Windham Life and Times – March 17, 2016



Imagine that you’re a great chief over a confederacy of Native American tribes. You have lost up to 80% of your people over the past 50 years or so to new and previously unknown diseases. The Europeans keep arriving in increasing numbers, and what was the traditional home of your people is right in the path of the onslaught. You are a shaman with great magical powers, which you have used in an attempt to cure the diseases and repel the Europeans. Nothing has worked, and it is obvious that the Europeans are more powerful than your people in both technology and military might. If this were not bad enough, Native American tribes from the north and west are attacking your people in constant warfare, further threating you and diminishing your numbers. The path that Passaconoway chose toward the end of his life, was an attempt at peaceful coexistence with the Europeans.

The first account of Pasaconoway comes from Thomas Morton, who left America in 1628 and printed the book The New English Canaan, in 1637, in London. In it he gives an account of “Passaconoway and among other curious matters relates the unhappy termination of a marriage between the daughter of Passaconoway and Winneperket, the Sagamon of Saugus. Winneperket and the old Sagoman’s daughter were married, with all the pomp and ceremony becoming their station—of the best blood in the country. Feasting, music, and revelry were the order not only of the day, but of the night, and a chosen band of warriors were sent to accompany the bride to her home, at Saugus, where they were feasted in turn, as became the royal groom. But a sumptuous feast did not make a happy marriage.”

“The young bride, the following spring, desired to visit her father, and Winneperket sent her to her father’s home, with an escort befitting her station. When she wished to return to Saugus, Passaconoway sent a messenger to Winneperket, to send for his wife. This message Winneperket took in high dudgeon, as he thought it insulting to him that Passaconoway, should not return her to him, with a fitting escort. In the beautiful language of Whittier, the Merrimack poet, Winneperket returned for an answer:–

I bore her as becomes a chieftain’s daughter
Up to her home beside the flowing water.
If now, no more for her a mat is found,
Of all which line her father’s wigwam round,
Let Pennacook call out his warrior train.
And send her back with wampum gifts again.
This message enraged Passaconoway, and he refused to send her back.
“Dog of the marsh!” cried Pennacook, “no more
Shall child of mine sit on his wigwam floor.
Go! Let him seek some meaner squaw to spread
The stolen bearskin of his beggar’s bed.
Son of a fish-hawk! Let him dig his clams
For some vile daughter of the Agawams,
Or coward Nipmucks! May his scalp dry black
In Mohawk smoke, before I send her back.”

“And the old Sagamon was as good as his word, for Morton adds that when he left the country, in 1628, she was still living with her father. At this time. Passaconoway was nearly ninety years old, as Gen. Daniel Goodkinkin, who was well acquainted with him, in after years, says he saw him in 1660, when he was about one hundred and twenty years old.”
“On the 17th day of may, 1629, Passaconoway with three subordinate Chiefs, sold the tract of land extending from the Piscataqua to the Merrimack, and from the line in Massachusetts thirty miles into the country, to the Rev. John Wheelright and his associates, for certain stipulated and valuable considerations… While some have pronounced this a forgery, other authentic documents have come to light that show the genuineness of this instrument.”

This transaction was one of importance. It shows that Pasaconoway as early as 1629, was not only chief of the Pennacooks, but that he was a Sagamon at the head of a powerful confederacy, and that this early he had the sagacity to see the superiority of the English, and to wish them as a barrier betwixt his people and their eastern enemies.”
“The deed expressly acknowledges on the part of the chiefs of the Pawtucket, Squamscot and Newichewannock, their being tributary to the Sagamon of the Pennacook; the 7th and last article stipulating that ‘every township within the aforesaid limits or tract of land that hereafter shall be settled, shall pay to Passaconoway our chief sagamore that now is and to his successors forever, if lawfully demanded, one coat of trucking cloth a year.”

“Passaconoway early saw the superiority of the English. And with his usual sagacity he saw the entire hopelessness of the attempts of his people to subdue them. His policy was to make terms of peace with them, and it was in pursuance of this policy that he disposed of his lands to Wheelwright, reserving alone his right to fishing and hunting. It was that he might have the English as protection against his enemies, who since the plague had thinned his people and were becoming a source of terror to them.”

Source: Historian C.E. Potter

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