Wampanoag people

Wampanoag people
Tribal Territories Southern New England.png
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Bristol County, Massachusetts, Dukes County, Massachusetts, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, and Nantucket, Massachusetts

English, Wampanoag (historical)



Related ethnic groups

other Algonquian peoples

The Wampanoag (English pronunciation: /ˌwɑːmpəˈnoʊ.æɡ/;[1] Wôpanâak in the Wampanoag language; are a federally recognized Native American nation which currently consists of five tribes, located in present-day Massachusetts. Two have gained official federal recognition.

In the 1600s when encountered by the English, the Wampanoag lived in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as within a territory that encompassed current day Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Their population numbered in the thousands due to the richness of the environment and their cultivation of corn, beans and squash; it was 3,000 on Martha's Vineyard alone.

From 1616-1619 the Wampanoag suffered an epidemic of what researchers now believe was leptospirosis, a baceterial infection also known as Weil's syndrome or 7-day fever. While it may have been carried by the English, it may also have arisen from factors in the Wampanoag environment and their contact with diseased animals. It caused a high fatality rate and nearly destroyed the society. This crisis contributed to the conversion of Wampanoag to Christianity, as they began to doubt the power of their own traditions. During the early decades of English colonization, relations were friendly, but the nation began to resist colonial encraochment. Historians believe the losses from the epidemic made it possible for the English colonists to get a foothold in creating the Massachusetts Bay Colony in later years. King Philip's War (1675-1676) against the English colonists resulted in the deaths of 40% of the tribe Most of the male survivors were sold into slavery in the West Indies. Many women and children were enslaved in New England.

While the tribe largely disappeared from historical records from the late 18th century, its people persisted. Survivors remained in their traditional areas and continued many aspects of their culture, while absorbing other people by marriage and adapting to changing economic and cultural needs in the larger society. The chief groups of Wampanoag began to re-organize their governments in the late twentieth century, although only one has reservation land. They are seeking to acquire land to be held in trust to enable Indian gaming to generate revenue for the nation. In November 2011, the Massachusetts legislature authorized the Wampanoag to acquire land in southeastern Massachusetts for a gaming casino.



Block's map of his 1614 voyage, with the first appearance of the term "New Netherland"

Wampanoag means People of the First Light. The word Wapanoos was first seen on Adriaen Block's 1614 map and was the earliest European representation of Wampanoag territory. Other synonyms include "Wapenock," "Massasoit" and "Philip's Indians". In 1616, John Smith erroneously referred to the entire Wampanoag confederacy as the Pakanoket. Pokanoket continued to be used in the earliest colonial records and reports. The Pokanoket tribal seat was located near present-day Bristol, Rhode Island.

Groups of the Wampanoag

Group Area inhabited
Gay Head or Aquinnah western point of Martha's Vineyard
Chappaquiddick Chappaquiddick Island
Nantucket Nantucket Island
Nauset Cape Cod
Mashpee Cape Cod
Patuxet eastern Massachusetts, on Plymouth Bay
Pokanoket eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island (RI) near present-day Bristol, RI
Pocasset present day north Fall River,Massachusetts
Herring Pond Plymouth & Cape Cod
Assonet Freetown
and approximately 50 more groups


See also: Massachusett.

The Wampanoag were semi-sedentary, with seasonal movements between fixed sites in present-day southern New England. The "three sisters," corn (maize), beans and squash were the staples of their diet, supplemented by fish and game. More specifically, each community had authority over a well-defined territory from which the people derived their livelihood through a seasonal round of fishing, planting, harvesting and hunting. Because southern New England was thickly populated, hunting grounds had strictly defined boundaries.

The Wampanoag, like many Native American peoples, had a matrilineal system, in which women controlled property (in this case, the home and its belongings, as well as some rights to plots within communal land) and hereditary status was passed through the maternal line. They were also matrifocal: when a young couple married, they lived with the woman's family. Women elders could approve selection of chiefs or sachems, although males had most of the political roles for relations with other bands and tribes, and warfare. Women with claims to specific plots of land used for farming or hunting passed those claims to their female descendants, regardless of their marital status.[2]

The work of making a living was organized on a family level. Families gathered together in the spring to fish, in early winter to hunt and in the summer they separated to cultivate individual planting fields. Boys were schooled in the way of the woods, where a man's skill at hunting and ability to survive under all conditions were vital to his family's well being. Women were trained from their earliest years to work diligently in the fields and around the family wetu, a round or oval house that was designed to be easily dismantled and moved in just a few hours. They also learned to gather natural fruits and nuts and other produce from the habitat.

The production of food among the Wampanoag was similar to that of many Native American societies. Food habits were divided along gendered lines. Men and women had specific tasks, and Native women played an active role in many of the stages of food production. Since the Wampanoag relied primarily on goods garnered from this kind of work, women had important socio-political, economic, and spiritual roles in their communities.[3] Wampanoag men were mainly responsible for hunting and fishing, while women took care of farming and the gathering of wild fruits, nuts, berries, shellfish, etc.[4] Women were responsible for up to seventy-five percent of all food production in Wampanoag societies.[5]

The Wampanoag were organized into a confederation, where a head sachem, or political leader, presided over a number of other sachems. The English often referred to the sachem as “king,” a title that misled more than it clarified, since the position of a sachem differed in many ways from that of a king. Sachems were bound to consult not only their own councilors within their tribe but also any of the “petty sachems,” or people of influence, in the region.[6] They were also responsible for arranging trade privileges as well as protecting their allies in exchange for material tribute.[7] Both women and men could hold the position of sachem, and women were sometimes chosen over close male relatives.[8] Two Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Wampanoag female sachems, Wunnatuckquannumou and Askamaboo, presided despite the competition of male contenders, including near relatives, for their power. These women gained power because their matrilineal clans held control over large plots of land and they had accrued enough status and power—not because they were the widows of former sachems.

