Wessaguset

I have been observing a Facebook group dedicated to the Descendants of the Mayflower. Several of the members of this group were discussing the current movement of how monuments are being torn down. Even the historic state park will change its name to Patuxet- the original Wampanoag name for the site.

https://tinyurl.com/y37hntwy

One person said, “You can’t change history! History is history! We may not agree with it, but you can’t wipe it away!”

Another member in her argument cited an article written by Professor Maureen Moakley in the Providence Journal (https://tinyurl.com/yyr7cha6)

Moakley states:

“The basic outline of the story is familiar. More than 100 years after Columbus, the English Puritans arrived at Cape Cod, coming ashore onto the Native American territory, filching their corn reserves and other tools and artifacts. After a brutal winter aboard the Mayflower, a fragile contingent began to build a settlement at Plymouth. The Wampanoag tribe could have easily wiped them out, but instead engaged with the settlers. By the following fall in 1621, they participated in a mutual harvest gathering that is the basis of our Thanksgiving celebration.

Shortly thereafter, Roger Williams, exiled from Massachusetts in 1636, arrived in Providence and was greeted by the Narragansetts. They, too, easily could have destroyed his settlement but instead offered assistance and comity. Decades later, when war broke out between settlers from all over New England and the several regional tribes, the Narragansetts chose to remain neutral. They hunkered down in the Great Swamp until it was raided by the likes of Miles Standish and his followers, who brutally killed women and children and drove remaining survivors into servitude and slavery.”

WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! HOLD IT! HOLD IT! HOLD IT!

I can see where Professor Moakley is trying to make her point about colonist travesties by citing the example of the Great Swamp Fight of December 19, 1675, during which an English force marched through the snow, led by a captured Narragansett Indian to the Narragansetts fortified winter fort. This prisoner showed the English force of 1,000 militiamen and 150 Pequot warriors the weak points of the defenses, and how to enter the fort. Under the cover of darkness, the English unleashed their attack. It took two attempts for the full force of the English to enter the camp. Having broke through the defenses, the English set fire to the fort and went to wigwam to wigwam and killed everyone.

At the end of the battle, the camp and fort were ablaze. Most of the Narragansetts’ winter stores destroyed. 97 warriors lay dead. But what was even more tragic was that hundreds of women, children and elderly non-combatants were dead and another 300 captured. The remaining warriors and Philip and his followers slipped away into the swamp.

Did Myles Standish take part in this battle? Absolutely not! Although Standish’s son, Josiah, fought in the King Philip’s War under the command of Benjamin Church, Myles did not. In fact, Myles had died in 1656 while in retirement in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

Now, I am not dismissing Standish. He was a military man. There is no evidence that he ever murdered women or children. However, Standish had a brutal side. Standish would step into the role of soldier when needed, even if people would not agree with his methods.

Thomas Weston, a wealthy merchant from London, did not believe in being tied down by women and children. He did not follow the Puritan views of Plymouth and was at odds with the Pilgrims. He believed in profit. So, he recruited 60 able-bodied men to establish his own colony; and he got his own land patent to establish trade. In May 1622, the first group of men arrived in Plymouth and then travelled about 25 miles North and chose a site that the Natives called Wessagusset (present day Weymouth, Massachusetts).

More settlers arrived, but by the end of 1622 the colony was failing to thrive. They did not know how to farm, fish or hunt. The settlers were starving. Plymouth sent Standish as leader of a rescue party that brought struggling community 26 hogsheads (each a 64 gallon barrel) of corn as a relief. John Saunders took control of Wessagusett.

The corn did not last long. As supplies once again ran out, and settlers starved to death, Saunders sent word to Plymouth and asked the magistrates if he could take corn from the Indians by force. Plymouth denied his request. Indians began sending word to Plymouth, accusing the settlers of Wessagusset of stealing. This caused great tension in the region, forcing Plymouth to divert attention away from valuable work in the fields and focus on improving the defenses of the colony. Soon their food stores were running low.

Both Plymouth and Wessagusset organized a joint trading expedition with the Indians for corn, which they split with the proceeds. Unfortunately, they could only barter with labor, clothes, and other needed supplies. The Indians reportedly caught one settler stealing, and the Wessagusset leadership hanged the man, hoping to satisfy the insult. One legend states that the leadership had executed the wrong man. On top of this, it didn’t seem to placate the natives. It was only one of a list of growing grievances. To add to this, as tensions continued to escalate over the winter, the neighboring Indians moved into land nearby to Wessagusset. This caused the colonists to fear that an attack was imminent.

One colonist named Phineas Pratt made a run for Plymouth, pursued by angry natives, to sound the alarm. He arrived on March 24th 1623. Pratt met with Governor Bradford and the town councilmen and gave his report. But it seems that actions were already in motion.

The Pokanoket sachem Massasoit had been grievously ill and was on his death bed. Edward Winslow had travelled the 60 miles to care for his sick friend and brought him back to health. There had been a period of mistrust between Massasoit and the Pilgrims concerning the issue with Squanto. But as Winslow had saved his life, Massasoit warned Winslow of impending danger.

He told Winslow that there wasa plot by surrounding Indian tribes against the colonies of Wessaguset and Plymouth. Winslow rushed home to give the alarm and Standish was dispatched to Wessaguset with a small force, arriving on March 26.

There are varying reports. But one version tells the story where Standish had invited several of the principal Indian leaders to Wessaguset under possible false peaceful pretenses. Under the guise of trade, he lured the natives into a closed building. These Indians included Wituwamut, Wituwamut’s teenagebrother,r and the sachem Pecksuot.

For Standish, it was already personal. He had a grudge with Wituwamut for insulting him. Months earlier, during another trading mission, Wituwamut had poked fun at him in his armor by saying, “I have killed white men, both French and English, here are their knives to prove it.”

During the negotiations, it is said that Wituwamut teased Standish about his 5’5 height by saying, “You are a great captain, but you are a little man, though I am no sachem, I am of great strength and courage.”

Standish did not react but invited his guests into a building for lunch where the door was locked. Once, inside, Standish grabbed Pecksuot’s own knife and drove it into his chest, while others killed Wituwamut and his brother. Outside, upon hearing the commotion the accompanying warriors reacted and a fight ensued. Five settlers were killed before the five warriors and another elderly sachem by the name of Obtakiest lay dead. The deed done, Standish beheaded Wituwamut, and mounted his head on a pike and brought it back to Plymouth as a trophy. A reminder to anyone that the English were no one to cross.

This was a rash act shocked both the settlers of Wessaguset and Plymouth. It was one thing to protect settlement from an invading force. But to perform such a brutal act was viewed as overkill. They knew that such an act could have lastingrepercussionss. Wessaguset, the weaker colony, was afraid that they would receive the brunt of the natives’ wrath, and that they did. Several months later, they were attacked and the settlement was abandoned. A number of settlers were captured and tortured. Others escaped North to Maine or returned to London.

Because of the massacre at Wessaguset, Plymouth’s trade with the Indian tribes was affected for years. It would not be until the time that Boston and the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony would the English and their superior numbers and become the leading power prior to the Pequot War that trade would recover.

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