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“Our Beloved Kinswoman”: the “Indian Deed” at Nonaquaket, 1651
This 1651 deed (transcribed below) is the earliest document on which Weetamoo appears. Then, she was known as Nummampaum, but was already the saunkskwa (female leader) of Pocasset. This deed represents acknowledgement by the "neighboring sachems" (male leaders) of Nummampaum's leadership role in her territory. They included the "great leader" (Massasoit) Ousamequin, who had first welcomed and treated with the Plymouth colonists, his son, Wamsutta, both of Pokanoket, and Tuspaquin, of Nemasket.
These neighboring Wampanoag sachems recognized that, as saunkskwa, Nummampaum was the only leader who could negotiate, on behalf of her whole community, regarding land rights and usage in Pocasset. Saunkskwas and Sachems protected and negotiated the collective rights of the related families within their homelands, but they were not rulers over their people. This concept was difficult to explain in English (and in England), where terms like “property” and “dominion” defined relationships to land. In the Wampanoag country, leaders were responsible for ensuring the sustenance and survival of their kin, both the current generation and those to come, and to respect the collective decisions of their people. This meant also respecting the land (a living system, not a bounded "thing"), and all the plants and animals in it, on which their long-term survival depended.
Sachems and saunkskwas carried the responsibility of ensuring that the bounty from planting, hunting and fishing was distributed fairly and equally among families living in their homelands. They also were responsible for cultivating diplomatic relationships across the region. They represented their people's wishes and negotiated agreements regarding the boundaries between them. Through seasonal councils and gatherings, sachems and saunkskwas renewed the relationships of kinship and alliance that bound them together. This document represents that ongoing agreement, solidified in English writing. The document also recognizes Nummampaum's right, on behalf of her people, to allow a Rhode Island settler, Richard Morris, to graze cattle at Nonaquaket, a meadow and wetland "neck" (peninsula) in Pocasset (see map below). Finally, with this statement, Ousamequin confirmed that the new colony of Plymouth could not claim jurisdiction in Pocasset through any agreement with him. They would have to negotiate directly with Nummampaum should they seek access to her land.
Transcription of the 1651 Deed:
Be it knowen unto all men by these Presents that we whous Names are here under written beinge of the blood and kindred and Nabor Sachims or princis bordringe upon the Confines and in heritance of our beloved cosin wequequinequa and Nummampaum sachim and Squa Sachim the true heire aparent unto a tract of land buttinge upon the East side of the East harbor Cominge in to Rood Eyland and for as much as our Cozins haue sould unto captin Richard morris his heires executors Adminestrators and assines for Ever a Neck of land cauled Nunequoquit or Pogasek Neck with som other parcilles Nere there unto we do here by Renounce and disclaime for our selves our heires Executors Adminetrators and assines for euer all claime of Right title or Intrest in any kind what so euer in or to the afore said land or any part or parcill there of with all the profits there unto appertaining or any wais belonginge and do by these presents give unto captin Richard morris our free approbation and full consent unto the purches of the afore said land and do further here by testifie that this act and ded of saile from our cozins unto captin Richard morris is Just and with out all controuarcie sould out of there own proper Inheritanc no waies depending upon us or any other Sachim confining Ner these Inheritanc and for as much as I Osamekin chefe Sachim of a great tract of land confining upon the Inheritanc of this my brothars dafter haue put my land under plimoth govrment these are to testifie that I Neuar did nor intended to put undar plimoth any of my kinswomans land but my own inheritance and there fore I do disalow of any pretended claime to this land sould by my Cosin wequequinequa and Nummampaum to captin Richard morris Eathar by plimoth or the inhabitants of portsmoth one Rood Eyland by vartew of any grant from me or any through my mens in testimony here of we do set to our markes and seales this twentie sixt day of July one thousand six hundred fiftie and one 1651
X The marke of OSAMEKINS
X The marke of WAMSUTTA
X The Marke of TASOMOCKON
Witnis here vnto
James J.S. SANDS
The phrase “neighbor sachems” denotes a rhizomatic relationship among leaders and their homelands. Imagine three “neighboring” territories connected by trailing root-webs, veins of lifeblood. Ousamequin, Nummampaum and Tuspaquin were not only relatives, but neighbors; their territories were contiguous, “bordering” each other, yet connected by the plant roots moving beneath the ground and the lines of kinship, rooted in both their ancestral past and the present network of marriages between them.
Tuspaquin was married to Ousamequin's daughter, Amie, and thus also related to Wamsutta. Tuspaquin and Amie were leaders in the neighboring homeland of Nemasket, to the northwest of Pocasset and east of Pokanoket. Namumpum later married Wamsutta, while her sister Wootensauke married his brother, Metacom, or "Philip," strengthening the kinship bonds and alliance between Wampanoag families.
The great Kteticut River, its tributaries extending like lines of kinship, joined their homelands. Yet, the “borders” or “confines” of their jurisdictions enabled them to ensure that the resources fed by Kteticut’s waterways were shared among the families in the kinship network. These territories were neighboring spaces, intertwined by deep roots, which supported a diverse web of interacting and interdependent beings.