Very Fine Cypresses

Mary Ellen Lepionka, May 21, 2018

Early Autumn. 1906                      Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)

This is Part 5 of a six-part series on The Colonists and Indian Land. The first four parts were published in Historic Ipswich (https://historicipswich.org/).

Aside from the matter of sheer scale—impacts of Europeans on the environment rose as their population densities rose across the continent, the chief difference between them and Native Americans lay in their definitions and use of the land they occupied. Consider the forests. The earliest accounts of European explorers describe the peninsulas north and south of the Great Marsh as “forests primeval”. On the northern tip of Cape Ann, tree species included a mixture of softwoods such as black spruce, red spruce, hemlock, cedar, and fir, and hardwoods, such as white oak, rock maple, sugar maple, elm, ash, sycamore, hickories, chestnut, walnut, beeches, aspen, black birch, dogwood, and basswood (linden). Today, some of these species remain, and some have disappeared. Present-day dominant tree species include red oak, black willow, flowering shad, black cherry, and pitch pine.1 According to another source, the original forest in Essex County was a mixed deciduous forest of white pine, oak, chestnut, poplar, maple, birch, and some other hardwoods and conifers. In the early 20th century Cape Ann had second-growth oak and chestnut trees in uplands and scrub oak and pitch pine in areas with dry sandy soil.2

Today, chestnut trees and sugar maples are in decline, with the old elms long gone and native magnolias, hemlocks, and dogwoods endangered. Some American elm and white ash may still be found, and red and white oak, white cedar, red spruce, juniper, black walnut, and white pine are still here. Black oak and scarlet oak predominate in tree communities recovering in watersheds such as Dogtown, which also has red maple, gray birch, paper birch, red cedar, black gum, black cherry, sassafras, pitch pine, white pine, and beech. Most of the trees there are less than 135 years old.3

Champlain remarked on the cedars of Cape Ann, which he referred to as cypresses:

The woods are full of oaks, nut-trees, and very fine cypresses, which are of reddish colour and have a very pleasant smell….4

Budding Oak. 1906               Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)

The Atlantic forest, as a mixed deciduous-coniferous forest, thus contained an incredible diversity of species. Native Americans both exploited and maintained this diversity.

They designed, marked, and protected individual trees for specific uses, often well into the future—big oaks for dugouts, big birches for canoes, burled trees for wooden bowls, young ash and dogwood for arrow shafts, cedars for sleeping platforms and storage pits, red spruce roots for bowstrings, knotted plum tree roots for clubs, medicinal trees for the leaves or bark—such as hemlock needles or slippery elm phloem, oak bark for winter wigwam covers, and numerous trees and shrubs for berries fruits, and nuts. Many species were multipurpose. Pines, for example, provided softwood to carve for many uses, and the needles were woven into baskets or stored as fire-starting brands. Pine pitch, boiled into tar, was an essential ingredient for caulking canoes, waterproofing baskets, applying to wounds, and burning in lamps and torches.5

Cape Ann lies near the southern boundary of birchbark canoe culture and the people also made dugout canoes. According to William Wood:

[They] crosse…rivers with small cannowes, which are made of whole pine trees, being about two foot & a half over, and 20 foote long: in these likewise they goo a fowling, sometimes two leagues to sea; there be more Cannowes in this town [Salem] than in the whole Patent; every household having a water-house [water-horse, common name for a canoe] or two.6

Log Boats

It is perhaps only a matter of time before remains of a log boat will be discovered in the mud in Jones River or in the banks of Cape Pond. Log boats remained popular with colonists into the eighteenth century. They were used to ferry passengers, animals, and goods across rivers and island channels and to haul manure and salt marsh hay. Individuals even reserved certain trees for making canoes. In 1679 in Essex County, for example, Robert Cross, Jr. testified that one Samuel Pipen [Phippen] “sold deponent a canoe tree that grew upon the north side of a hill amongst ledges of rocks”. Some towns even enacted laws to protect so-called “canoe trees”.7

So it is that the Algonquians preserved in large groves the trees they used for food, tools, fibers, medicine, building materials, and transportation (e.g., oak, chestnut, walnut, cedar, beech, ash, sugar maple, birch, witch hazel, sassafras, willow, slippery elm, and pitch pine). They also conserved trees that forest animal species they used depended on, especially cone-bearing trees that provided winter subsistence for deer (e.g., firs, hemlocks, and pines). There is no evidence that the people planted trees to replace those they took, although they undoubtedly protected selected saplings to ensure sufficient forest for the future.

Laurel Woods. 1906                    Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)

For Native people, forests were essential resources to be governed, while for the English, forests represented wilderness to be tamed. Expecting to find forested wilderness in coastal New England, Europeans were surprised to find instead vast expanses of managed land: grassy parkland with evenly spaced trees cleared of undergrowth. They also found planted, cultivated, and cover-cropped fields; protected wild food resource areas; and contained groves of diverse old-growth trees. These effects were achieved through Native stewardship and routine controlled burning of the land.8

The Algonquians cleared forest undergrowth twice a year, spring and fall, by setting fire to it. The process provided a collective hunting opportunity to drive game to kill sites. It also kept trails clear and made any approaching enemies visible. The burned vegetation returned nutrients to the soil and maintained habitats for berries (especially wild blueberries and mulberries, which still depend on periodic burning). Burning spared most conifers and left behind roasted cones to collect for the pine nuts or to leave as winter forage for deer. Burning also encouraged the growth of grasses in new clearings as forage for deer and created new habitat for small game. The burned ground at the same time deposited potash-rich pockets of inter-forest soil, which the people mounded up after each rainfall to conserve moisture in the soil in preparation for future cultivation. Demand for new soil was constant, as corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder and needs new ground to grow in every two to three years.

William Wood observed in 1635 that Native Americans burned the tops and slopes of hills but left stands along the river bottoms untouched, perhaps as hunting blinds and to screen trails from canoe traffic on the rivers. The heat and ashes from controlled burns conserved soil warmth and fertility.

Chebacco woods

For the Indians burning it [the ground] to supresse the Underwood, which else would grow all over the Countrey, the Snow falling not long after, keepes the ground warme, and with its melting conveighs the ashes into the pores of the earth, which doth fatten it.9

Fall burnings thus were most desirable. However, because fires sometimes got out of control, the General Court in 1631 passed a law making it illegal for colonists and Native Americans alike to set fire to the land in any months other than March or April, when damp spring weather would help control conflagrations. Court records clearly suggest that fire was a routine hazard. A 1638 law banned tobacco smoking in or near any common land at any time of year, and a 1652 law banned the starting of wood fires outdoors between January and March and on Fridays and Sundays generally.10

So Europeans were not solely responsible for deforestation and practices that altered or damaged the environment, as is commonly believed. They cut a lot of white pine for masts and spars and a lot of red oak for hulls and planks for the British royal navy and shipyards as well as for the growing New England shipbuilding industry. Timber for masts and spars for the royal navy and sassafras for the treatment of syphilis were the earliest exports other than furs.11  For more than 5,000 years, however, countless generations of Native people routinely killed trees for firewood, resource wood, and bark by girdling, burning, cutting saplings for wigwam frames, felling trees for dugout and birchbark canoes, and clearing land by the “slash and burn” method for the practice of swidden agriculture, growing maize in mounds of ash and soil where forests once stood.

