all of us to own all our people’s histories in this special place, our enduring Gloucester.

 

 

Mary Ellen Lepionka lives in East Gloucester and is studying the history of Cape Ann from the Ice Age to around 1700 A.D. for a book on the subject. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with degrees in anthropology. She studied at Boston University and the University of British Columbia and has performed archaeology in Ipswich, MA, Botswana, Africa, and at Pole Hill in Gloucester, MA.  Mary Ellen is a trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribute to Kent Bowker (1928-2017)

Peter Anastas

 

I grew up in San Francisco, knew the old California of cities with limits, bare brown hills dotted with live oaks, glorious orchards, and deep dark redwood forests.  San Francisco’s fog, shifting beauty filling voids, never either hot or cold, chilly often, no more. The smell of ocean sweeps through the gate, tumbles over the hills. North end bars filled, fifty years ago with poets, before money came.

My old California no longer, I depart, return
to my New England home, to the marshes,
granite ledges of the older sea.                     (Kent Bowker, “The Hand Off”)

 

John Donne wrote that every death diminishes us.  I thought of Donne’s words after a mutual friend emailed me on June 24 to report that Kent had died at 7 a.m. that morning at Kaplan House, following complications from a pacemaker procedure.

I had known Kent for nearly thirty years.  We’d sailed together, dined with our families, and worked together on the board of the Charles Olson Society.   In recent years we met regularly for lunch and conversations that ranged from the day’s pressing political issues to Kent’s years in Berkeley during the 1950s, where he studied physics and became friendly with some of the Bay Area’s finest writers, including poets Robert Duncan, Robin Blazer and Jack Spicer, during the era known as the San Francisco Renaissance.

Kent really was the “Renaissance Man” that his Gloucester Times obituary and the family’s Facebook tribute describe him as being.  He’d studied theoretical physics at the University of California in Berkeley and worked at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, where the Manhattan Project had originated.   Concurrently, he painted and wrote poetry at a time when writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, John Wieners, and Charles Olson were either living in San Francisco or passing though.

After Kent moved to the Boston area to work at the Lincoln Laboratories and Itek, he continued to write, adding sailing to his repertoire.   He designed the house in Essex he and his art historian wife Joan lived in.  Filled with books and paintings and situated on a hill surrounded by fields, forests and wetlands, it was an ideal place for meditation and creativity.  After he retired he devoted his entire time to painting and writing—when he and Joan were not sailing or traveling.  Kent was also a superb cook.

When I first walked into Kent and Joan’s house for a Christmas party, I was attracted to Kent’s impressive library.  Personal libraries tell us much about the person who has created them.  As soon as I discovered the collected poems of Charles Olson on the bookshelves, along with those of the San Francisco poets Kent was close to, I knew that I had met someone I could talk with about the things that meant the most to both of us, not only poetry but the larger cultural and social issues the poets we both admired addressed.

Kent was always modest about his learning.  Berkley at the time Kent was a student there, along with Gloucester novelist and playwright Jonathan Bayliss, and woodworker/sculptor Jay McLauchlan, was arguably the most exciting place to be in America, especially if you were a writer.  New York, yes—and always.  But there was an atmosphere in San Francisco the likes of which we had never seen and, sadly, would never see again.  The Pacific light, the blue ocean itself, the astounding Bay and its iconic bridge were part of that atmosphere, along with North Beach bookstores like City Lights, cafes and housing that was affordable to writers and artists.

But Kent did not engage in nostalgia.  He did not romanticize Berkeley.  He lived in the present, depicting the marshes and woods around his house, the beaches of Ipswich and Plum Island he sailed past; himself and family members.

When we started Enduring Gloucester five years ago I asked Kent for a poem.  It would be the first of many he contributed—wryly humorous or passionate.  Poems about the passing of time, the changes in nature; about Gloucester lobstermen and the sea itself.

Kent was a Progressive long before those who use the term today.  A conversation with Kent was like his poetry—articulate, knowledgeable, and deeply humane.  We will miss Kent while cherishing the gift of his poetry.

 

Peter Anastas, editorial director of Enduring Gloucesteris a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.

