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“I, Namumpum,”: The “Freemen’s Deed” at Assonet/Pocasset, 1659
Only by reading deeds within the network of relationships and contiguous, overlapping spaces between Indigenous territories can the possibilities of interpretation emerge. And if it is difficult for us now to disentangle the webs of colonial intents and implied Indigenous consents behind the deeds, we cannot assume that these words, recorded on paper, were easily translatable, or that the words exchanged in council, through translation and interpretation, matched the meaning of the deed.
According to the Plymouth Book of Deeds, in 1659 Namumpum appeared in the Plymouth Court three times to confirm a deed that appeared to authorize the transfer of land in northern Pocasset, including Assonet, a vital planting peninsula and fishing confluence, to a group of 26 Plymouth men. However, this deed was forced by a debt imposed upon her husband, the Pokanoket sachem Wamsutta, on Christmas Eve of 1657, by Captain James Cudworth, Josiah Winslow, Constant Southworth and the tavern keeper John Barnes.
As this bond notes, the Plymouth men had initially granted this land "to themselves" in 1656, as "ancient freemen" of the colony. ("Ancient" may seem ironic since Plymouth colonists had only arrived in this region in 1620, but the term distinguished those men and their sons who were among the first group of settlers from those who had arrived more recently.) However, English law required that they acquire consent from the appropriate Native leaders. As with the earlier 1651 deed, the Plymouth men sought to circumvent Weetamoo by dealing with a male relation. In this case, they sought to force Wamsutta's consent to their grant through a debt to the Plymouth tavern keeper, a colonial tactic that was becoming common in New England. Yet, according to the bond, Wamsutta was not "willing" to "sell all they doe desire." As he had acknowledged in 1651, most of the land they "desired" was in Pocasset, under Weetamoo's jurisdiction.
Thus, this deed embeds both Wamsutta and Namumpum's consent to sell land from the river Quequachand, in the heart of Pocasset, to the confluence of the Assonet and Kteticut Rivers to the group of twenty-six "freemen." Here, Josiah Winslow and William Bradford (Southworth's half-brother) witnessed, as Assistants (magistrates) of the Plymouth Court, that Wamsutta and Namumpum put their marks on a deed for that land in April 1659, then confirmed their consent in June 1659. Yet, these documents were not entered into the Plymouth Colony Records until 1666. The image shows the year, and reveals that both 1659 entries appear on the same page, while the 1657 entry (above) appears on the previous page. The originals do not exist. As the adjacent page demonstrates, the deed was entered only at the moment the Plymouth men sought to survey the land they had originally granted to themselves.
A transcription of the deed entered in 1666 follows. The language, drawn entirely from English property law, is strikingly different from the 1651 deed:
Below the deed, on the same page, is recorded the following confirmations:
Know all men by these presents, that we, Ossamequin, Wamsitta, Tattapanum, natives inhabiting and living within the government of New Plymouth, in New England in America, have bargained, sold, enforced and confirmed unto Capt. James Cudworth, Josiah Winslow, Constant Southworth, John Barnes, John Tisdale, Humphrey Turner, Walter Hatch, Samuel House, Samuel Jackson, etc…and do by these presents bargain, sell, enforce, and confirm from us and our heirs unto James Cudworth, Josiah Winslow, senior, Constant Southworth, John Tisdale, etc. and they and their heirs, all the tract of upland and meadow lying on the easterly side of Taunton river, beginning or bounded toward the south with the river called the Falls or Quequechand, and so extending itself northerly until it comes to a little brook called by the English by the name of Stacey’s Creek [Mastucksett], which brook issues out of the woods into the marsh or bay of Assonet, close by the narrowing of Assonet neck, and from a marked tree near the said brook at the head of the marsh, to extend itself into the woods on a northeasterly point four miles, and from the head of said four miles on a straight line southerly until it meets with the head of the four mile line at Quequechand or the Falls aforesaid including all marshes, necks or islands lying and being between Assonet Neck and the Falls aforesaid except the land that Tabadacason hath in present use and all the meadow upon Assonet Neck on the south side of said neck.