At the same time, both Native people and colonists practiced conservation. In their slashing and burning, Native people were careful not to clear-cut forests, for example, saving thin forests soils from loss to erosion. In a sense, Native Americans were more future-oriented than Europeans. Their conceptualization of time was circular rather than linear: all times were one time, and that time was the present. Life, as lived, was an expression of all time, integrated on both a spiritual and a material plane. So while Europeans frequently took environmental resources for immediate consumption or application or for stockpiling or export, Native people often modified the environment with no expectation of immediate benefit. The idea was that in a year or two or three, or even in some future generation, some benefit would accrue. Examples include girdling trees to harvest in some years’ time as dry firewood, fashioning tools in living wood, and shaping trees to mark trails or to wrap spirit rocks in ceremonial landscapes.12

Green Canopy. 1908                    Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)

The timber industry on Cape Ann, well underway by 1645, specialized in the manufacture of boards, clapboards, hoops, and staves, as well as the cutting of cordwood for outside consumption. Streams and tides were channeled to power a gristmill at Beaver Dam in 1642 and later sawmills on Sawmill Brook and in Riverdale, West Gloucester, and Freshwater Cove. Allied barrel and shingle making enterprises sprang up. Salem and Boston were the chief markets for Cape Ann timber and wood products and for her wooden barrels and boxes, which were crucial to the fishing industry and transatlantic trade. Mackerel, cod, cider, flour, and tobacco were packed in them. Consumption of wood quickly threatened to outstrip supply, however, and the people were fully aware of it. As early as the mid-17th century they rationed wood lots and enacted conservation laws. In 1667 Gloucester voted to restrict the cutting of cordwood to the area between Brace’s Cove and Good Harbor Beach, for example. Then, in 1669 the sale of low-cost cordwood out of town was prohibited (it had to fetch a minimum of 3 shillings and sixpence per cord), and each family was limited to cutting 20 cords of wood per year on the Commons (Dogtown).13

Wooded areas today have less diversity because of land management practices of the English settlers, which called for a more ambitious selection and removal of trees as part of the process of taming the wilderness and establishing timber and shipbuilding industries. Nevertheless, surviving groves containing old growth specimen trees of diverse species in proximity are very likely a result of Native agency.  Few old-growth stands of trees remain in eastern Essex County. The Manchester-Hamilton area known as Chebacco Woods and Gordon Woods contains trails through old forest, and the Manchester-Essex woods (including Cathedral Pines, the Millstone Hill Conservation Area, and the Cedar Swamp Trail) has 1,500 acres of forest that were never farmed. In Gloucester, Ravenswood Park and Mount Ann Park contain specimens of old trees. The Cox Reservation in Essex has a grove of red cedars growing through an Algonquian clam midden and dating at least to colonial times, and Choate Island preserves ancient hickories growing up through an enormous clam midden, bearing nuts feasted upon by colonist’s hogs. Single ancient trees of great girth, sometimes called “founder trees”, may also be found abutting parks, playgrounds, and cemeteries throughout Essex County.14

 

Notes and Reference

1. Oaks, elms, sycamores, one pine tree, and John Endicott’s famous pear tree are featured in James Raymond Simmons’ 1919 book on The Historic Trees of Massachusetts, reflecting the enduring priorities of English colonists.

2. Other accounts of trees then and now include Foster and O’Keefe, New England Forests through Time: Insights from the Harvard Forest Dioramas (2000); Fergus, Trees of New England: A Natural History (2005); and Wessels, Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England (1997). See also the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region.

3. This information comes from Harold Cook’s 1908 Handbook on Forest Mensuration of the White Pine in Massachusetts and from Melvin Copeland and Elliott Rogers’ 1960 book, The Saga of Cape Ann. See also Rogers’ article, Botanist’s Eye View of Dogtown Flora, in the Gloucester Daily Times (August 27, 1954).

4. Champlain is quoted in Volume 1 of Langdon and Ganong, The works of Samuel de Champlain (1922): 351-352, as well as in other translations.

5. See Tom Seymour’s Foraging New England: Edible Wild Food and Medicinal Plants from Maine to the Adirondacks to Long Island (2013). A primary source on Native American plant use is John Josselyn’s 1674 New England’s Rarities Discovered in birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, and plants of that country. An ethnographic source is Ralph Dexter and Frank Speck, Utilization of Animals and Plants by the Micmac Indians of New Brunswick (1952), in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 41 (8): 250-259. A Native American source is Indigenous Plants and Native Uses in the Northeast on the NativeTech web site: http://www.nativetech.org/plantgath/plantgaht.htm.

6. Wood (the 1897 Boynton edition), p. 35.

7. Robert Cross Jr.’s canoe tree is referenced in Essex County Court Records 1913-1919, Vol. 7, p. 203. For insight on Native canoes and dugouts, see especially Gordon Day’s article on pp. 148-159 in Vol. 15 of the Handbook of North American Indians (1979, Bruce Trigger, ed.); Ann Marie Plane’s 1991 article, New England’s Logboats: Four centuries of watercraft, in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society 52 (1): 8-18; Howard Chapelle’s article, Colonial and Early American Boats, in American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development, and Construction (1951); and Edwin Tappan Adney’s 1964 (2014), Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America.

8. All the early explorers and settlers remarked on the Algonquian practice of setting fire to the woods. For example, see accounts in Champlain Voyages (1605), Higginson, New England’s Plantation (1629) and General consideracons for ye plantacon in New England (1630); Johnson, Wonder-Working Providence (1654) and Good Newes from New England (1658); and Wood, New England’s Prospect (1634).

9. Wood, p. 17.

10. Laws related to fires are in the Book of the General Laws of the Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of New-Plimoth, and Generall Laws of the Massachusetts Colony (1632-1676). See http://www.princelaws.pdf.

11. For a perspective on the pre-colonial and early colonial lumber industry, see New England masts and the King’s Broad Arrow by S. F. Manning (1979). Read about the timber industry on Cape Ann in Eleanor Parsons’ book, Fish, Timber, Granite & Gold (2003). See also Bishop, Freedley, and Young, A History of American Manufacturers, from 1608 to 1860, Volume 1 (1864).

12. See Mavor and Dix (1989) Manitou: The Sacred Landscape of New England’s Native Civilization; Mitchell (1984) Ceremonial Time; and Downes (2011) Native American Trail Marker Trees.

13. The tree cutting laws of 1667 and 1669 are reported in Babson, pp. 203-204. See also Alina Bradford’s 2015 article, Deforestation: Facts, Causes and Effects, in Live Science: http://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html. A “cord of wood” is a stack of logs 4 feet high, 4 feet deep, and 8 feet long.

14. Friends and stewards of Chebacco Woods, Gordon Woods, Cathedral Pines, Millstone Conservation Area, Cedar Swamp, Ravenswood, Mount Ann, the Cox Reservation, and Choate Island all maintain informative websites. See the web sites of the Trustees of Reservations, Essex County Greenbelt Association, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, Norton Memorial Forest, New England Forestry Foundation, Norton Tree Farm, Natti Woodland, Annisquam Woods, Willowdale State Forest, Bradley Palmer State Park, Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Parker River Wildlife Refuge, and Cape Ann Trial Stewards. Of special interest is GloucesterForests.pdf, containing Liam O’Laughlin’s 2010 report in The North Gloucester Woods Study.

 

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.

How Did Gloucester’s Founding Shape Its Future?

Blyman Bridge. 1923
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)

by Mary Ellen Lepionka

As a municipality, Gloucester historically was regarded as poor compared to other seaside towns in Massachusetts. I wondered why and found answers in our early history. Massachusetts Bay Colony policies destroyed the productivity of the first comers to Cape Ann, and the newcomers who followed them were farmers who could not turn a profit on Cape Ann’s soils. Gloster Plantation was underfunded from the start. Its harbor never received enough investment to achieve its potential as an international port of trade. Later, the wars of the 18th and 19th centuries benefitted other towns but left Cape Ann depopulated and depressed. Historical circumstances shaped Cape Ann’s prospects, just as early childhood experiences can shape us in ways we may come to understand but find hard to change.

John Endecott (1588-1655)

In 1628 the New England Company, which became the Massachusetts Bay Company, sent John Endecott to govern the Old Planters at Salem Village (relocated members of Rev. John White’s failed Dorchester Company plantation on Gloucester Harbor) and to oversee Cape Ann. The next year the Company obtained a royal charter to start a colony and sent a fleet to Salem with 350 settlers, the so-called Higginson Fleet, named for the minister who wrote an account if it. Then in 1630, they sent John Winthrop with a much larger fleet to govern the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Masquenominet (Masconomet, Pawtucket sagamore) and his entourage canoed out to Winthrop’s vessel as it lay at anchor (in Beverly Cove or Mackerel Cove) and went aboard to welcome him. Winthrop gave trinkets to the Indians, relieved Endecott, and moved the capital from Salem to Dorchester. The Massachusetts Bay Colony then established a General Court.