Pre-marital sexual experimentation was accepted, although once couples opted to marry, the Wampanoag expected fidelity within unions. Roger Williams (1603–1683), stated that “single fornication they count no sin, but after Marriage, (which they solemnize by consent of Parents and publique approbation...) then they count it heinous for either of them to be false.”[9] In addition, polygamy was practiced among the Wampanoag, although monogamy was the norm. Although status was constituted within a matrilineal, matrifocal society, some elite men could take several wives for political or social reasons. Multiple wives were also a path to and symbol of wealth because women were the producers and distributors of corn and other food products. As within most Native American societies, marriage and conjugal unions were not as important as ties of clan and kinship. Marriages could be and were dissolved relatively easily, but family and clan relations were of extreme and lasting importance, constituting the ties that bound individuals to one another and their tribal territories as a whole.[10]

Language and revival

title page of 1st Bible printed in New World

The Wampanoag originally spoke a dialect of the Massachusett-Wampanoag language, which belongs to the Algonquian language family. The first Bible published in the colonies was a translation into Wampanoag by the missionary John Eliot in 1663. He created an orthography, which he taught the Wampanoag. Many became literate, using Wampanoag for letters, deeds and other historic documents that form the largest corpus in a written Native American language.[11]

The rapid decline of speakers of the Wampanoag language began after the American Revolution. The historians Neal Salisbury and Colin G. Calloway note that at this time, New England Native American communities suffered from huge gender imbalances due to premature male deaths, especially due to warfare and maritime activity. Many Wampanoag women were forced to marry outside their linguistic groups, making it extremely difficult for them to maintain the various Wampanoag dialects.[12]

Currently English speaking, since 1993 the Wampanoag have been working on a language revival led by the Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) Language Reclamation Project, a collaboration of several tribes and bands led by co-founder and director Jessie Little Doe Baird. A few children have become the first native speakers of Wôpanâak in more than 100 years.[11] The project is training adult teachers to reach more children and to develop a curriculum for a Wôpanâak-based school. Baird has compiled a 10,000-word dictionary from university collections of colonial documents in Wôpanâak, as well as writing a grammar, collections of stories, and other books.[11]


European incursions

In 1524, King Francis I of France commissioned Giovanni Da Verrazzano to lead an expedition to the "New World". Verrazzano likely reached present-day North Carolina one point south of present-day Cape Fear. He first traveled south but turned north for fear of encountering the Spanish, who had established outposts in present-day Florida. When Verrazzano reached Newport Harbor, he attempted to contact the Wampanoag Indians to initiate trade.

Tisquantum (or Squanto)

Tisquantum helped the Plymouth colonists learn to cultivate corn.

One of the earlier contacts between the Wampanoag and Europeans dates from the 16th century, when merchant vessels and fishing boats traveled along the coast of present-day New England. Captains of merchant vessels captured Native Americans and sold them as slaves in order to increase their earnings. For example, Captain Thomas Hunt captured several Wampanoag after enticing them aboard his vessel in 1614. He later sold them in Spain as slaves. A Patuxet named Tisquantum' (or Squanto), was bought by Spanish monks who attempted to convert him. Eventually he was set free.

Despite his prior experiences, Tisquantum boarded an English ship again to accompany an expedition to Newfoundland as an interpreter. From Newfoundland, he made his way back to his homeland in 1619, only to discover that the entire Patuxet tribe – and with them, his family – had fallen victim to an epidemic.[13] Tisquantum is thought to have died of the same disease, possibly leptospirosis (plague), according to a 2010 analysis of the epidemic of 1616-1619. Because of the drastic native losses, the epidemic may have been pivotal to the success of the English colonization of New England. The remaining native population had little capacity to resist the settlers.[14]

In 1620, religious separatists and others from England called "Pilgrims" arrived in present-day Plymouth. Tisquantum and other Wampanoag taught the starving Pilgrims how to cultivate varieties of corn, squash and beans (the Three Sisters); catch fish, and collect seafood.[15]


US Mint advertisement for Wampanoag Treaty commemorative dollar coins

Squanto lived with the colonists and acted as a middleman between the Pilgrims and Massasoit, the Wampanoag sachem. For the Wampanoag, the ten years before the arrival of the Pilgrims was the worst time in their history. They were attacked from the north by Mi'kmaq warriors who took over the coast after their victory over the Penobscot in the Tarrantine War (1607–1615). At the same time, the Pequot came from the west, and occupied portions of eastern Connecticut.

Additionally, between 1616 and 1619, the Wampanoag suffered from an epidemic or series of epidemics, since 2010 thought to be from leptospirosis, or 7-day fever. The groups most devastated by the illness were those who had traded heavily with the French or were allied with those who did, leading to speculation that the disease was a "virgin soil" epidemic to which Europeans had some immunity but for which they were able to act as carriers. Alfred Crosby, a medical historian, has suggested that among the Massachusett and mainland Pokanoket, the decline in population was as high as ninety percent.[16]

The disease caused a complete restructuring of Wampanoag political systems, with many sachems gathering together previously strong villages to form new alliances. For example, the Pokanoket]] sachem Massasoit and ten followers representing the remainder of the band were forced to submit to the Narragansett – their inland rivals – and agreed to give up valuable territory at the head of Narragansett Bay. The Narragansett, an isolated island group, had little contact with early European traders and were not nearly so devastated by the epidemic as were the Wampanoag. As a result, their power in the region increased greatly in the mid-seventeenth century. With their demands that the weakened Wampanoag pay them tribute, Massasoit looked to the English to help his people fight the oppression by the Narragansett.

