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

Wannalancet and the Kwinitekw Headwaters

The Penacook sachem Passaconaway was renowned for his power and diplomacy in the wake of the first waves of colonization. He joined with other leaders in the region, including the Saunkskwa of Massachusett and her husband Nanapashemet, to gather families together, after devastating epidemics ravaged Indigenous communities, especially along the Massachusett coast, as both colonial captivities and intertribal conflict fostered further ruptures. Passaconaway’s children intermarried with other leadership families, repairing the binds within the network of relations and creating a safety net for survivors. The Penacook network or “sphere of influence” centered on Molôdomak, the deep river, but extended through waterways to the inland and coast. These were among the leaders who signed an important agreement with Massachusetts colony in 1644, creating binding relationships with the newcomers. This agreement is among the most significant documents that the Massachusetts State Archives holds today. [1]
During King Philip’s War, many Native people sought protection, as they had done earlier, within these networks of waterways and kinship, and this strong web enabled travel into northern sanctuaries. Passaconaway’s son, Wannalancet, pursued a strategy of neutrality early on, leading families from Penacook north to avoid the burgeoning conflict to the south, one of many paths to peace. As the Massachusetts missionary and magistrate Daniel Gookin observed, the Penacook sagamore took shelter with his kin at

“the head of Connecticut River all winter where was a place of good hunting for moose, deer, bear, and other such wild beasts; and came not near either to the English, or his own countrymen, our enemies.”[2]

This was a densely forested region above the White Mountains, well known to Wabanaki people, but well beyond the knowledge and reach of English magistrates or military leaders.
Wanalancet and the families who went with him may also have traveled, during the fall and winter of 1675 the spring of 1676, to other key locations within these vast kin networks, including the French missions at Sillery, Sorel and Odanak (St. Francis), in Quebec, or to other Wabanaki towns and territories in the interior, on vital waterways like the Kennebec, Androscoggin and Saco Rivers, Lake Memphremagog and Lac Megantic. Wanalancet’s wife reportedly was tied to the mission villages, while his brother Nanamocumuck had found refuge, decades earlier, in the Wabanaki communities on the Androscoggin River. Penacook people were mobile and often traveled in smaller groups of extended families, particularly in the fall and winter hunting season. Thus, it would not be surprising to find them among several communities or multiple locations during the war. Wanalancet was also among those who cultivated a peace treaty in the summer of 1676, traveling to the Wabanaki coast with other leaders, including Samuel Numphow and the Saco River leader known as Squando, to participate in councils that led to the Cocheco Treaty of July 1676. [3]

The spruce and fir forests of the Connecticut River headwaters remain a vital sanctuary for many Indigenous animals, including moose, deer and bear, as well as vital medicinal plants. It is a place to which many Wabanaki families, as well as other Native people, regularly return to hunt, fish, camp and gather, or simply to remember, along old paths. Wabanaki basketmakers used those same trails to travel back and forth between northern New England and Quebec in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The “North Country” also appears in contemporary literature. Mohegan author Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel’s young adult novel Wabanaki Blues features an Abenaki-Mohegan protagonist who returns to her mother’s North Country roots. Abenaki author Cheryl Savageau has published several poems that reflect the tradition of return to the North Country, as sanctuary, for both the living and the dead.  [Link to Northeastern Naturalist article] Savageau lovingly describes her own father’s relationship to this northern land in her poem, “To Human Skin” from Dirt Road Home

Over the last meal
we’ll ever eat together
he tells me, I’m going up north,
up to the old home country,
Abenaki country. He smiles
in anticipation, his feet
already feeling the forest floor,
while my stomach tightens
with the knowledge that he
is going home. I push
the feeling away. But when spirit
talks to spirit, there is no denying.
Through the long days of mourning,
I see my father’s spirit
walk into the bright autumn woods.
Red, gold, and evergreen,
they welcome him back,
his relatives, green of heart,
and rooted, like him,
in the soil of this land
called Ndakinna.

[1] David Stewart-Smith, “The Penacook Indians and the New England Frontier, 1604–1733,” (PhD diss., Union Institute, 1998), 1-33, 52-91. See also Neal Salisbury, Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England, 1500–1643 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 42, 48, 54-72. John Pendergast, The Bend in the River (Tyngsborough, MA: Merrimac River Press, 1992). Solon B. Colby, Colby’s Indian History: Antiquities of the New Hampshire Indians and Their Neighbors (Conway, NH: Walkers Pond Press, 1975).
[2] Daniel Gookin, “An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England” in Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society 2 (Cambridge: American Antiquarian Society, 1836), 462.
[3]Colin Calloway, The Western Abenakis of Vermont (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 274-5. Gordon Day, Identity of the Saint Francis Indians (Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1981), 16-18. Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, “Watanummon’s World: Personal and Tribal Identity in the Algonquian Diaspora c. 1660-1712” in Papers of the Twenty-fifth Algonquian Conference, ed., William Cowan (Ottawa: Carlton University, 1994), 212-5. Dennis Connole, Indians of the Nipmuck Country in Southern New England, 1630–1750 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2001), 53-4. George Bodge, Soldiers in King Philip’s War (Boston: George Madison Bodge, 1906), 304.

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