“Ye Names of Ye Rivers”: The Story of Wanaskwiwam: An Indian Village in Riverview

Mary Ellen Lepionka, June 13, 2017

Annisquam Marsh. 1913                          Melbourne Havelock Hardwick (1857-1916)

Reading the unpublished notes of amateur archaeologist N. Carleton Phillips, which he wrote in preparation for his talks to the Gloucester Rotary Club back in 1940, I was struck by the great quantity of Indian artifacts he removed from Riverview—bushel baskets full of potsherds and arrowheads! I was studying the history of Cape Ann prior to English settlement. Phillips reported large shell middens at Curtis Cove and Wheeler’s Point and copious artifacts and features from a site just north of Pole Hill: post holes and hearths of wigwams, fire pits with faunal and pottery remains, caches with stone tools, and camps and human burials nearby.

Some of these finds are in the basement of the Cape Ann Museum as the Phillips Collection, others in the basement of the Robbins Museum of Archaeology in Middleborough as the Chadwick Collection. Phillips had been following up on earlier archaeological investigations, and I was intent on tracking them down.

Artifacts or site reports from amateur and pre-modern excavations, some dating back to the 1870s, include the Johnson-Speck records in the R. S. Peabody Museum in Andover, the Cape Ann Collections in the Harvard Peabody Museum and Peabody Essex Museum, the Gustav Heye Collection from the old Museum of the American Indian in New York, and private collections. Much evidence has also been lost.

I wondered if there really could have been a village at Riverview north of Pole Hill. The Gloucester Archives contains no references to an Indian village. Oddly, the Archives contain no primary sources on Native Americans here at all–other than a reference to the baptism of a Native servant by the name of Pompey, and a local census with a few names annotated in pencil as “Indian”! I found one curious note in the minutes of a 1682 Selectmen’s meeting in which they voted to ask the townspeople to distinguish local Indians from strange Indians (those displaced by King Philip’s War of 1675) in their dealings with the Natives, suggesting there may have been some vigilantism. By then things weren’t going well. In 1688 Massachusetts offered its first bounties on Indian scalps, an incentive that lasted off and on up to the War of Independence.

Elsewhere (in the basement of the Sandy Bay Historical Society in Rockport), I found Ebenezer Poole’s 1823 account of his grandfather’s testimony that there was a large Indian village in Riverview north of Pole Hill and that it often had as many as 20 or 30 wigwams! But there seemed to be some question about the reliability of both accounts. Other than that, there were a few residents’ reminiscences and newspaper notices of Native Americans making pilgrimages to Cape Ann during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but no other references to a village.

Then I found John Dunton’s letter of 1686. Dunton was a London bookseller who had sailed to Ipswich to prospect for new markets for his books. He wrote home about his overland trip to Gloucester in which he observed a funeral in a woe-begone Indian village by the name of Wonasquam! (In addition to describing the Indian village, he observed that most of the people on Cape Ann were illiterate and had no use for books.) But there was some question about the veracity of Dunton’s description, which sounded a lot like Roger Williams description of an Algonquian funeral in Rhode Island. I questioned the critic, though. Why wouldn’t two different accounts of the same ceremony sound similar? I also wondered if Wonasquam was the source word for Annisquam. I’d chanced upon the information that there was a Hotel Wonasquam in Annisquam sometime in the 1800s.

I did some exploring and found that Riverview is a north-south aligned terrace flanked by two tidal rivers, Mill River to the east and the larger Annisquam River to the west. The terrace is about two and a half kilometers long and one kilometer wide at its widest point at mid-tide and contains freshwater springs and patches of wetland and two hills. The place has water access to two other rivers, Little River and Jones River to the west, and to the islands, salt and fresh marshes, clam flats, natural harbors, and beaches of Essex Bay, Ipswich Bay, and Massachusetts Bay.

An ideal place for a Native village if ever there was one. According to state archaeologists, the criteria for the siting of pre-Contact coastal Native villages in Massachusetts include the following characteristics:

  • Partly submerged terrace on an outflow plain.
  • At the junction of two or more tidal rivers.
  • Less than an 8-degree slope.
  • Within 1,000 ft. of permanent fresh water.
  • Southwest-facing intervales of stratified, undisturbed, fertile soil.
  • Abundant nearby sources of wood for fuel.
  • North-facing soft earth overlooking water, for burials.
  • Rock outcrops for wind and sea protection, defensive positions, and astronomical reckoning.