In March 1621 Massasoit visited Plymouth, accompanied by Squanto. He signed an alliance which gave the English permission to take about 12,000 acres (49 km2) of land for Plymouth Plantation. Historians believe it is doubtful that Massasoit understood the differences between land ownership in the European sense, compared with the native people's communal manner of using the land.[citation needed] At the time, this was not particularly significant, because so many of Massasoit's people had died that their traditional lands were significantly depopulated.

Since the late twentieth century, the event celebrated as the first Thanksgiving has been debated in the United States. Many Native Americans argue against the romanticized story of the Wampanoag celebrating together with the colonists. Some claim that colonial documents make no mention of such an event, but there are two known primary accounts of the 1621 event. Others say that the first "thanksgiving" occurred two decades later and shortly after the Pequot War in 1637. During a period of renewed activism for Indian rights, in 1970, several Native American organizations declared Thanksgiving the "National Day of Mourning."

The Narragansett were suspicious of the alliance between the Wampanoag and the English, and feared that the two would unite to attack them. Before they could wage war on the English, the Narragansett were attacked by the Pequot. The good relationship between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims lasted, and when Massasoit became gravely ill in the winter of 1623, he was nursed back to health by the English. In the meantime, Plymouth Colony continued to grow, and a number of English Puritans settled on Massachusetts Bay. In 1632 the Narragansett ended their wars with the Pequot and the Mohawk and turned against the Wampanoag again. They attacked Massasoit's village, Sowam, but with help from the English, the Wampanoag drove the Narragansett back.[13]

Colonial expansion

Seal of Plymouth Colony

After 1630, the members of Plymouth Colony found themselves becoming a minority, due to the growing number of Puritans arriving and settling near present-day Boston. Barely tolerant of other Christians denominations and viewing the native peoples largely as savages and heathens, the Puritans were soldiers and traders who had little interest in friendship or cooperation with the Indians. Under this new leadership, the English expanded westward into the Connecticut River Valley. In 1637 they destroyed the powerful Pequot Confederation. In 1643 the Mohegan defeated the Narragansett in a war; with support from the English, they became the dominant tribe in southern New England.[13]

Between 1640 and 1675, new waves of settlers arrived and continued to force the native peoples westward. While the Pilgrims had normally paid for land, or had at least asked for permission, most Puritans simply took land for themselves[citation needed]. In 1665 the Indians of southern New England were in the way of the English, who had no desire to learn to survive in the wilderness. Catching fish and the trading of commodities had replaced the colonists’ trading of furs and wampum from previous years. The population of the native peoples continued to decline, due to recurring epidemics in 1633, 1635, 1654, 1661 and 1667, likely due to new infectious illnesses brought by the colonists.[13]

Conversion to Christianity

After 1650, John Eliot and other Puritan missionaries proposed a "humane" solution to the Indian “problem:” converting native peoples to Christianity. The converted Indians were resettled in fourteen "praying towns." The system of organization into sedentary townships was especially important because it demanded the renunciation of native practices such as migratory hunting patterns and their adoption of a more traditionally English way of life. By settling them into established towns, Eliot and his colleagues hoped that under the tutelage of Christian ministers, Native Americans would adopt English – or “civilized” – practices such as monogamous marriage, agriculture, patriarchal households, and jurisprudence.[17]

The motivations of New England Native American societies, to convert to Christianity were numerous and varied. The high levels of epidemics among the Native Americans after the arrival of the Europeans contributed. In addition to bringing about a dramatic restructuring of political hierarchies, the massive death toll caused a certain level of disillusionment with traditional practices in Native American societies. It has been suggested that the survivors experienced a type of spiritual crisis because their medical and religious leaders could not prevent the epidemic.[18] Conversely, the English settlers were often unaffected by the sickness, which contributed to a belief that the English god was more powerful than their own.

"Old Indian Meeting House," built in 1684 in Mashpee, is the oldest surviving Native American church building in the United States.

In addition, by the latter half of the seventeenth century, alcoholism had become rampant among males in some southern New England ethnic groups, as Native Americans were alcohol-intolerant biologically; this inspired many to turn for help to Christianity and Christian discipline systems. Christianity became a refuge for women from male drunkenness. With its insistence upon temperance and systems of earthly and heavenly retribution for drunkenness, Christianity held great appeal to natives attempting to fight alcoholism, especially to those women whose close male relatives were affected.

The level of conversion to not only Christianity but also English cultural and societal norms – conversions demanded of the Native Americans – depended on the town and region. In most of Eliot's mainland “praying towns,” converts were expected to follow English laws, manners, and gender roles in addition to adopting the material trappings of English life. Eliot and other ministers relied on praise and rewards for those who conformed, rather than punishing those who did not.[19]

The Christian Indian settlements of Martha's Vineyard were noted for a great deal of sharing and mixing between Wampanoag and English ways of life. Wampanoag converts often continued their traditional practices in dress, hairstyle, and governance. The Martha's Vineyard converts were not required to attend church and they often maintained traditional cultural practices such as mourning rituals.[20] The Christian Indian settlements on Martha's Vineyard were more a mixture of Wampanoag and English Puritan cultures than limited to Puritan values.

