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

The Road to Plymouth/Patuxet

Whether in 1659 or in 1662, when Weetamoo traveled to participate in council or court at Plymouth, she followed familiar ancestral paths. Wampanoags and their neighbors had already been interacting with European newcomers for multiple generations before William Bradford and his company arrived on their coast. Weetamoo's parents and other relations had witnessed "Plimoth" being built upon the Wampanoag town of Patuxet, its indigenous population devastated by European disease before the Puritan colonists arrived. Indeed, Plimoth's interpreter Tisquantum, or Squanto, acquired his facility in the English language as a result of captivity. In 1614, he had been kidnapped, along with at least twenty other men, by Captain Thomas Hunt, when the Wampanoag men went to greet and trade with the ship's crew. Squanto was taken by force to Europe and enslaved, but when he managed to return home, on the ship of Captain Thomas Dermer, he faced a devastating loss. Squanto is often credited with teaching the colonists to plant corn, but it was the knowledge of Wampanoag women, who continued to plant their own fields, that the settlers relied upon.

Like other leaders, Weetamoo would have traveled to Patuxet with a diplomatic delegation, following the Pocasset Path north to the junction at Cohannet, turning east to travel the Nemasket Path, where they may have stopped to visit with Tuspaquin and Amie, the sister of Wamsutta and Metacom, and their other kin at Nemasket.
During her journey, Weetamoo walked well-worn paths through forests which her community had long managed with fire. As Roger Williams noted, Native men performed controlled burns of the “underwoods” in the fall, which, combined with selective cutting for firewood, fostered an abundant open forest, which encouraged the growth of tall nut trees. The spacious canopy allowed sunlight to filter through the leaves, encouraging growth of berries and other edible plants. The nuts, grasses, berries, and saplings that flourished in this forest were inviting to game, while the clearing of undergrowth facilitated travel and visibility for hunting as well as gathering.
As she neared Plymouth, Weetamoo would have witnessed the changing landscape, new European plants growing among ancient fields. These plants were particularly well adapted to the stomping hooves of cattle, which were also newcomers to this land. Since court was often held on "market day" in Plimoth, Weetamoo may have encountered English men leading their cattle and other livestock to market, as she neared the colonial settlement in Patuxet. Today, we might view cattle as docile animals, contained within fences, barns and factory farms. Likewise, we might regard fire as a destructive force beyond our control. Yet, for many of the plants and people of the Wampanoag country, the opposite was true. 
Although the Plymouth Court Records of 1659 do not include the "Freeman's deed," they do record ongoing complaints about the encroachment of livestock on Wampanoag fields. Indeed, the only recorded appearance in June 1659, was the statement that "Wamsutta and others" had "lately been at the Court and complain still of great damage done by the horses of the inhabitants of Rehoboth." The Court ordered the men of Rehoboth to "take some speedy course" to prevent "damage" by their horses "to the Indians," particularly "on Causumsett Neck (Montaup). In June 1660, Wamsutta was back in Court, protesting damage by swine to the cornfields on Wampanoag planting peninsulas, including Annawamscutt and Kickemuit. The Court's response was to order the Wampanoags to build fenced in "pounds"  to contain the "trespassing" pigs, and report them to the town clerk of Rehoboth. None of these strategies effectively prevented horses, cattle and pigs from destroying the sustenance of Wampanoag families. And the court did not likewise order settlers to contain their own livestock with fences (although each town did contain a pound for rounding up unruly livestock).

Cattle, horses, and swine repeatedly roamed into Wampanoag homes and fields, sometimes even signaling encroachment before settlers were seen, and “clearing the land” through their consumption. In Creatures of Empire, Virginia DeJohn Anderson has convincingly argues that livestock were “the means by which colonists established exclusive control over more and more territory. As agents of empire, livestock occupied land in advance of English settlers, forcing native people who stood in their way either to fend the animals off as best they could or else to move on.” Still some settlers sought ameliorations to prevent conflicts with their neighbors. For example, John Brown and his son-in-law Thomas Willet built a massive, “four rod” fence at Wannamoisett to make manifest the boundary between their farms and Wampanoag planting fields. However, the fence did not prevent livestock from ravaging women’s mounds. Cattle, adapting to their newfound freedom, learned to navigate the waters, traveling around the fence at low tide, leaving deep fissures in the mud which also impacted Wampanoag clam gathering on the banks.[1]
Since the colonial courts and local settlers failed to devise adequate measures to restrain their livestock, which were allowed to roam freely, Native people began taking measures to defend their fields. The colonies then devised new laws, aimed at containing Native people, rather than their own cattle. The most extreme was a 1659 Rhode Island law against any “Indian” who “shall spoyle or damnify the cattell, fence or fruite trees, corne house or other goods of any English.” Any Indian offender could be immediately imprisoned “until the next court of trials,” when, if convicted, he would be fined for “damages, costs and restitutions.” If he could not pay the fine, he could be “sould as a slave” for shipment to the West Indies, with satisfaction going to the “party wronged,” and the remainder to go to the colony for its “trouble” in prosecuting the crime. Thus, while leaders like Wamsutta and Weetamoo may have initially traveled to colonial courts to pursue diplomatic solutions, they increasingly became sites of containment.
[1] Virginia De John Anderson, Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 190-2, 210-11, 223-4. Thomas Bicknell, Sowams: With Ancient Records of Sowams and Parts Adjacent (New Haven, CT: Associated Publishers of American Records, 1908), 160-4. Thomas Williams Bicknell, A History of Barrington, Rhode Island (Providence, RI: Snow and Farnham, 1898), 38, 43. 

This page has paths:

This page references: