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

Another Queen’s Right: Quaiapin & the Atherton Company

Another saunkskwa, the Narragansett leader Quaiapin, confronted a similar “deed game” across the Bay. At her town of Woossowenbiskw (in present day Exeter, Rhode Island) Quaiapin had been building up her strength. Having lost her husband, the Narragansett sachem Mixanno, she buttressed her own place among the Narragansetts as her sons, Scuttup and Quequegunewant, took on her husband’s leadership role, alongside her brother, Ninigret, the longstanding sachem of nearby Niantic. “The Old Queen,” as she was known among the settlers, was fortifying her town on a hill across the bay from Weetamoo’s territory, where she could see clearly what was happening in her midst. There, with the other Narragansett women, she planted. With stones, and with rock women and men, she re-built the fortress that would protect the fields. 

The Atherton Company

Even as Quaiapin attempted to reassert jurisdiction within and beyond her territory, a company of colonial leaders and land speculators had discerned a weakness in the foundation of Narragansett leadership. They had gotten hold of Cononjonant, cousin to her late husband, and “seduced” him into signing a deed for some “six thousand acres of the best Narragansett land.” According to the 1659 deed, Cononjonant gave the land as a gift “in consideration” of his English “friends’” “great love and affection,” although it was later revealed he only signed it after “being made drunk and kept so for days.” These “friends” included Governor John Winthrop of Connecticut, the trader John Tinker of Nashaway, Boston traders Amos Richardson and William Hudson, and Major Henry Atherton. For this “gift,” Cononjonant was covertly awarded “the sume of 75 pounds in Wampampeague with several other things as gratuity for certain lands given ye said Major Aderton and his friends.” The deed included a “tract of land…called Wyapumseatt; Mascacowage, Cocumcosuck,” which included Quaiapin’s lands.[1]
The group of men who secured this deed came to be called the Atherton Company. The shareholders were primarily from the colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut, seeking potentially lucrative investments in prime lands and an ideal shipping port in the Narragansett country, as well as a competing claim against Rhode Island, extending and bolstering their colonial jurisdiction. The mortgage was illegal under a recently passed Rhode Island law, which required the approval of the General Court for all purchases of Indian land. Thus, the Atherton Company sought to circumvent Rhode Island entirely, by asserting the jurisdiction of the United Colonies, a quasi-legal political body led by representatives from the colonies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Haven and Plymouth. Atherton had offered a cut to Roger Williams in return for serving as translator and helping to broker the deal, but he refused, discerning the ruse. Local Wickford trader Richard Smith and his son were, however, included among the original “friends” and shareholders, their trading post within the territory encompassed by the claim. Edward Hutchinson joined them shortly thereafter, becoming a primary broker for the deeds. By 1661, Plymouth men, including Josiah Winslow, John Brown, and Thomas Willet, acquired shares, as well.
After they secured this deed from Cononjonant, Atherton and his partners devised a strategy to compel consent (and more land) from Quaiapin’s more judicious relations, including her brother, her sons, and their uncle, the sachem Quissucquansh. They took advantage of the comparatively fluid nature of Narragansett leadership to manipulate the role of sachems within the colonial legal system.  During that same summer of 1659, some rogue Narragansett warriors had led a raid against the Mohegans to the south. During this expedition, “the general Court of Connecticut” alleged, “some Indians did, in the dead time of night, shoot eight bullets into an English house, and fired the same; wherein five Englishmen were asleep.” The Narragansett sachems dismissed colonial attempts to hold them responsible for these individual actions, which they said, “they did neither consent to nor allow.” However, a year later, in September 1660, for this shooting and “sundry other crimes,” Governor John Winthrop, Jr. and the United Colonies, ordered that the Narragansett sachems deliver up “at least four” of the men responsible, to be “sent to Barbadoes” and sold as slaves, or to pay a fine of 595 fathom of wampum.[2] 
To “force satisfaction,” Connecticut “sent an armed force to collect” the fine. The last time Major Atherton had arrived with such a force, he had burst into Quissucquansh’s town with twenty men “well armed” to collect a wampum “payment,” boorishly disturbing them in their mourning of Ninigret and Quaiapin’s nephew. Ignoring the ceremonies that he interrupted, Atherton had threatened to kidnap their children if they did not immediately pay a fine “owed” to the United Colonies. Thus, the Narragansett sachems were fairly familiar with this tactic of armed surprise. When “the force sent by Connecticut” arrived at Narragansett in September 1660, according to antiquarian Samuel Drake, they “could not collect the wampum, nor secure the offenders; but for the payment condescended to take a mortgage of all the Narragansett country, with the provision that it should be void, if it were paid in four months.” Quaiapin’s relatives, the sachems Quissucquansh, Ninigret and Scuttup, were forced to sign a bond that required them to pay the fee. In October, Henry Atherton called again, offering to pay the fine to the United Colonies and requiring a “mortgage” for collateral. They had six months to pay the original amount, plus interest, to Atherton. At that time, he promised, “this writing” would “be void and of none effect.”[3]