Other than religious conversion, Eliot's “praying Indians” did not undergo a high degree of cultural assimilation, especially in the area of law and justice systems. In pre-colonial societies, the sachem and his or her council were responsible for administering justice among their people. But during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, converts increasingly turned to Christian religious authorities for help in resolving their legal quarrels. Christian ministers and missionaries supplanted traditional leaders as the legal authorities among Christian Indians.

The conversion of Wampanoag women to Christianity led to unintended results. As discussed, many Wampanoag women were attracted to Christianity because it offered a chance to free themselves and especially their male relatives from alcohol abuse. But, Christianity altered the gender power structure as well. Ministers such as John Eliot tried to encourage their Wampanoag converts to adopt a patriarchal structure, both inside and outside the home. As were many of the Native American societies, the Wampanoag had a matrilineal system, which gave women control of property and in which hereditary leadership passed through the maternal line. Wampanoag women – especially Wampanoag wives – were, in the majority of cases on the Vineyard, the spiritual leaders of their households.[21] Additionally, they were also more likely to convert than Indian males. Experience Mayhew, a Puritan minister, observed that there were “a greater number of their women appearing pious than of the men among them.” This tendency towards female conversion created a problem for missionaries intent on establishing traditional patriarchal family and societal structures among the Native Americans: in order to convert the men, the Puritans often had to place power in the hands of the women. In general, English ministers agreed that it was preferable for women to subvert the patriarchal model and assume a dominant spiritual role than it was for their husbands to remain unconverted. Experience Mayhew asked, “[How] can those Wives answer it unto God who do not Use their utmost Endeavors to Perswade and oblige their husbands to maintain Prayer in their families [?]”[22] In some cases, Wampanoag women converts accepted changed gender roles under English custom, while others practiced their traditional roles of shared power as Christians.

Metacomet (King Philip)

Philip, King of Mount Hope, 1772, by Paul Revere. Revere designed this pygmy-like image to make King Philip look repulsive.[23]

Even Massasoit took on English customs. Before his death in 1661, he asked the legislators in Plymouth to give both of his sons English names. Wamsutta, the older son, was given the name Alexander, and his younger brother, Metacomet, was named Philip. After his father's death, Alexander became the sachem of the Wampanoag. The English were not happy about this, because they felt he was too self-confident, and so they invited him to Plymouth to talk. On the way home Wamsutta became seriously ill and died. The Wampanoag were told he died of fever, but many Indians thought he had been poisoned. The following year Metacomet became sachem of the Wampanoag. He was later named "King Philip" by the English.[24]

To all appearances, Philip was not a radical sachem, but under his rule the relationship between the Wampanoag and the colonists changed dramatically. Philip understood that the English would eventually take over everything, not only native land, but also their culture, their way of life and their religion. Philip decided to impede the further expansion of English settlements. For the Wampanoag alone, this was impossible, because at that time their tribe numbered less than 1,000. Philip began to visit other tribes, to talk them into his plan. This too was a nearly hopeless undertaking, because at that time the number of colonists in southern New England was more than double that of the Indians – 35,000 colonists in the face of 15,000 natives. In 1671 Philip was called to Taunton, where he listened to the accusations of the English and signed an agreement that required the Wampanoag to give up their firearms. To be on the safe side however, he did not take part in the subsequent dinner, and the weapons were not delivered later either.[24]

The seizures of land by the English continued, and little by little, Philip gained the Nipmuck, Pocomtuc and Narragansett as allies. The beginning of the uprising was first scheduled for the spring of 1676. In March 1675 the body of John Sassamon was found.[25] Sassamon was a Christian Indian raised in one of John Eliot's “praying towns,” Natick, and educated at Harvard College. Sassamon had served as a scribe, interpreter and counselor to Metacom and the Wampanoags. However, a week before his death, Sassamon reported to Plymouth governor Josiah Winslow that Metacom was planning a war against the English. It is unclear whether Sassamon was telling the truth or lying in an attempt to win back English trust and respect. When Sassamon was found dead under the ice of Assawompsett Pond a week later, three Wampanoag warriors were accused of his murder by a Christian Indian and then taken captive. After a trial by a jury of twelve Englishmen and six Christian Indians, the Wampanoag men were hanged in June 1675. This execution, combined with the rumors that the English wanted to capture Philip, was enough to start a war. When Philip called together a council of war on Mount Hope, most Wampanoags wanted to follow him, with the exception of the Nauset on Cape Cod and the small groups on the offshore islands. Further allies were the Nipmucks, Pocomtucs and some Pennacooks and Eastern Abenakis from farther north. The Narragansett remained neutral at the beginning of the war.[26]

King Philip's War

On July 20, 1675 some young Wampanoags trekked to Swansea, killed some cattle, and scared the white settlers. The next day King Philip's War broke out, and the Wampanoag attacked a number of white settlements, burning them to the ground. The unexpected attacks caused great panic among the English. The united tribes in southern New England attacked 52 of 90 English settlements, and partially burned them down.[24]

At the outbreak of the war, many pro-English Native Americans offered to fight with the English against King Philip and his allies, serving as warriors, scouts, advisers and spies. Mistrust and hostility eventually caused the English to discontinue Native American assistance, even though they were invaluable in the war. The English resented the Christian Indians "turning against them", ignoring their own part in the tensions. The Massachusetts government moved many Christian Indians to Deer Island in Boston Harbor, in part to protect the “praying Indians” from English vigilantes, but also as a precautionary measure to prevent rebellion and sedition from them.[27] Mary Rowlandson's The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, an account of her months of captivity by the Wampanoag during King Philip's War, expresses English prejudice against the Christian Indians. She complains of their cruelties towards "fellow" Christians, singling Christian converts out for fierce verbal attacks.[28]