The General Court promptly declared null and void all deeds of land bought directly from the Indians without the Court’s permission! Anyone living on such lands were squatters! They were to be evicted and the land redistributed to newcomers! This ruling (missing from what we are taught about the history of Massachusetts) had a devastating effect on all first comers. William Jeffreys, for example, lost his holdings at Jeffrey’s Creek and Jeffrey’s Neck and his lucrative fishing grounds on Jeffrey’s Ledge at Ipswich.

John Winthrop (1588-1649)

Independents and ex-Plymouth fisherfolk in Cape Ann’s nooks and crannies—Kettle Cove, Lobster Cove, Pigeon Cove—quickly added themselves to the rolls of the plantation or became part of the new town by gifting their land to it on condition of getting it back through redistribution or being allowed to live and make a living on it! In a long letter called The Planter’s Plea, John White begged the General Court to let the Old Planters in Salem-Beverly keep at least the land on which their houses stood, which was granted. First comers at Jeffrey’s Creek also were permitted some acreage for a town (renamed Manchester-by-the-Sea).

The four ships John Winthrop brought to New England, 1630
William F. Halsall (1841-1919)

The scale of this disaster makes one wonder if the plight of first comers—some of whose descendants still live here—is the deep-time source of local distrust of state government, prevalent in Gloucester and other coastal Massachusetts towns down to the present day. The earliest settlers and entrepreneurs had been disenfranchised, displaced, and potentially pauperized overnight. If they lacked ownership of their land, they lacked the chief means of upward mobility—other than participation in the slave trade by supplying corn, barley, and fish to the Bermuda and Caribbean slave plantations.

The fur trade was no longer a source of income. After a hundred years of dealing with Abenaki middlemen in the French fur trade, the Native people of Essex County were no longer interested and in any case, had already hunted beaver to near extinction. And the domestic shipbuilding and maritime industries had barely begun. The sketchy Cape Ann economy, interrupted, was soon thoroughly regulated and taxed, although to encourage maritime industries, the General Court excused fishermen from military training, duties on salt, and tithes on their catches.

The General Court redistributed the land first comers had borrowed, bought, or taken from the Indians to fleets of newcomers during the Great Migration, in which an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people emigrated to New England between 1630 and 1642.

Newcomers to Newbury, Rowley, and Ipswich included prosperous North Country weavers and woolen manufacturers and gentlemen farmers. They flourished on the rich alluvial soils of their broad floodplains and built country estates. Beverly and Beverly Farms likewise had large expanses of prime agricultural land.

First comers to Cape Ann (Gloucester, Rockport, Essex) had been fishermen from the West Country—Devon, Dorset, Hampshire—but most newcomers were illiterate and even less well-off farmers from Gloucester, Warwick, and Worcester. On Cape Ann, they were homesteading on marginal land unconducive to large-scale agriculture and easily damaged by over-grazing. Over time, first cattle and “rother beasts”, then sheep and pigs, and finally goats were all the land would support. Harvesting pole pines for the Royal Navy and salt marsh hay for animal fodder became the leading export industries.

Plantation proprietors petitioned the General Court for clear legal title to their lands, becoming towns with selectmen or aldermen. They were required to pay (or repay) the Indians to obtain quitclaim deeds. Gloster Plantation, established in 1638, and then the Town, incorporated in 1642, complied by renting land from Masquenominet! This is a little-known, possibly hidden, fact that you will not find in local archives. Gloucester rented to buy, paying the Indians over time. Over the next 50 years, they paid in kind—bushel baskets of Indian corn—in lieu of cash. The last recorded installment was paid in 1682. Gloucester paid its taxes and military dues the same way—in Indian corn, barley, and peas, with frequent requests for quota reductions and abatements.

In 1700/1701 Samuel English and Masquenomenit’s other grandchildren sued Gloucester in General Court—another little-known/hidden fact—and they won their case. The General Court ordered Gloucester to pay the balance owed in cash—£7 for the 10,000 acres, including Essex.

The newcomers to Cape Ann were farming among the rocks in sandy, acid soils, and after centuries of inshore overfishing, fishermen were having to sail five miles out to Stellwagen or Jeffrey’s Ledge (or 60 miles out to George’s Bank in the Gulf of Maine, and later even farther) to find market fish in any quantity. More important, the start of the English Civil War in 1641 put an abrupt end both to mass migration and to aristocrats’ investment schemes for making Gloucester Harbor into a prosperous international port.

In 1642 the General Court had invited a wealthy merchant prince in the tobacco trade, Maurice Thompson, to oversee Gloucester Harbor and to create and regulate shipping through a canal between Ipswich Bay and Massachusetts Bay. Such a canal—the Cut— would make shipping between Canada and Virginia both shorter and safer by avoiding the Cape, which was already littered with shipwrecks. The port also would serve as a distribution center for transatlantic trade. Thompson had a great flow of capital to invest from wealthy landowners in England, such as Richard Rich, the Earl of Warwick, who had a special interest in developing coastal New England.

The relationship between the Indian Village, Gloster Plantation, and the planned port at Duncan’s Point.

Governor Endecott had houses, docks, and warehouses built for Thompson at Duncan’s Point, where Harbor Loop is today, but the merchant prince did not accept the offer. He sent agents to check it out but never came. Greater riches were to be made in the Caribbean and South America. In 1643, in an effort to develop Gloucester on its own, the selectmen employed a Puritan from Plymouth, Richard Blynman, to make the Cut and serve as the town’s minister. Per usual, they paid in kind in lieu of a salary, offering some land and a free hand to profit from running a ferry or toll bridge across the Annisquam.

Things didn’t go well between the strict new pastor and the people of Gloucester. In 1650 he and his party, including the first town clerk, left for Connecticut Colony. The Cut was abandoned and soon filled in. It was dredged from time to time, but opportunities to salvage the dream were passed up again and again. By the time the Cut was reopened—in 1823 and again in 1907—it was too narrow and shallow to serve the international shipping industry, and steamships had less need of both the shortcut and the safety.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Cape Ann men were out to sea or at war most of the time. Population declined. Provisioning fishing vessels became Gloucester’s main industry. Vessels were prey during the Anglo-Wabanaki and French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812. It’s said the British replenished their ships’ stores by raiding sheep pastures in Dogtown. Other coastal towns capitalized on home front industries that could provide war materiel—soldier’s uniforms, canvas for sails and tents, gun parts. Gloucester, in contrast, provided service as privateers, troop transports, and merchant marines. Later, men left for the California gold rush even as the granite industry was starting. But exploitation of immigrant labor meant that the quarries enriched their owners and corporate chiefs more than the towns. Men who did not fish left Cape Ann for jobs. The fishing industry became hugely successful, but dependence on fishing had given Gloucester a risky, undiversified economy—a kind of monoculture gradually leavened by summer resorts, artists, retirees, tourists, and (we can only hope) new industries.

History is a great teacher. As individuals and as municipalities, historical circumstances shape our prospects, but they do not necessarily determine them. We make ourselves, and we are not poor. That things are hard to change doesn’t mean they can’t.

 

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.

The Settlement of Cape Ann: What is the Real Story?

by Mary Ellen Lepionka

Collection of the Cape Ann Museum. Scan � Cape Ann Museum Photo Archive 2015.

Unveiling Tablet Commemorating First Settlement of Massachusetts Bay Colony.    1907 Postcard

Quite often the truth is unwelcome. Tablet Rock in Stage Fort Park, for example, bears a plaque commemorating the 1623 landing of the Dorchester Company as the first settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and founding of Cape Ann’s fishing industry. This vertigrised plaque has been at the center of a dispute about whether and how to clean it, but more important to me is that what it says is not true. Neither is the tercentennial marker in Fisherman’s Field that talks about Roger Conant averting a violent confrontation there through diplomacy. Averse to complexity, we oversimplify. Real history is more complicated than we are allowed to know.

