Our Beloved Kin: Remapping A New History of King Philip's War

Re-placing and Re-naming

To understand the significance of Hubbard's and Mather's use of Taunton and Mattapoisett as symbolic devices in the story of Weetamoo's death, it is necessary to understand how these places came to be. For Taunton is not just Taunton; it is also called Teticut (or Kteticut) and Cohannet, and it has its own history under these names. As Emery describes in History of Taunton:

The Indian name for Taunton is Cohannit, at first given to the falls in ye Mill River where the old Mill (so called) now stands, being in the most convenient place for catching alewives of any in those parts. The ancient standers remember that hundreds of Indians would come from Mount Hope & other places every year in April, with great dancings and shoutings to catch fish at Cohannit...[i]

As early as 1621, Plymouth Colony representatives Edward Winslow and Stephen Hopkins spent a night at Teticut in Wampanoag territory where “thousands of men have lived.” Of his visit, Winslow commented on “the ground [being] very good on both sides, it being for the most part cleared.” Perhaps the most telling piece of Winslow’s recollection was the connection he made between the lands at Teticut to familiar spaces back home: “The country in respect of the lying of it, is both Champanie and hilly, like many places in England.” Emery’s History of Taunton provides an insightful passage on the original Taunton in the county of Somerset in England, which demonstrates that while colonists may have been looking for landscape reminiscent of “home,” this land speculation was also a calculated attempt to establish settlements in spaces that were abundant in ecological resources and in close proximity to pathways of transportation:[ii]

A river called the Tone flows through the town, and this, according to the opinion of some, accounts for its name—tain, or ton, in the Gaelic meaning water or river, and tain—town, or ton—town, the town on the banks of the river. The county of Somerset, of which Taunton is the principal town, is supposed to derive its name from the summer-like temperature of the air. Taunton is lovely in its location; called by its inhabitants Taunton Dean, which means, in its Saxon origin, the vale of Taunton, and so well satisfied are these inhabitants with their home that it has expressed itself in the proverb, “where should I be else but in Taunton Dean?”[iii]

Cotton Mather noted “That the reason why most of our towns are called what they are, is because the chief of the first inhabitants would thus bear up the names of the particular places there [in old England] from whence they came.” Mather’s emphasis on Taunton settlers being the “first settlers” reminds the reader to approach the text with a critical eye. Though the landscape may have reminded colonists of the motherland, they were not breaking ground on an unpeopled territory.

The land called Teticut would through this process be claimed as "Taunton." Similarly, Weetamoo's home place of Mattapoisett, would be renamed "Somerset" by English settlers, replacing the Indigenous place name with a name that evoked a familiar English landscape.

Mather's and Hubbard's use of the names "Taunton" and "Mattapoisett" in their narratives of replacement and re-placement reinforces the dichotomy between Native space and "colonial" space. As Jean O'Brien observes, "naming is deeply implicated in the process of place making." She demonstrates the way that historians have utilized both colonial and indigenous placenames in the "process of claiming Indian places as their own," citing historians who argued "Indian geographical names were 'almost the only enduring memorials of the aborigines... which survived their decay, and which still remain, constantly reminding us that our streams and hills were once the haunts of a different race of men'".[iv] In a similar way, by staging the death of Weetamoo at her homeland called by its indigenous name, Hubbard and Mather further their own replacement narrative by implying that Mattapoisett as indigenous space would die along with her. In contrast, the display of her head as a trophy in Teticut, called Taunton, becomes a symbol of space already conquered.

Still, outside of their constructed narrative, re-naming was not a process of mere replacement, but an ongoing contest over naming and jurisdiction. Both names continued to be used in this space. Evidence of sustained Native occupancy, continuing Indigenous political authority over territory, and inhabitants who were adept at navigating the lands and waterways all serve to contradict notions of colonial "ownership."

[i] Emery, Samuel Hopkins, History of Taunton, Massachusetts: From Its Settlement to the Present Time, Syracuse, N. Y: D. Mason & Co, 1893, 90
[ii] Emery, 26–7; Cronon, William, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1983, 110.
[iii] Emery, 27
[iv] O’Brien, Jean M., Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010, 91

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