The “Atherton Company,” which kindly provided the mortgage, was composed of the same group of men who acquired the initial deed from Cononjuquant. The company included several members of the United Colonies council, which asserted political authority to enforce it. The corruption of the scheme, although convoluted, is evident in the Company’s paper trail. For example, it was Edward Hutchinson, a member of the Company, who delivered the fee for the Narragansett sachems, which was paid by Atherton, to the United Colonies, represented by Governor John Winthrop, who was also a member of the Company. When the Narragansetts later provided the wampum, over 600 fathom, the Atherton Company refused to accept it. All along, as historian Francis Jennings discerned, they had been after the land, “some four hundred square miles” that encompassed, according to the sachems who signed the bond, “all the lands in our Country, commonly known and called by the names of Narragansett country and Cowesett country, excepting those lands formerly granted” to other English men. The Atherton men had begun making plans for the division, development and sale of the Narragansett country before Hutchinson, their agent, delivered the fine to the commissioners. They were especially drawn to claim the ancient planting grounds of Pettaquamscut (Point Jude), which to them, seemed ideal pasturage and port for raising and exporting cattle, horses and beef. [4]
Roger Williams was among those Rhode Island settlers who critiqued the Atherton men for their scheming. At Atherton’s “first going up to ye Nahiggonsick [Narragansett] about this Business,” Williams recalled, “I refused all their proffers of Land and refused to interpret for them to ye Sachems.” He later condemned the entire Atherton Company business as “an unneighborly and unchristian Intrusion upon us” which was “Contrary to your Laws as well as ours.” Writing to Major John Mason of Connecticut, he proclaimed that the scheme arose from “a depraved appetite after the great vanities, dreams and shadows of this vanishing life, great portions of land, land in this wilderness, as if men were in as great necessity and danger for want of great portions of land, as poor, hungry, thirsty seamen have, after a sick and stormy, a long and starving passage.” Circumventing the question of illegality, Mason’s neighbor John Winthrop subsequently traveled to London to try to ensure that Connecticut’s new royal charter would contain the lands claimed by Rhode Island, including those covered by the Atherton Mortgage.[5]
Rhode Island sent its own emissary to defend their titles against the claims of Connecticut and the United Colonies. Williams and the Rhode Island leaders desired a charter that would uphold their original agreements with the Narragansetts and expand their boundaries to include the lands to the north and east claimed by Plymouth, including Weetamoo’s territory of Pocasset. The Providence men made separate confirmation deeds for the same land with Cononjonant, and also with Quissucquansh and Ninigret, who validated “the lands according to their joint agreements, which our brother Meantonomeah (Miantonomo) possessed them with.” All of these documents were designed to provide evidence for Rhode Island’s own case in London. To make matters even more convoluted, another group produced documents challenging the Atherton Company’s claim. The Pettaquamscut Proprietors, composed largely of Rhode Island settlers, had produced a competing deed for the same lands, signed by the same Narragansett sachems, which they had also sent to England.  Rhode Island magistrates sought to resolve the matter through renewing their relationship with the Narragansetts and “treat[ing]” with the Atherton Company men “upon all the differences depending about their coming into, or possessing lands from the Indians within this collonie’s bounds.” [6]  
These confirmation councils between Rhode Island leaders and the Narragansett sachems functioned as renewals of the original treaty between the Narragansett leaders Canonicus and Miantanomi and Roger Williams, the foundation of the colony of Rhode Island. Quaiapin’s sons availed themselves of the opportunity to fulfill their own responsibilities as sachems, requiring their old “friends and allies” to behave respectfully toward the Narragansett families who continued to live in their midst. While Rhode Island had passed a law that authorized Providence to “buy out and cleare off Indians” within its “bowndes” and “to purchass a little more…seeing they are straytened,” Scuttup and Quequegunent reversed it, requiring the Providence men, including Richard Smith and his son, to agree that “it shall not be lawfull for the men abovesaid to remove the Indians, that are up in the country from their fields, without the Indians’ consent and content, nor shall it be lawfull for any of those Indians to sell any of the lands of abovesaid to any, only it shall be lawfull for them, to take of the men of Providence and the men of Pawtuxcette, according to their joynt agreement, satisfaction for their removing.” With this statement, the sachems reminded the Providence and Pawtuxet men that they were still in Narragansett territory and that their alliance required a relationship of mutual respect. With this statement, Quaiapin’s relations also began to assert some agency in the deed game, re-affirming sovereignty in their country. [7]