Massachusetts Bay Colony did not exist before 1628. Between 1623 and 1628 the Dorchester Company plantation begun by Rev. John White failed; Salem Village was founded in Beverly by its remnants, led by Roger Conant; and the New England Company took over the Dorchester Company’s assets on Cape Ann after debts were paid.

Rev. John White

The New England Company sent John Endicott to govern and subsequently morphed into the Massachusetts Bay Company, which was financed by merchants, including some former Dorchester Company investors. The Massachusetts Bay Company then negotiated a royal charter with Charles I giving them sweeping rights and abrogating all previous claims. (At one time there were as many as 22 claims to all or part of New England.)

Endicott replaced Conant, who since 1625 had acted as governor for the Dorchester Company investors, replacing Thomas Gardner and John Tylly, the original co-leaders of White’s failed fishing plantation of 1623. In 1626, with the aid of an Indian guide, Conant had led the surviving plantation settlers—those who elected to stay rather than be returned to England—and their cattle on the Squam Trail to the Pawtucket village of Nahumkeak (Naumkeag) on the Cape Ann side of the Bass River (Beverly). This small party of English men, women, and children survived through Native agency and planted side by side with the Indians over the next 50 years. They established Salem Village and became known as the Old Planters—but that’s another whole story.

Statue of Roger Conant in Salem MA.

Endicott moved the seat of government across the river to present-day Salem, along with the Dorchester Company settlers’ first meetinghouse, which Conant had transported to Salem Village from Fisherman’s Field. Then in 1630 John Winthrop succeeded Endicott as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, moved the capital to Dorchester, and established a General Court with a branch at Salem. He sent his son to prospect and protect Agawam, which became Ipswich in 1634. The Mass. Bay Colony expanded to absorb all the earlier settlements, including Plymouth Colony.

John Endicott

So, to say that Rev. John White’s Dorchester Company founded the Mass. Bay Colony (on the plaque) or even “founded the nucleus of the Mass. Bay Colony” (on the marker) is a bit of a stretch. That the fisheries “have been uninterruptedly pursued from this fort” (Stage Fort) since 1623 is essentially true, however. In 1637, before Gloucester was even founded, Endicott sent men from Salem to throw up earthworks at Stage Head to protect the fishing station there from possible Indian attack during the Pequot War.

Stage Fort Commemorative Tablet

However, the fishing industry on Cape Ann was founded by Plymouth, not Gloucester. From 1620 to 1626 fishermen from Plymouth established and operated fishing stations on Gloucester Harbor and at Stage Head; at Whale Cove, Straitsmouth, and Gap Head in Rockport; and at Great Neck, Ipswich, in the vicinity of Jeffrey’s Ledge. It was Plymouth’s stages for drying fish—and those of the Native Americans who also fished and dried fish there—for which Stage Head (aka Stage Point) was named.

Plymouth fishermen bunked in the Indians’ wigwams on Fisherman’s Field during the seasonal occupation of the fishing station. They complained to Governor William Bradford about the fleas. They were prompted to build their own wigwams, modified to have a chimney at one end, versus a smoke hole, and a rectangular door opposite—(until 1639, that is, when the General Court of the Mass. Bay Colony decreed that Englishmen may no longer live in wigwams but must build proper English houses).

In 1623 Governor Bradford resupplied Plymouth’s fishing outposts at Cape Ann and elsewhere. The fishermen included William Jeffreys and others who had sheltered at Plymouth following the failure of Thomas Weston’s colony at Wessagusset (present-day Weymouth), founded as a profit center for London merchants. Wessagusset lasted less than a year. Another refugee was Thomas Morton, who struck out on his own and founded the colony of Merrymount in Quincy. A second colony at Weymouth, founded by Robert Gorges (his father Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason also had a king’s grant to “New England”), also ended after a year. Both Weymouth experiments failed through bad decisions about relations with the Native people. Other fishermen at Cape Ann included free thinkers, outcasts, self-exiles, and DIY families from Plymouth, liberating themselves from what had turned out to be a strictly regulated society.

The earliest histories and accounts—Smith, Bradford, Winslow, Maverick, Hubbard, Phippen, Thornton—refer to Plymouth’s role in the founding of Cape Ann, but later ones—Adams, and especially Babson and Pringle—perhaps out of civic pride—gloss them over or omit them. In 1623 Plymouth bought a “Charter for Cape Anne” from Lord Sheffield, who had just received it from the Council for New England. Anxious to ensure the establishment of a successful Puritan colony in answer to the Pilgrim colony at Plymouth, the Council for New England had double-booked by issuing two “patents” that year—one to Lord Sheffield, and the other to Rev. John White, founder of the Dorchester Company. Without authorization and for unknown reasons, Sheffield promptly sold his charter to Plymouth. Governor Bradford later complained that he had been sold a “useless” (illegal) patent and that his Cape Ann had been “taken over by adventurers”.

Statue of Governor William Bradford in Plymouth MA

The “adventurers” were the 52 investors in the Dorchester Company. The venture capitalists’ plantation on Fisherman’s Field at Stage Head was intended to be a permanent agricultural settlement and fishery but was abandoned after three unprofitable fishing seasons, insufficient salt production, and two crop failures, even after resupplying from England. But theirs also is another whole story.

John White persuaded Roger Conant to lead any settlers who elected to stay at Cape Ann and to protect their cattle and other Dorchester Company assets, including their stages and the trappings of their salt-making operation. (Conant’s uncle was a friend of White’s and an investor.) Conant had left Plymouth to establish a trading post at Nantasket with John Oldham. Some fishermen with their families joined them there, including Conant’s brother, as well as Rev. John Lyford, whom Bradford had cast out of Plymouth for expressing “dangerous ideas”. These people came with Conant on the rescue mission to Cape Ann, except for Oldham, who turned down the offer of a monopoly in the fur trade with the Cape Ann Indians.

Conant found a sorry situation. Most of the survivors were brought back to England in ships the Dorchester Company sent for them, and some of Conant’s company also took advantage of the opportunity to return home, including Christopher Conant and John Lyford. In 1625, declaring Cape Ann unsuitable for anything, Conant made preparations to lead the party overland to another location to start over. This is where the plaque and historic marker come into the story again. They both refer to Roger Conant’s diplomacy that “averted bloodshed between two factions contending for a fishing stage.”

The event this refers to happened in 1625, but early historians got it wrong. Their take on it has been repeated ever since. It actually was a three-way confrontation over possession of the fishing station at Stage Head. It was between 1) Conant’s party, who were preparing to abandon the site; 2) Myles Standish, whom Bradford had sent to claim the area officially for Plymouth under the authority of the Sheffield Charter; and 3) West Countrymen from Plymouth under the leadership of John Hewes, representing disgruntled former Dorchester Company investors in London who had heard (from John Lyford) about the Dorchester Company’s bankruptcy. They were seeking to take possession of its assets to try to recover their losses.

Captain William Peirce, master of the Anne for the Plymouth Company, fishing Cape Ann waters, was anchored in Gloucester Harbor at the time. Peirce sent word to Governor Bradford about Hewes’ imminent takeover, and Bradford sent back Myles Standish to protect Plymouth’s interests. When Hewes’ men occupied the Dorchester Company stages and barricaded themselves behind hogsheads of salt, Standish threatened to open fire on them. At that point, according to Bradford (and to Hubbard who interviewed Conant in 1682), Conant and his men “rushed from their huts” (i.e., wigwams—for Conant had also complained to White about fleas) to intervene. Conant explained that the stages, equipment, salt, and patent for Stage Head were still the legal property of the Dorchester Company until further notice. I suppose you could call this diplomacy.

William Bradford recalled Standish and Peirce to Plymouth. Hewes and the Plymouth fishermen abandoned Cape Ann for the Kennebec River in Maine, where they established a fishing and fur trading post at Cushnoc. And Conant and his party left for Naumkeag. But I guess a historic plaque or marker can’t say all that. What they should say is that Tablet Rock was a sacred place for the Native people who lived on Fisherman’s Field and that the first English who came here would not have survived without their help.