Wanaskwiwam Village Map

Riverview, north of Pole Hill, met every criterion. In addition to location, the estuarine environments all around Riverview would have been optimal for human habitation. Shellfish would have provided a year-round supply of easily obtained high-quality animal protein. In addition, fish, eels, land and sea fowl, marine mammals, and large and small game would have been continuously available. Equally important, the site would have had the following subsistence and cultural resources:

  • Salt marsh, fresh marsh, permanent fresh water.
  • Forests for fuel, wood, fibers, nuts, herbs, fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants.
  • Tidal rivers/bays for marsh plants, canoe access, clay deposits, trade routes.
  • Fertile riverine soils in upland intervales and beaver meadows for crops.
  • Abundant rocks, minerals, and gemstones.

For most of the Woodland Period, the people in what is now Essex County migrated seasonally between inland winter villages and the coast. Upon reaching their summer sites, the people would set their fishing nets and then plant corn. However, at some time prior to direct European Contact, probably before the 15th century, some Algonquians were practicing more intensified agriculture and living on the coast year round. Cape Ann would easily have supported a population of at least 1,500 people at a subsistence level and probably more than twice that with the addition of agriculture.

Abundant diverse subsistence resources, reliable shellfish, and corn harvests with preserved surpluses would have supported increases in population, population stability, and more permanent settlement. Other major coastal villages in Massachusetts with the same siting criteria and environmental characteristics are known to have existed, for example, in Ipswich, Newbury, and Beverly.

It was not until I was reconstructing local Native place names based on the Abenaki language that I came across stronger documentary evidence for a village at Riverview. I was looking for the derivations and meanings of Annisquam and Wonasquam and discovered their common source in Wenesquawam, which in reconstructed Abenaki would be written Wanaskwiwam, which means “End of the marsh.”  It’s an apt name. Geographically, Cape Ann is at the end of the Great Marsh that starts on the New Hampshire coast and stretches south along the Gulf of Maine.

Wenesquawam is attested in a pre-1603 document known as the Edgerton Manuscript, discovered in the archives of King Charles II in the British Library in London. The title of the document, probably a result of data gathering for James I or possibly even Queen Elizabeth before him, is Ye Names of Ye Rivers and Ye Sagamores Yt Inhabit Upon Them. It gives the Native names of all the rivers between the Penobscot and the Annisquam, noting that the river names are synonymous with the names of the principal villages found on them. The explorer, whoever he was, identified the Annisquam River and its village as Wenesquawam. (He missed the Merrimac, Parker, and Rowley rivers, probably because their mouths are concealed by the barrier beaches of Plum Island.)

So there really was an Indian village in Riverview north of Pole Hill! The people were gathering shellfish there and growing corn in Riverdale and burying their dead in Annisquam. And when John Endicott had surveys done to lay out the first house lots in Gloster Plantation, he referred to “the hoed land”—the land the Native Americans at Wanaskwiwam had already prepared for cultivation.

Annisquam                                                                         William Lamb Picknell (1854-1897)

Now I had three new questions to try to solve. First, where did the people at Wanaskwiwam observe the sky and reckon ceremonial time? According to ethnographic accounts from the late 17th century to early 20th century, large Native villages in New England always had one or more nearby sites that served as astronomical observatories. Skywatching is a universal cultural feature among the first peoples of the Americas. Second, what happened to the people at Wanaskwiwam? Where did they go? And third, why ever didn’t we know about them and their village in Riverview?

PS:

  1. Pole Hill.
  2. After a generation, they left under duress and became part of the Pennacook diaspora to northern New England and Canada, where they have living descendants today.
  3. The politics of the archives, in which state-sponsored genocide was concealed by erasing public memory of its victims.

 

Mary Ellen Lepionka lives in East Gloucester and is studying the history of Cape Ann from the Ice Age to around 1700 A.D. for a book on the subject. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with degrees in anthropology. She studied at Boston University and the University of British Columbia and has performed archaeology in Ipswich, MA, Botswana, Africa, and at Pole Hill in Gloucester, MA.  Mary Ellen is a trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission, and volunteers for Friends of Dogtown, Annisquam Historical Society, and Maud/Olson Library.

Anna Hyatt Huntington in Annisquam

Portrait of Anna Hyatt Huntington. 1915                            Marion Boyd Allen (1862-1941)

Cape Ann figured prominently in the life of Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876- 1973), the highly regarded 19th and 20th-century sculptor. From the studio on the family property, “Seven Acres,” on the Annisquam River, she and her older sister, Harriet kindled their love of natural life.  Anna, especially, developed an abiding passion for creating figures that represent fauna, flora and marine life.