And all the meadow on the westerly side of Taunton river from Taunton upland bounds round until it come to the head of Weypoiset river in all creeks, coves and rivers with inland meadow not lying above four miles form the flowing of the tide in and for the consideration of twenty coats, two rugs, two iron pots, two kettles and one little kettle, eight pairs of shoes, six pairs of stockings, one dozen of hoes, one dozen of hatchets, two yards of broadcloth, and a debt satisfied to John Barnes, which was due from Wamsitta unto John Barnes before the 24th of December, 1657, all being unto us in hand paid, wherewith we, the said Ossamequin, Wamsitta, Tattapanum, are fully satisfied, contented and paid, and do by these presents exonerate, acquit, and discharge, [here all the grantees are again named,] they and either of them and each of the heirs and executors of them forever. Warranting the hereof from all persons from, by or under us, as laying any claim unto the premises from, by or under us, claiming any right or title thereunto, or unto any part or parcel thereof, the said [grantees] to have and to hold to them and their heirs forever, all the abovesaid upland and meadow as is before expressed, with all the appurtenances thereunto belonging, from us, Ossamequin, Wamsitta, and Tattapanum, and every of us, our heirs, and every of them forever, unto them, they, their heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns forever, according to the tenure of East Greenwich, in free soccage, and not in capite nor by knight’s service.
Also the said Ossmequin, Wamsitta, and Tattapanum, do convenant and grant that it may be lawful for the said [grantees] to enter the said deed in the Court of Plymouth, or in any other court of record provided for in such case, and in for the true performance whereof Ossamequin, Wamsitta, and Tattapanum have hereunto set our hands and seals this 2nd day of April, 1659.
WAMSITTA, his mark
TATTAPANUM, her mark
Signed, sealed, and delivered in the presence of us,
The “Freemen's” deed encompassed a large tract on the east and west sides of the Kteticut or Taunton River (later becoming parts of Fall River, Freetown and Dighton). The land bounded by the deed was between two important fishing places, the falls of Quequechand and the “narrowing” of the Assonet river, at its confluence with the Kteticut. At the falls and the narrowing of the “neck,” ideal locations for weirs, Weetamoo and her kin hosted gatherings during the spring herring runs, meeting with families from other nations, renewing political relationships and creating social bonds, including marriages.
June the 9th 1659 Wamsutta did acknowledge this to bee his free act and deed and did make full Resignation to the parties above said of all and singulare the tracts of land above mentioned before us.
Josiah Winslow William Bradford assistants
June the 9th 1659 this Woman Tatapanum did acknowledge this to bee her free acte and deed and di make her full Resignation of her whole Interest in all or any tract or tracts of land in this deed specified before us.
Josiah Winslow William Bradford Assistants
With this written instrument, did Weetamoo truly relinquish her community's right to fish at the confluence and falls, a right of access traditionally shared among nations? Did she relinquish the collective right to plant, gather and live at Quequechand and Assonet? Or did the Plymouth men create a document that would put her consent in writing, even if she did not in fact allow their settlement on the ground?
According to the Freetown Friends of Historic Preservation, "The Freeman's Purchase, and ultimately the town, is named for the 26 Original Purchasers who were freemen, i.e., allowed to vote and conduct business in their community. It was the last major purchase before King Philip's War in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay. However, in the years after 1659 settlement was light to nearly non-existent, and it is believed that the purchase was principally speculative." That is, "freemen" from Plymouth colony sought to divide that land through survey, and sell the lots to other settlers, who then would be responsible for "improving" the land. They could therefore make a profit without having to go on the lands themselves. As noted, very little colonial settlement or "improvement" occurred here until after the war. Meanwhile, Weetamoo and her kin remained, both at Quequechand and Assonet.