 

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.

1644: A Turning Point in Cape Ann History

Masconomet.                       William Henry Tappan (1821-1907)

By Mary Ellen Lepionka

Histories are benchmarked with turning points—significant events that change all that follows. In large and small ways they affect the lives of persons, nations, species. A turning point for me in my work on Cape Ann’s past was discovering how subjective history is, a hard fact for a truth-seeker. Native people did not write history at first. The English, therefore, thought they had none, nothing of significance anyway, and barely mention them in town records. But in scraps of ancient texts and translations, I had found a long, rich, Native history—a kind of parallel universe. Was there a way to bridge the disconnect between the histories of Cape Ann’s early English settlers and the Native people living here at the time?

I decided to look at a single year—and chose 1644, which had turning points for both the Indians and the colonists. The colonists had just made the Cut connecting Ipswich Bay with Massachusetts Bay via the Annisquam River. They built the first cut bridge, the first meetinghouse on the green, and the first mill at Alewife Brook. Gloster Plantation had become a town, and it was a happening place. The first fishing vessel was built and launched. Ten Pound Island was reserved for rams. People were not allowed to cut trees without permission of the town proprietors. Mandatory church attendance was in effect as well as mandatory drills for men on the military training field adjacent to Meetinghouse Green. Towns were supposed to admit Indians to church services, but a decree of the General Court of the Mass. Bay Colony in 1644 barred them from randomly entering towns or townspeople’s homes without invitation.

In 1644 fishermen were not allowed to fish on Sundays, a frustration that contributed to the downfall of Rev. Richard Blynman, who had control of the Cut, Cut Ferry, and Cut Bridge in lieu of pay as the town minister. The minister was unpopular also as a Puritan hardliner in a town containing Pilgrims and freethinkers as well as fishermen. Records of the Circuit Court in Salem and the Court of Assistants in Ipswich include several cases of Gloster men being whipped and/or fined for blasphemy against Rev. Blynman. He and his party left or were driven out a few years later, including the first Town Clerk, Obadiah Bruen, appointed in 1644 after the General Court decreed that all towns must keep vital records.

The “cut bridge” aka Blynman Bridge, connecting Gloucester Harbor via the Annisquam River (a saltwater estuary) to Ipswich Bay. Mid 20th century postcard.

In 1644 Masquenomenit (Masconomet)—hereditary sagamore of Kwaskwaikikwen (Newbury), Agawam (Ipswich), Wanaskwiwam (Cape Ann), and Nahumkeak (Beverly-Salem)—was also in Circuit Court at Salem. He was there on March 8 with leaders of remnants of the Massachuset and Pennacook confederations. There was Cutchamakin of Neponset, brother of the late grand sachem Chicatawbut, lost in the smallpox epidemic of 1633, and Josias Chickatawbut of Nonantum, the late grand sachem’s grandson. There was Nashacowam of Nashua, New Hampshire, a Pennacook, and Wassamagin of Wachuset, a Nipmuck. And there was Squaw Sachem, tributary to Pappiseconewa (Passaconaway) of the Pennacook and widow of Nanepashemet—late grand sachem of the Pawtucket Confederation of Abenakis.

Squaw Sachem—her name was never recorded—had lost two of her three Christianized sons in the smallpox epidemic of 1633 and in 1639 had sold Cambridge, Watertown, Newton, Arlington, Somerville, and Charlestown to the English. She and her surviving son, Wenepoykin (disfigured by smallpox and known to the English as George No-Nose and later as George Rumney-Marsh) soon also sold the land that became Lynn, Saugus, Revere, Medford, Wakefield, Woburn, Stoneham, and Winchester. They threw in their lot with Passaconaway, who himself appeared in the Circuit Court at Salem the following year to add his signatory mark to the Oath of 1644.

In 1644 John Endicott was Governor of the Mass. Bay Colony and John Winthrop was Deputy Governor. Winthrop’s son, John Jr. was preparing to return to New London as founder of Connecticut Colony and to his new wife, having lost his young first wife and child in childbirth at Ipswich ten years before. In 1644 he gave Castle Hill, which Masquenomenit had deeded to him in 1637, to his brother-in-law Samuel Symonds, Deputy Governor of Ipswich. In 1644 the General Court voted to allocate 100 pounds to build up the nearby fort on Castle Island, lying just north of Hog (Choate) Island on Castle Neck River. The fort was to receive the benefit of 150 tons of lumber from Nantasket, a garrison, artillery, and a commander.

That was Masquenominet’s fort. The Sagamore had invited the English to occupy it—to help defend the Pawtucket from their enemies. Pawtucket enemies were the Tarrantines, mainly Micmac and Maliseet from Nova Scotia and the Canadian Maritimes. They annually raided Pawtucket farms for corn, which would not grow at their latitudes. They also abducted women and carried out intergenerational blood vengeance. It was for vengeance that in 1631 one hundred Tarrantines had come down the coast in canoes (another account says it was one hundred canoes) to attack Masquenomenit at Castle Hill. In another attack the following year a dozen Englishmen from Charlestown exploring in the vicinity, including John Winthrop Jr., came to Masquenomenit’s aid just in time to prevent a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Tarrantines. Masquenomenit had sold Castle Hill and his farm on Argilla Road to the English in gratitude and subsequently encouraged them to settle Ipswich. For the English, it was a chance to prevent further French incursions down the coast on the Gulf of Maine.

In 1644 William Stevens was Gloucester’s Deputy to the General Court. He had also been appointed to a three-man “Commission for Ending Small Causes” (i.e., handling local complaints). The Court insisted on Stevens’ participation because he was elected by the townspeople. Gloucester had sent the Town Clerk Obadiah Bruen in Stevens’ place, because Stevens was one of those unfortunate citizens who had expressed disapproval of the interpretation of the gospel being offered by the controversial pastor Richard Blynman (and who also stood accused of anti-royalist sentiment). The General Court wasn’t having any of Gloucester’s politics, however, and insisted that the rightfully elected Deputy attend. Stevens was at Circuit Court in Salem on March 8 and witnessed the signing of the Oath of 1644. I wonder what he thought of the six Indian “chiefs” with their retinues.

Richard Mather (1569-1669), c. 1665.          Attributed to John Foster (1648-81)

They had come to petition the Court, to place themselves under the protection of the English. That protection, against both the Tarrantines and the increasingly unfriendly colonists, came at a price. They had to swear that they “voluntarily & without any constraint or persuasion, but of our own free motion, put ourselves, our subjects, Lands, and estates under the Government and [will be] protected by them according to their just laws.” They also had to swear an oath to accept certain conditions, expressed in the following nine questions, put to them by the Puritan cleric Richard Mather, who recorded their answers.

  • Will you worship the only true God, who made heaven and earth, and not blaspheme?
  • Ans: “We do desire to reverence the God of the English and to speak well of Him, because we see He doth better to the English, than other gods do to others.”
  • Will you cease from swearing falsely?
  • Ans: “We know not what swearing is.”
  • Will you refrain from working on the Sabbath, especially within the bounds of Christian towns?Ans: “It is easy to us, — we have not much to do any day, and we can well rest on that day.”
  • Will you honor your parents and all your superiors?
  • Ans: “It is our custom to do so, — for inferiors to honor superiors.”
  • Will you refrain from killing any man without just cause and just authority?
  • Ans: “This is good, and we desire so to do.”
  • Will you deny yourselves fornication, adultery, incest, rape, sodomy, buggery, or bestiality?
  • Ans [after some explanation]: “Though some of our people do these things occasionally, yet we count them naught and do not allow them.”
  • Will you deny yourselves stealing?
  • Ans: “We say the same to this as to the 6th question.”
  • Will you allow your children to learn to read the word of God, so that they may know God aright and worship him in his own way?
  • Ans: “We will allow this as opportunity will permit, and, as the English live among us, we desire so to do.”
  • Will you refrain from idleness?
  • Ans: “We will.”