From Massachusetts, the war spread to other parts of New England. Some tribes from Maine – the Kennebec, Pigwacket (Pequawkets) and Arosaguntacook – joined in the war against the English. The Narragansett of Rhode Island gave up their neutrality after the colonists attacked one of their fortified villages. In that battle, which became known as the “Great Swamp Massacre,” the Narragansett lost more than 600 people and 20 sachems. Their leader, Canonchet, was able to flee and led a large group of Narragansett warriors west to join King Philip's warriors.[24]

In the spring of 1676, following a winter of hunger and deprivation, the tide turned against Philip. The English troops set out on a relentless chase after him, and his best ally – Sachem Canonchet of the Narragansett – was taken captive and executed by a firing squad. Canonchet's corpse was quartered, and his head was sent to Hartford, Connecticut, to be put on public display.[24]

During the summer months, Philip escaped from his pursuers and went to a hideout on Mount Hope. In August, after Indian scouts discovered the hideout, the English attacked, killing or taking captive 173 Wampanoag. Philip barely escaped capture, but among the prisoners were his wife and their nine-year-old son. Taken onto a ship at Plymouth, they were sold as slaves in the West Indies. On August 12, 1676, English troops surrounded Philip's camp, and soon shot and killed him. They cut off his head, displaying it for 20 years on a pike in Plymouth.[24]

Consequences of the war

With the death of Philip and most of their leaders, the Wampanoags were nearly exterminated; only about 400 survived the war. The Narragansett and Nipmuck suffered similar rates of losses, and many small tribes in southern New England were, for all intents and purposes, finished. In addition, many Wampanoag were sold into slavery. Male captives were generally sold to slave traders] and transported to the West Indies, Bermuda, Virginia, or the Iberian Peninsula. The colonists used the women and children as slaves in New England. Of those Indians not sold into slavery, the colony forced them to move into Natick, Wamesit, Punkapoag, and Hassanamesit, four of the original fourteen praying towns. These were the only ones to be resettled after the war.[29] Overall, approximately five thousand Native Americans (forty percent of their population) and twenty-five hundred English colonists (five percent) were killed in King Philip's War. By this time, the English population had increased so much that, while significant, the losses were less important for their overall society.[30]

18th to 20th century


With the exception of the coastal islands' Wampanoag groups, who had stayed neutral through the war, the colonists forced the Wampanoag of the mainland to resettle with the Saconnet (Sekonnet), or with the Nauset into the praying towns in Barnstable County. Mashpee, the largest biggest reservation set aside in Massachusetts, was on Cape Cod. In 1660 the colonists allotted the Indians about 50 square miles (130 km2) there, and beginning in 1665 they had self-government, adopting an English-style court of law and trials. The area was integrated into the district of Mashpee in 1763.

In 1788 after the American Revolutionary War, the state revoked the Wampanoag ability to self-govern, considering it a failure. It appointed a supervisory committee consisting of five European-American members, with no Wampanoag. In 1834, the state returned a certain degree of self-government to the Indians, and although the Indians were far from autonomous, they continued in this manner. To support assimilation, in 1842 the state allocated plots from 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of their communal 13,000 acres (53 km2), to be distributed in 60-acre (240,000 m2) parcels to each household for subsistence farming, although New England communities were adopting other types of economies. The state passed laws to try to control white encroachment on the reservation; some stole wood from its forests. A large region, once rich in wood, fish and game, it was considered highly desirable by the whites. With competition between whites and the Wampanoag, conflicts were more frequent than for more isolated Indian settlements elsewhere in the state.

Wampanoag on Martha's Vineyard

On Martha's Vineyard in the 18th and 19th centuries, there were three reservations – Chappaquiddick, Christiantown and Gay Head. The Chappaquiddick Reservation was part of a small island of the same name and was located on the eastern point of that island. As the result of the sale of land in 1789, the Indians lost valuable areas, and the remaining land was distributed among the Indians residents in 1810. In 1823 the laws were changed, in order to hinder those trying to get rid of the Indians and to implement a visible beginning of a civic organization. Around 1849, they owned 692 acres (2.80 km2) of infertile land, and many of the residents moved to nearby Edgartown, so that they could practice a trade and obtain some civil rights.[31]

Christiantown was originally a "praying town" on the northwest side of Martha's Vineyard, northwest of Tisbury. In 1849 the reservation still consisted of 390 acres (1.6 km2), of which all but 10 were distributed among the residents. The land, kept under community ownership, yielded very few crops and the tribe members left it to get paying jobs in the cities. Wampanoag oral tradition tells that Christiantown was wiped out in 1888 by a smallpox epidemic.[31]

Amos Haskins, a Wampanoag whaling captain of the Aquinnah Band.