The "Queen's Fort" and Nipsachuck

Quaiapin provided crucial protection to both Narragansetts and Wampanoags during the war, even as her brother, the Niantic sachem Ninigret, offered to assist the United Colonies in preventing neighboring nations from joining with Philip. The "Queen's Fort," a network of stone structures and underground chambers, protected people when troops came through her territory just before the Great Swamp massacre. Even today, the Queen’s Fort remains part of the landscape of local memory. Quaiapin's village of Nipsachuck, at the intersection of Native territories, was the site of an early "battle," when Weetamoo and Metacom sought shelter there with their relations in August 1675. It was also among the subsistence/planting places that were targeted by colonial troops in the summer of 1676, as both the collaborative Nipsachuck Battlefield Project and ​Our Beloved Kin have documented, in separate research projects.

This map is drawn from Sidney S. Rider's "Map of the Colony of Rhode Island giving the Indian Names of Locations and the Location of Great Events in Indian History with Present Political Divisions Indicated" (Providence Rhode Island, 1903). Although there may be some differentiation between traditional Narragansett place names and those recorded by Rider, this map references Nipsachuck and Pettaquamscut, at the northern and southern reaches of the Narragansett country, and the Queen's Fort.​
[1] Colonial Records of Rhode Island, 2: 464. Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 279. Howard Chapin, Sachems of the Narragansetts, (Providence, RI: Rhode Island Historical Society, 1931), 68. Samuel Gardner Drake, The Book of the Indians (Boston: Josiah Drake, 1833), 2: 58. John Fredrick Martin, Profits in the Wilderness: Entrepreneurship and the Founding of New England Towns in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 62-73. James N. Arnold, The Records of the Proprietors of the Narragansett, or FONES RECORD (Providence: Narragansett Historical Publishing Co., 1894), 1:1.
[2] John Russell Barlett, Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (Providence: A. Crawford Greene and Brother, 1856-65), 1:465. Arnold, Fones Record, 1:5-16. Chapin, Sachems, 70-4. Drake, Book of the Indians, 2:81. Richard Dunn, “John Winthrop, Jr. and the Narragansett Country,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 13:1 (Jan. 1956): 68-74, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1923390. Jennings, Invasion, 276, 279. Martin, Profits, 68-9. Paul Robinson, “The Struggle Within: The Indian Debate in Seventeenth-Century Narragansett Country” (Ph.D. diss., State University of New York at Binghamton, 1990), 161-2, 179-80.
[3] Jennings, Invasion, 276. Chapin, Sachems, 71. Drake, Book of the Indians, 2:81. Robinson, “The Struggle Within,” 161-2, 179-80.
[4] Jennings, Invasion, 279. Dunn, “Winthrop,” 68-74. Martin, Profits, 68-9. Arnold, FONES RECORD, 1:5-16.
[5] Society of Colonial Wars, The Narragansett Mortgage: the Documents Concerning the Alien Purchases in Southern Rhode Island (Providence, RI: E. R. Freeman Company, 1926), 35. Jennings, Invasion, 278-86. Dunn, “Winthrop,” 70-1, 74. On Mason-Winthrop rivalry, see David W. Conroy, "The Defense of Indian Land Rights: William Bolan and the Mohegan Case in 1743." Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 103 (1993), 403.
[6] Rhode Island Records, 1: 36-8, 435. Jennings, Invasion, 278-86. Drake, Book of the Indians, 2: 58. Dunn, “Winthrop,” 74. 
[7] RI Records, 1:418, 1:38.

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