To seal the deal the six sagamores and sachems paid 26 fathoms of wampum (that amounts to a minimum of 6,240 shell beads, roughly 624 colonial dollars in value), essentially buying protection by paying tribute. Wampum was legal tender in Mass. Bay Colony at that time for both colonists and Indians. In turn, each “chief” was given 2 yards of red woolen cloth and a pot of wine. The Puritan ministers wrote home to England that a new age of spreading the gospel among the Indians had begun. And the Indians went home with the news that a new age of coexistence had begun under the justice of English laws.

So 1644 was a turning point in Cape Ann history for all its peoples, even if things didn’t turn out as expected, or perhaps because of that. Turning points can be thrilling, uplifting, or horrifying, and the actors heroes, villains, or fools. However subjective, one thing rings true to me about history: It is strange, and as a body of personal narratives, nothing if not sad.

 

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.

Appropriations of Native Identity: Pocahontas and the Last Wampanoag

Mary Ellen Lepionka

Frederick Mulhaupt (1871-1938) painted “Native American Life on Cape Ann” for the old Maplewood School in 1934. It was later moved to its current location at the O’Maley Middle School.

Erasure narratives, in which the Indians disappeared, reached even into science. Many early archaeologists and ethnologists believed that New England Indians were of little interest or consequence, not worthy of study. Archaeological sites in New England consisted only of shell heaps and burial grounds, paling in comparison to the monumental architectures of the Native civilizations of Mexico and South America. But the more the Indians were thought to have disappeared, the more people began to lament their loss. The “vanished Indian” was invented, and New Englanders began to exploit, and distort their memory. In the process, they misappropriated Native culture and identity.

Impersonating Indians and dressing up as Puritans and Indians became fashionable around the turn of the century. The history of English-Native relations had been reduced to iconic moments—deed signings and massacres. In the celebration of Gloucester’s 250th anniversary in 1892, Robert Pringle designed four horse-drawn floats with costumed actors frozen in significant poses: Samuel de Champlain warily greeting the Pawtucket on Rocky Neck in 1606; Roger Conant arbitrating the feud between Captain Hewes and Myles Standish on Fisherman’s Field in 1625; Samuel English, the “Last Sagamore of Agawam”, deeding Gloucester to the English in 1701; and Gloucester militiamen drawn up against the British in the War of Independence. Pringle also had a Myles Standish—diminutive red-bearded soldier with fiery temper and Napoleonic hauteur—circulating through the throngs of thrilled spectators with “Puritans and Savages” in tow.

Bicentennial celebrations throughout the Northeast included speeches in honor of someone in the community identified as the last Indian. In the 1890s Zerviah Gould Mitchell of Lakeville was billed as the “Last of the Wampanoags”, for example, despite the fact that she (a) was Mahican, not Wampanoag, and (b) had two daughters with descendants whose descendants are living to this day. Her designation as the last had to do with the concept of racial purity. To be authentically Indian you had to be pure-blooded.

Believing there were no more pure-blooded Indians left east of the Appalachians, beginning in the mid-19th century New Englanders developed a nostalgic, romantic craze for them. We got Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Hiawatha”, the Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper, and “The Bridal of Pennacook” by John Greenleaf Whittier. Henry David Thoreau canoed up the Concord and Merrimack. Monuments were erected in town parks throughout the Northeast in memory of famous Indians—Uncas, Canonicus, Miantonomo, Masconomet, Samoset, Squanto, Massasoit. Streets are named after them in Winniahdin (“In the vicinity of the heights”), a neighborhood on Little River in West Gloucester developed in the 1890s as a summer colony. No less than twelve statues of Massasoit stand in twelve different cities and towns, all eager to claim him for their own.

By 1900 it became popular to impersonate Indians on stage as well as in parades, in addition to writing romantic fiction harking back to the days when there were Indians. Most notably, the famous actor Edwin Forrest played Metamora, “the Last Wampanoag” in a melodrama about the vanished Indians. Metamora toured internationally and was a sellout equivalent to Hamilton today.

Appropriations of Native identity were not new. Pocahontas, for example, first appears in a 17th-century engraving by Simon de Passe as a dour Englishwoman-by-marriage (to John Rolfe in Virginia Colony). Then, in an anonymous 19th-century etching she is a chaste but ravishing (or ravished) beauty holding a calumet (peace pipe). Now, in a 21st century Disney cel she appears as a competent, liberated, athletic (but still sexy) girl. As in Snow White, forest animals and little birds adore her.

The acme (or perhaps the nadir) of appropriation was the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM), a fraternal organization and secret society for white men that spread in the late 19th century. Their stated intentions were to preserve beliefs and values of the vanished Indian and his way of life. It involved organizing as a tribe, meeting at council fires, and dressing up as Indians. Until the mid-1900s actual Indians, blacks, those of mixed race, immigrants, and the unemployed were not allowed to join.

On parade in Gloucester’s 250th anniversary celebration in 1892 were IORM Wingaersheek Tribe No. 12 of Gloucester, Wonasquam Tribe No. 23 and Winnekoma Council Daughters of Pocahontas No. 41 of Rockport, Chebacco Tribe No. 93 of Ipswich, Ontario Tribe No. 103 of Wenham, Manataug Tribe No. 1 of Marblehead, Naumkeag Tribe No. 3 of Salem, Masconomo Tribe No. 11 of Peabody, Chickataubut Tribe No. 13 of Beverly, Passaqui Tribe No. 27 of Haverhill, Taratine Tribe No. 24 of Swampscott, and three tribes from Lynn: Sagamore Tribe No. 2, Winnepurkit Tribe No. 55, and Poquanum Tribe No. 105. In “Degree of Pocahontas” parade floats, white women in the IORM women’s axillary impersonated squaws.

The Improved Order of Red Men

The Red Men remained active on Cape Ann—I remember them in parades when I was a child—perhaps you do too–with black braided wigs, mysterious loincloths, bloodied tomahawks. They made war whoops, and we would shriek. They would prowl on the fringes of parades and menace onlookers, pretending to scalp the boys at the curb, taking pretty girls captive. They would reach into the crowd and grab the girl, tie her hands or put a rope around her neck, and force her to walk a ways in the parade before letting her escape. (I shudder now to recall how badly I wanted to be that girl.)

The IORM movement did not start to wane until the 1950s as the American Indian Movement began. Wingaersheek Tribe No.12 of Gloucester was not officially disbanded until 2009. Participants thought they were preserving the best of authentic Native American culture when they more often were passing on distorted and mythologized interpretations of Native history and culture and perpetuating the narratives of erasure. The wrong stories and stereotypes even became enshrined in our social institutions. Charles Allan Winter’s beautiful mural in Kyrouz Auditorium in Gloucester City Hall, created in 1934—the masthead for “Enduring Gloucester”—features a solitary seated “naked” Indian smoking a peace pipe, no doubt representing legendary Pawtucket neutrality toward the English throughout Agawam during the colonial period.

Elsewhere in City Hall, Frederick Mulhaupt’s mural misrepresents the Indians while meaning to commemorate them as a part of Gloucester’s history. No Pawtucket ever dressed like that or had pots and blankets decorated thus, nor did they ever conduct trade with Vikings. (Actually, there is not a shred of evidence that Northmen ever set foot here, and Thorvald is not buried on the Back Shore. Robert Pringle and others promulgated this idea during the Viking craze of the 1890s, while earlier histories of Cape Ann do not mention them at all—but that is another whole story.)

Meanwhile, Mulhaupt can be forgiven for artistic license and not knowing better. We must all be forgiven, I think. We are all products of our time and place and cannot be held accountable for what happened in the past. Plus, most people in any time and place don’t really know what’s happening to them most of the time or understand how their actions and beliefs are shaping human history. We can only be responsible for how we respond once we figure it out. As FDR says in the legend under the Kyrouz Auditorium mural, we must build for tomorrow.