The third reservation on Martha's Vineyard was constructed in 1711 by the New England Company (founded in 1649) to Christianize the Indians. They bought land for the Gay Head Indians who had lived there since before 1642. There was considerable dispute about how the land should be cultivated, as the colony had leased the better sections to the whites at low interest. The original goal of creating an undisturbed center for missionary work was quickly forgotten. The state finally created a reservation on a peninsula on the western point of Martha's Vineyard and named it Gay Head. This region was connected to the main island by an isthmus; it enabled the isolation desired by the Wampanoag. In 1849 they had 2,400 acres (9.7 km2) there, of which 500 acres were distributed among the tribe members. The rest was communal property. In contrast to the other reservation groups, the tribe had no guardian or headman. When they needed advice on legal questions, they asked the guardian of the Chappaquiddick Reservation, but other matters they handled themselves. They had no legal claim to their land and allowed the tribal members free rein over their choice of land, as well as over cultivation and building, in order to make their ownership clear. They did not allow whites to settle on their land. They made strict laws regulating membership in the tribe. As a result they were able to strengthen the groups' ties to each other, and they did not lose their tribal identity until long after the other groups had lost theirs.[31]

The Wampanoag on Nantucket Island were almost completely destroyed by an unknown plague in 1763; the last Nantucket died in 1855.[31]

Current status

Wampanoag educator at Plimoth Plantation

Slightly more than 2,000 Wampanoag are counted as enrolled members of the nation today (many have ancestry including other tribes and races), and many live near the reservation (Watuppa Wampanoag Reservation) on Martha's Vineyard, in Dukes County. It is located in the town of Aquinnah (formerly known as Gay Head), at the extreme western part of the island. It has a land area of 1.952 square kilometres (482 acres), and a 2000 census resident population of 91 persons.

Five groups of the Wampanoag have organized governments: Assonet, Aquinnah of Gay Head, Herring Pond, Mashpee and Namasket. Only the Aquinnah and Mashpee bands have gained recognition, although the other groups have also applied for such recognition as tribes.

Some genealogy experts testified that the tribes did not demonstrate the required continuity since historic times. For instance, in his testimony to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the historian Francis Hutchins said that the Mashpee "were not an Indian tribe in the years 1666, 1680, 1763, 1790, 1834, 1870, and 1970, or at anytime between 1666 and 1970 (Day 36, 130-140).8 In his opinion, an Indian tribe was “an entity composed of persons of American Indian descent, which entity possesses distinct political, legal, cultural attributes, which attributes have descended directly from aboriginal precursors.” (Day 36, 124). Without accounting for cultural change, adaptation, and the effects of non-Indian society, Hutchins argued the Mashpee were not an Indian tribe historically because they adopted Christianity and non-Indian forms of dress and appearance, and chose to remain in Massachusetts as “second-class” citizens rather than emigrating westward (note: to Indian Territory) to “resume tribal existence.” Hutchins also noted that they intermarried with non-Indians to create a “non-white,” or “colored,” community (Day 36, 130-140). Hutchins appeared to require unchanged culture, including maintenance of a traditional religion and essentially total social autonomy from non-Indian society."[32]

Aquinnah Wampanoag of Gay Head

The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Massachusetts are the only Wampanoag tribe to have a formal land-in-trust reservation, which is located on Martha's Vineyard. Their reservation consists of 485 acres (1.96 km2) and is located on the outermost southwest part of the island. Aquinnah Wampanoag descendants formed the "Wampanoag Tribal Council of Gay Head, Inc." in 1972 for the purposes of promoting self-determination and receiving federal recognition. Its members received government recognition in 1987 from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe has 1,121 registered members.[33]

The Aquinnah Wampanoag are led by tribal council chair Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, who was elected to the post in November of 2007.[34] In 2010, Andrews-Maltais put forward plans for the development of an Aquinnah reservation casino, which was met with opposition by state and local officials.[35]

Assonet Wampanoag

The Assonet Wampanoag Band established an inter-tribal council entity in 1990 based in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It is headed by A. Perry Alves. The Assonet Band claims as traditional tribal lands territory extending from New Bedford to Rehoboth, Massachusetts. The Assonet Band is not federally recognized as a tribe.[36]

Herring Pond Wampanoag

The Herring Pond Wampanoag Band, headed by tribal council chair Harry Hunt, are not federally recognized as a tribe.[37] They maintain offices in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. The Herring Pond Band claims as traditional lands territory which ranges from the Plymouth (Plimouth Colony) areas to the upper parts of Cape Cod (Bourne, Sandwich and Plymouth).[38]

Mashpee Wampanoag

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe consists of more than 1,500 enrolled members. Since 1924 they have held an annual powwow at the beginning of July in Mashpee. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council was established in 1972 under the leadership of its first president, Russell "Fast Turtle" Peters. In 1974 the Council petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for recognition. In 1976 the tribe sued the Town of Mashpee for the return of ancestral homelands. The case was lost but the tribe continued to pursue federal recognition for three decades.

In 2000 the Mashpee Wampanoag Council was headed by chairman Glenn Marshall. Marshall led the group until 2007 when it was disclosed that he had a prior conviction for rape, had lied about having a military record and was under investigation associated for improprieties associated with the tribe's casino lobbying efforts.[39] Marshall was succeeded by tribal council vice- chair Shawn Hendricks. He held the position until Marshall pled guilty in 2009 to federal charges of embezzling, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax evasion and election finance law violations. He steered tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to politicians through the tribe's hired lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was convicted of numerous charges in a much larger scheme.[40][41]

In 2009 the tribe elected Cedric Cromwell to the position of council chair and president.[42] The Mashpee Wampanoag tribal offices are is located in Mashpee on Cape Cod. After decades of legal disputes, the Mashpee Wampanoag obtained provisional recognition as an Indian tribe from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in April 2006, and official Federal recognition in February 2007.[43] Tribal members own some land, as well as land held in common by Wampanoag descendants at both Chapaquddick and Christiantown. Descendants have also purchased land in Middleborough, Massachusetts upon which the tribe under Glenn A. Marshall's leadership had lobbied to build a casino.

