Windham Life and Times – April 7, 2016




In the end Passaconaway knew that his people would be swept away by the advance of the Europeans. Joseph M. Wilson, in his History of Dracut says that, “Up to this time all of the wilderness north of the Merrimack belonged to Passaconaway and his tribes and seeing by this grant that the English were going to claim it all without considering his or their rights” he knew that his people’s ability to keep control of their land was doomed.  Potter in his History of Manchester says, “We hear nothing more of Passaconnaway or his people, till 1660. At that time, being of very great age, he was seen by an Englishman at Pawtucket, who was much conversant with the Indians upon the Merrimack. It is possible that this Englishman was Gen. Gookin. There was a vast assemblage of the Indians at Pawtucket, and borne down with age and cares, the old Sagamon, at a public feast, made a farewell speech to his people.”

” ‘Hearken to the words of your father. I am an old oak that has withstood the storms of more than a hundred winters. Leaves and branches have been stripped from me by the winds and frosts — my eyes are dim — my limbs totter — I must soon fall! But when young and sturdy, when my bow — no young man of the Pennacooks could bend it — when my arrows would pierce a deer at a hundred yards — and I could bury my hatchet in a sapling to the eye — no wigwam had so many furs — no pole so many scalp locks as Passaconaway! Then I delighted in war. The war whoop of the Pennacooks was heard when the Mohawks came — and no voice so loud as Passaconaway’s. The scalps upon the pole of my wigwam told the story of Mohawk suffering.’ ”

” ‘The English came, they seized our lands; I set me down at Pennacook. They followed upon my footsteps; I made war with them, but they fought with fire and thunder; my young men were swept down before me when no one was near them. I tried sorcery against them but still they increased and prevailed over me and mine, and I gave place to them and retired to my beautiful island of Natticook. I that can make the dry leaf turn green and live again — I that can take the rattlesnake in my palm as I would a worm, without harm — I who have communion with the Great Spirit dreaming and awake — I am powerless before the Pale Faces. The oak will soon break before the whirlwind — it shivers and shakes even now; soon its trunk will be prostrate, the ant and the worm will sport upon it! Then think, my children, of what I say; I commune with the Great Spirit. He whispers to me now — Tell your people Peace, Peace is the only hope of your race. I have given fire and thunder to the pale faces for weapons — I have made them plentier than the leaves of the forest and still shall they increase! These meadows shall they turn with their plow — these forests shall fall to their axe — the pale faces shall live upon your hunting grounds and make their villages upon your fishing places. The Great Spirit says this, and it must be so. We are few and powerless before them. We must bend before the storm; the wind blows hard; the old oak trembles; its branches are gone; its sap is frozen; it bends; it falls! Peace, peace with the white men — is the command of the Great Spirit — and the wish — the last wish of Passaconaway.”

According to Wilson, Passaconaway lived out his days “on the Indian reservation at Pawtucket Falls on the north bank of the Merrimack which later became a large part of Dracut.” Potter says he lived north of Manchester in his old ancestral home. Both agree that that he did eventually convert to Christianity as result of the preaching of Rev. Eliot. Potter provides the reliable evidence to back his claims. “It has been supposed that Passaconnawy died about this time, and our historians give no account of him after the time of the delivery of ‘his dying speech to his children.’ But this supposition is erroneous. Passaconaway was alive in 1663, and at the head of his tribe, so his speech of 1660 can hardly be considered his ‘dying speech,’ without some stretch of the imagination.

Passaconoway finding his planting and fishing grounds encroached upon by those having grants from the government of Massachusetts; already deprived of his planting grounds at Natticook where he had planted for a long while; and the legislature having announced their intention to grant his lands at Pennacock whenever ‘so many should be present to settle a plantation there.’—he began to think he soon should not have land enough to erect a wigwam upon.” Accordingly. May 9th, 1662, Passaconaway presented a petition to the Massachusetts legislature which was approved, giving Passaconoway a grant 3 miles square along the Merrimack which included parts of what is now Manchester, Merrimack, Londonderry, Bedford and Litchfield, NH.  The irony of this petition is highlighted by Potter who says, “The record of this grant discloses an important fact. In less than twenty years from the time Passaconaway submitted himself to the colonists, and put himself under their protection, he and his tribe were literally reduced to beggary. The Bashaba of the Merrimack valley, and the rightful owner of all its broad lands, had become a ‘poor petitioner’ and ‘pore supplicant’ for a plantation of pine plains, and did ‘earnestly request the Honored Court to grant two small islands and ye patch of Intervaile’ to him—receiving them doubtless with all due submission and thankfulness, if not humility! Old age, as well as contact with civilization, must have done its work upon the spirit of this haughty sagamon, for him thus to have meekly asked his usurpers to grant him what properly was his own.”

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