Pocahontas (1910 silent film)

In our special place that is Gloucester, over the sweep of time, I see that in the first hundred years of contact colonists’ admiration for Native Americans as noble savages was replaced by fears of Englishmen becoming savages themselves and by derogatory views of Indians. The red man became the white man’s enemy and after that the white man’s burden as conquered people. Over the next hundred years, the narratives of erasure were written and acted upon. Then in the hundred years following their “disappearance”, Native Americans were remembered, lionized, impersonated. Native identity was appropriated and they became romantic heroes and victims in literature and in art. In the last 50 years New England Indians have been rediscovered as not so vanished after all, nor so romantic. I wonder what the next 50 years will bring.

Many Native Americans today are politically active. They have been risking rediscovering and redefining who they are–intent on language revival, cultural preservation, and the reconstitution of true communities, incorporating western as well as eastern expressions of Native culture. As a scientist and historian, I see great interest and consequence in this enterprise, certainly worthy of study. I think all our early literatures need to be reread, our histories rewritten, and new narratives put together for more accurate, integrated, truths. I wonder what that would look like—a history that integrates colonial and Native lives and events. Hmmm….

Cigar Store Indian Princess. Courtesy of Cape Ann Museum
Unknown Carver c. 1855
On display at H. C. Brown Tobacco Shop, Gloucester, from 1905 to 1945.

 

 

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.

 

The Wanaskwiwam Villagers: Where Did They Go?

Mary Ellen Lepionka July 20, 2017

Descendants with Hassanamesit Nipmuc Chief Cheryl Toney Holley in Mass.

Discovering a Native presence on Cape Ann during the Contact Period, I naturally wondered what had happened to them. On both their presence and their disappearance local Archives are mum, except to quote William Bradford of Plymouth and John Winthrop of Boston on the disease that decimated Native populations prior to 1620 and again in the first smallpox epidemic of 1633. Winthrop wrote in 1629: “God hathe consumed the natives with a miraculous plague, whereby a great part of the country is left voyde of inhabitants.” So it has been easy ever since just to say that the Indians had all died off before the English settled here.

But medical sources estimate a survival rate of 75 percent for the first disease (leptospirosis) on the North Shore and points north, mainly because people moved inland to avoid contact–above the fall line on rivers contaminated with the bacteria and away from its animal carriers. Also, in the north, about half the people survived the first smallpox epidemic and subsequently experienced population recovery because of acquired immunity. Survivors of the epidemic of 1633 had a higher chance of surviving subsequent exposures and passing on resistance to their offspring. Although there was a great “dying off,” there had to be more to the story.

When I got to the State Archives, the more I learned the more questions I had. If the Indians had disappeared, why are the records of the General Court and Governors and Indian Overseers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony so full of accounts, treaties, histories, policies, laws, decrees, deeds, and court cases pertaining to Native Americans? How could the 2010 U.S. Census report so many people living in Essex County identifying themselves as “American Indian/Alaska Native”? Could they have included living descendants of the Wanaskwiwam villagers and others of Masquenomenit’s people?

As it turns out, yes. Masquenomenit (Masconomet), Nanepashemet, Pappiseconewa (Passaconaway), Chickatawbut, Massasoit (Ousamequin) and the others all have living descendants. Some, with surnames Tyler, English, Wiser, Safford, Bent, Mitchell, to name a few, are living with Natick, Mashpee, Wampanoag, and Narraganset around Lakeville and Wareham, Cape Cod and the Islands. Others, Emertons for example, are from Gloucester. Jacqueline Emerton, known as Fire Woman, widow of Quiet Bear, was a matriarch of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki and the founder of the Inter-Tribal Council of Tolba Menahan. She organized the pow wows that took place here every August for years in Fisherman’s Field.

Fire Woman and Walking Fox

The pow wows were continued in Fire Woman’s honor after her death in 2004. The last was in 2012. The Council disbanded then and some of her family went to live with kin at the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in Wisconsin, where Indians from Massachusetts had been forced to relocate in compliance with President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. The Removal Act called for forced migration of all Indians to lands west of the Mississippi. Pawtucket interned with Nipmuc, Pocumtuc, and Mahican families at the Stockbridge, Brotherton, and Schaghticoke reservations were moved to Wisconsin. At the same time, Pennacook-Pawtucket interned with Mohawk were absorbed into the Iroquois reservations in upstate New York and Canada, where they have living descendants today.

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I learned that the survival and resilience of the Native people who lived here took many paths. Some assimilated early. They fenced their farms and kept cattle and converted to Christianity. They spoke English and became literate. They apprenticed themselves to colonial trades and went to sea on English vessels. They indentured themselves to English families and adopted English names and intermarried. In 1650, for example, Great Tom of Quascacunquen (Kwaskwaikikwen) sold his 30-acre farm on the Parker River and indentured himself and his wife and children and their heirs and assigns for all time to William Gerish, Abraham Toppan, and Anthony Somerby of Newbury.

Those assimilating successfully did not live as Indians. They concealed their identities and became invisible, largely avoiding the terrible conflicts to come. Their descendants—except perhaps those with mail-order DNA kits—do not know who they are.

The later 17th century saw two major diasporas. The first was in 1676 during King Philip’s War (Metacomet’s Wampanoag War), when many Pawtucket in Essex County, unable to maintain neutrality, escaped en masse by canoe. They crossed the Merrimack River at Newburyport into New Hampshire and Maine. Some joined the Wabanaki resistance movement. Others sought refuge with former allies or with former traditional enemies. Some descendants of those Pawtucket are living today in Abenaki, Sokoki, Pequaket, Mississiquoi, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Malecite and Micmac communities in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Nova Scotia.

Descendants in New Hampshire

During and after King Philip’s War, captured survivors of many different cultural groups speaking different languages were thrown together in internment camps. Some were interned with Africans and shipped to Bermuda and Barbados as slaves. In 1676 Pennacook Indians and Africans were shipwrecked on St. David’s Island, for example, en route to a slave plantation in the Caribbean. They have living descendants on that island today.

Descendants on St. David’s Island

A second diaspora occurred in 1695 from the village of Wamesit (Lowell), a “Praying Indian” winter village where survivors of colonial military expeditions against the Indians had gathered for protection. Wamesit came under attack by local settlers, however, among them my own ancestors, who had founded Chelmsford in 1636. I try to imagine them as hardscrabble men incensed over gruesome Indian massacres in other towns they reached too late to defend. But I cannot. They scapegoated their ones at home. They set the wigwams ablaze and shot the people as they ran. Pawtucket who lived fled into the White Mountains and those who survived exposure reached sanctuary in St. Francis, Quebec. Their descendants are living there today with the Abenaki at Odanak and Becancour on the St. Lawrence River.

Descendants at Odanak

The 1690s is also the last recorded evidence of Indians in Gloucester until after the Civil War, except for the 1701 appearance of Masquenomenit’s grandchildren in General Court to receive Gloucester’s last payment for their land. Daniel Gookin, Indian Supervisor for the Mass. Bay Colony and a great protector of the Native people under his purview, died in 1687 and was greatly mourned by them. On a 1700 map, Essex County is triumphantly marked, “Cleared of Indians”.

Between 1689 and 1763, the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony offered bounties on Indian scalps—men, women, and children—in an off-and-on campaign of state-sponsored genocide spanning three generations, a fact little known. Some Gloucester men, Andrew Robinson for example, enriched themselves in this way, especially during the French and Indian Wars when an enemy warrior’s scalp could fetch as much as 100 English pounds. Indian scalps were hung from the rafters of the Court House in Salem. They were taken down on the eve of Revolution only after barristers complained of unsightliness and falling dust.

As in any holocaust, survival depended either on escape and self-exile or invisibility. In this way, many Pawtucket and other Native people in New England gave up their homes and possessions, religion, language, culture, knowledge and skills, communities, gene pools, and identities as Native Americans. Today some descendants of Native Americans of the Northeast are working to reclaim or reinvent their remixed Native heritage. Theirs is a story of adaptation, resilience, and cultural creativity in the face of 400 years of persecution and catastrophic change. Times have changed, but prejudice and discrimination—and indifference—both casual and official are commonplace still.