But, Indian gaming operations are regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission established by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. It contains a general prohibition against gaming on lands acquired into trust after October 17, 1988.[44] The tribe's attempts to gain approvals have been met with legal and government approval challenges.[45]

The Wampanoag Tribe's current plan has agreement for financing by the Malaysian Genting Group and has the political support of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry[46], Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and former Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt, who is working as a lobbyist to represent the casino project.[47] Both Kerry[48] and Delahunt[49] received campaign contributions from the Wampanoag Tribe in transactions authorized by Glenn Marshall as part of the Abramoff lobbying scandal.

In November 2011, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law to license up to three sites for gaming resort casinos and one for a slot machine parlor.[50] The Wampanoag are given a "headstart" to develop plans for a casino in southeastern part of the state.[51]

Namasket Wampanoag

The Namasket Wampanoag Band was organized in 2000. It holds meetings in the Wattupa Reservation State Park in Fall River, Massachusetts. The band is led by council chair Albert Henry Corliss and is not a federally recognized tribe.[52]

Other Wampanoag

A remnant of the Wampanoag reside on St. David's Island, Bermuda. They are descendants of those sold overseas by the Puritans in the aftermath of King Philip's War.[53]


Year Number Note Source
1610 6,600 mainland 3,600; islands 3,000 James Mooney
1620 5,000 mainland 2,000 (after the epidemics); islands 3,000 unknown
1677 400 mainland (after King Philip's War) general estimate
2000 2,336 Wampanoag (total) US Census

Notable Wampanoag

Historical leaders included:

  • Massasoit, the sachem who first met the English
  • Massasoit's oldest son Wamsutta (known by the English as King Alexander), who died under mysterious circumstances after visiting with English colonial administrators in Plymouth
  • His second son Metacom or Metacomet (King Philip), who initiated the war against the English known as King Philip's War (1675-1676) in retaliation for the death of his brother at the hands of the English
  • Corbitant, 17th-century sachem of the Pocasset
  • Sachem Weetamoo of the Pocasset, a woman who supported Metacom and drowned crossing the Taunton River while fleeing the English
  • Sachem Awashonks of the Sakonnet, a woman who at first fought the English but changed sides
  • Annawan, a war leader.

Other notable figures:

  • Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first student at the Indian College at Harvard College
  • Amos Haskins, 19th-century whaling captain
  • Sonny Dove, professional basketball player, New York City Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Cedric Cromwell, Elected Tribal Council Chairman, 2009
  • Epenow, a Nauset taken captive by English explorers in the 17th century, he was taken to England, where he learned the language. He convinced the English to return to North America, where he escaped and rejoined his people.
  • Russell "Fast Turtle" Peters
  • Blind Joe Amos
  • Vernon "Silent Drum" Lopez
  • John "Slow Turtle" Peters, supreme medicine man
  • Jessie Little Dove Baird, linguist, co-founder and director of the Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) Language Reclamation Project, which has been the first to revive a Native American language after all the speakers had died.[11] In 2010 she was selected as a MacArthur Fellow.

Representation in other media

  • Tashtego was a fictional Wampanoag harpooneer from Gay Head in Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick.

