As we observe Indigenous People’s Day this year in Massachusetts, there are many sources of information about the indigenous groups that historically lived in Massachusetts (pre-colonialism) and those who live here today. Surprising to many folks who were taught in the American public school system, indigenous people are not stuck in history, but have been here the whole time, and are still here today.
We would love to share some fantastic resources, in both children’s literature and online, about the indigenous history of Massachusetts, specifically in the towns surrounding where Corrie and I now live. Please enjoy, and we hope you learn as much as we did!
The map above outlines the major cities and towns of present-day Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, as they were at the time of colonization. As the map shows, there were many diverse tribes living in Massachusetts, including:
- Massachusett (after whom the state is named)
- Abenaki-speaking tribes
- The river tribes
- Tribes of Western Connecticut
The Massachusett Tribe
“In a time before now, before the arrival European Traders or the English Settlers to the coasts of Massachusetts, The Confederation of Indigenous Massachusett lived and thrived in what is now called the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. For years beyond counting, Indigenous Massachusett Villages spanned from Salem to Plymouth along the coast, and inland as far west as Worcester. The Massachusett People led by their Sac’hems, hunted, fished, worked their quarries, created their tools and sculpted their weapons. They planted vast fields of grain, corn, squash and beans, harvested, prepared and stored their harvests. In their villages they celebrated, practiced their religion, built their homes, raised their families and enjoyed prosperity. One of the Massachusett Tribes was the Neponset and their Sac’hem was Chickataubut, Principal Chief of the Massachusett when the English sailed into Massachusett Territory to settle.”
The Mohican Tribe
“Although the Mohican are romantically considered to have ‘died off’ (“The Last of the Mohicans”), in actuality most of them migrated to other parts of the country and joined other Native communities or established their own. The main part of the Tribe moved to Wisconsin and settled on their present reservation in 1856. Today their official name is the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans.”
“Although occasional trips by tribal leaders were made to the homeland area during the 19th century, the modern return of Stockbridge-Mohican people to the land of their ancestors began when the James Davids family made a visit to Stockbridge, Mass., in 1951. Since that time an increasing interest in their heritage has led other Tribal members to make similar visits. Today there is little visible sign that the Mohican were once the Original People of the east-central New York and Massachusetts area, but there is some linguistic evidence of places that were significant to them.”
Official Website of The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians
Historical Timeline of Native Peoples in Boston
This site, by the Harvard University Pluralism Project features an interactive timeline that starts in 1616 and continues on to the present day. A notable date that took place in our immediate area:
John Eliot arrives from Cambridge, England and begins learning the language of the Wampanoag (Wopanatoak), a dialect of Algonquian, in order to convert Native Americans to Christianity.
He will go on to launch a mission, translate the Bible into Wampanoag, and establish fourteen “Indian Praying Towns” for Native converts. One of them, Natick, is located just two towns over from our home.
Natick means “Place of Searching” though often referred to as the “Place of Many Hills” or “My Home. Natick is the “Mother Village” of the seven original or “Old Praying Towns” and the seven villages that would follow for a total of 14 Praying Indian Towns.
The first Bible printed in America would be in the Massachusett-Natick language*. In 1661, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Eliot aided by three members of the Massachusett Indian Tribe translated the New Testament.
Note: Today, because of the linguistic assimilation of this Algonkian language, Eliot’s Massachusetts-Natick Bible is referred to as Wampanoag by that nation.
Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness
from the National Institutes of Health’s US National Library of Medicine