Anna cherished her weeks and months in Annisquam. Her family honored the legacy handed to them when, in 1878, they took possession of the Norwood house (c. 1666).

As Anna’s sister Harriet (Harriet Hyatt Mayor] put it in a letter to a friend, “Each year, my thoughts take early flight to Cape Ann, and rest there awaiting my bodily transportation….It was the same with my mother [“Beebe” Hyatt]; from Christmas on, she was restless and did not regain tranquility until she crossed the threshold;…

“This feeling of attraction reaches down to mother’s great grand children…[they are] devoted to Squam and in particular “Seven Acres,” and are never as happy as there.”

“I am convinced the Norwoods’ fine courageous lives left something in the house, a spiritual incandescence to beckon the living under the shelter of its rafters.”

Moving seasonally from Cambridge to their home on the spit of land where the River meets Goose Cove, the two young ladies experimented with clay, paint, and metal to their heart’s content. Anna’s studies focused on animals. She was following in the footsteps of her father, an eminent paleontologist, while simultaneously making her own unique imprint. Professor Alpheus Hyatt heartily indulged his love of animals, sea life, and collecting sea specimen while at “Seven Acres.” He founded the first marine laboratory in the United States, on the site of this “home away from home.”  Once established, the laboratory moved to Cape Cod.  Today we know it as the Woods Hole Marine Laboratory.

Anna’s first public-scale creation, a rendering of Joan of Arc mounted nobly atop a massive mount, graces the square by Gloucester’s Captain Lester S. Wass American Legion Post 3, where Washington and Middle Streets meet.  Gloucester Daily Times reporter Ruth Pappas wrote on April 13, 1962, “The idea for Joan of Arc developed in Annisquam in 1908.” She said Anna used Gloucester’s fire horses as models.  This was how she conceived a likeness of a “sturdy” horse.

Joan of Arc ended up paying tribute to the men and women who fought in WWI. At the formal unveiling in 1920, WWI soldiers and sailors and Cape Ann citizens gathered in remembrance of the Great War. The ceremony also marked the day the “Legion,” whose ranks included hundreds of Great War veterans, took possession of the grand, Greek Revival building, Gloucester’s first Town Hall. Gloucester’s “Joan” is one of several studies of France’s beatified heroine. All stand in prominent places. France awarded Huntington the Legion of Honor for its “Joan of Arc.” Anna was on hand to personally dedicate the Blois, France sculpture.

Legion Square, 300th Anniversary celebration, 1923.  photo: unknonwn.

Legion Square, 300th Anniversary celebration, 1923.                    Photo Source: Cape Ann Museum.

From Joan of Arc onwards, well into her mid-nineties, Anna continued to conceive and build her monumental animal representations. Her adult life and fame took her far from Annisquam, though she continued to have her own home here for many years.  She married Archer M. Huntington, a prominent art collector, in 1923. The couple lived in New York City and established a retreat in Redding, Connecticut, rather than on Cape Ann. Still, Annisquam stayed in Anna’s heart.  In 1971 she presented two sculptures to the Annisquam Art Gallery.  Both are animal studies. The caricature of a horse is called “Portrait of a Friend” and the other “Six Monkeys.” (see below).  They are cast in metal from the original sculptures. Today they reside in the gallery above the Exchange.

Over an extremely long and uncompromisingly dedicated life, Anna received literally thousands of awards and accolades. In addition to the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France honored the animalier with the Purple Rosette. Spain gave her the Grand Cross of Alfonso the XII and the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded her with its Gold Medal.  And, her powerfully evocative works figure prominently in hundreds of museums and galleries around the world.  She was one of the 20th century’s singularly most accomplished women.

Anna Hyatt Huntington        August 1970

Anna Hyatt Huntington                            August 1970

In 1912, twelve women earned over $50,000; Anna was among them. And, Anna got her start in Massachusetts, bolstered and nourished by summers on Cape Ann. We too have been handed a legacy to honor.

 

Holly Clay is settled in Gloucester after many years of living overseas and in Washington, D.C. Holly is a member of the Gloucester Historical Commission and the Annisquam Historical Society.  With a background in education and writing, her professional energies are currently devoted to studying and teaching yoga and meditation.