See also

References, notes and further reading

  1. ^ "Wampanoag", Dictionary.com
  2. ^ Plane, Anne Marie. ]]Colonial Intimacies: Indian Marriage in Early New England. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), 2000, page 20. See also page 61: “Native women seem to have inherited rights linking them to certain fields.”
  3. ^ Handbook of North American Indians.
  4. ^ See Bragdon, Kathleen, "Gender as a Social Category in Native Southern New England," Ethnohistory 43:4, 1996, pg. 576, and Plane, Colonial Intimacies, pg. 20.
  5. ^ Plane, Colonial Intimacies, pg. 20.
  6. ^ Plane, Colonial Intimacies, pg. 23.
  7. ^ Salisbury, Neal. Introduction, Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Boston, MA: Bedford Books, 1997, pg. 11.
  8. ^ (1978) "Indians of Southern New England and Long Island, early period" Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15. (Bruce G. Trigger, ed.). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, p. 171f
  9. ^ Williams, Roger. Narrangansett Women. (Originally published 1643, cited from Woloch, N., ed., Early American Women: A Documentary History, 1600-1900 (New York: McGraw-Hill), 1997, pg. 8).
  10. ^ Plane, Colonial Intimacies, pgs. 5, 8, 22-23.
  11. ^ a b c d Jeffrey Mifflin, "Saving a Language: A rare book in MIT's archives helps linguists revive a long-unused Native American language", Technology Review, May/June 2008, accessed 18 November 2011
  12. ^ Salisbury, Neal and Colin G. Calloway, eds. Reinterpreting New England Indians and the Colonial Experience, Vol. 71 of Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. (Boston, MA: University of Virginia Press), 1993, pp. 278-9.
  13. ^ a b c d Die Welt der Indianer.
  14. ^ DOI: 10.3201/edi1602.090276 Marr JS, Cathey JT. "New hypothesis for cause of an epidemic among Native Americans, New England, 1616–1619", Emerging Infectious Disease, Centers for Disease Control, 2010 Feb
  15. ^ Cheney, Glenn Alan, Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims' First Year in America, (New London: New London Librarium, 2007) ISBN 978-0-9798039-0-1
  16. ^ Salisbury, Neal. Manitou and Providence, (Oxford University Press), 1982, pg. 105.
  17. ^ Plane, Colonial Intimacies, pgs. 47-8.
  18. ^ Salisbury, Manitou and Providence, pg. 106.
  19. ^ Plane, Colonial Intimacies, pg. 48.
  20. ^ Ronda, James P. "Generations of Faith: The Christian Indians of Martha’s Vineyard", William and Mary Quarterly 38, 1981, pg. 378.
  21. ^ Experience Mayhew stated that “it seems to be a Truth with respect to our Indians, so far as my knowledge of them extend, that there have been, and are a greater number of their Women appearing pious than of the men among them” in his text “Indian Converts” (quoted from James Ronda, "Generations of Faith," pgs. 384-88).
  22. ^ Experience Mayhew, sermon, “Family Religion Excited and Assisted,” 1714-28, quoted from Plane, Colonial Intimacies, pg. 114).
  23. ^ Bourne, p. 4
  24. ^ a b c d e f Wampanoag History
  25. ^ For a much more detailed examination of John Sassamon, his murder, and its effects on King Philip's War, see Jill Lepore's The Name of War.
  26. ^ Salisbury, Introduction to Mary Rowlandson, pg. 21.
  27. ^ Salisbury, Introduction to Mary Rowlandson, pg. 23.
  28. ^ See Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, pgs. 75 and 98.
  29. ^ Salisbury, Introduction to Mary Rowlandson, pg. 37.
  30. ^ Salisbury, Introduction to Mary Rowlandson, pg. 1.
  31. ^ a b c d Handbook of North American Indians. Chapter: Indians of Southern New England and Long Island, late period, p. 178ff; The Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe webpage; Mashpee Wampanoag Nation webpage; Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah webpage
  32. ^ "Testimony of Historian Francis Hutchins", Mashpee Wampanoag Final Determination, 2007.
  33. ^ Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal membership committee.
  34. ^ Cheryl Andrews-Maltais elected Wampanoag chairman, Martha's Vineyard Times, 21 November 2007.
  35. ^ "Aquinnah pitch island casino plan", Cape Cod Times, 9 June 2010.
  36. ^ Notice of Inventory Completion, Federal Register, 15 March 2011.
  37. ^ US Census 2008 list of organizations.
  38. ^ Herring Pond Wampanoag Band official site.
  39. ^ "WampaGate - Glenn Marshall: There is still much to tell", Cape Cod Times, 26 August 2007.
  40. ^ "Former Wampanoag leader sentenced", Boston Globe, 8 May 2009.
  41. ^ "Marshall Timeline", Cape Cod Times, 25 August 2007
  42. ^ "Cedric Cromwell elected chairman", Cape Code Times, 2 February 2009.
  43. ^ "Mashpee Wampanoag win federal recognition". boston.com. 2007-02-15. http://www.boston.com/news/globe/city_region/breaking_news/2007/02/mashpee_wampano_1.html. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  44. ^ National Indian Gaming Commission, "Indian Land Options"
  45. ^ "City ends deal to sell land for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino", Indian Gaming, 19 January 2011.
  46. ^ WPRI News, "Sen. Kerry to support tribe land trust", 8 September 2010.
  47. ^ "Former Congressman Bill Delahunt to Represent the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe", Indian Country News, 12 March 2011.
  48. ^ CampaignMoney.com, "Wampanoag federal campaign contributions" 2006.
  49. ^ "Former MA Congressman to Lobby for Tribal Casino", Casino Suite News, 11 March 2011.
  50. ^ ASSOCIATED PRESS, "Massachusetts: Casino Bill Passes in Both Houses", New York Times, 15 November 2011
  51. ^ Mark Arsenault, "Developers start to jockey for casino sites/Early groundwork laid in Springfield, Palmer", Boston Globe,18 November 2011
  52. ^ Corliss v. Levesque, US District Court, 13 October 2004.
  53. ^ [1]


In print


  • Bragdon, Kathleen. Gender as a Social Category in Native Southern New England. (American Society for Ethnohistory, Ethnohistory 43:4). 1996.
  • Moondancer and Strong Woman. A Cultural History of the Native Peoples of Southern New England: Voices from Past and Present. (Boulder, CO: Bauu Press), 2007.
  • Plane, Anne Marie. Colonial Intimacies: Indian Marriage in Early New England. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), 2000.
  • Salisbury, Neal. Introduction to The Sovereignty and Goodness of God by Mary Rowlandson. (Boston, MA: Bedford Books), 1997.
  • Salisbury, Neal and Colin G. Calloway, eds. Reinterpreting New England Indians and the Colonial Experience. Vol. 71 of Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. (Boston, MA: University of Virginia Press), 1993.
  • Waters, Kate, and Kendall, Russ. Tapenum's Day - A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times. (New York, Scholastic), 1996. ISBN 0590202375
  • Williams, Roger. “Narrangansett Women.” (1643).


  • Lepore, Jill. The Name of War. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), 1998.
  • Rowlandson, Mary. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. (Boston, MA: Bedford Books), 1997.
  • Salisbury, Neal. Introduction to The Sovereignty and Goodness of God by Mary Rowlandson. (Boston, MA: Bedford Books), 1997.
  • Salisbury, Neal. Manitou and Providence. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 1982.
  • Silverman, David. Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community Among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha's Vineyard, 1600-1871. (New York: Cambridge University Press), 2007. ISBN 0521706955.
  • Leach, Douglas Edward. Flintlock and Tomahawk. (Norton: The Norton Library ISBN 0 393 00340 4), 1958.

Conversion and Christianity:

  • Mayhew, Experience. “Family Religion Excited and Assisted.” (1714–1728).
  • Mayhew, Experience. “Indian Converts.” (1727). (U. Mass. P. edition ISBN 1558496610), 2008. Indian Converts Collection
  • Ronda, James P. Generations of Faith: The Christian Indians of Martha's Vineyard. (William and Mary Quarterly 38), 1981.
  • Salisbury, Neal. Manitou and Providence. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 1982.

External links

This article incorporates information from the revision as of 31 October 2006 of the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.

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