There are pow wows in Beverly, Danvers, and Lowell. I asked the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness about having pow wows on Cape Ann again—you can now hire groups to lecture and perform—which is how I learned about Fire Woman. I’m told that Fire Woman’s people felt discouraged from trying to continue their pow wow tradition in Fisherman’s Field. The Council members had grown older, fewer, poorer—but in 2012 the City of Gloucester could not make an exception for them to be able to afford to park their campers and sell their crafts at Stage Fort Park.

You may remember that year’s howling and drumming as the loudest ever, lasting all night under Tablet Rock. But you did not hear it as appeals to the spirits of the ancestors of that place. And we did not know it would be the last public expression of Native culture on Cape Ann. Or is it?

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

Wingawecheek: The Story of a Name

Mary Ellen Lepionka  5/25/17

Wingaersheek                      Wayne Morrell (1923-2013)

In my studies of Native American history in coastal Essex County, I discovered that most translations of Native place names we have today are wrong! One reason is that early linguists referred to the wrong languages: those of southern New England. They consulted William Bradford’s notes on Pokanoket, for example, or Roger Williams’ dictionary of Narraganset, or John Eliot’s translation of the Bible into Massachuset.

But the Algonquians who lived on Cape Ann were not Pokanoket, Narraganset, or Massachuset. They were Pawtucket, relatives of the Pennacook, originally from New Hampshire and southern Maine. They spoke a dialect of Western Abenaki. According to early European explorers, except for a patois used in trading, the Pawtucket needed interpreters to speak to their neighbors to the south!

The French were the chroniclers of Abenaki and Micmac and other Algonquian languages of northern New England. But the early English linguists and historians did not consult French sources. If they had, we might have known all along what our local Native place names really mean. How hard it is to change them now! For generations, we have taken the early local scholars at their word.

Curious, I decided to use present-day reconstructions of Abenaki dialects to analyze surviving Pawtucket place names and try to determine how they really sounded and what they really mean. I started with Wingaersheek, my favorite childhood beach. I had a strong hunch that Wingaersheek was a corruption of a Native New England Algonquian word.

In his 1860 history of Gloucester John Babson claims that in 1638 when John Endicott’s surveyors asked the Indians living at the end of Atlantic Street on the Jones River Saltmarsh the name of Cape Ann, the Indians replied, “Wingaersheek”. This story has been repeated ever since. Robert Pringle, journalist and publicist, repeated it in his 1890 history. Pringle also wrote that Wingaersheek means “beautiful breaking water beach,” based on the ethnographer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s faulty attempts at ethnolinguistics.

Wingaersheek would not have been the name for Cape Ann, however. It would have named the Pawtucket village there and its river and beach. (John Mason’s 1831 map of Cape Ann shows the site as Old Coffin Farm.) Algonquian place names are always about geographic features. They describe a landscape or a resource it contains, and settlements and villages associated with that landscape or resource went by the same name.

The Pawtucket also would have had a different word than Wingaersheek, which had to be an English corruption. For one thing, in the old Algonquian dialects of northern New England, the /r/ and /l/ phones were not used in speech, as noted by Europeans. Explorers at Sagadahoc on the Kennebec River noted in 1622, for example, that nobsten was the closest pronunciation for lobster that the Native Americans there seemed capable of saying.

In 1654, 1674, and 1721, Indians—undoubtedly Abenaki speakers—were reported as referring to the Merrimack River as the Monumach (or Monomack) River. Likewise, the Pawtucket name for their site near the mouth of the Annisquam River would not have included the /r/ sound at the center of Wingaersheek. The English one might, though.

Elizabethan and Tudor English speakers often added an /r/ sound to syllables ending in /a/.  Listening to Yankee grandparents, for example, you may still hear that Cousin Anner had a good idear. Thus the middle syllable in Wingaersheek must have been an Englishism or an error in transcription, making it a corruption of a Pawtucket word. This gave me Wingaesheek, but that couldn’t be right either. And there was another barrier besides to understanding.

In 1895 Boston historian E. N. Horsford claimed that the name is a corruption of a seventeenth-century loan word from German Low Dutch: Wyngaerts Hoeck for “wine (or grape) garden peninsula (or land)”.  The Dutch left that name on a map, in the sea off the Massachusetts coast, but I knew it could have had nothing to do with the Indians. There are too many sound shifts between Wyngaerts Hoeck and Wingaersheek, and besides, the Dutch had little or nothing to do with Cape Ann. If they had, more than one place name here would be attributable to them today.

I learned that Horsford based his claim on a 1671 map of “New Belgium” by the Dutch explorer, Arnoldus Montanus, in an etching by John Ogilby published in 1673. Montanus, in turn, based his map largely on Capt. John Smith’s 1624 map of New England, and Smith, in turn, got some of his place names from an Abenaki sachem at Saco, Maine. Wingaersheek was not among them.

Dutch Map – Montanus

I consulted all the sources from ethnolinguists who wrote about Native place names in New England and all the accounts of explorers and colonists who commented on Native language—all too numerous to list here. I also saw French sources, such as Joseph Laurent’s 1884 New familiar Abenakis and English dialogues and Jesuit missionary texts collected by Eugene Vetromille, published in 1857 as the Indian Good Book.

My proposed reconstruction of Wingaersheek as Wingawecheek is based specifically on the discovery of wechee as an Abenaki word for “ocean, sea”, found in an old lexicon, and a meaning for winka- (singular)/winga- (plural) as “a kind of sea snail or whelk,” proposed by Carol Dana of the Department of Cultural and Historic Preservation of the Penobscot (Penawahpskewi) Indian Nation, on Indian Island, Maine, in 2011, based on her participation in a Western Abenaki language revival program. I learned further that the /k/ at the end of Algonquian place names is a locative suffix, denoting place, and translates as “on”, “at”, “here” or “there” depending on context.

So now I had Winga wechee k, “Here be sea whelks,” or the like. My research suggested that the whelks in question may have been the type used to make white wampum beads. Shells certainly would have been a geographic resource worthy of an Algonquian place name. They were an important cultural and economic commodity. The coastal Algonquians used whelk shells to make white wampum beads and quahog shells to make the purple ones. Wampum was central to many social and political practices and was traded from the coast as far inland as Lake Michigan. So:

Wingaersheek = Wingawecheek

          Winga = “snails, whelks

wechee = “ocean, sea”

            -k = (locative suffix)

= “Here are sea whelks (of the kind used to make white wampum)”

Aerial of Wingawecheek

Now I’m on the bridge at Goose Cove, looking across the Annisquam at the fringes of white sand and grassy dunes. Are the whelk shells I gathered in my red pail as a child still there? Now I’m on Long Wharf, looking out at the Jones River Saltmarsh. Behind me is the site of a Contact Period Native settlement. Its excavated archaeological remains lie in storage in the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge. Were they the people who told Endicott’s men the name of their place? Wingawecheek must have been that name, but I’m the first to say so. And that’s the challenge of doing history, it seems: to give up what we think we know and open ourselves to new information and new interpretations, to look beyond our spatial and temporal borders—go over the bridges—to understand what’s in a name, and in the end to embrace who we really are.

PS:

  • Quascacunquen (Wessacucon) = Kwaskwaikikwen: Newbury/Rowley) = “Ideal place for planting (corn)”
  • Agawam (Castle Neck, Ipswich) = “Other side of the marsh”
  • Chebacco (Essex) = “Separate area in between (the Ipswich and Annisquam rivers)”
  • Annisquam = Wanaskwiwam (Wenesquawam/Wonasquam) = Cape Ann) = “End of the marsh”
  • Winniahdin (West Parish) = “In the vicinity of the heights”
  • Wamesit (Lowell, Pawtucket winter village) = “Room for all (the marsh goers)”
  • Naumkeag (Nahumkeak: Beverly/Salem) = “Here are eels (to fish for)”

 

 

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.